HRT drivers Mark Skaife and Todd Kelly have won a drama packed Sandown 500 today, Skaife taking the chequered flag from the Super Cheap Falcon of Steve Ellery and Luke Youlden, with the unlucky pairing of Greg Murphy and Rick Kelly third in their Kmart Commodore.

Scheduled to run for 161 laps, the race was shortened to 141 laps after rain and hail played havoc with the field and the lap times. At one stage even the Audi Safety Car was having trouble navigating the conditions as a sheet of hail stones covered the Dandenong Road Esses.

The early running was set by Championship leader Marcos Ambrose in the Caltex Havoline Pirtek Falcon, but his charge came to an end when co-driver Russell Ingall slipped off the track on his first lap. That left Greg Murphy to take up the running, but he was baulked in pitlane during a routine pitstop, losing more than a lap and the race in the process.

But Skaife still had to fight all the way to the chequered flag, fending off a brave challenge late in the race from Team Dynamik's Jason Richards.

"From the last Safety Car we were switching things off because the volt alarm kept coming on," Skaife said. "I was like an auto electrician, playing with circuit breakers and unplugging things.

"I had to turn the windscreen warmer off and I couldn't see because it was so fogged over... I saw two lights coming at me and then I had to block Jase [Richards] whenever I could. When he did go up the inside we touched and we both went off the track.

"If anyone has come out of today thinking they [Stone Brother Racing and Marcos Ambrose] had our measure in speed, they were watching a different race. The fight is absolutely on for Bathurst."

A crest fallen Jason Richards said he was annoyed with Skaife: "I jumped up the inside of him and went to the outside and then came over on me and hit me. I had a go, but the incident between Mark and I didn't need to happen, there was no need for him to come over like that.

"It is not every day of the week you start catching an HRT car for the win, this is a very bright day for Team Dynamik."

Steve Ellery's small team battled hard today to claim second, equalling his career best result here three years ago.

"It has been a long time, the past two years have been a real struggle for the team," Ellery said. "We've done a lot of work to try and get speed out of the BA Falcon and we were pretty confident coming into this race. We thought we could do the top six and maybe a podium if all went well, and here we are.

"When we took on the development of a BA Falcon earlier this year we took on a pretty big project for a team of only eight staff. This means everything to us, it has been a tough couple of years and, to be honest, there were times when I doubted myself. But this proves we can do it.

"I know we finished second, but as far as I'm concerned I didn't see anyone else on the podium, I think we won today."

Third place eventually fell to Greg Murphy and Rick Kelly after an action packed day saw them survive three incidents for an unlikely podium finish.

"We had three major dramas today," Rick Kelly said. "One was Radisich turning me around early, for which he didn't get a penalty. Then there was the thing with the Garry Rogers team in pitlane, and then the rear wing breaking.

"I wasn't happy during that pitstop, obviously we were in the lead when we stopped. The car is really quick in qualifying, we just need to find a set-up that is now kinder to the tyres for the race."

Greg Murphy added: "It turned out to be a complete stuff-up, the car was still on the ground when I saw Skaifey leaving pitlane and it was all over from there."

Brad Jones and John Bowe came home in fourth in the black OzEmail Falcon, while Russell Ingall recovered from his first lap drama to claim fifth after sitting 22nd at one stage. Championship contender Jason Bright had a shocker today, slipping off the track and hitting the fence during the first storm before limping home to collect six points.

 

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