As anticipated after he tested with the team earlier this year, five-time Bathurst winner Mark Skaife is to return for this year's V8 Supercar endurance races with Sprint Gas Racing.
Skaife will team up with four-time Mount Panorama race winner Greg Murphy to form the best-credentialed pairing on the 2009 entry list, and will also drive the #51 Sprint Gas Racing Holden at the L&H 500 at Phillip Island after agreeing a two-event deal for the veteran.
“It's exciting for the team and the sponsors to have Mark join us,” Murphy said, “Experience counts for heaps at Bathurst and Skaifey's got more of that than anyone else out there. I guess he wasn't really ready to hang up his helmet for good last year and was planning for an enduro return. Mark wouldn't do it if he didn't think he could do it - and do it well - that's the kind of guy he is. If that blinker-eyed focus is back, look out!”
Skaife made no secret of his desire to return to the enduro race environment at Phillip Island and Bathurst in 2009 when he joined Australia's Network Seven
commentary team, and his availability presented an ideal opportunity to pair Holden's most successful Bathurst heroes in the one car. The first clue that the deal might happen came when Skaife tested Murphy's #51 Commodore at Winton in early May and again at Sandown last month.
“From my point of view, pairing up with 'Murph' is ideal because we both know exactly what is required on the day,” Skaife said, “No one gets around the mountain better than 'Murph' when he's dialled in - four wins and a long standing lap record are testament to that.
"On top of that, Sprint Gas Racing is a strong outfit, with some good strategic operators like Jeff Grech and Mike Henry calling the shots. Last year, the team went excellently at Bathurst to run a close second, and I reckon, this year, it has the potential to go one better.”
A win for the duo would emulate the multi-race winning heroics of past pairings such as Peter Brock and Allan Moffat in 1986, who form the immediate ten-win target for Murphy and Skaife, with Skaife and Jim Richards taking their eleventh combined win in 2002 and Brock and Richards teaming up for a twelfth success in 1988.
Skaife had his first official run as a Sprint Gas Racing driver at Monday's Winton test day, and sporting director Jeff Grech is relishing having him team up with Murphy in the same car. Remarkably, although both drivers have raced Holdens for a combined 35 years, they have never co-driven each other - even with both racing at HRT in 1997 and 1998.
“This is a big coup for Sprint Gas Racing,” Grech admitted, “Murphy and Skaife together is a formidable pairing; they have a lot of experience, have had a lot of success and are still absolutely focussed on one common goal – to win. Their individual strengths compliment each other nicely; I think they will be a serious contender at both Phillip Island and Bathurst.”
Despite the focus on the ultra-successful Skaife and Murphy, however, Grech believes that both Sprint Gas driver pairings will be strong.
“With Mark Skaife and Mark Noske joining our full-time drivers, I believe we have two lead cars both capable of doing well,” he continued, “Jason Bargwanna is a Bathurst winner, he knows what to do, and Mark Noske is one of the most experienced drivers out there, so we have the potential to have two bites of the cherry.”