By Matthew Agius

The penultimate round of the 2006 V8 Supercar Championship Series will get underway this weekend with the inaugural middle eastern-based round of the championship being hosted at the Bahrain International Circuit.

This is the first time the V8 Supercar Championship will compete inside an Arabic nation, the second time it has travelled to a venue outside of Oceania, and the third time that the Holden vs. Ford series has competed at a venue out of Australian borders. Previously, the championship raced at the Shanghai International Circuit in China, before Chinese officials dumped the series as a part of their yearly fixture. However the championship has also been a popular feature in New Zealand as a championship round since 2001, especially with many Kiwi based drivers participating at the circuit. This second roll of the international marked die looks set to pay off for the series though, with the Bahrain International Circuit committing to hosting a yearly round of the V8s in future seasons.

The V8 Supercars will use a shortened version of the Formula One-standard Bahrain circuit, which is located just over twenty kilometres from Manama. The shortened V8 track cuts off and moves ninety degrees infield just after turn three, with it reconnecting with turn nine of the full circuit shortly after that. The high aero circuit will probably favour higher placed championship teams this weekend. With parity body packages, aerodynamic advantage is nullified. However horsepower will factor into this race greatly, and it is therefore likely that the top Holden teams - the Toll HSV Dealer Team and Holden Racing Team - will perform the best this weekend.

Indeed after a chaotic round in Symmons Plains for ex-championship leader Craig Lowndes relinquished his championship lead to Rick Kelly, and now trails the young Holden pilot by just under one hundred points - a seemingly small buffer, however one that will be very difficult for the three-time champion to recover - given Kelly's ultra-conservative approach to 2006.

"I reckon it will probably take the other drivers about two laps to get back on par with Garth and myself, That's how long it normally takes to dial in to a new track," said Kelly.

Rick Kelly and teammate Garth Tander participated in a Pro Am support race at the Bahrain Grand Prix at the start of the 2006 FIA Formula One World Championship.

"The only real advantage that Garth and I might have is that we can word up our engineers on how to set the car up for the first session."

In a V8 Supercar first the majority of this round will take place during the week, with the two concluding races of the weekend taking place on Saturday.

"I have spent the past week in Bahrain acclimatising and checking out the circuit so I am quite eager to actually get the car out on track, it is great to be going out on a level playing field this weekend. Like Shanghai last year no one will have a clear advantage in Bahrain," said Lowndes.

"We are confident we can get up to speed quickly as the track is very similar to Shanghai where we showed we had good pace and car setup. I have swapped from being the hunted to the one doing the hunting and with 640 points still available I am looking forward to the challenge."

In addition to the tight Driver's Championship challenge, the V8 Supercar Manufacturer's Championship could be wrapped up this weekend. Ford currently holds a one round lead over Holden in this race - if Ford wins Bahrain the Blue Oval will clinch the title. If the reverse occurs, the winner of the Caterpillar Grand Finale will deliver his marque all the glory.

Three races will be held in this round - one sprint on Friday, and then two on Saturday. Practice will get underway on the opening Thursday, with Qualifying and the Top Ten Shootout on Friday.