Freight train: Russell Ingall is hounded by the HRT duo of Mark Skaife and Jason Bright at Winton yesterday.
RUSSELL Ingall has cracked opened the door to his maiden Shell Series V8 Supercar Championship after winning yesterday's 10th round of the series at Winton.
Ingall, in his Castrol Perkins Commodore, survived changing conditions, multiple crashes and a number of safety car periods to win his first V8 Supercar round in three years.
The win moves 'The Enforcer' into third in the championship standings and presents him as a legitimate chance to overtake the Holden Racing Team pair of Jason Bright and Mark Skaife in the remaining three rounds to win the title.
"It's been a while between drinks, hasn't it," said Ingall, who last won a round in Darwin in July 1998.
"This is a great result for a few reasons. First, because it is great for our championship hopes and second because the car showed it had some great speed and that is good news with Bathurst being the next round in four weeks. We will be giving it a good nudge. The fans want to see the title go down to the wire and it looks like that's the way it will pan out." Ingall was the fastest qualifier, clinching a career first V8 Supercar pole position on Saturday. He would have won both of Sunday's 100km races but for a superior pit stop by Greg Murphy's Kmart Holden crew, which allowed the Kiwi to sneak in front of Ingall to pinch the win.
A much slower pit stop next time round meant Murphy was sixth in the second race, but that was enough for second overall.
"The crew were fantastic with the first stop but we had a problem with the left rear tyre in the second which cost us some time, but it is still a great result for us," Murphy said.
"We are going to Bathurst on the back of two podium finishes in a row now." Rounding out the podium was Mark Skaife who recorded third and second placings in the two races after starting the day from the 15th on the grid. It was a great comeback for the championship leader following a blunder by his HRT crew in qualifying.
"I would certainly have preferred not to have started from 15th today. But after the bad call the team made yesterday, if you had have come to me this morning and offered me third overall I would have taken it in a flash," he said.
Skaife's teammate and nearest rival in the championship, Jason Bright, kept his car straight and finished fourth ahead of the best of the Ford drivers, Tasmanian rookie sensation Marcos Ambrose.
Ambrose was the crowd pleaser of the day, climbing from his lowly 18th qualifying position after managing to avoid the opening corner carnage, to battle with Ingall and Skaife for the win in the second race.
Paul Morris hung on for sixth in the Big Kev Commodore, ahead of the Shell Helix Falcon pair of Paul Radisich and Steven Johnson.
Radisich was involved in several clashes that lost him any chance of a podium finish, while Johnson simply struggled to match the pace of the front runners.
Johnson's title hopes have been dented as a result, slipping to fourth in the points standings as he surrendered some ground to the three in front of him.
With the next round - the Bathurst 1000 enduro - carrying 540 points for the winner, it is shaping up as the pivotal event for the leading four drivers, who are separated by just 272 points.
There were a number of teams who could not have asked for a worse preparation leading up to Bathurst. Ford Tickford Racing's Glenn Seton was caught up in the opening lap collision - triggered by an ambitious Tony Longhurst dive under brakes into the first turn - that had him in the pits for repairs before his tyres were even warmed up.
Craig Lowndes had one of his worst weekends in what was the final outing for his current car. He spun the Gibson Falcon in the opening race after just five laps and sat in the infield until the chequered flag, while another spin in the second race left him amongst the backmarkers to finish 29th overall.
Garth Tander fought hard in his Valvoline Cummins Commodore, squeezing past Bright for fourth in race two before the HRT driver spun him off the track after coming together at the hairpin.
John Bowe, Mark Larkham, David Besnard and Cameron McConville were also involved in crashes that ruined their chances of better results - they finished 15th, 18th, 19th and 32nd (last) respectively.
RACE 1 RESULTS
1 Greg Murphy (Holden) 45:02.1401
2 R Ingall (Holden) +0.9538
3 M Skaife (Holden) +1.7858
4 J Bright (Holden) +2.6868
5 M Ambrose (Ford) +3.2408
6 Paul Morris (Holden) +3.8284
7 Jason Bargwanna (Holden) +6.2586
8 Steven Johnson (Ford) +8.2365
9 Mark Larkham (Ford) +9.2857
10 Garth Tander (Holden) +11.0923 RACE 2 RESULTS
1 Russell Ingall (Holden) 48:54.0840
2 M Skaife (Holden) +0.8161
3 M Ambrose (Ford) +1.2430
4 J Bright (Holden) +3.2662
5 Paul Radisich (Ford) +8.8688
6 G Murphy (Holden) +12.4768
7 P Morris (Holden) +13.2329
8 Steve Ellery (Ford) +15.0115
9 S Johnson (Ford) +15.5183
10 Glenn Seton (Ford) +15.6968 OVERALL RESULTS
1 Ingall (Holden) 273 points
2 Murphy (Holden) 231
3 Skaife (Holden) 228
4 Bright (Holden) 205
5 Ambrose (Ford) 201
6 Morris (Holden) 184
7 Radisich (Ford) 161
8 Johnson (Ford) 155
9 Ellery (Ford) 148
10 Bargwanna (Holden) 126 DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP
1 Skaife (HRT) 2498 points
2 Bright (HRT) 2371
3 Ingall (Castrol Holden) 2281
4 Johnson (Shell Ford) 2217
5 Murphy (K-Mart Holden) 1842
6 Radisich (Shell Ford) 1836
7 Kelly (K-Mart Holden) 1644
8 Ambrose (Pirtek Ford) 1611
9 Tander (Valvoline Holden) 1479
10 Ellery (Super Cheap Auto Holden) 1477 Next round: FAI 1000, Bathurst, October 4-7