Mark Winterbottom all but ensured a Ford victory in the Sprint Gas Manufacturers' Challenge by turning the tables on Craig Lowndes in the second of three non-championship races at the ING Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

'Frosty' made sure he didn't make the same mistake as in race one - when he lost the lead on the first lap - by leading from start to finish to come home ahead of Toll Holden Racing Team's Will Davison and TeamVodafone's Lowndes, who had overcome the FPR pilot on lap one on Friday to claim victory.

"Track position was the key," Winterbottom admitted, "It was a good win, and it's good to show that we are competitive. Temperatures were better early today, so the car was great at the start and then it was a matter of holding on at the end."

In an action replay of Friday, Lowndes again slipped from the start line, allowing Winterbottom to sneak straight through the middle and into the lead. This time, however, Lowndes didn't get around Winterbottom early in the race, and Davison also snuck past as Winterbottom assumed the role that Lowndes played in race one.

"It was an improvement," Davison said of his second place, "We made some reasonably large changes and made some small gains. I got close at the end and wanted to put on a bit of a show. A few more laps would have been interesting, as I was desperately trying to get a run so I could pull the demon pass in the end."

A combination of older tyres and a track with more grip have played havoc with car balance for Lowndes, who was never really in a position to mount a serious challenge to the top two, but withstood pressure from Steven Johnson to complete the podium. Acknowledging the track had a lot more grip than he thought, Lowndes said it was still a good test for the team ahead of the next scoring round.

"The car was not as good as yesterday," the veteran admitted, "I just couldn't find the balance I was looking for. A combination of older tyres and a lot more grip on the track than we expected was definitely the catalyst in us not being as fast as we were yesterday. We will have a good look at data tonight and try a few more changes for tomorrow. The beauty of this event is that we can be a lot more radical in our changes."

A stray tyre bundle that detached from a corner brought out the safety car on lap eleven of 15, giving the frontrunners one last chance to wind in Winterbottom.

There was further chaos on the restart, with some crazy passing attempts and some questionable manoeuvres. At one point, Jim Beam Racing's in-form Steven Johnson appeared to push Jamie Whincup off the track and, then, almost inexplicably Irwin Racing's Shane Van Gisbergen followed.

It added some spice to the end of the race before the field settled back down, although the big loser appeared to be Whincup, who lost a place having somehow escaped bigger drama.

"It was a disappointing race from my perspective," Whincup said, "I wasn't as fast as yesterday, which is a side-effect of tying different set-ups, but that is the nature of this event. It is not all bad, our cars are still straight, we are exploring set-up options and learning a lot - which all bodes well for New Zealand."

The current championship points leader eventually came in sixth, an improvement of one place over Friday, ahead of van Gisbergen but trailing both Johnson and Jason Richards. Paul Dumbrell, Fabian Coulthard and Jason Bright completed the top ten

"That was hard work today," Richards reported, "The car's balance got lost in the changes we made overnight, I was under pressure from Jamie Whincup and flat-out winding the bars to keep up the pace, He managed to slip past me but I managed to thread the needle and make up the places again when he tried an adventurous move. It's good not to have lost any places for Sunday's race."

Jason Bargwanna and Russell Ingall were next up, the latter bouncing back from retirement in race one, while Davison's team-mate Garth Tander, who also dropped out on Friday, started from pit-lane, as did the two Garry Rogers' machines of Michael Caruso and Lee Holdsworth, who repeated their tactics from race one [see separate story]. The HRT man eventually came through to finish 13th, ahead of Tony d'Alberto and Todd Kelly, the Jack Daniel's Holden man unable to repeat his race one top ten.

"The team thought it would be safer starting from [the pit-lane]," Tander admitted, "I think it was a disadvantage for the first four or five laps but, coming through the field, the car was pretty good. We made some changes overnight and the car reacted as we expected. It probably wasn't the right change for the conditions today, but it was more about learning a few things for later down the track."

Kelly started from sixth on the grid, but had dropped to seventh when he was spun around and dropped to last. With nothing to lose, he showed some strong car speed to climb back past half the field to eventually take the flag in 15th place.

"It was a real shame," Kelly admitted, "What happened was completely uncalled for and it put us right to the back. If the contact didn't happen, we would have been fighting with the guys up the front instead of up the back so it's a bit of a shame.

"We've been learning a lot about the car and chipping away at both Jack Daniel's Commodores this weekend and getting them better, and the pace wasn't too bad. It's always hard around here to push that little bit harder to try and make up positions, but the car still seemed to get along quite well and we got by a fair few cars."



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