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FALCON WINS! LOWNDES' FPR BREAKTHROUGH

Ford's "Falcon wins" posters, their print run discontinued long ago, have remerged at Phillip Island Raceway today, as long-suffering fans celebrate the first wins for star driver Craig Lowndes and the flagship Ford Performance Racing venture.

Lowndes claimed his first round victory in a Ford since joining the Blue Oval in 2001, as the Holdens were washed off the top tier of the podium in a rain-shortened 300km race.

It was an unexpected gift for the Prodrive-backed FPR garage, tasting victory well ahead of their long-term schedule.

An otherwise pedestrian race became a wild ride for drivers over the closing laps, as torrential rain lashed the seaside circuit.

Patience was a virtue for Lowndes, waiting until the rain came - the final lap before the pit window closed - before making his compulsory pit stop for tyres.

Others were forced into a second change when the weather hit, or waited until it was too late and spun off the slippery track.

The race finished behind the safety car, 13 laps short of the scheduled 67-lap distance.

Lowndes said the win was a dream come true.

"Strategy played a great part in our victory today, and we had the right strategy whether it was dry or wet," he said.

"We have done a lot just to get the team up and running, we didn't have the car speed today that was obvious. We had to take a gamble. We did and it worked."

Team Brock's Jason Bright benefited from a similar strategy to claim second, ahead of Kmart racer Greg Murphy.

But Bright's position is under review, involved in an ugly clash with Marcos Ambrose in the final laps.

Ambrose, in a strong race position, turned into the pit entry to take on wet weather tyres only to find Bright on his inside. The pair jostled through the final turn, with Ambrose spinning out of contention to finish the race in 17th.

Stewards were looking into the matter after the race, but Ambrose was in no doubt who to blame.

"I don't know what he [Bright] was thinking," he said. "I was coming in for wets and he just hit me on the inside.

"The crash went for about 400m because he just wanted to keep going and eventually he just turned me around."

Bright, who struggled to the line with bent steering, was standing his ground, calling Ambrose "a bloody fool" for diving into pit lane ahead of his Commodore.

Top dog at Stone Brothers Racing instead went to Russell Ingall, who after crashing out of qualifying picked up 23 positions to finish inside the top ten.

"It was nice to pick up the VIP Petfoods 'Top Dog' award for making up the most positions in the race, but that's the last time I want to be starting that far back," he said.

Garth Tander slipped unnoticed into the top four, one ahead of the Holden Racing Team's Todd Kelly.

One of the most decisive moves came on lap 30, when Mark Skaife was handed a drive-through penalty for speeding in pitlane.

The series champion looked a winner from the first laps, opening up an imposing lead before the penalty.

He recovered to finish sixth, relinquishing the championship lead to Bright.

With just six points separating the former teammates, the battle will continue at Sydney's Eastern Creek Raceway for round three next month.

Race results:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?13/04/2003.PHIL.R8

V8 Supercar Championship Series standings:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?13/04/2003.PHIL.V8S.S

--V8 WIRE (Jason Whittaker)

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