Pirtek driver and defending V8 Supercar champion, Marcos Ambrose headed to South Australia intent on breaking the dominance that the Holden Racing Team has held at this circuit for the past five years. Despite being one of only two Ford drivers...
Pirtek driver and defending V8 Supercar champion, Marcos Ambrose headed to South Australia intent on breaking the dominance that the Holden Racing Team has held at this circuit for the past five years. Despite being one of only two Ford drivers to record a win there, this time he was looking to win both the 250 kilometre races and take the round victory, a first for Ford.
The Clipsal 500, which encompasses the streets of Adelaide is a track not to be taken lightly. It is surrounded by concrete walls and steel barriers, and any indiscretion can cost you dearly. That's why it is important to qualify at the front of the field. Being caught in the middle of the pack not only makes it difficult to pass, but puts you in a vulnerable position and more than likely you will come away with a heafty repair bill. Apart from that, all drivers regard the season opener as the most demanding race on the calender, not only in respect to the wear and tear on the car, but the physical and mental pressure it places on the driver themselves.
The first of the casualties came during Friday's qualifying when new Castrol recruit Tony Longhurst put his Commodore into the wall. He may have been the first but he certainly wasn't going to be the last. By the time Sunday afternoon came around only 17 cars managed to finish the race. Such was the carnage in race two that officials contemplated bringing out the red flags after a four car pile up involving Cameron McConville in the Garry Rogers Commodore, Brad Jones in the OzEmail Ford, Steven Johnson in the Shell Helix Ford and rookie Mark Winterbottom who debuted in the Orrcon Ford. Paul Dumbrell escaped with minor damage after initially nudging McConville and is now awaiting the outcome of a stewards inquiry.
That aside, Ambrose again showed that he and Stone Bros are the team to beat for the 2004 championship after he put in flawless performances on Saturday and Sunday to take both races. Although he failed to take pole position on Saturday, Ambrose grabbed 3rd behind Jason Bright in the new Paul Weel team and Kiwi Greg Murphy in the K-Mart Commodore.
As the lights turned green, Murphy almost got bogged down but managed to fend off Bright at the first corner who was immediately under pressure from Ambrose. Two corners later Ambrose passed Bright and set about chasing down Murphy while team mate Russell Ingall in the sister car moved from 7th place to 5th at the same corner after passing Max Wilson in the Triple 888 Ford and Garth Tander in the Havoline Commodore.
With two compulsory tyre and fuel stops, pit strategies would play a major role throughout the race. The Stone Bros team elected to bring Ambrose in at third race distance when the first safety car ventured onto the circuit. Murphy opted to stay out and the longer the race went the K-Mart crew realized they had paid the penalty, forcing the Kiwi out of the top ten placings. By the time Ambrose had completed his second compulsory stop he returned to the track in 3rd, but it was only a matter of time before he regained the lead and never looked back, crossing the line ahead of Steven Richards in the Perkins Castrol Commodore, while Ingall took third.
Sundays race saw Ingall get off the line and it looked as though he was going to slot in between Ambrose and Richards to take the first corner, however, common sense prevailed and he backed off and set about dicing with Richards while Ambrose set about stretching his lead. Steven Ellery in the Supa Cheap Auto Ford was the first casualty, hitting the wall on the opening lap, similar to Todd Kelly it the HRT the day before. Wilson and team mate Paul Radisich were the first to pit for tyres By lap 10 the chaos commenced with Mark Skaife and Greg Murphy both spinning at turn 7. Two laps later Paul Morris in the Sirromet Wines Commodore and Glenn Seton in the Ford Performance Racing tangled at the hairpin. Morris was deemed the aggressor and later received a black flag and forced in for a drive through penalty.
Ambrose had set up a six second lead when a dejected Ingall pitted with engine problems. Although the team changed his tyres and re-fuelled the Caltex Ford, 'The Enforcer' knew that the problem was terminal and it wasn't long before he was pushed into the garage. Back in the pack Steven Johnson and his new team mate Warren Luff in the Shell Helix Ford smacked the wall at the same corner, only half a dozen laps apart. Johnson managed to pit while Luff wasn't that fortunate. Craig Lowndes in the second FPR car soon pitted with engine problems and like Ingall was wheeled into the garage.
Ambrose continued to build on his lead, however, this was cut short each time the safety car hit the track. In the end he cruised to victory ahead of Steven Richards, Bright, Weel and Jason Bargwanna in the Orrcon Ford. Arch rival Mark Skaife finished in 17th place yesterday and was wondering if this was his worst weekend of racing, after finishing 10th overall and failing to qualify for the Top Ten shoot out on Friday. Was this was the end of the dominance of Holden Racing Team at the Clipsal 500. Perhaps that question has to be asked of the 238,000 fans.