INGALL FASTEST IN NEW ZEALAND Caltex Racing's Russell Ingall has taken the first step towards providing his team owners Ross and Jimmy Stone with their first "home" V8 Supercar win at the Pukekohe Raceway near Auckland. Ingall, the reigning...
INGALL FASTEST IN NEW ZEALAND
Caltex Racing's Russell Ingall has taken the first step towards providing his team owners Ross and Jimmy Stone with their first "home" V8 Supercar win at the Pukekohe Raceway near Auckland.
Ingall, the reigning V8 Supercar champion, was fastest of the 32-car field after today's two and half-hour practice session and is now set for tomorrow's qualifying session and an opening 32-lap race.
Ingall currently sits sixth in the overall championship after the opening round in Adelaide last month.
Today's result provides Ingall with a needed confidence boost after he struggled with brake and handling problems in Adelaide and in the non-championship races at the Foster's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Amazingly, Ingall was 21st in qualifying for the opening race at the AGP just three weeks ago.
Stone Brothers Racing, which prepares Ingall's Caltex Falcon, has won the last three V8 Supercar titles with the help of Marcos Ambrose (2003, 2004) and Ingall (2005), but it has not managed an outright victory at the New Zealand venue.
The Stones grew up in a small town called Onewhero which is just 20kms from the Pukekohe circuit.
Pukekohe was originally to be replaced by an Auckland street race before negotiations came to a halt. It is now planned for Hamilton to take over as the New Zealand host in 2008, leaving the Stones with just two more chances to collect a V8 Supercar win at their old stomping ground.
Ingall was second in all three races last year, which we all won by Kiwi favourite Greg Murphy.
Ingall was quick for the majority of today's session and put in his quickest time on his second last lap.
He set a time of 55.88 seconds which was 0.09 of a second faster than Holden's Rick Kelly.
Young championship leader Jamie Whincup was third fastest in his Caltex-backed Team Betta Electrical Falcon, followed by Todd Kelly and Jason Bright.
Whincup's teammate Craig Lowndes was eighth fastest after failing to get a clear lap on green tyres towards the end of the session.
Drama continued for Ingall's SBR teammate James Courtney on his Caltex-backed Jeld-Wen Falcon.
Courtney and three other drivers speared off the track after hitting some oil at turn four and he clipped the Armco and damaged a mount for the front bar.
He had to settle for the 24th-fastest time, but remains optimistic for tomorrow's qualifying and opening race.
RUSSELL INGALL -- CALTEX RACING
"Considering that I was 21st after my last opening session at AGP, I would say that it was quite an improvement today," said Ingall.
"Obviously we learnt a lot at our test session last week and thankfully that has transferred here today.
"This is such a short track and a fraction of a second can mean 10 or 15 places, maybe more.
"It has certainly been a tough start to the season by SBR standards and hopefully today's result is the start of some good things to come.
"You can never afford to panic in this business and everyone involved with Caltex Racing is well aware of that. We just went back to the drawing board and chipped away.
"We have to go out and do it all again tomorrow, but at least we know we are heading in the right direction and that we have some reasonable speed."
JAMES COURTNEY -- JELD-WEN RACING
"We had a fire in the car in the first part of the session and we only got in around five laps," said Courtney.
"The fire was no big deal and we got things together for the second part of the session. We were sitting in around 11th or 12th when someone put some oil down at turn four.
"Myself and three other guys went off and I clipped the Armco on the exit.
"It bent the mount for the front bar and I did not get the chance to get back out.
"Overall I think we are in pretty good shape for tomorrow. We just need to get out there and do the job."
CRAIG LOWNDES -- TEAM BETTA ELECTRICAL
"We are confident we have good car setup and have a few little changes to make to the car before qualifying tomorrow," said Lowndes.
"While we did put greens on late in the session I wasn't able to get in a clean lap due to traffic and the red flag interruption."
JAMIE WHINCUP -- TEAM BETTA ELECTRICAL
"Friday's session is typically a lottery as teams have quite a wide selection of tyres," said Whincup.
"When we saw greens going on late in the session we also responded and it was good to put together some consistently quick laps.
"Today's practice session was very important as we worked hard on making sure we had a solid race package.
"While contrary to the team's view, I am personally looking forward to the reverse grid race as it is an opportunity to prove our engineering excellence and bore through the pack.
"My confidence has grown since the opening round and I feel I can now push the car and myself to our full potential."