Marcos Ambrose has placed a hand on this year's V8 Supercar Championship with a dominant display in the first race of The VIP Petfoods Main Event at Eastern Creek today [Saturday]. Ambrose was unchallenged on his way to victory, and moved to within a whisker of sealing the Championship.

With a disastrous day to his only two rivals for the crown, Mark Skaife and Greg Murphy, Ambrose will now only need to finish 31st in tomorrow's season closer to claim the crown. Jason Bright and Todd Kelly joined him on the podium today, team-mate Russell Ingall just missing out.

"I thought we had a good enough car for pole and the race win," Ambrose said. "It is great to win, and it was nearly perfect with the tough runs to my main rivals."

Ambrose beat Todd Kelly off the start, and was trailing pole sitting Skaife when the latter was given a drive-through penalty for jumping the start. That left Ambrose with clear air and the chance to pull a 15 second gap.

"I just had to concentrate on keeping the gap to Bright at about 15 to 16 seconds, there was no point in using the tyres and going any harder because you need to keep some tyres for if there is a Safety Car.

"I can't wait for tomorrow to seal the Championship with a win."

The only scenario that will now not see Ambrose as Champion is a DNF to the #4 Pirtek Falcon and for Skaife or Murphy to win. The odds are now stacked well in favour of the 26-year-old Ford driver.

Both Skaife and Murphy scored drive-through penalties during the race, Skaife's on the second lap for the jumped start and Murphy just after half distance for spinning Glenn Seton. The penalties almost ended the Championship chances for each driver, and allowed Skaife to jump Murphy in the battle for second.

Skaife finished the day in eighth, while Murphy was down in 24th.

Skaife was bitterly disappointed with the drive-through penalty handed out to him, but was not yet sure if it was deserved.

"I can't comment until I see the vision, I know we rolled a bit but I thought I had it stopped," Skaife said. "I think you need to look at whether we got a net gain out of it, and we didn't, I mean we really had to battle to keep Ambrose out in that first corner.

"I'm just trying to win races, and we had the car speed today but that is the story of our year. If he [Ambrose] gets a DNF and we win the race then we win the Championship, it is that simple. And who knows, stranger things have happened in this game. who's have thought that we would have stopped that close to home in Queensland?"

For Murphy this weekend has been tough, the Kmart team struggling to get speed out of its VY Commodore. Earlier in the day he said is car was terrible, and that he simply had to hope for the race to fall his way. it didn't and he is now only an outside chance for the Championship after surrendering second in the series to Skaife.

"Let's just say there were some pretty questionable driving tactics out there today," Murphy said without directly pointing the finger at Seton. "As for the Championship, I am bitterly disappointed."

Jason Bright said he was pleased with his team's return to form, claiming second in the race after jumping Todd Kelly early in the race.

"We are very happy," Bright said after the race. "We missed the whole of the first session yesterday, and with limited practice time that is important, so were we behind the behind on track time to the others right from the start.

"To be third in the shootout and second in the race is very satisfying after that. We've had a great car since Oran Park, but a shocking run of luck, so this is very good for the team."

Todd Kelly also spent much of the weekend struggling, and said his car was far from perfect today when he landed it second on the grid and raced to third during the 39-lapper.

"That is really the first time this weekend we have had the suspension working, but even then the set-up wasn't that good," Kelly said. "Because we didn't have a good set-up, we had to evenly split the race. it was better on the second set of tyres after we played with the tyre pressures."

Russell Ingall had another trademark storming run into fourth, picking off his prey to climb from 18th on the grid.

"That was fun," Ingall said. "It was nice to go out with no pressure and just race hard from the word go. The car was so consistent throughout and didn't wear the tyres at all. To be able to pass other cars that had stopped later than me underlines just how good it was.

"Great to hit back after a shocker in qualifying. After that race result, I can't remember the shootout at all!"

Earlier in the day, Skaife won the first ever full field Shootout from team-mate Todd Kelly, with Jason Bright and Marcos Ambrose next.

The final race for the weekend and this year's Championship starts tomorrow at 2:30pm, and will run to nearly 4:30pm [all times local].

 

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