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R12 RACE 2 & 3 - MURPHY'S HEAD BACK IN THE LONG WHITE CLOUDS

Kiwi hero Greg Murphy exorcised the demons of race's past to deliver his trackside army another wildly popular win today, in an extraordinary battle of attrition at Pukekohe Park Raceway.

More than 41,000 fans carried Murphy's Kmart Commodore to fourth in the final 150km race, after a shredded tyre on lap 30 of 54 looked to put pay to his defence of the V8 International crown.

The Dunlop rubber and Pukekohe's tyre-tearing layout cruelly robbed Ford's Marcos Ambrose, blowing his front-right with the race three finish line - and the round victory - in sight.

Murphy won today's first race, capitalising on a rare breakdown from yesterday's winner, a clearly quicker Mark Skaife. Teammate Todd Kelly won the eventful final race to secure Kmart Racing's first podium quinella.

"I feel fantastic, the expectation of coming back here...the support has just been fantastic, but the pressure was on," Murphy said.

"How could this happen again?" he asked himself as he relinquished the lead in race three to change the destroyed tyre, a scene eerily familiar to a man now accustomed to heartbreaking losses.

"The tyre was dead flat, I thought it was over," he said. "I thought I could maybe pass a few and get on the podium, but I didn't think we could win it.

"There's a lot of hard luck stories today, but we had some good luck stories for a change."

Champion-elect Skaife's story was the hardest, failing to finish either race today after a dominant start to the weekend. And teammate Jason Bright's was the most significant from a championship perspective, joining Skaife on the non-finishes list in the final race and allowing Murphy through to second in the series.

Ambrose was gutted after falling agonisingly short of Ford's second round win of the season.

"I came here this weekend with my eyes on second in the championship, if not for the puncture I would have been up to third, now I'm back in sixth," he said after limping home in tenth and hanging on to the final step of the overall podium.

"I'm disappointed for myself, the team and mostly the Ford fans."

Kelly's win was just his third on the V8 Supercar circuit.

"That was a good race, one of the most enjoyable in a long time," the 23-year-old said of the final race, which featured three safety car periods and just 18 finishers.

"It is a pretty good feeling, after Queensland and Bathurst to finish one-two is great."

The Kelly gang was out in force in New Zealand. Todd's 19-year-old brother Rick was never more impressive in finishing fourth overall, upstaging his senior factory Holden teammates to land on the podium in race three.

Veteran Larry Perkins popped up in second in that race, his final drive on New Zealand soil.

Melbourne's Sandown Raceway hosts the final round of the championship in three weeks.

Race two results:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?10/11/2002.PUK.R2

Race three results:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?10/11/2002.PUK.R3

V8 Supercar Championship Series standings:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?10/11/2002.PUK.V8S.S

--V8 WIRE (Jason Whittaker)

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