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TOP 5: Biggest winning margins in the Supercars era

IN a way, the 2023 Repco Bathurst 1000 highlighted how lucky we’ve been throughout much of the last three decades when it comes to close race finishes.

Shane van Gisbergen and Richie Stanaway’s 19.9326-second margin over second-placed Brodie Kostecki and David Russell was one of the largest in recent memory – both on the Mountain and in the championship overall.

However, a listener query for a Q&A episode of the V8 Sleuth Podcast polished by Bowden’s Own prompted us to dig a bit deeper.

“What is the greatest winning margin in the current V8SC era?” Dan Henderson asked.

Per the question, we’ve gone back through the results from the start of the V8 era in 1993 through to the present day.

Unsurprisingly, most of the races among the top end of the list are endurance races, but there were also a couple of impressive runs in solo-driver events that crack the top five.

For the record, this year’s ‘Great Race’ ranked in 12th spot…

Marcos Ambrose blitzed the start from pole position and didn’t look back at Eastern Creek in May 2003. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

No.5 – 25.8692 seconds
2003 Eastern Creek

Despite a first-up win on the Adelaide streets, it was at the third round of 2003 at Eastern Creek that Marcos Ambrose showed just how potent his new Stone Brothers Racing BA Falcon was.

A shift towards longer races meant many of 2003’s rounds consisted of a single, 300km race, and Ambrose was entirely untroubled throughout the 77-lap run.

Fellow front-row starter Mark Skaife was the only driver able to match Ambrose’s pace, but a slow start left him trapped behind Greg Murphy and Craig Lowndes while the Pirtek Ford romped clear.

Ambrose held a lead of 20 seconds by the time of his first pitstop on lap 30, and retained that margin by the time both rounds of stops wrapped up for the leaders on lap 49.

However, a Safety Car came out one lap later, eroding that margin almost completely.

Ambrose repeated his early-race escape when racing resumed, with second-placed Jason Bright trapped behind a handful of lapped cars.

He had the margin out to a tick under five seconds when a brief shower swept across the circuit, then started putting a second a lap into his pursuers once the weather cleared.

By that point, Bright’s focus was on his mirrors with challenges from Lowndes and then Russell Ingall.

The two Falcons made their way past in the closing laps to give Ford its first podium lockout in six years, Lowndes and Ingall crossing the line almost side-by-side – albeit over 25 seconds after Ambrose had taken the chequered flag.

The triumph was the first of four consecutive round wins that underpinned Ambrose’s maiden Supercars title.

No amount of zooming will show a second-placed car in the background behind Ambrose… Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

No.4 – 26.4879 seconds
2004 Grand Finale, Race 3

If the first Eastern Creek round in 2003 signalled the start of the Ambrose title charge, he delivered just as emphatic a drive to bookend his championship-winning seasons.

Having mathematically clinched the 2004 title in the opening race of the Grand Finale on Saturday evening, Ambrose could’ve been forgiven for cruising to his coronation on Sunday afternoon.

Not on your nellie.

He romped to victory in Race 2, beating Paul Radisich home by almost 20 seconds after 39 green-flag laps of racing, but he saved an even bigger hiding for the last race of the year.

An early spin for Mark Winterbottom meant the first three laps were completed behind the Safety Car, but the race ran uninterrupted for the rest of the 39-lap journey – bar each driver’s compulsory pitstop.

Mark Skaife vaulted to second place in this race by pitting on lap 3, getting into clear space that allowed him to leapfrog Radisich, Steven Richards, Craig Lowndes and Jason Richards.

But not Ambrose; he was long gone. The champion-elect was already four seconds clear of the pack when he pitted from the lead at the end of lap 11, and returned to the track seven seconds ahead of Skaife.

By the time the pitstop cycle completed when Radisich came to the lane on lap 26, Ambrose had more than doubled his margin over the HRT car which, with fading tyres, was focused on fending off the advances of the other SBR Falcon of Russell Ingall.

He continued clearing out at a rate of almost second a lap until the chequered flag waved.

The grandstand roared as Richards pursued Skaife for the lead at the start of lap 140 at the 2003 Sandown 500. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

No.3 – 30.1166 seconds
2003 Sandown 500

This is one race among the top five that was more thriller than blowout – until the penultimate lap.

