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Skaife skates to Bathurst win number three
HRT's Mark Skaife takes aim at the V8 Supercar title thanks to a superb Bathurst win with Tony Longhurst
8 Oct 2001
By BRUCE NEWTON
HOLDEN superstar Mark Skaife overcame a mix of rain, hail and sunshine to narrowly win the V8 Supercar 1000 classic and all but seal a second consecutive Shell Championship Series title in front of 50,393 fans at Bathurst's Mount Panorama.
Skaife and Tony Longhurst won in their Holden Racing Team Commodore from rank outsider outsider Brad Jones and Scottish import John Cleland in the Ozemail Ford, with Greg Murphy and Todd Kelly third in the Kmart Holden.
"I wasn't too pleased with the car in qualifying, but today I was thrilled. The car was fantastic and Tony and I barely made a mistake all day. It was safety first from the championship perspective at the start, but when I had a sniff in the last stint, I just went for it," said Skaife, who qualified fourth for the big race.
"It was a great race by Brad, I really had to race hard at the end and not make a single mistake to hold him off. It was one of the best wins I have been involved with as the wet-dry conditions meant it was just so easy to put it into the fence." For Longhurst, it was a dream result. After coming so close to winning here last year in the Stone Brother's Ford, he has spent this season grappling in the midfield with a less than competitive Holden before landing the plum job with HRT.
"Straight after the crash last year, I spoke to my wife and decided to call Mark to ask for a drive with him this year. He told me to ring Jeff Grech (HRT Team Manager) and that led to this. Having spent a couple of months working with the team now, I understand why they win so many championships and why Mark wins so many races. They were just a joy to work with," said Longhurst.
Skaife had to hold out an inspired, surprise-packet challenger in Jones over the last 30 laps of the 161-lap race to claim the first Bathurst victory for HRT since 1996 by just 2.3 seconds after nearly seven hours of racing. It was Skaife's third Bathurst win and his first of the V8 era.
Jones and Cleland had struggled to qualify in 22nd place on Friday, but the right changes by the team left them with a virtual rocket on race day. Jones took the wheel of the car from Cleland on lap 130 and rejoined the field in sixth place before muscling his way to second and pushing Skaife all the way to the line.
"The team worked on the car until 5.30am this morning to give us the fastest Ford out there today," said Jones. "Two of them didn't even get any sleep. They are probably having a nap now, or a beer. Probably a beer I'd reckon. It is certainly one of the most satisfying results I have had in my career. Skaife and I were just blow for blow over those closing laps and that's the way racing should be." Murphy and Kelly had their share of the lead until Kelly was caught out by one of the many wild showers which randomly hit different sections of the track, spinning off on lap 127 and falling to eighth before Murphy fought back to the last podium spot.
"It was as tough as it gets today. One lap you would go round in the dry, then the next lap you would drive into some rain," said Kelly. "The spin effectively ruined our chances." "We had our chances. We led the race a fair few times," said Murphy. "Skaife and I had our share of epic battles while we were negotiating the rain at the top of the mountain, but it was a very tough race today." Cameron McLean and Greg Ritter were fourth in their Shell Helix Falcon after elading late in the race, ahead of Jim Richards and Dean Canto in their Ford Tickford Racing entry. Last year's winners, Garth Tander and Jason Bargwanna came home in sixth place, ahead of the Super Cheap Ford driven by Steve Ellery and Geoff Brabham.
The event was punctuated by eight safety car periods which occupied 36 laps of the event. There were only 21 classified finishers of the 39 starters when Skaife took the chequered flag.
Two of those safety car periods were to clear away the remains of two of Skaife's title challengers' Bathurst bids. Steven Johnson retired after the Shell Helix Falcon he was sharing with Paul Radisich blew an engine on lap 62 while running in second place, and Skaife's HRT teammate, Jason Bright, watched helplessly from the pits as his co-driver, Tomas Mezera, buried it in the sand trap after a multiple car crash lap 127.
Russell Ingall, the only remaining threat to Skaife's title bid, looked to be on his way to victory before his team boss, Larry Perkins, crashed the Castrol Holden on the entry to pit lane, just moments after a he had daringly snatched the lead from Steven Richards in the FTR Falcon he shared with Glenn Seton.
"I stuffed up," said Perkins. "The track was dry and I never considered the pit lane entry would be wet and it was." They finished in eighth place, but the points claimed by Skaife means that Ingall is 455 points adrift with just two rounds remaining. With a maximum of 576 points available in New Zealand and Sandown, Skaife is still to mathematically confirm the title, but it would take a miracle for him to lose it from here.
Seton and Richards looked every chance to take an elusive first Bathurst win for Seton when they were leading in the lead FTR car as late as lap 127, but a late pit stop after Richards tagged the concrete left them to trail home in ninth.
Polesitter, Marcos Ambrose had a shocking start and his day didn't get any better with his engine giving up the ghost and leaving the Pirtek Ford to be packed back in the Stone Brothers truck before the end of the race. A disappointed Ambrose left the circuit before the winner was known.
1 Skaife/Longhurst (Holden) 6hr 50:33.1789
2 Jones/Cleland (Ford) +2.2785
3 T Kelly/Murphy (Holden) + 17.9442
4 McLean/Ritter (Ford) +26.1142
5 J Richards/Canto (Ford) +30.7834
6 Tander/Bargwanna (Holden) +34.3399
7 Ellery/Brabham (Ford) +46.5737
8 Ingall/Perkins (Holden) +1:22.6079
9 Seton/S Richards (Ford) +1:48.9311
10 McConville/Bates (Holden) +1 lap DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP
1 Skaife (HRT) 3050 points
2 Ingall (Castrol Holden) 2595
3 Bright (HRT) 2504
4 Johnson (Shell Ford) 2276
5 Murphy (Kmart Holden) 2274
6 Kelly (Kmart Holden) 2076
7 Radisich (Shell Ford) 1895
8 Tander (Valvoline Holden) 1835
9 Ellery (Super Cheap Auto Holden) 1810
10 S Richards (FTR Ford) 1758 Next round: Shell Championship Series Rd 12, Pukekohe (NZ), November 9-11
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