V8 Supercar wounds healed, for now at least Championship contender Russell Ingall believes some battle scars with his rivals have been mended with some old fashioned banter during the historic and immensely successful debut of the V8 Supercar...
V8 Supercar wounds healed, for now at least
Championship contender Russell Ingall believes some battle scars with his rivals have been mended with some old fashioned banter during the historic and immensely successful debut of the V8 Supercar Championship Series in China.
But that doesn't mean the gloves are off this weekend at the SkyCity V8 Supercars event in Darwin, according to the man they call "The Enforcer."
The China experience was unique for drivers when they mixed freely with each other on communal buses and at the shared hotel in Shanghai. This is not always the norm at Australian events when most teams keep largely to themselves.
"That was a good thing," Caltex Racing's Ingall said of the V8 Super 'bubble' in China.
"It gave you a chance to catch up with other drivers which doesn't normally happen at other tracks. I often say to (wife) Julia when I come home from an event that I didn't actually talk to anyone. China was completely different and quite refreshing.
"We the drivers got the chance to shoot the breeze with each other from time to time. It might have mended some relationships from past indiscretions over the years. It was a good opportunity to renew friendships with old colleagues."
But time may tell this weekend when the Championship returns to Darwin, the venue where last year it became a war of attrition as things got heated on the track.
Ingall didn't say who he had actually renewed ties with. His most publicized rivalry is with Holden Racing Team boss Mark Skaife and it was in Darwin last year where his team-mate Marcos Ambrose took the HRT boss out on the last corner of race one.
The incident left Ingall to take race one but from pole the following day Ambrose gave him the don't argue at the first corner, sending him to the back of the field. It may well be that the gloves are removed again, team-mate or not.
But there is more to victory in Darwin, according to Ingall who could well assume the championship lead after the weekend.
"It seems to be a qualifying game at the moment and qualifying at the pointy end of the field is dictating who is finishing in the top five. Having said that I qualified in 12th in Perth and won a race and in 13th in China and was leading until I got stuck in a sand trap," he said.
"What appears to be happening is the consistent performers are rising to the top. Marcos, myself and Steve Richards are piling up the points while Skaife, Todd Kelly and Greg Murphy are fast but not getting the results.
"What all of us don't want is to let Marcos get into a comfort zone. I'm sure I speak on behalf of Steven and everybody else that is in touch of the lead."
But Richards, a rumoured successor to Ambrose at Stone Brothers Racing, is a driver Ingall will not take his eye off.
"He just sneaks around the place like his old man (Jim Richards) and then all of a sudden -- bang -- he's right there beside you," Ingall said. "People miss the fact that he is a great driver and is having a terrific year."
Richards was strong in Darwin last year and finished second to Todd Kelly in China.
"The only reason we didn't win at Darwin last year was we had a delayed pit stop so we're in pretty good shape going there this year," said Richards.
"Our two focuses are concentrating on bridging the gap to the two SBR cars in front of us and, secondly, not ending up in a situation where we struggle for a result."
Like Richards, Holden Racing Team's Todd Kelly and his team-mate Mark Skaife are also on the pace. Kelly is a last-round winner in China.
Still standing in everybody's way is two-time champion and current series leader Ambrose, who also has a 'get out of jail card' should he have a bad round under the current points system.
"Luck was not on our side in the last round in China," said Ambrose.
"However, we still have a solid lead in the championship and it is important that we build on that, especially in Darwin and at our home track in Queensland in the following round."
Dark horse Paul Radisich recorded Team Kiwi Racing's first-ever podium finish in Shanghai as the team continues to move its way up the order since establishing a technical alliance with Paul Morris Motorsport at the end of last season.
'The Rat' is in his first season of driving a Holden and having two cars coming from the team's garage has not only given Morris a yardstick as a driver, but the additional assistance of a doubling in information and data gathering.
"Our podium result in Shanghai was as good as a win for us all, we were delighted in finishing third, and we'd like more of the same in Darwin," said Radisich, who sits eighth in the championship.
"To end up third in China was awesome, not only for me as a driver wanting to get back on the podium, but also for Team Kiwi Racing and Paul Morris Motorsport.
"Reality says we're probably the sixth or seventh quickest car out there, so Darwin is all about consolidation; consolidating our position on the track and in the points. I'd like to think we'll be able to remain in the top half dozen on track."
So far in 2005 a different driver has won each of the five rounds of the series.
The SkyCity V8 Supercar weekend at Hidden Valley in Darwin is the 350th round of the Australian Touring Car Championship since 1960.
V8 SUPERCARS ROUND 6 -- SKYCITY V8 SUPERCARS - HIDDEN VALLEY RACEWAY JULY 1-3
Friday July 1
1.30-3.30pm - Practice
Saturday July 2
11.30am-12.15pm -- Qualifying
12.30pm-1.00pm -- Top Ten Shootout
3.00pm -- Race 1 (17 laps)
Sunday July 3
11.50am -- RACE 2 (48 laps)
2.50pm -- RACE 3 (48 laps)
TV Telecast -- Network Ten
Sunday May 29
2.30pm -- 5.00pm