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Winterbottom wins V8 opener

Mark Winterbottom has won the first of four races in the MSS Security V8 Supercar Challenge at the 2012 Formula 1 QANTAS Australian Grand Prix.

The Ford Performance Racing driver took out the 11-lap qualifying race, which featured a unique format, with the bottom three cars at the end of each lap between Laps 3 and 8 eliminated from the field.

Overnight and morning rain cleared by the start of Friday’s on-track action and a dry circuit greeted the V8 Supercar field. From third on the grid, Shane van Gisbergen made the best start to slice between Winterbottom and pole-sitter Jamie Whincup and into the lead at Turn 1.

But it didn’t take long for Winterbottom and then Whincup to pass van Gisbergen and set the tone of the race.

Proceedings were disrupted by an early Safety Car period, called after Steve Owen and Michael Patrizi tangled exiting Turn 10 on Lap 2, eliminating Patrizi and innocent bystander Jason Bright. The race resumed on Lap 6, with Ford Performance Racing’s Winterbottom and TeamVodafone’s Whincup resuming their battle.

The pair broke away from the field and despite Whincup’s best efforts, Winterbottom held on to claim the Albert Park opener.

“When you’ve got a good car, you’ve got that confidence and self-belief. I felt good, the car felt really good and he was going to have to work pretty hard to get past,” Winterbottom said of the battle with Whincup.

“That’s the attitude you’ve got to take to win the championship. You’ve got to try to make sure that every race that they beat you, that they’ve earned it. He’s a tough competitor but I was going to make sure we brought it home in that one.”

Winterbottom’s Orrcon Steel Falcon will start from pole in this afternoon’s second race, with the remaining three races to feature pit stops. The threat of rain remains and could influence car set-ups, but Winterbottom already has ideas to make his car even better.

“The car’s very close, obviously us front two drove away, so there’s two cars that are very good,” he said.

“I think we just need to make it a little bit better on the right-hand corners, just on drive. If we can tidy that up, the left-handers were quite good, but the right-handers – 60 percent throttle onwards – we’re after a little bit better drive.

“Obviously the weather’s going to come into it too, but that’s the area we’ll look at.”

Garth Tander ran in third place for much of the race, before running wide at Turn 15 with a handful of laps to go. That handed third to van Gisbergen, who finished ahead of Will Davison, David Reynolds, Craig Lowndes, Rick Kelly and the recovering Tander. Tony D’Alberto and Todd Kelly were the other two drivers to avoid elimination, finishing ninth and 10th.

Drivers had the option of using V8 Supercars’ traditional Control Tyre or the softer Sprint Tyre and all bar four elected to use the Sprint Tyres. Of those on the Control Tyre, Fabian Coulthard fared best, classified in 17th after being eliminated at the end of Lap 6, while James Moffat (24th), Jonathon Webb (25th) and David Wall (26th) were among the first eliminated.

Race 2 of the MSS Security V8 Supercar Challenge will kick off at 2:20pm this afternoon.

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