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Marcos Ambrose has brought some respectability to Ford's 2002 V8 Supercar scorecard, winning today's first leg of the season-ending V8 Ultimate in Melbourne.

Ford flags flew proudly for just the third time this year when Ambrose's Pirtek Falcon crossed the finish line for an emphatic victory in the 150km race.

His relentless pursuit of the leading Holdens has yielded just two wins this year, the first at Phillip Island more than seven months ago. Ford's only other win was Stone Brothers Racing's unlikely Queensland 500 triumph in September.

Greg Murphy's chances of retaining the bridesmaid position in the championship improved with a strong second today, while Jason Bright's went up in smoke mid-race with an engine blow-up.

The Holden Racing Team's indestructible reputation has been tarnished in the last few rounds of the series; Bright now 91 points behind Murphy.

Ambrose jumped one spot to fifth with an impeccable performance so far this weekend, including pole position in this morning's Top 15 Shootout.

"It was great to really dominate that race, in fact we've had a great weekend being the fastest through each session," Ambrose said.

"The start of the race set things up as I was able to get into turn one ahead of Greg Murphy, from there it was a case of build a gap and let the pit crew do the rest."

Ambrose said the vice-championship would not be his motivation tomorrow: "I really want to win the race and give the Ford fans something to cheer about over the off-season."

Teammate David Besnard was a gallant third, running down Murphy over the closing laps.

Mark Skaife's championship victory parade has been anything but enjoyable, fighting hard for fifth today after a disastrous shootout run saw him start from 15th.

Defending Sandown Raceway winner, Todd Kelly stayed out of trouble to finish fourth.

Steven Richards clung to sixth with some impressive defensive driving, while Craig Lowndes emerged from a spectacular four-car, high-speed skirmish on the back straight to finish seventh.

"After all the effort the whole team went to putting the car on the front row we really lost the advantage that we'd created when the clutch slipped off the line," Lowndes said of his horror start.

Tomorrow's second leg is double the trouble and double the points: a demanding 300km marathon to finish the 2002 season.

Race one results:

--V8 WIRE (Jason Whittaker)

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