Ford will enter an experienced field of 30 Australian and international drivers for the first endurance race of the 2004 V8 Supercar Championship Series, the Betta Electrical Sandown 500, this weekend.

The Sandown race is a key event for defending V8 Series Champion Marcos Ambrose if he's to retain the #1 plate on his door.

Ambrose has an impressive record at Sandown with a victory and third place overall, as well as two pole positions from just three starts.This year the Tasmanian will be teaming with experienced endurance driver Greg Ritter in the Pirtek Falcon BA.

"I've really enjoyed racing at Sandown in the past and with Greg alongside I'm
sure we'll be very strong," he said. "There's been a lot said about why my teammate Russell Ingall and I are not driving together. I don't see this as a big downside, as it does give our team a greater opportunity to have two cars up the front. The fact is the commercial arrangements on our cars are different.

"We've tested extensively with both Greg and myself as well as added some other components to make the car even stronger. Nothing has been left to chance for Sandown.

"As a team we are also ready. We've got the best people in the business to read a race and make the right calls in terms of pit stops. It makes the job of a driver a whole lot easier when you have that confidence in your crew.

"In terms of the championship, Sandown and Bathurst are key events. We're in second and not to far behind Jason Bright. The pressure is not just on Jason and I, with the co-drivers Greg and Paul Weel sure to play a major role. However, Greg's experience in this category is outstanding and I know he'll do a great job to make sure our championship hopes are looked after."

Endurance racing can make or break a team's year. One crew that enjoyed success in last year's Betta Electrical Sandown 500 was Super Cheap Auto Racing's Steve Ellery and Luke Youlden, who claimed second place.

"Last year was one of my career highlights," Ellery said. "Luke who did an awesome job in the ran and hail. It was a great testimony to our dedicated team, including Luke who did an awesome job in the rain and hail.

"I know that over the long distances we are very strong. When it comes to being in the fight as it comes down to the chequered flag, I'm sure we'll be amongst it. We ran Luke in the feeder Konica-Minolta V8 Series and he actually finished on equal points to champion Andrew Jones, but was awarded runner-up on count back. Importantly he's grown as a driver and that has us very excited going into Sandown.

"Sandown has many great memories for me, as I did win a race back there in 2000, but I'm keen to add an overall round victory and the Betta Electrical title has a very nice ring to it!"

One of the driver combinations to watch will be that of Craig Lowndes and Glenn
Seton in the CAT Ford Performance Racing Falcon.

While 2004 has proved to be a tough challenge for the two Ford stars, they feel that they will be able to challenge when teamed together.

"We've each won the event twice, so now it would be great to win it together," Lowndes said."Last year was not so good for us at Sandown, but we hit back with second place
at Bathurst. Going into the event this year we've prepared a whole lot better both in and out of the car.

"Experience in these types of events is crucial. Too many times you see guys start off quick but then fade away. We'll be strong throughout the entire 161 laps and that's a big plus".

Crews hit the track for first practice and qualifying on Friday with further practice, qualifying and the top-10 shootout on the Saturday. Sunday's Betta Electrical Sandown 500 gets underway at 1pm.

One of the highlights of the event for Ford fans is an auction for a hot lap with the man who finished second at last year's Betta Electrical Sandown 500, Steve Ellery.



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