Over the past month or so there has been more talk about what has been happening off the track rather than what has been occurring on it. I'm speaking about the question of ownership regarding the Holden Racing Team, the K-Mart Racing Team and...
Over the past month or so there has been more talk about what has been happening off the track rather than what has been occurring on it. I'm speaking about the question of ownership regarding the Holden Racing Team, the K-Mart Racing Team and the deadline of the 1st of June, 2003 to be specific. However, all seems to have been settled with a day or so to go before the V8 Supercars headed to Barbagallo Raceway in Western Australia for round five of the championship. It's now official, Mark Skaife is the owner of HRT and John Kelly, the father of young guns Todd and Rick Kelly will take the over the reins of K-Mart Racing.
With a different format this round, the VB 300 consists of three 100 kilometre sprint races, and it is expected that the new team owners will be looking to finish on the podium, although the recent performances of Ford's trio of Marcos Ambrose, Russell Ingall and Craig Lowndes suggests otherwise.
After dominating practice and qualifying Mark Skaife lost out to K-Mart's Greg Murphy who took his 8th career pole. There could be no denying the Kiwi, who has been unlucky to say the least throughout the first handful of rounds. If it hasn't been speeding in pit lane, he has been penalised for punting other drivers off the track, resulting in drive through penalties that appear unjustified and have cost him any chance of him finishing at the pointy end of the field.
Race one appeared a formality from the start with Murphy getting off the line while defending champion Skaife bogged down, allowing Castrol's Steven Richards to get by followed by Ambrose in the Pirtek Ford, who soon passed Richards before Murphy lead the field into the pits. With a lightning stop, Murphy got out ahead of Skaife, and maintained his position for the remaining 39 laps to take the chequered flag, with Ambrose taking third ahead of Richards, while his team mate Ingall grabbed 5th after starting from 16th spot on the grid. Craig Lowndes in the CAT Ford managed 6th with Todd Kelly in the second HRT car being separated from his brother Rick Kelly in the second K-Mart Commodore by Simon Wills in the Team Dynamik Commodore and Valvoline's number one driver Garth Tander.
It was now Skaife's opportunity to turn the tables in the second race, but again he couldn't get off the line because of wheel spin and that allowed Murphy to get the jump on him as they headed to the first turn. Ingall, in the second Stone Brothers car ducked down the inside to fend off Richards, who managed to keep the Havoline Ford at bay. After two laps of pressuring Murphy, Skaife pulled off a smart move and passed him at Turn 7 with Ambrose following behind. It was apparent that Murphy's tyres were going off as it wasn't long before Richards and Ingall overtook him with ease.
Murphy had no alternative but to pit, and was followed by Todd Kelly and Jamie Whincup in the second Valvoline Commodore. Further back in the pack the race for 7th, 8th and 9th was being contested by Rick Kelly, Tander and Paul Weel in the Team Brock Dupont Commodore, with Tander taking the advantage when Kelly pitted. Skaife and Ambrose continued to break from the pack before they came in for fresh tyres, with the new team owner getting the jump as they exited. Paul Dumbrell in second Castrol Commodore forced the safety car out for the first time during the weekend after running wide and getting bogged in the sand trap with others taking the opportunity to pit under the yellow. Following the re-start, Ingall locked up both front breaks while attempting a move on Murphy and suffered the same fate as Dumbrell only this time ditching it at Turn 7, bringing the safety back onto the track for a handful of laps.
Once the green flag dropped, Skaife went about building up a 2.5 second lead over Ambrose, who was sitting back waiting to pounce, however, that was not going to be with the new team owner intent on finishing in front. Two further incidents involving Paul Morris in the Sirromet Commodore and Lowndes in the Ford Performance Falcon forced the safety car back onto the circuit with three laps to go, ensuring Skaife winning his first race as an owner/driver. Ambrose, Richards, Murphy and Tander took the minor placings, with John Bowe in the OzEmail Ford the biggest improver taking 11th from the middle of the pack.
Ford fans were wondering what was happening to their heros, with Ambrose the only member of the blue oval brigade in the top ten. When the flag dropped he got the jump on Skaife during race three, as did Murphy as they raced to the first corner. The defending champion was having no luck getting off the line and soon he was feeling the pressure of Richards and Tander, who were looking down the outside. Ambrose went about stretching his lead with Murphy making it a two car race before he pitted after four laps with Tander, Todd Kelly, Lowndes and Steven Ellery in the Super Cheap Auto Ford,. Ingall, Richards and Skaife soon followed avoiding any traffic in pit lane.
Race leader Ambrose then came in leaving Cameron McConville to take over in the Lansvale Commodore, but a lightning stop put the Stone Brothers Ford back in the lead after the front runners took their compulsory stops, and there was no holding him back, particularly after he punted Rodney Forbes in the 00 Motorsport Ford off the track. Officials looked at the incident and decided to take no action and a dozen laps later Skaife collided with Forbes after he spun with the Holden coming off second best with a damaged front left guard which would later cost him valuable seconds in the pits.
Series leader Jason Bright in the Team Brock Betta Electrical Commodore was tangling with Tander, Jason Richards in the Team Dynamik Commodore and Paul Radisich in the Betta Electrical Ford, all vying for top ten spots. Richards got by Tander after a late breaking move at Turn 7, but the local wasn't going to be denied and took back his place. 'The Rat' hung back and passed Richards, forcing the Kiwi back to 10th. Bright's consistency has kept him on top of the ladder, but the longer the championship goes he'll have to start stringing a few wins together.
The Barbagallo sand traps were copping a work over this weekend with Dumbrell beaching the Castrol Commodore for the second time this weekend, and a handful of laps later David Besnard in the second Ford Performance Vehicle followed suit after tangling with Ellery who wasn't as lucky when he rolled at the end of pit straight. Ellery was pulled from the car by marshals and officials decided to leave the car on it's roof with only six laps to go rather than finish under the yellow.
This left a smile on the face of 'the Devil', who crossed the line to take his third race win wrapping up the round with Todd Kelly, Murphy and team mate Rick Kelly finishing almost three seconds back. Ambrose now moves to 3rd spot in the championship behind Bright and Richards with Murphy and Skaife holding down 4th and 5th respectively.
As for the new team owners, well they couldn't hide their delight with a win each, and no doubt are looking forward to more wins throughout the series.