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SKAIFE, RICHARDS WIN HISTORIC BATHURST CLASSIC

It seemed fitting that Mark Skaife rounded Peter Brock's Commodore at the final turn of today's 161-lap Bathurst epic to take the chequered flag at the Bob Jane T-Marts 1000.

Brock was second-last and 25 laps behind the winners, but the move was a symbolic changing of the guard.

Skaife elevated himself to the highest echelons of Australian motorsport history, securing a record-equalling fifth national championship with his fourth victory on Mount Panorama.

Brock will forever be the King of the Mountain, a reputation untarnished after today's disappointing comeback, but Skaife's name must now be mentioned in the same breath when discussing all-time racing greats.

Jim Richards reaffirmed his greatness, sharing his third Bathurst victory with Skaife and seventh overall. The remarkably spry 55-year-old is now two wins short of Brock's nine, with no signs of slowing down just yet.

The win made Bathurst's 40th birthday bash, attended by a record 57,000 revellers, an historic event in its own right.

Richards was joined on the podium by son Steven, who brought the Castrol Commodore he shared with Russell Ingall home in second.

The No. 2 Holden Racing Team car of Jason Bright and Tomas Mezera was third, in another crushing podium sweep for Holden. HRT very nearly had the podium to themselves, with the team's Young Lion entry of Rick Kelly and Nathan Pretty mixing it with the old heads to finish fourth.

"To win Australia's biggest race and the championship last year was fantastic, a bit of a dream really and to be honest this one hasn't sunk in yet," said Skaife, who now stands alongside Dick Johnson and Pete Geoghegan as five-time touring car champions.

"This race throws up everything. The pace was extraordinary, it was like a sprint race every time the race went green."

But it could so easily have ended in disaster. Skaife had to nurse the car home over the final few laps, rapidly cooking his engine with a blocked radiator duct.

The build-up of rubbish sent the car's temperature through the roof, with team boss Jeff Grech admitting he came close to pulling the car in.

The Mountain produced rain, hail and shine - all within an hour. And constant safety car interruptions made finding any sort of race rhythm impossible.

Russell Ingall managed to build a race-winning lead over the HRT Commodore in greasy conditions but, with Richards back at the helm and 15 laps to run, Skaife was able to pounce after the final yellow period.

"Russell's stint in the rain and hail was phenomenal, to pull out a 30 second lead was amazing," Richards said. "I made a little mistake on the last restart, and believe me I am kicking myself."

The officials played their part, too. In an unprecedented sentence, the race-contending Kmart pairing of Greg Murphy and Todd Kelly copped a five-minute stop/go penalty for a potentially dangerous pit stop bungle. A livid Murphy parked the car in its pit and went for a toilet break before rejoining the race.

Miscommunication between team and driver saw Murphy take off down pitlane with the fuel hose still attached to his Commodore, pulling the hose from the nozzle and spilling litres of fuel in pitlane. Crew members were flung in all directions but none were hurt.

Dick Johnson must have run over a black cat during his much-hyped pre-race parade lap of Ford's new BA-model racer, such was the luck of the self-destructing Blue Oval brigade.

Ford's best hope, the OzEmail Falcon of Brad Jones and John Bowe, failed to make halfway.

Jones set a punishing pace until the first round of pit stops, but a single snapped bolt in the car's front suspension assembly ended their campaign.

"What can I say...we had the fastest race car but no luck," Jones said, who broke the lap record during his flying first stint.

00 Motorsport's Craig Lowndes and Neil Crompton qualified for the final run to the flag before coming unstuck by a stray plastic bag caught in the Falcon's front air dam. While Skaife's car made it to the line, Crompton did not.

The Pirtek Falcon of Marcos Ambrose and Paul Weel was in the wars all day, one of many to shred tyres. And victory again eluded Glenn Seton, sharing his Ford Credit Falcon with last-minute co-driver David Besnard, with a damaged gearbox eventually ending their troubled day.

There was one bright spark for Ford, and his name was Greg Ritter. For the second year running the part-time Dick Johnson Racing driver outshone his teammates in a gallant push for the podium, falling just short.

"I forgot how exhausting this race is, but I am really happy with the result that Alan [co-driver Alan Jones] and I achieved today," Ritter said.

Two late off-track excursions eventually ended his podium aspirations, allowing the Briggs Motorsport Falcon of defending champion Tony Longhurst and Matthew White through as the first Ford home in sixth.

The VIP Petfoods Falcon of Cameron McConville and Tony Scott was the quiet achiever, the last of seven cars to finish on the lead lap.

With the title in the bag, Skaife will be out to help Bright secure a HRT series quinella in the final three rounds of the series. Steven Richards was the big mover, his 120 points for second launching him into a five-way fight for the vice-championship with Bright, Murphy, Ambrose and Kelly.

Race results:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?13/10/2002.MOUN.R8

V8 Supercar Championship Series standings:
http://www.natsoft.com.au/cgi-bin/results.cgi?13/10/2002.MOUN.V8S.S

--V8 WIRE (Jason Whittaker)

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