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R12 RACE 1 - FOREIGN TERRITORY, SAME RESULT FOR V8 KING

Mark Skaife's imposing shadow casts all the way across the Tasman Sea, it seems, after the Holden Racing Team ace dominated the opening race of the V8 International at Pukekohe Park Raceway.

New Zealand's parochial fans were forced to bow to the reigning V8 Supercar King as Skaife defeated home-track hero Greg Murphy from pole position to take victory in the 36-lap event.

It's the champion-elect's 15th victory this season, defying some critics who said his motivation had waned since securing the title.

"It's been a great weekend for us, as soon as we rolled [the car] out it's been good and we've only made small changes to it," Skaife said.

"It's a tough thing to win here, no doubt. They'll all be as keen to win tomorrow as I am, and with all the complexities you just don't know what will happen."

Murphy was no match for Skaife, ending his winning championship run in New Zealand.

"We just didn't have the speed today," he said, "it was using its rear tyres too much. We are going to have to make some changes if we're going to race Mark tomorrow."

Marcos Ambrose finished third, ahead of Jason Bright, Todd Kelly and Steven Richards. All four, along with Murphy, are battling for second in the championship.

Ambrose said he's "only one spring change away from victory" after a slick pit stop for tyres helped him to the pleasing result.

The tight start to the race was premature, as a nasty inter-team collision between Steven Johnson and Paul Radisich brought out the safety car just seconds into the race.

Radisich blamed a mystery tail-end bump for crashing into his teammate, which sent both drivers back to the paddock. Radisich won't start tomorrow with the repair bill for both cars exceeding $80,000.

"It was a very tight start and as we took off I could see another car quite close behind me, so I moved to the side to create room on the outside for that car," Radisich said of the incident.

"As I moved I was tapped from behind which sent me straight towards Steve and after we connected I was forced hard into the tyre wall.

"I can't imagine having a worse start than we had today."

Craig Lowndes held out top ten qualifier Brad Jones to finish eighth in the race's most entertaining battle. Holden Young Lion Rick Kelly climbed into the top ten to finish ahead in seventh.

Russell Ingall was tenth, but unimpressed by a stewards' decision to let Garth Tander through mid-race when it was deemed he passed during the yellow flag period. Tander later retired with broken front suspension.

Two 150km races will decide the round tomorrow.

Race one results:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?10/11/2002.PUK.R1

--V8 WIRE (Jason Whittaker)

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