As we near the middle stages of the Championship, Marcos Ambrose and his Pirtek Ford seem unstoppable. This weekend saw the Stone Bros number one driver equaling Allan Moffat's 26 year old record of becoming the second driver to win four rounds...
As we near the middle stages of the Championship, Marcos Ambrose and his Pirtek Ford seem unstoppable. This weekend saw the Stone Bros number one driver equaling Allan Moffat's 26 year old record of becoming the second driver to win four rounds of the series in a row.
As the V8 Supercars headed to Hidden Valley Raceway in the Northern Territory outback, Holden drivers were wondering what they could do to end the so called lucky streak that Ambrose was experiencing.
After practice and qualifying, that luck continued with the Devil racer finishing on top of the leader board, with team mate Russell Ingall in the Havoline Ford grabbing 5th, with fellow Ford drivers Paul Radisich in the Betta Electrical Falcon taking 7th, veteran John Bowe climbing to 8th in the OzEmail entrant and Brazilian Max Wilson in the Shell Helix Falcon finishing 10th. Defending champion, Mark Skaife managed 2nd ahead Todd Kelly in the second Holden Racing Team Commodore.
After dominating the series for the past three years, Skaife knew that if he was any chance of being a contender this year he had to make a move this weekend, and he did by taking his second pole in the Top 10 shoot out on Saturday morning.
They say up here that if the crocodiles don't get you the heat will, with temperatures reaching 35 degrees outside and 55 degrees in the cockpits. That also spells trouble for tyres, with the bitumen at times climbing to 85 degrees, although by the time the first 20 lap sprint started in the afternoon at had cooled to a mild 72 degrees.
This time Skaife managed to get off the line ahead of Ambrose and they both raced neck and neck to the first corner, with Ingall diving down the inside of Murphy in the K-Mart Holden, but that was short lived when they came together with Ingall spinning, crunching the pit wall. He was fortunate not to come into contact with the rest of the field. That forced the first safety car out for the weekend and gave officials a chance to view the incident. They deemed that there was no corroborative evidence to suggest the Kiwi crossed Ingall's path. This time Murphy, who has had a terrible run lately, avoided any penalty, but lost three places in the process, moving back to 6th.
Several laps later the green flag dropped for the re-start with Skaife retaining his lead followed closely by you guessed it, Ambrose. With only a dozen laps left drivers settled into position, knowing there were two 100 kilometre events on Sunday. Skaife took the chequered flag ahead of Ambrose with 'Mr Consistency' and series leader, Jason Bright in the Team Brock Commodore finishing 3rd ahead of Garth Tander in the Garry Rogers Valvoline Commodore with Radisich rounding out the top five. Turn 1 proved to be the bogey corner for most drivers, including Cameron McConville in the Lansvale Holden, Mark Larkham in the Orrcon Racing Falcon and fellow Ford driver Rodney Forbes in the 00 Motorsport.
The start for race two was identical to the first, with Skaife and Ambrose level pegging to the Turn 1 with the HRT driver taking the lead, while the rest of the field avoided a repeat of the earlier tangles. However, two turns later Steven Johnson in the Shell Helix Ford ran wide and Brad Jones in the second OzEmail Ford spun after being tapped by Kiwi Jason Richards in the Team Dynamik Commodore, forcing both of them to the pits for their compulsory tyre change. Back in the pack, Ingall was marking a charge through the field and after a handful of laps had made up seven places.
Meanwhile up front, Radisich managed to pass Tander and Ambrose passed Skaife, who later admitted he dropped a gear. The luck was starting to shine on Ford's number one driver as he went about building up his lead. Several drivers pitted, including Todd Kelly, David Besnard in the third Ford Performance Vehicle and Ingall. A lap later Skaife headed in followed by Craig Lowndes in the CAT Ford, Paul Dumbrell in the second Castrol Commodore, along with Mark Noske in the ICS Ford and Wilson.
