by Matthew Agius
Team Betta Electrical driver Craig Lowndes has notched up yet another race win in the 2005 V8 Supercar Championship, by taking victory in the opening twenty-three lapper at Phillip Island for the season-ending BigPond Grand Finale.
Lowndes started well from pole, but a blistering Garth Tander made the best jump from fourth on the grid – overtaking both Lowndes and Marcos Ambrose to lead the field into the first turn. Holden Racing Team's Mark Skaife qualified eleventh at his home test track – but he weekend soon became worse when he slipped off the track at Turn One and rejoined the track at the rear of the field.
Tander, the winner of the recent Ferodo Triple Challenge, eventually began to pull away from Lowndes, but it wasn't long before he pitted for his compulsory tyre stop along with Championship leader Russell Ingall. Both men took rear rubber changes, and rejoined the field without any issues.
Just one lap later, and inherited race leader Lowndes and championship rival Ambrose also peeled in to complete their tyre changes. The only blemish in Ambrose's charge was an untidy entry into pitlane – one that resulted in him entering alongside Lowndes as he overshot the control line. A tidy four-second stop from Stone Brothers Racing ejected Ambrose from the pits ahead of Lowndes.
Meanwhile series leader Russell Ingall was circulating outside the top five. Needing to finish well this weekend to secure the title, Ingall was gifted two more positions – and a foray into the top five – when Holden rivals Todd Kelly and Steven Richards clashed at Turn Two – both spearing off the track. Richards was eventually handed a pit lane penalty for failing to provide HRT driver Kelly with racing room.
Ambrose was falling into the clutches of Lowndes – a delaminating tyre causing the Pirtek Racer a tough set of final laps. Lowndes snuck through Ambrose at MG on lap fifteen, and Garth Tander also passed the defending champion five laps later.
For race winner Lowndes, he continues his form at Phillip Island after winning the previous 300km event held at the Victorian circuit in 2003.
"Our car wasn't quite as quick on colder tyres, but once we'd settled down our car was reasonably quick," said Lowndes.
"Marcos (Ambrose) was having some sort of trouble with tyre degradation and I think he actually had a tyre delaminate, so we were able to get by him and then pull a gap on both he and Garth Tander and go onto win the race quite comfortably.
"Tomorrow's races are going to be a longer, we don't know what the weather's going to hold for us yet, so we'll make some changes from today's results."