The Holden Racing Team missed out on a chance to improve its 2003 V8 Supercar Championship points position, when it failed to capitalise on a front row start for both cars after Saturday's top ten shootout.

Todd Kelly put down a superb flying lap in the one-lap shootout, and then sat there to see whether the other nine drivers could better his time. They couldn't, but Mark Skaife came closest, giving HRT an all-red front row start for race one.

Unfortunately, a poor pit-stop cost Kelly plenty of positions, while an ordinary start relegated Skaife to third on the opening lap at the tight seaside street course, and a golden opportunity for the reigning champion to make big inroads into Marcos Ambrose's series lead was lost - particularly after Ambrose's own poor qualifying performance.

With only two, 35-minute practice sessions on a 4.5km circuit, quality track time was at a premium. Thankfully, there were minimal disruptions and few problems for HRT, so both Skaife and Kelly were able to gain valuable track minutes. Both were at or near the top of the timesheets in practice, with only the late-session, fresh tyre 'chargers' topping the HRT cars in most cases.

It was a slightly different qualifying period in that, instead of the usual split session featuring the upper and lower halves of the field, the threat of rain prompted race officials to combine the two groups into one 30-minute session. As a result, clear track time was at a premium and, while Skaife was able to gain a clear run that put him on provisional pole, Kelly reported he was caught in traffic on three occasions and considered himself lucky to scrape into the top ten.

In the shootout, though, Kelly unloaded a blinder of a lap to set a benchmark that wouldn't be bettered, although it was a nervous wait to see if the other nine shootout contestants would top his time. When they didn't, Kelly recorded his first ever V8 Supercar pole, leading HRT team-mate Skaife.

Although only 22 laps - or 100 kilometres - in length, the two races that support the Champ Car feature are usually two of the toughest of the year. Long straights and high speeds followed by maximum rate brake applications for 90-degree left or right hand turns, put unprecedented loads on the brakes and tyres, and races can be fairly static after the first few laps. As a result, the leading qualifiers know that the compulsory pit-stops are critical.

Kelly made a great start in race one to lead, but a bad pit-stop relegated him to an eventual tenth, while Skaife missed the start and, while the #1 VY Commodore's pit-stop was okay, the damage was done and he had to settle for third place at the chequered flag.

The last thing Skaife needed, however, was Russell Ingall winning from Greg Murphy, especially with championship leader Ambrose recovering from his poor qualifying position of 15th to take sixth, but that's what happened, making a successful championship defence even tougher for the HRT driver.

Race two was similar, in that Ingall led away from Murphy and a fast-starting Jason Bright, but, after Bright went out on lap two following a brush with the wall at the first chicane, Skaife again slipped into the top three.

A lightning pit-stop by Ambrose catapulted him to first in the freight train that had completed their stops but, on lap 9, the #4 Ford visibly slowed, with occasional puffs of smoke from the exhausts indicating a failing engine. He slipped to fourth and then fifth, before two late-race safety car periods allowed him to coax the fragile Falcon home to a good points haul that allowed him to maintain a substantial series lead.

Kelly was unlucky once again. After gaining two places to lie eighth, he was involved in a lap 19 turn three altercation with FPR's David Besnard and DJR's Max Wilson that put himself and Besnard out while Wilson limped around to finish 23rd of 25. Meanwhile, Team Dynamik's Jason Richards was also sidelined after being caught up
in the incident.

Ingall scored another 'home town' win to claim his second victory of the season with Murphy second and Skaife third. All marginally closed the gap to Ambrose, with Murphy trailing by 76 points and Skaife a further 46 points in arrears on the 'adjusted' points' system.

Ambrose can still be beaten, but he'd have to have a couple of shocking performances over the final two rounds and only needs to finish seventh or better from now on to confirm himself as Skaife' successor.

 

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