Skaife was first out and it was obvious that he was disappointed with himself, after letting Ambrose get by. Not to be outdone, Ambrose pitted on the next lap and after a lightning stop was back on the circuit by the time Skaife was half way down pit straight. Bright pitted along with Steven Richards, Murphy and Radisich, the latter getting caught up in the traffic costing him half a dozen places. Tander lead for several laps but he too realized that he would have to come in for his compulsory tyre change and when he did left Dean Canto in the Briggs Motorsport Betta Electrical Ford out in front. Canto was out to make an impression this weekend, he had to, as all reports suggested that if he didn't he may not be driving for much longer after a number of poor results. Much to his credit he managed to grab 12th spot, and perhaps survived to earn a drive next round.
Ambrose stretched his lead after getting by a number of back markers while Murphy and Tander battled it out for 4th. 1999 winner Bright was also feeling the pressure from both of them in 3rd spot. The Ford Performance Vehicle trio of Lowndes, Besnard and Seton were wishing they remained in the garage. It just wasn't their day and to make matters worst Lowndes was black flagged for having the rear bumper dragging behind him after his earlier incident with Wilson. Ingall continued his charge and was now in 19th place after passing Wilson down the inside at Turn 6.
Rookie Jamie Whincup in the second Valvoline Commodore spun a few laps later and collected the tyre barrier. He managed to get going again, and no doubt tried to limp back to the pits, but with his steering gone there was no where to go and he ended up stopping on pit straight, forcing the safety car onto the track for four laps, much to the anger of team managers. Once he was off the circuit, there was only one lap left to make a dash to the chequered flag, which Ambrose managed to hang onto despite Skaife breathing down his neck. Tander grabbed 3rd ahead of Bright and Murphy who was having one of his better weekends.
As they sat on the grid for the final 100 kilometre race, Ambrose knew that this was his opportunity to pass Skaife in the championship and secure 3rd place overall. Once the lights turned green, both he and Skaife got off the line cleanly and headed to the first turn. Skaife appeared to back off, and Ambrose took the lead, while Tander switched to the outside of the track and passed Skaife down the inside with Richards moving to 4th. Further back, Todd Kelly appeared to be pushed by Lowndes and spun, slamming into the tyre wall at Turn 4 forcing the safety car out.
Two laps later, Ambrose headed to the pits under the yellow and was followed by the majority of the field. A quick stop enabled him to exit ahead of Murphy, Bright Skaife, Steven Richards, Tander, Simon Wills in the second Team Dynamik Commodore, with Radisich and Bowe rounding out 9th. Paul Morris' woes continued, as they appear to at every race, this time he no only started from pit lane but was in and out most of the afternoon with clutch problems. Canto, who hadn't pitted was out in front when Rick Kelly emulated his brother and came off at the same corner. He was fortunate not to sustain the same damage, but his race was over. Dumbrell performed a similar move and ended off the track after he cooked his engine.
The safety car returned, reducing Ambrose's lead. Once they re-started Skaife was threatening Murphy while 6th placed Tander had to serve a drive through penalty for jumping the re-start, along with Radisich, putting paid to his impressive results after joining his new team this season. With half a dozen laps to go, Jason Bargwanna was in the wars with McConville and Jones, all battling for 10th, with the OzEmail Ford suffering damage to the left rear guard, which was cutting into the tyre. The smoke coming off it suggested that at any time it was about to blow, but Jones would survive another day and finish in 10th after McConville punted Bargwanna, allowing him to slip by both of them.
As Ambrose crossed the line, Ford fans went wild, as the Devil equalled Moffat's record, but he had other things on his mind. In the post match interview Ambrose said that he was looking forward to going one better at his home track in Queensland in a couple of weeks time at the Queensland 500. Again, he was full of praise for the team, but admitted there was pressure coming from every angle to win the championship, and that included not only the Stone Bros team, but from sponsors and of course the Ford Motor Company, who have not held the trophy since Seton won in 1997.
Stone Bros again proved that they are the dominant Ford team in the series, with Ambrose now moving to 3rd outright and team mate Ingall into 7th overall. Bright retains his lead ahead of Steven Richards with Skaife dropping back to 5th and Murphy moving into 4th.