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Who'll win at Winton?
The Holden Racing Team is hoping to end its Winton hoodoo this weekend
7 Sep 2001
By JUSTIN LACY
THE Shell Championship Series returns to individual driver racing this weekend, following the first of the team-oriented endurance races, the Queensland 500, a fortnight ago.
The V8 Supercar circus heads to Winton Raceway in central Victoria for the 10th of 13 rounds, as the series reverts to the two-race sprint format for the last meeting before Bathurst.
The Holden Racing Team may be in for another body blow in the battle for this year's title, as the red barons have never tasted victory at the Winton circuit - a rarity for the dominant HRT machine. A third to Peter Brock in 1995 and another third to Mark Skaife in 1998 are the team's best Winton results.
HRT 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.
Series leader Mark Skaife and teammate Jason Bright had cleared out from the field before the start of the last round, 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.
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.
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.
Currently in third position, Junior Johnson is Ford's best-placed driver, just 208 points behind championship leader Mark Skaife. And with up to 288 points on offer at Winton the Falcon driver is very much a title contender.
Although lying 16th in the championship points standings, Jason Bargwanna knows only too well how competitive the V8 Supercar Series has become, but that isn't stopping the reigning Bathurst champion from eyeing off a hat-trick of wins this weekend.
Bargwanna has taken his Garry Rogers Motorsport Valvoline/Cummins Commodore to victory at the circuit the past two years and believes he can overcome the difficulties he and his teammate, Garth Tander, have encountered so far this year to record the team's first victory for the 2001 season.
After showing great speed at the recent Queensland 500, Cat Racing's John Bowe is also fired up for a strong performance at Winton, as the track has been kind to him in the past with five race wins and three round victories under his belt.
Craig Lowndes will make his final appearance in Gibson Motorsport's existing '00' Falcon, with the team set to debut an all-new car at Bathurst next month. But Lowndes is confident that his current machine has the speed to set the pace at the team's test track this weekend.
Winton is also the designated test circuit of Ford Tickford Racing's Glenn Seton and Steven Richards, with Seton confident of using that home ground advantage during qualifying and the races. He finished third overall at this round last year, after claiming a race win in the second heat.
Circuit: Winton Raceway, Benalla
Race distance: 2 x 100km
Lap record: 1m24.00s Russell Ingall (1997) Saturday:
Top-10 Shootout 3.35-4.05pm Sunday:
Race 1 11.30am
Race 2 3.00pm DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP
1 Mark Skaife (HRT) 2270 points
2 Jason Bright (HRT) 2166
3 Steven Johnson (Shell Ford) 2062
4 Russell Ingall (Castrol Holden) 2008
5 Paul Radisich (Shell Ford) 1675
6 Greg Murphy (K-Mart Holden) 1611
7 Todd Kelly (K-Mart Holden) 1554
8 Marcos Ambrose (Pirtek Ford) 1410
9 Craig Lowndes (Gibson Ford) 1381
10 Garth Tander (Valvoline Holden) 1370
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