This week saw the V8 Supercar show roll into the City of Churches for the first round of the 2003 championship. Not only is it the start of the season, but there are new cars, new teams and a new points score system which should all make for a ...
This week saw the V8 Supercar show roll into the City of Churches for the first round of the 2003 championship. Not only is it the start of the season, but there are new cars, new teams and a new points score system which should all make for a fantastic season of racing.
With this, the Chairman of the governing body, Mr Tony Cochrane recently announced plans for the future for what he called "the best touring car series in the world". There is talk of possibly a second round in New Zealand and a move into Asia with a round in China. This series is proving to be as popular as what NASCAR is in the United States.
Cochrane continued by saying, "Asia has a great growth market and it's all about exporting ourselves around the world". In the years to come it is intended to have a fourteen or fifteen round competition with possibly ten rounds in Australia and the remaining ones overseas.
Although some of the new teams managed to get some miles under their belt a couple of weeks ago at the non-championship round at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, they were in store for a more tougher initiation on the streets of Adelaide. Termed the 'concrete jungle', and for good reason, this is the toughest race of the season, testing both man, machine and pit crews.
It's like running two marathons, a 250 kilometre race on Saturday followed by another 250 kilometre race on Sunday. It's taxing, it's hot and it's hard, and the local fans love it. Ever since they lost the Grand Prix to Melbourne they've wanted a race to call their own and now they have it for at least another five years.
The former Formula 1 track is 3.2 kilometres in length, with 14 turns, with the fastest negotiated at speeds of close to 240 km/h. The 78 laps will see two compulsory pits stops, one for tyres and the other for fuel, and this year sees the addition of drivers being allowed to pit under the safety car for the first time.
During Friday's Shoot Out, Jason Bright, now driving for Team Brock under the sponsorship of Betta Electrical, grabbed pole position from former team mate Mark Skaife in the HRT with Marcus Ambrose in the Stone Brothers Pirtek Ford in 3rd spot on the 2nd row of the grid. New Zealander Greg Murphy in the K-Mart Commodore was along side of him with Castrol number one driver Steven Richards managing 5th place. It was a change to see so many different teams filling the all important spots on the grid.
Following the singing of the national anthem, the cars moved off for their warm up lap before gridding for the start of the Clipsal 500. Once the lights changed to green, the 34 starters got away to a clean start with Greg Murphy passing Ambrose at the end of the straight to take 3rd place, but this was short lived after officials penalized him for jumping the start. He came in the next lap for a stop/go penalty which cost him almost 40 seconds.
He was beginning to have nightmares of Bathurst last year when he was penalized for 5 minutes, which ultimately may have cost him the chance of winning the Great Race for the second time. His frustration continued after he was again penalized for exceeding the 40 kph limit in pit lane, eventually re-joining the race in 31st position.
Out in front Jason Bright was being pressured by defending champion Mark Skaife while Marcus Ambrose was applying the blow torch to Skaife. After a handful of laps underway these three were pulling away from the rest of the field .
Steven Richards, Steven Johnson, and Rick Kelly in the second K-Mart car were sitting back, knowing that this was going to be long day and that there was still a race tomorrow to contend with. HRT new recruit, Todd Kelly was showing his talent when he passed Garth Tander in the Valvoline Commodore. Ford convert Russell Ingall in the Caltex Havoline Ford was sitting in 10th place and monitoring those ahead of him. He was confident that his move to the Queensland based operation was the right choice during the new year and that was supported with his race win in Melbourne weeks earlier.
By lap 7 Jason Bright had increased his lead to 2 seconds over Skaife and was no doubt enjoying the advantage over his former team mate who appeared to have the superior car last year. Brazilian Max Wilson was first into the pits to take on fuel and was followed the next lap by the OzEmail Ford of John Bowe who required some repair work to the rear of the car after Russell Ingall clipped him at turn 14 while trying to dive down the inside.
The mover in the back of the pack was Craig Lowndes in the newly formed Pro Car backed Ford Performance Ford. Little did he know that he would park the car in the garage later in the day. Although this was a new car, there were little miles done in the lead up to Adelaide and it was going to be a testing time for the three car team.
Queenslander Paul Morris was soon in the pits after problems with the right rear tyre. Apart from that, there was obvious oil leak coming from the back of the car which Garth Tander soon found and went careering off the track into the kitty litter. This was the start of things to come for a number of teams. Steven Ellery was the next casualty when he sustained damage to the front of the Super Cheap Auto entrant, which was attributed to excessive kerb hopping and he later admitted that he had damaged the suspension. Brad Jones in the other OzEmail car soon joined with him with problems to the right rear tyre, which cost valuable seconds in the pits.
While all this was going on Skaife dived down the inside at turn 4 to take the lead from Bright, who didn't give it up easily and cost himself four places after spinning. This was unnecessary as Skaife headed to the pits on the next lap leaving Ambrose in the lead for a lap before he too decided to head to the pits and was followed in by Johnson and Ingall who had some patchwork done to the front of his car.
This left Rick Kelly to take the lead with Lowndes moving into 2nd spot and soon he took over as Kelly pitted. It wasn't long before the red Commodore of Skaife was soon all over the back of Lowndes and fans were wondering whether there was going to be a repeat of the battle the two had a couple of years ago when Lowndes came off second best. That wasn't to be as Skaife headed back into the pits for his second compulsory stop for tyres and came out ahead of Bright who spun at the end of the straight on cold tyres and lost any advantage he made up. Other teams soon adopted the same strategy and also headed in, including Ambrose who had a lightning stop and emerged as the overall leader.
Lowndes unexpectedly entered the pits and parked the car in the garage. He later revealed that he and the team were not 100% sure of what the problems was, saying, "The car was going fine, it's a bit of a disappointment we we're looking good".
At almost half way the 1st safety car ventured onto the track after Lowndes' former team mate, Rodney Forbes in the 00 Motorsport Ford braked late into turn 7 and ended up beached in the kitty litter. This allowed the drivers to back off and preserve their tyres and cool their machines for a handful of laps around the twisting circuit. In the meantime Lowndes re-joined the race. Once the green flag came out Ambrose put in a number of blistering laps and stretched his lead by almost 3 seconds over Skaife.
Paul Dumbrell in the second of the Castrol cars and who was in 13th spot started to tangle with Murphy who did remarkably well to come back through the field to grab 12th . Dumbrell soon realised that there was still a long way to go and backed off. Ingall continued with his push towards the pointy end of the field grabbing 7th from Cameron McConville in the Lansvale Racing Team Commodore.
Those at the front of the field continued to play it safe, knowing that there were another 250 kilometres on Sunday, and they were guaranteed points with the revised system. Ambrose didn't subscribe to this theory and continued pushing the Pirtek Ford, increasing his lead to 5 seconds before taking the chequered flag ahead of Skaife, Bright, Richards and Todd Kelly who rounded out the top five.
On the podium Ambrose praised the team for getting the car prepared after the problems he experienced in Melbourne. With one race down and one to go, Ford fans around the country were feeling optimistic. Was this going to be the year for them to claw back a championship or was Sunday's race going to determine their fate.