Round 1 - Phillip Island, VIC 23-25 March, 2001 Race Day Report SKAIFE'S PERFECT START TO TITLE DEFENCE Sunday, 25 March: It was a relaxed Mark Skaife performing exactly how you would expect a reigning champion to perform - powerfully ...
Round 1 - Phillip Island, VIC 23-25 March, 2001
Race Day Report
SKAIFE'S PERFECT START TO TITLE DEFENCE
Sunday, 25 March: It was a relaxed Mark Skaife performing exactly how you would expect a reigning champion to perform - powerfully out-qualifying and comprehensively out-racing all the would be contenders in a dominant display in front of 21,354 fans in the opening round of the 2001 Shell Championship Series at Phillip Island on the weekend.
Skaife took maximum points from the weekend, winning the first 28-lap race by more than 11 seconds and the second by an equally comfortable 4.5 seconds. He was well clear of Craig Lowndes who turned on a crowd pleasing display in his new Gibson Ford drive, executing precise pit stops to claim second overall. The man who replaced Lowndes at HRT, Jason Bright, took the last podium spot.
"After a pretty close qualifying session, I didn't foresee the races panning out as they did," said Skaife. "We were flexible on the pit strategy and the team made great calls for me. It's the best start we could have got and that's really important for us to make a strong start to the season." Lowndes strained hard to qualify in seventh, and canny driving, coupled with seamless pit stops in both races saw him finish third in the first heat and second in the last.
"It really is a great credit to the Gibson guys as the pit stops really helped me make up track position in both races," said Lowndes. "There are going to be a lot of pit stops in the new formats in the Shell Series this year, so we have put a big emphasis on them. The car isn't perfect just yet, but we are new to everything in Ford so we are looking forward to finding more speed and improving as the year progresses."
Bright had been matching Skaife throughout qualifying, but was well short of his pace by the time the first race got underway. He waged a few battles to record a second placing in the first race, while a misjudged pit stop in the second shuffled him back to fourth.
"The first race we got the set up a bit wrong when the weather got quite a bit warmer from the morning warm-up to the start of the race. As a result, I had some understeering problems to deal with," said Bright. "But we fixed them and in the second it was just a bad call on the stop. I probably stayed out there one or two laps too long and gave Craig and Greg the chance to steal through when I did come in to pitlane."
Greg Murphy turned in an impressive performance in his new Kmart drive, moving from his qualifying position of 13th, to fifth in the opening race and third in the second to claim fourth place for the weekend. Fifth was Tasmanian rookie, Marcus Ambrose, who capitalised on his strong qualifying in the Pirtek Falcon with solid front running displays in both races. Ford's third new signing for 2001, Steven Richards, also impressed in the Tickford Racing Falcon to finish sixth.
So commanding was his performance that Skaife faced his biggest threat of the weekend from an unfortunate seagull that stumbled into the path of the red Commodore as it was careering down the main straight on lap seven of the second race at more than 260km/h. It left him with a shattered windscreen to negotiate for the remainder of the race.
"I saw two of them fly out from behind the armco and one was smart enough to get out of the way, but the other one didn't even see me coming. It was a bit hairy as the windscreen was beginning to cave in a bit towards the end, but it didn't affect me too much," said Skaife.
While the top Ford performers for the weekend - Lowndes, Ambrose and Richards - are all new to the Blue Oval in 2001, the Ford drivers touted as more genuine Championship contenders failed to impress.
Glenn Seton qualified fifth, but was well and truly shaded by his new teammate, Richards, as he struggled home in tenth. Shell Helix Racing flier, Paul Radisich suffered from understeering in the opening race, dropping from fourth to twelfth, and spun out as he tried to make up ground in the second, eventually finishing eleventh overall.
The Valvoline Cummins Holden pair of Garth Tander and Jason Bargwanna also battled in the unfamiliar territory of midfield. A new blue hair-do didn't help Tander, who had problems with his steering rack early, which put him well back, while Bargwanna's opening lap collision proved costly. They finished the weekend fourteenth and fifteenth.
The Shell Championship Series heads to Adelaide for the second round of the season, the Clipsal 500, from 6-8 April.
Overall Round Point Scores:
1) Skaife 288; 2) Lowndes 238; 3) Bright 235; 4) Murphy 201; 5) Ambrose 200; 6) S.Richards 191; 7) Kelly 163; 8) Ingall 156; 9) Johnson 153; 10) Seton - 150
<pre> Race Two Results Pos. Driver Team Car 1. MARK SKAIFE Holden Racing Team Holden VX 2. CRAIG LOWNDES Gibson Motorsport Ford AU 3. GREG MURPHY Kmart Racing Holden VX 4. JASON BRIGHT Holden Racing Team Holden VX 5. STEVEN RICHARDS Ford Tickford Racing Ford AU 6. MARCUS ANBROSE Pirtek Racing Ford AU11 7. TODD KELLY Kmart Racing Holden VX 8. RUSSELL INGALL Castrol Perkins Racing Holden VX 9. STEVEN JOHNSON Shell Helix Racing Ford AU 10. GLENN SETON Ford Tickford Racing Ford AU 11. STEVE ELLERY Supercheap Auto Racing Racing Ford AU 12. GARTH TANDER Valvoline Cummins Race Team Holden VX
-The Motor Web