FPR takes 1-2 as Ford row rumbles on
1 January 1901
Ford drivers Mark Winterbottom and Steven Richards played the diplomat card after a tumultuous few days for the Blue Oval that ended - at least for today - with the first 1-2 for the factory-backed Ford Performance Racing team at the SkyCity Triple Crown in Darwin.
Winterbottom and Richards completely outclassed their opponents just days after Ford announced it would back only FPR and Stone Brothers Racing from 2009, outside of assisting teams with the conversion to the new generation FG Falcon.
“It's really irrelevant what has gone on,” championship leader Winterbottom insisted, “All that stuff is good for publicity but, when it comes to winning races, it really doesn't make much difference. There's the money side as one thing, but there's a lot of other things in the background that helps you win races. All the Ford guys have got support and the guys are going to have [ongoing] FG support.”
Winterbottom said that today's domination of the field, with Holden Racing Team's Garth Tander a distant third, was not justification of any recent decisions, but simply good preparation.
“What has happened in the last week doesn't make you appreciate a win any more, or strive you to win any differently,” he claimed, “We have been trying to get a 1-2 for a while now but, whether it was 'Richo' in New Zealand or me in Perth, we just haven't had two cars at the same time that are competitive.”
Richards had a similar view. The veteran has been in the Championship as long as most and has seen many changes along the way.
“The economy changes, the objectives change and, when things are not as they used to be, things have to be changed,” he said, “I'm not privy to the reasons why or what happened but, at the end of the day, Ford are still supporting the teams and they have committed to parts and FG Falcons next year. We, as individuals, are trying to do the best job for FPR and our sponsors. Clearly, the teams will survive, move on and, in a month or so, it won't be quite as sharp of a pain that it is now.”
Issues aside, Tander put it bluntly when it came to describing the first of three races this weekend.
“Those guys were certainly in a league of their own in that race,” the reigning champion admitted, “Our car wasn't good at all, and we have a lot of work to do. [But], third with an evil car means there is a lot of promise for tomorrow.”
Ford's domination of proceedings continued throughout the top five, with Team Vodafone pairing Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes next up, ahead of a mixed group comprising Sprint Gas Tasman's Jason Richards and Supercheap's Russell Ingall for Holden, with HSV Dealer Team leader Rick Kelly sandwiched in ninth between the Fords of Will Davison and James Courtney.
Both Vodafone drivers lost a position off the start and endured slower than normal pit-stops, hampering their races. After working their way onto Tander's tail, they found little opportunity to overtake, and were restricted to fourth and fifth in a race which turned into a procession to the chequered flag.
“I actually got off to quite a good start and had a dual with Garth into turn one, but he got the better of me this time,” Whincup reported, “We were relying on a good pit-stop to try and leapfrog the slower cars in front, but a stuck wheel nut had the opposite effect. Craig had used his tyres up trying to pass Garth so he tagged me in, but I hit the same barriers he did."
Richards, meanwhile, posted his team's best qualifying and race results of the season, starting and finishing sixth having stayed on the tail of the two Triple Eight cars for the entire race and run as high as fifth, after passing Lowndes on the first corner of the first lap.
“That was excellent,” he enthused, “We've still got room for improvement, but to hang on to HRT and Triple Eight was good. The car felt great all day, we were able to hold on to the Tander/Lowndes pack and occasionally challenge. We've made a giant step forward since the test day, and that showed out there today. I am rapt!"
“I got past Lowndes at the start, which was really satisfying, but a slow pit-stop prevented us getting in front of the Tander pack. To go from 27th yesterday to sixth today shows how much we've improved the car's set-up. [Practice] was frustrating for sure, but we didn't panic. We made small changes; we didn't empty the truck and start again. Every change made was methodical and logical. The result was a much better race car. The objective now is to stay in the top ten and keep knocking them over.”