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V8s ready to rock the island

Big boys clash: The V8 Supercars renew their rivalry at the fast, flowing Phillip Island circuit.

The Holden-Ford battle starts afresh at the season-opener at Phillip Island

22 Mar 2001

THE biff-and-barge within the V8 Supercar ranks steps up a notch this weekend as the 2001 Shell Championship Series kicks off at the Phillip Island circuit in Victoria.

The off-season reshuffle between drivers, cars and sponsors is now well and truly over, as the teams head to the penguin capital to see how they fared in the wash-up.

Three-time series champion and new Ford driver, Craig Lowndes, will be looking to capitalise on his surprise debut performance around Albert Park a few weeks ago. All eyes will be on Lowndes as he endeavours to let his driving do the talking after the much-publicised split from HRT.

The Ford camp will also turn its attentions to Steven Richards in the second Tickford Racing Falcon and rookies Marcus Ambrose and David Besnard in the Stone Brothers entries to keep them at the pointy end of the field.

Jason Bright is another driver who will be looking to make the most of his new opportunities, filling the void left by Lowndes at HRT.

The reformed Kmart team will run cars for Greg Murphy and former Holden Young Lion Todd Kelly, while Tony Longhurst has filled Cameron McConville's spot in the Rod Nash Commodore after McConville moved to the Lansvale Smash Repairs team with Trevor Ashby and Steve Reed.

The rest of the Holden brigade remains relatively unchanged, with Ingall and Perkins still under the Castrol banner as well as Tander and Bargwanna continuing the campaign for Garry Rogers Motorsport.

Test time results from Phillip Island over the off-season show the Commodores of Skaife, Murphy, Ingall, Bright and Perkins all circulating in the 1 minute 33 second bracket and hovering around Lowndes's lap record, but not a Ford Falcon in sight.

So often though, pre-season form is an unreliable comparison of apples and oranges. But if the showcase event at the recent Melbourne Grand Prix is any indication, the first Ford-Holden clash of the year should be closer than ever before and produce plenty of fireworks.

The V8 Supercar series has a new look for this season.

Two 100-kilometre races with mandatory pit stops have replaced the three-race sprint format that made up the bulk of the 13 rounds in previous years.

Rounds six and seven, at Barbagallo and Calder Park, are the only rounds to stick with the old format.

Another new feature this year is the Top 10 qualifying shootout for each round previously only a feature at the endurance races. Championship points will be on offer for those who make it into the shootout, ranging from 18 points for pole to seven points for 10th place.

In light of the extra track time for each event, the rule makers have given the teams an additional two tyres per meeting, bringing the total for each car to ten tyres.

The red light is scheduled to turn green at 11.30am on Sunday morning for the first 45-minute race, with race two locked-in for 3.00pm.

New car and driver combinations, coupled with a new race format and Phillip Island's capacity for unpredictable weather conditions, should produce an exciting opening round to the season.

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