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Murphy tops red-flagged practice

29 May 2009

In a dramatic conclusion to Friday's practice for this weekend's Falken Tasmania Challenge, Kiwi Greg Murphy emerged quickest of the thirty V8 Supercar contestants.

The final minutes were building to a climax when an incident at the notorious Symmons Plains hairpin compelled officials to red flag the session to a premature halt.

Murphy's Super Gas VE Commodore had however been near the top of the timing charts throughout and vaulted past fellow Holden driver Lee Holdsworth (Valvoline GRM) immediately prior to the session closing accident that saw Toll-Holden Racing Team driver Will Davison sustain damage to the right hand side of his car.

Many drivers exceeded the limits of braking adhesion into the tricky hairpin during practice, which resulted in no less than six interventions to remove stranded vehicles.

The final driver to become embedded in the gravel was Ford Performance Racing's Steven Richards whilst attempting to improve upon his eighth fastest time for the day. With yellow caution flags signalling rivals of the FG Falcon's excursion, a rapidly slowing Michael Patrizi caught reigning champion Jamie Whincup by surprise at his sudden loss of speed.

Unable to overtake whilst under the yellow flags, Whincup's Team VodaFone Falcon braked hard enough to cause the closely following Davison to jink to the right in avoidance. Taking the option of hitting the right hand side of his car along the concrete wall rather than ramming into the rear of his former flat mate, Davison struck the wall with sufficient force to smash his right front (parallel A-arm) suspension and rear differential.

As officials mopped up the accident under the subsequent red flag, Murphy finished marginally ahead of Holdsworth with Richards' FPR teammate Mark Winterbottom third fastest.

After struggling to perform to expectations at the last round at his team's test track at Winton, Murphy was both relieved and happy to show increased pace.

“We're back to where we were at Adelaide and Hamilton,” enthused Murphy. “We were good straight out of the box and in the top three for most of the time. We haven't had the luxury of testing since Winton but the team went through the car with a fine tooth comb and found a number of issues.”

Murphy was also one of the many to miscue at one juncture, lamenting damage to the oil tank in the boot of his car while it was being retrieved from the gravel trap.

“Some big machinery almost pulled the back of my car off!” he proclaimed. “We got a 'green' (new) tyre run right at the end to go fastest and the car was working well – it's about bloody time!”

Holdsworth was also looking to rebound from a disappointing run at Winton, admitting, “I've got to get some points back and I'm aiming at winning races but also staying out of trouble. I'd been fastest in the first two sectors and was on the way back to the pits to look at the telemetry data when I discovered my third sector times were driving technique rather than a car issue. On the 'in-lap' I figured out what I was doing wrong and then nailed a good time on my best (not new) rubber. Saturday and Sunday's races will see some great passing with the softer option tyre and I'm sure it will get messy at some stage – as long as I'm not involved.”

It was a similar tale for Winterbottom who ran the same set of control Dunlop tyres through the entire session, preferring instead to keep his four new sets intact for Saturday's all important qualifying session.

“This was the best my car has been all year and we expect to move forward when we go onto fresh rubber. It was amazing how many cars were weaving around out there during 'happy hour' in the closing minutes so it will be interesting to see who gets it right tomorrow. We tested since the last round and tried some development bits so I have really noticed the difference here.”

Rounding out the top ten fastest drivers were James Courtney, Whincup, Steven Johnson, Craig Lowndes, Richards, teenager Shane Van Gisbergen and Todd Kelly. Surprisingly neither Davison nor team mate and former champion Garth Tander could infiltrate the top ten although they too kept their better rubber in reserve.


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