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ROUND 4 - RACE 2 & 3 - FOUR OF THE BEST FROM UNSTOPPABLE SKAIFE

He's done it again. Four of the very best.

Jason Bright had a decisive edge over his teammate Mark Skaife at Hidden Valley Raceway this weekend, yet Skaife found a way to win - and did it emphatically. It's become a habit.

It was an overwise tedious affair. Oppressive heat, high mechanical attrition and a tricky circuit didn't help, but the boredom factor is largely Skaife's doing. He's just too good, and his rivals are falling over themselves to catch him.

Wins from today's two taxing 100km races sealed a fourth consecutive round victory. You have to go back to the 1970s to find a driver who won the first four rounds of an Australian touring car series.

"It's been a really tough weekend, you can tell by the way we all look," Skaife said.

"This is a tough circuit because it really compresses the field, and with a driver like Jason (Bright) chasing you, you cannot afford to make any mistakes."

While he's allowed to remain in front, Skaife's commanding championship lead only grows. It's now a scary 467-point advantage over second-placed Greg Murphy. From a championship perspective, he is irresistible.

"It has been a dream start to the series," he said, "the team has been working really hard for it so it is nice to get the rewards."

Race one winner Bright can consider himself unlucky: he just couldn't beat his teammate to the first corner. And once Skaife gets in front, he's unstoppable.

Kmart Racing's Murphy, still visibly shaken by the sudden death of Kiwi compatriot and friend Ashley Stichbury, did enough to finish on the overall podium, nudging out teammate Todd Kelly. It made for an ominous TWR quadrella.

"All three of us [Skaife, Bright and Murphy] dedicate our results to Ashley this weekend," Murphy said. "It is a tough time for his family and hopefully this helps a bit."

Today's opening encounter was marred by an ugly multi-car melee on the first lap, involving more than a dozen drivers.

Young Lion Rick Kelly instigated the mess, losing control of his Commodore after a tap from Jason Bargwanna and cutting a path of destruction as he spun into the traffic jam.

Kelly, Russell Ingall, John Faulkner and Rodney Forbes all failed to make the restart more than half an hour later.

Craig Lowndes' race was also ruined when his engine caught fire in the opening laps. Engine problems also put him out of the final race.

Marcos Ambrose was poised to attack the Holden Racing Team today, but a bungled tyre change saw him finish race two back in ninth. The final race was also a struggle for Ambrose, coming home in fifth.

"We had a great chance today, but losing around ten seconds in the pits ended our hopes in the day's opening race," said Ambrose, who remains third in the championship chase.

"It's disappointing as our guys are usually amongst the best, but this is a team sport and that's how you have to look at it."

Not until the 26th lap of the final race did the battle for the podium heat up. Ironically, it was a small grass fire that provided the impetus, as the safety car made its one and only appearance while the flames were doused.

They lined up behind the No. 1 HRT Commodore for the sprint to the flag, but not even Bright would deny Skaife the victory.

"There was pretty much nothing between us," Bright said of the closing laps. "After the safety car at the end there it became a sprint, it was going to be a long way around the outside of him though."

The mercury reached 37 degrees in Darwin this afternoon, taking its toll on drivers, machinery and tyres. Not the crowd, however, who came out in record numbers - more than 36,000 today.

Canberra's almost-freezing climate will come as welcome relief, when they host the showcase Canberra 400 carnival, round five of the series, next month.

Skaife refuses to be complacent, with his eyes firmly set on a fifth victory. "There are some big points rounds still to come, so we've got to press on," he said.

Race two results:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?19/05/2002.HIDV.R9

Race three results:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?19/05/2002.HIDV.R13

V8 Supercar Championship Series standings:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?19/05/2002.HIDV.V8S.S

--V8 WIRE (Jason Whittaker)

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