Albert Park: Season opener preview

V8 Supercars primed for battle at Australian Grand Prix Australia's premier motor sport category has given universal approval of the decision to change the format of this year's V8 Supercar program at the Australian Grand Prix to better...

V8 Supercars primed for battle at Australian Grand Prix

Australia's premier motor sport category has given universal approval of the decision to change the format of this year's V8 Supercar program at the Australian Grand Prix to better reflect the racing traditions of the championship series.

In keeping with race formats throughout the V8 Supercar Championship Series which starts at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide from March 17-21, the Grand Prix program includes a top 10 shootout that will decide pole positions for the opening race on Friday.

A 100km Supercar race has been added on Saturday and the Supercars will finish with a 10-lap race on Sunday. This will give teams and drivers a better chance to fine tune their operations prior to the season opener in Adelaide.

Reigning V8 Supercar champion Marcos Ambrose is looking forward to racing in Melbourne given the format change prior to the season opener in Adelaide a fortnight later.

"The Albert Park circuit is really a unique layout and is always very fast and very smooth," Ambrose said.

"It will be nice to head back there this year with the same equipment we finished the previous season with -- that has not happen to us before.

"The track itself always lends itself to good racing and the short and sharp races of 10 and 19 laps will result in plenty of action.

"The return of the shootout will also offer something different. We battled with some electrical problems in the Pirtek Falcon at Albert Park last season so I it will be nice to get through the weekend unscathed and in one piece for the opening round in Adelaide in a couple of weeks time."

The grand prix will offer the V8 Supercar teams valuable track time in race conditions following months of testing, unveiling of new colours, new cars and a few new faces as a preview of what will be the most anticipated championship series to date.

Ambrose' victory for the Stone Brothers team and the troubles of Holden's Mark Skaife in 2003 makes for an intriguing battle between the two champions this year, not to mention the championship bids from the likes of Greg Murphy, Jason Bright, Glenn Seton, Craig Lowndes and Russell Ingall.

Skaife is now in charge of his team as owner of the Holden Racing Team, putting aside the technical difficulties of last year that appeared to plague him. Even with those setbacks he was still a chance of securing his fourth straight championship at the end of the year.

"It was a pretty difficult year all things considered but as a group, I think we learnt a lot and grew out of the dramas we faced," Skaife said. "The crew and I are well rested; the cars are sorted and ready to go so, we have a lot to look forward to.

"Obviously the developments of 2003 resulted in an increase in my workload, however the break has given me the opportunity to restructure some of those aspects of the business, allowing me to still concentrate on the core aspect - and that's driving racing cars."

Veteran John Bowe has perhaps the most significant change to identity in 2004 when he assumes the number 12. Throughout his career with Brad Jones racing Bowes' insignia was 888, a number now to be raced by the Triple Eight Race Engineering Team.

"They approached us towards the end of last year to see if we would part with the number. Being a fellow Ford team we came to an amicable agreement," Bowe said.

One of the series' newest drivers Mark Winterbottom has graduated from the Konica Minolta Series to gain his first drive in the championship and brings with him a great deal of respect, having won the Konica Series in 2003.

Winterbottom will drive for Larkham Motor Sport in one of two Orrcon Racing BA Falcons alongside Jason Bargwanna, with team owner Mark Larkham stepping aside from the main rounds to become a testing and endurance driver.

The ever popular New Zealander Jason Richards heads a renamed team in Tasman Motorsport, formerly Lansvale Racing, and threatens his biggest season.

Similarly Warren Luff will make his Championship Series debut having been recruited by Shell Helix Racing to team to drive alongside Steven Johnson in 2004 while Cameron McConville gets a fulltime drive with Garth Tander and Garry Rodgers Motorsport.

Bathurst last year proved the watershed year for Luff when he accepted drives with Shell Helix Racing at Sandown and Bathurst. It was at Bathurst in the Konica series that Dick Johnson's observations that this kid from Sydney can really drive were confirmed.

Luff had been looking at a season in the Konica Championship in 2004. Instead, with Johnson's full blessings, he will fulfil his dream of racing in the V8 Supercar Championship with his boyhood idol alongside to mentor him along the way.

<pre> V8 SUPERCARS AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX PROGRAM

Thursday 4th March 10.55-11.25 V8 Supercars Practice 14.00-14.30 V8 Supercars Qualifying 16.05-16.45 V8 Supercars Shootout

Friday 5th March 15.25 V8 Supercars Race One (10 laps)

Saturday 6th March 16.00 V8 Supercars Supercar GP 100 (19 laps)

Sunday 7th March 10.37 V8 Supercars Race 3 (10 laps)

-avesco-

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Series Supercars
Drivers Steven Johnson , Garth Tander , Marcos Ambrose , Jason Bright , Greg Murphy , Cameron McConville , Russell Ingall , Brad Jones , Mark Skaife , Mark Larkham , Craig Lowndes , Jason Bargwanna , Jason Richards , John Bowe , Glenn Seton , Mark Winterbottom , Warren Luff , Dick Johnson
Teams Triple Eight Race Engineering , Holden Racing Team