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V81000 RACE - SKAIFE, LONGHURST MEN FOR ALL SEASONS
V8 Wire (Jason Whittaker)

Through rain, hail and shine, Mark Skaife and Tony Longhurst's Holden Racing Team Commodore was one of few constants at Mt. Panorama today.

After 161-laps of demanding, flat-out racing, Skaife was, as he so often is, the true survivor, taking the chequered flag at Australia's premier motor race for himself and his unlikely ally.

The pair delivered a long-awaited Bathurst crown to the powerful factory outfit, the team's first since 1996, while adding another Bathurst title to their resumes: Skaife's third after a nine-year Bathurst drought and Longhurst's second following a 13-year wait.

250/1 outsiders, OzEmail Racing's Brad Jones and John Cleland were second with an inspired drive, ahead of the K-Mart Racing Team combo of Greg Murphy and Todd Kelly.

The win all but seals a fourth championship crown for Skaife, who leads the series by 455 points with just two rounds remaining. Only 575 points are on offer at the final two events.

"The car was fantastic and Tony and I barely made a mistake all day," Skaife said. "It was safety first from the championship perspective at the start, but when I had a sniff in the last stint, I just went for it.

"It was one of the best wins I have been involved with as the wet-dry conditions meant it was just so easy to put it into the fence."

44-year-old Longhurst, who has been racing in an under-powered Rod Nash Commodore this year, was overjoyed to do what he came so agonisingly close to doing with the Stone brothers last year.

"Straight after the crash (at Bathurst) last year, I spoke to my wife and decided to call Mark to ask for a drive with him this year," Longhurst explained. "He told me to ring Jeff Grech (HRT Team Manager) and that led to this.

"Having spent a couple of months working with the team now, I understand why they win so many championships and why Mark wins so many races. They were just a joy to work with."

The OzEmail Falcon started the day in 23rd position on the grid yet proved the quickest Ford throughout the day, clawing its way to the best V8 Supercar result by the Jones brothers' team at the biggest race of the year.

"The team worked on the car until 5.30am this morning to give us the fastest Ford out there today. Two of them didn't even get any sleep," Jones said.

"It is certainly one of the most satisfying results I have had in my career. Skaife and I were just blow for blow over those closing laps and that's the way racing should be."

But Mt. Panorama was again the star, inflicting torment and triumph while creating more Bathurst heroes, losers and villains - all in front of some 50,300 spectators.

It also provided an assortment of different conditions - sunshine, rain and even hail - that made strategy and luck a necessary ingredient to success.

It was a frenetic start to the race, with a number of different leaders setting what appeared to be an unsustainable pace. John Bowe was quickly into the 2:10s, as was Jones and Craig Lowndes, trend-setting for the rest of the day.

Pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose was the first high-profile casualty, putting the Pirtek Falcon into the fence at the pitlane entry in an embarrassing blunder on lap 30. Ambrose would retire soon after with engine dramas.

Race favourites Paul Radisich and Steven Johnson also retired when their engine - and Steven Johnson's championship aspirations - expired on the climb up the mountain mid-race.

Jason Bright's title hopes also suffered irreparable damage when co-driver Tomas Mezera beached the No. 2 HRT Commodore permanently in the sand.

And the popular Craig Lowndes-Neil Crompton entry, despite holding a commanding lead at one stage, also failed to finish after a number of costly misadventures.

By lap 100, a clear lead pack had developed: the Skaife-Longhurst Commodore, the K-Mart car of Murphy and Kelly, Jones and Cleland's Falcon, Glenn Seton and Steven Richard's Ford, the second Shell Helix Falcon of Greg Ritter and Cameron McLean and the bullet-proof Castrol Commodore of Russell Ingall and Larry Perkins.

It all came to a head on lap 127 when leaders Kelly and Perkins engaged in a breaking duel through the Chase. Kelly spun off the slippery circuit, as did a pursuing Steven Richards in sympathy.

Perkins survived, only to skate into the wall on his entry to pitlane. The car suffered major front-end damage and dropped out of contention, finishing eighth.

"I stuffed up," Perkins said. "The track was dry and I never considered the pitlane entry would be wet - and it was."

The final run to the flag was nail-biting, with Skaife and Dick Johnson Racing's McLean fighting for the lead.

McLean stole the lead from Skaife after the final restart and surged away from the HRT Commodore. But he was baulked by a stray backmarker 20-laps from the finish, allowing Skaife to reclaim the lead.

The Queensland later fell into the clutches of Jones and Murphy over the final laps.

"Maybe I just didn't get on top of it at the end there but we weren't quite a match for the others when it came down to a sprint," a disappointed McLean said. "I think Skaife was just playing with us to be honest."

Skaife averted the OzEmail rocketship - just - to win by two seconds. Kelly beat McLean to third, ahead of the second Ford-Tickford Racing Falcon of Jim Richards and youngster Dean Canto.

Defending Bathurst champions, Garth Tander and Jason Bargwanna, were thereabouts, finishing sixth.

Russell Ingall moved to second in the Shell Series chase after today, displacing Jason Bright.

With just two rounds remaining, in New Zealand and the Sandown Grand Final, Ingall's task looks impossible. But he's promised to fight to the death.

The Supercar circus will make a stopover at the Gold Coast on their way to New Zealand, for three 30-minute non-championship races in support of the CART event. That meeting is on October 26-28.

>> V8 SUPERCAR 1000 - TOP TEN >>
1st SKAIFE/LONGHURST (Holden Racing Team) - VX Commodore
2nd JONES/CLELAND (OzEmail Racing) - AU Falcon
3rd KELLY/MURPHY (K-Mart Racing Team) - VX Commodore
4th McLEAN/RITTER (Shell Helix Racing) - AU Falcon
5th RICHARDS/CANTO (Ford Tickford Racing) AU Falcon
6th TANDER/BARGWANNA (Valvoline Cummins Repco Team) - VX Commodore
7th ELLERY/BRABHAM (Super Cheap Auto Racing) AU Falcon
8th INGALL/PERKINS (Perkins Motorsport) - VX Commodore
9th SETON/RICHARDS (Ford Tickford Racing) - AU Falcon
10th McCONVILLE/BATES (Lansvale Racing Team) - VX Commodore

For complete race results:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?07/10/2001.MOUN

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