Ford drivers headed to Winton in country Victoria for the fourth round of the V8 Supercar series, aiming to make it three wins in a row for the blue oval brigade. Home of the high country and the man from Snowy River, the locals would experience...
Ford drivers headed to Winton in country Victoria for the fourth round of the V8 Supercar series, aiming to make it three wins in a row for the blue oval brigade. Home of the high country and the man from Snowy River, the locals would experience a different type of horse power this weekend.
Friday's practice saw young gun Paul Weel in the Team Brock Dupont/Betta Electrical Commodore finish ahead of Greg Murphy in the K-Mart Racing Commodore with John Bowe in the OzEmail Ford holding down third spot after the 90 minute session, however, Saturday's qualifying and shoot out was a different story with Marcos Ambrose in the Stone Bros Pirtek Ford claiming his second pole this year and his tenth during his short career.
Murphy and fellow Commodore pilot Jason Bright in the Team Brock Holden separated Ambrose from his team mate Russell Ingall in the Caltex Havoline Ford while defending champion Mark Skaife in the Holden Racing Team Commodore had to settle for 5th. Paul Morris in the Sirromet Life Style Wines Commodore surprised most by grabbing 7th. as did rookie Jamie Whincup in the second of the Garry Rogers Valvoline Commodores who slotted onto the fifth row of the grid after clocking the ninth fastest time. Come race day he wouldn't be so fortunate, and his race would end with a dozen laps to go. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Craig Lowndes in the CAT Ford Performance Vehicles who could only manage 14th.
The three kilometre long circuit consisting of 12 turns was going to play havoc on tyres, especially the rears throughout the 300 kilometre event. Pit strategies would be equally as testing with compulsory stops for tyres and fuel, with many drivers hoping for the safety car to venture onto the track at some stage.
As the lights changed to green, Murphy got off the line ahead of Ambrose and looked to have him covered to the first turn until the Devil Racer, as he is often referred to now, held his line and didn't back off. Back in the pack, David Besnard in the third Ford Performance Vehicle braked late and ended on the grass and fellow team mate Lowndes lost five spots after getting bogged down on the line. Over the next handful of laps Ambrose and Murphy started to stretch their lead over the field, while Jason Bargwanna in the Orrcon Ford punted Kiwi racer Jason Richards in the Team Dynamik Commodore. Orrcon team owner Mark Larkham wasn't as lucky and was first to pit with engine problems. Likewise, Paul Dumbrell in the second of the Perkins Castrols cars suffered the same fate. Steven Johnson in the Shell Helix Ford was first to pit for tyres after the window opened and this would later cost him.
Up front, Ambrose had stretched his lead to 2.5 seconds and by lap 10 was already having to deal with back markers. Besnard was having a shocker in his new BA Ford and again ran off the circuit after locking a brake. It soon wasn't long before the safety car hit the track following an altercation between Simon Wills in the second Team Dynamik Commodore and rookie Wincup, with Wills coming off second best after hitting the tyre wall. Fortunately he managed to pit, his crew patched the damage and he exited ahead of the safety car. Lowndes, Cameron McConville in the Lansvale Smash Repairs Commodore, former Team Brock driver Craig Baird in the Team Kiwi Racing Commodore and Brazilian Max Wilson in the second Shell Helix entrant, also took the opportunity to pit before the green flag came out.
After several laps Steven Richards was feeling the pressure from Todd Kelly in the second HRT car who was doing his best to pass while Garth Tander in the Valvoline Commodore was applying the blow torch to him. The front five continued to maintain their positions with Ambrose increasing his lead until lap 40 when he pitted for fuel and was followed in by Murphy, both HRT cars and the pair of Bright and Weel. Trouble was Todd Kelly and Weel both lost valuable time waiting for team mates Skaife and Bright to leave, an uncharacteristic mistake by these two leading teams. Murphy had his own problems when he stalled the car and had to be pushed, although this would be insignificant to what would occur later in the race. While all this was going on Morris ran off the track and buried himself in the dirt, forcing a second safety car.
A lap later Ambrose came in for tyres, as did team mate Ingall and his crew struggled with the front and this cost him a place to Skaife who came in after and got out ahead of him. Effectively this left Bright and Wilson in 1st and 2nd, although they were back in 12th and 14th spot with those ahead of them to pit for their second compulsory stop. Ambrose was back in 6th, Tander in 7th, Murphy in 8th, with Weel in 9th and Skaife in 10th. Lowndes' crew were sporting smiles as 'the kid' picked up 3rd and was all over the back of Wilson before pulling off a nice move down the inside to pass him and set about catching Bright.
It was obvious that Ambrose was after his second win for the season as he wasted no time passing Ellery in the Super Cheap Auto Ford, followed by Bowe and then Wilson who he tangled with, the Brazilian spinning off and rejoining at the back of the field. He then set his sights on Lowndes and managed to get by him with ease before attacking Bright. Murphy wasn't as fortunate, he caught Lowndes at turn 10 and just as Lowndes was about to lose it, the Kiwi punted him off. The officials didn't see it that way and the
K-Mart driver copped a 'drive through' penalty. You can guess what his reaction was when he came in. Lowndes later agreed that his tyres were failing and that Murphy had been treated harshly, but that was little consolation as he had definitely been robbed of a podium finish.
Ambrose managed to get by Bright, and this left the gate open for Tander to grab 3rd spot, but that wasn't to be as he ran out of fuel with two laps to go. Rick Kelly in the second
K-Mart Commodore looked as though he was going to suffer the same fate, but was fortunate enough to make it to the pits for a splash and dash.
A lap later Ford fans again rejoiced as Ambrose took the chequered flag ahead of Bright, Steven Richards, Ingall and Weel. They had cause to celebrate, this was their third win in row, their first victory at Winton since Bowe won in 1998, and a first for the Devil Racer at the Victorian circuit. Despite his last two performances, Ambrose has secured 4th place in the championship with a consistent Bright at the head of the list. Although it is early in the season, if Ambrose continues to perform the way he has so far and Stone Bros continue to build the bullet proof car they are capable of, then the pair look destined to break Holden's five year stranglehold and take out their first championship.