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HomeNews'Not even with a billion tries': Ambrose's 'control tyre'

‘Not even with a billion tries’: Ambrose’s ‘control tyre’

IT’S a moment that stopped Marcos Ambrose from posting a remarkable achievement early in his Supercars career, but it’s a bizarre moment that this edition of Ryco Rewind is celebrating because you just couldn’t have scripted if you tried.

June 10 fell on the Sunday of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in 2001, which also marked the second running of the Canberra 400 street race in the nation’s capital.

Ambrose was sitting right behind race leader Mark Skaife in the closing stages of the 50-lap final race when he started to feel something amiss with his Stone Brothers Racing Falcon.

Suspecting a slow puncture, Ambrose pitted with 15 laps to go for new front tyres, but the two Bridgestones tyres that came off were inspected and found to have a clean bill of health.

It turned out to be a larger issue than that, though.

Returning to the track in 12th, Ambrose carved his way forward to 10th but, still feeling something strange, pitted again with five laps to go.

He returned to the track down in 17th, but this time he didn’t make it around another lap.

The left-rear wheel wobbled loose and fell off the car as he turned through Turn 11 off State Circle and onto Flynn Drive, leaving the Pirtek Ford stranded with three wheels at the top of the straight.

But the fourth wheel kept going.

The rogue left-rear rolled all the way down the hill, getting passed by the leading group on its travels towards the Turn 12 chicane.

When it got there, a kerb launched it into a series of bounces, eventually landing perfectly atop a tyre barrier!

The weird moment left the Channel Ten commentary team in stitches.

“Look at that, there with its cousins,” joked Neil Crompton.

“Yeah; that’s what they call a ‘control tyre’,” quipped Barry Sheene.

“It’s found its ancestors, at last!” added Mark Oastler, who later suggested you couldn’t choreograph the tyre’s perfect landing, “not even with one billion tries”.

The bizarre incident capped what had been a rollercoaster weekend for Ambrose.

Ambrose arrived in Canberra fresh from his first championship round win. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

He qualified second in the Top 15 Shootout but retired from Saturday’s 25-lap opening race with gearbox trouble.

Canberra’s unique round format included another 25-lap race on Sunday morning, but with a full reverse grid based on the finishing positions of Race 1.

The twist was that you had to be classified as a finisher, otherwise you had to start Race 2 from the back.

That meant Ambrose had to start Sunday morning’s race from 30th on the grid, but he charged through to second place, electing to stay out later while others made their compulsory pitstops, using his hotter tyres and clear track to gain ground.

The grid for Race 3 was set by a special pointscore unrelated to the championship points – you got 32 points for winning Race 1 or Race 2, 31 points for second, and so-on down the field, with the combined tally determining the starting spots for the finale.

You can just spot the front of the Pirtek AU Falcon all the way back on row 11. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

Ambrose’s first race troubles meant he started Race 3 from a lowly 22nd place, but elected to make both of his compulsory pitstops early to try and vault his way forward.

The ploy worked; he led eventual race-winner Skaife, who’d opted for the same early-stop strategy, until a clash with a slower car allowed the HRT car to move ahead.

The blue Falcon shadowed the red Commodore until Ambrose struck his late-race tyre troubles.

His problems didn’t just cost him a top-three race finish; second place in the finale would have been enough to secure back-to-back Supercars round wins, Ambrose having won the preceding round at Hidden Valley.

Fortunately for Ford, the overall win went to another AU Falcon runner.

Dick, Steve and Jill Johnson celebrate the milestone victory. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

Steven Johnson laid the groundwork for the round victory on the Saturday, taking pole position in the Top 15 Shootout and converting that to the win in the opening 25-lapper later that afternoon.

He claimed a steady 12th after starting 27th in Sunday morning’s reverse grid race, which translated to fifth on the grid for the finale.

Another sensible drive meant he moved forward as others found trouble.

Johnson gained spots from polesitter Craig Lowndes, who’d only made one compulsory stop before a Safety Car came out and ruined his strategy; teammate Paul Radisich, who limped to seventh with a misfire; and Jason Bargwanna, who crashed out in the early laps.

Ambrose’s tyre drama moved the #17 Falcon to third behind Garth Tander; despite being faster than the Valvoline Commodore, Johnson elected to not to risk a third-place finish that gave him enough points to claim his maiden round win.

Steven’s overall victory meant the Johnsons became the second father-son combo in ATCC/SC history to have both won championship rounds, following in the footsteps of Jim and Steven Richards.

Canberra 2001 marked the first weekend to feature electronically-controlled speed limiters on all cars. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

The Canberra weekend also featured another milestone; it was the first round in which every car in the field was fitted with an electronic pitlane speed limiter.

This story is the latest in our series of Ryco Rewind stories as we take a look back through Australian motorsport history and explore the great races, drivers and cars from the past on the relevant anniversary.

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