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R3 RACE - MARCOS WINS BIG ON FORD TRIFECTA

Marcos Ambrose has led a thundering pack of Fords to the Eastern Creek podium at round three of the V8 Supercar series.

The self-disposed leader of the Blue Oval brigade valiantly led his troops to an emphatic victory in the marathon 300km encounter, joining Stone Brothers Racing teammate Russell Ingall (third) and Ford Performance Racing's Craig Lowndes (second) in a rare Ford trifecta.

Ford fans haven't seen a podium sweep since a Glenn Seton-led charge at Eastern Creek in 1997 - ironically the last time a Ford driver has won at the Sydney circuit.

Championship leader Jason Bright was the first of the Holdens home in fourth, swallowed by the hungry Falcons of Lowndes and Ingall late in the race, as stablemate Mark Skaife's charge towards a sixth touring car title hit an early stumbling block.

Skaife finished the race an uncustomary 19th, recovering from a split wheel rim that also befell his Holden Racing Team teammate, Todd Kelly. Kelly later retired with a punctured radiator.

From the moment he led the field through the left-hand sweeper on lap one, capitalising on a rare good start, Ambrose never looked like losing.

Compulsory pit stops for fuel and tyres were timed and executed with precision, as a focussed Ambrose set about rebuilding an imposing lead each time.

"This is a very special day for SBR and for Ford," Ambrose said, the first time the Queensland-based powerhouse has had two cars on the podium.

"I managed to get off the line strongly and we dictated the race from there. It was a little hard without a benchmark out the front, but we are certainly getting better and better."

Ambrose clawed back some of the ground lost by his misadventures in Adelaide and at Philip Island, jumping from 13th to ninth in the championship, but the new points system still leaves him 116 behind Bright.

"Today's result certainly helps a lot when it comes to championship points," he said. "I think you could certainly say we are back on track."

After his lucky victory at Phillip Island, Lowndes savoured the impressive speed and smart strategy of FPR.

"We won at Phillip Island through strategy and our position today was also thanks to good team work," he said.

"Most teams put on fuel first before taking tyres, while we went the other way round. This was to give us a fast car on the lighter fuel in the middle stages so that we could stretch the opposition."

Russell Ingall started the day in ninth and "still fuming" over his mistake in the Top Ten Shootout, and relegated both Greg Murphy and Bright over the closing laps to storm onto the podium.

"I could not have stood Murphy getting back on TV and giving me a spray about hitting him [at the Clipsal 500], so I just waited for my chance," he sniped.

"I think this is proof that finally the Fords and Holdens are now equal and I don't think that has been the case for some time. You can never be complacent in this game and now we just have to keep working hard to maintain the momentum."

Bright's fourth saw him retain the series lead, but he later admitted the championship is becoming an uphill battle for the older VX-model Commodores.

"It [the VY] is a long way off," he said. "If they continue to improve at the rate they have I'd hate to see what will happen to us in the championship."

Steven Richards now sits second in the series, having a consistent championship run that today saw him wrestle his unbalanced Castrol Commodore from 16th to eighth.

Kiwi Simon Wills also won plaudits, recording Team Dynamik's best championship result with his seventh-place finish.

Race results:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?04/05/2003.ECIR.R11

V8 Supercar Championship Series standings:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?04/05/2003.ECIR.V8S.S

--V8 WIRE (Jason Whittaker)

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