Shell Championship Series Round 10 Â Winton Raceway, VIC 7-9 September, 2001 Rivals Hoping To Edge Closer At HRT Bogey Track The Holden Racing Team may be in for another body blow in the battle for the 2001 Shell Championship Series title as...
Shell Championship Series
Round 10 Winton Raceway, VIC
7-9 September, 2001
Rivals Hoping To Edge Closer At HRT Bogey Track
The Holden Racing Team may be in for another body blow in the battle for the 2001 Shell Championship Series title as the V8 Supercar brigade heads to Victoria's Winton Raceway this weekend, a circuit where the red barons have never tasted victory.
Mark Skaife and Jason Bright had cleared out from the field before the start of the last round, the Queensland 500, but finishing fourth saw them concede valuable points to their main rivals, Steven Johnson and Russell Ingall, igniting the title race as the season approaches its climax.
Johnson's Shell Helix Ford team are in form and confident of success at a track that has similar characteristics to the Willowbank circuit where they won the last round.
"Winning in Queensland has put us in with a serious shot at the title and we're going to have a red hot go," said Johnson. "We feel we can match it with HRT anywhere."
The northern Victorian circuit is a rarity in that the dominant HRT machine have never recorded a round win there. A third to Peter Brock in 1995 and another third to Mark Skaife in 1998 are the team's best Winton results. The team used the circuit as one of their nominated test circuits last season in an effort to redress their poor record, but victory still eluded them.
If HRT loses more ground on what is, statistically, one of the team's few bogey tracks, it will pile on the pressure for the remaining three rounds, particularly the next one, the double points Bathurst 1000.
"Our team has a pretty good track record there, having used it as a test circuit until last year," said Ingall. "We planned to close the gap to at least 100 points before Bathurst to put the pressure right on the HRT boys. We could be pretty close to that by the end of the weekend.
"We just want to keep applying the pressure. We don't want the leader to be in a position to just accumulate points for the title and protect the lead in the last few rounds, we want it to be close so that drivers have to go out there to win if they want to take the title. The more pressure we can apply, the more likely they are to slip up."
Skaife and Bright have sat atop the points table since the season began with their podium double at Phillip Island and Bright's Adelaide triumph.
Skaife has been the most consistent front-runner all year and remains on track for back-to-back titles, but Johnson and Ingall will need only a sniff of a chance, particularly as they both know they have strong endurance packages for the points rich Bathurst event.
Skaife's Winton hopes last year were dashed early when he suffered major damage in an opening lap skirmish and only scored points due to the almost miraculous work of the team to get the car racing again. Such a mishap this weekend would play right into the hands of Johnson and Ingall.
"It has been a bogey track for us in contrast to the others on the calendar. Several of the other top teams test there regularly so it can be tough to beat them," said Skaife.
"The hard part for us this weekend from a championship perspective is that we have to adopt a more conservative strategy to these compulsory pit stop meetings. While taking a big risk on strategy can bring a big reward, it can also catch you out, as was the case with Glenn Seton at Eastern Creek where an untimely safety car ruined his day," said Skaife. "We will just be going there to do the best we can."
The gap covering Skaife, Bright, Johnson and Ingall is 262 points, with a maximum of 1422 points on offer over the last four rounds.
"The gap we had was never going to be enough given the huge amount of points left in the season," said Bright. "With the gap at the top now so close, we can't afford to be too cautious because we will have to earn the points we need to stay in front. We will be going to Winton to break the HRT duck, come away with a win and a slightly larger buffer to take to Bathurst."
With the tense title fight seemingly restricted to these four, the door may open for someone less concerned with low risk approaches to steal the win this weekend.
Johnson's teammate, Paul Radisich, has been in fine touch since a poor start to the year had him languishing in 16th place after three rounds. He has stormed back to fifth and will be looking for as many wins as he can to finish the season.
Craig Lowndes has dropped away after an encouraging start to his first year with the Ford camp, and the promise of unveiling a brand new Gibson built Falcon this weekend may spur the triple champion on.
John Bowe's new CAT Falcon was impressive at Queensland before becoming the unfortunate victim of that now famous downpour, and he could figure in the end result.
There is also the Kmart Holden team and the Ford Tickford outfit who test here, and the Valvoline Holden team who have been the toast of Winton for the last two years through the strong showings by Jason Bargwanna and Garth Tander. Add the Stone Brothers Ford pair of Marcos Ambrose and David Besnard and this promises to be one of the hardest fought rounds Winton has seen.
The format of the weekend will see qualifying plus a top ten shootout on the Saturday, plus two 100km races with compulsory pit stops on the Sunday.
Shell Series Points Overall after 9 rounds: 1)Skaife - 2270, 2)Bright 2166, 3)Johnson - 2062, 4)Ingall - 2008, 5)Radisich - 1675, 6)Murphy 1611, 7)Kelly - 1554, 8)Ambrose 1410, 9)Lowndes - 1381, 10)Tander 1370, 11)S.Richards - 1349, 12)Ellery 1329, 13)Perkins 1241, 14)Seton 1225, 15)Bargwanna - 1071
Winton V8 Supercar action at a glance: Friday: Pre-Qualifying 3.05-3.20pm Saturday: Provisional Qualifying 2.30-3.25pm / Top 10 Shootout 3.35-4.05pm Sunday: Race 1 @ 11.30am (32 laps) / Race 2 @ 3pm (32 laps)
NB: Each race includes one compulsory pit stop to change all tyres between laps 2 and 23