The enduro was turned on its head in the closing stages when rain and hail lashed the Sandown circuit, setting up an incredible duel between Skaife in the #1 HRT Commodore he shared with Todd Kelly, and Jason Richards in the #45 Team Dynamik Holden co-driven with Simon Wills.

Despite the treacherous conditions, and in one of the most heroic drives of the late Kiwi’s career, Richards slashed Skaife’s seven-second margin to nothing in just a handful of laps.

Richards caught him at the Esses on lap 139 and, with the time-certain finish looming, immediately sought a way past.

Poking the nose of his car left and right in Skaife’s mirrors, he spent the next 3.1 kilometres working the five-time series champion over.

Sadly, as this is a top-five list of ‘biggest winning margins’, you know how this ends.

Richards took his shot at Dandenong Road corner on lap 140; both he and Skaife locked their brakes and slid well wide of the apex, but while the latter teetered along the edge of the mud and gravel before resuming, the Team Dynamik car became stuck fast in the bunker.

Skaife cut one more steady lap to take the chequered flag, while Richards’ exit promoted Steven Ellery and Luke Youlden to second place, just over half a minute behind.

The pivotal moment in the 2005 Sandown 500. Pic: an1images.com / Scott Wensley

No.2 – 35.6172 seconds
2005 Sandown 500

Two years on from Skaife and Kelly’s dramatic win in the Sandown enduro, they’d be on the receiving end of some late-race heartbreak of their own.

With 40 laps to go, the HRT duo held a sizable lead of 54 seconds over Craig Lowndes and Yvan Muller’s #888 Triple Eight Ford.

But Skaife had a fair bit going on in the cockpit of the #2 Commodore.

He’d pitted from the lead on lap 96 to take on wet-weather tyres as rain started to fall, but it put him in an awkward position strategically.

Not only did Skaife have to save a lot of fuel via short-shifting and lifting-and-coasting to make it to the end without another stop, but the rain had become intermittent.

A dry line began to emerge, allowing a now slick-shod Lowndes to start eating into the margin between them.

Then came the hammer blow: the HRT car’s front splitter broke and began to delaminate with just over 20 laps to go.

Lowndes turned his deficit to dust and took the lead with four laps remaining, while Skaife held enough of a margin back to third place to be able to pit for a precautionary splash-and-dash stop within sight of the flag.

Skaife and Lowndes accept their plaques on the podium. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

No.1 – 36.4475 seconds
2000 Queensland 500

The biggest margin on this list doubles as an illustration of just how mighty the Holden Racing Team was at the peak of its powers.

With championship leader Mark Skaife battling the flu, Craig Lowndes did the lion’s share of the driving in car #1 amid a clever strategy play by the HRT.

Skaife drove a steady opening stanza from fifth on the grid, only taking the lead once the three cars ahead of him had pitted.

Crucially, HRT ran both Skaife and their #2 car, with Nathan Pretty at the wheel, for long opening stints, completing each co-driver’s minimum number of laps and giving them maximum strategic flexibility for the rest of the race.

Unlike other squads, who made their compulsory brake pad changes under green flag conditions at their first stops, HRT also elected to hold off on pad changes on the chance a Safety Car would appear at a convenient time.

And – what do you know – one appeared on lap 105.

Along with being able to complete its pad changes under yellow, the timing of the Safety Car wrong-footed rivals whose co-drivers were a couple of laps short of completing their minimum number of laps.

In the case of the eventual second-place finishers, Bargwanna pitted from the lead a few laps after the restart to hand over to Tander.

Things were worse down at Stone Brothers Racing, whose challenge for victory ended when they realised that reinstalling Tony Longhurst during the Safety Car period meant David Besnard was three laps short of complying with the rules, prompting another driver change pitstop later in the race.

That left HRT cruising towards a dominant one-two, until a stone pierced the #2 car’s radiator and cooked its engine while Todd Kelly was running 20 seconds behind Lowndes, leaving Tander to cross the line over half a minute behind the winners.

Despite the HRT enjoying a golden era with Lowndes and Skaife as its drivers, this was the only enduro they won as a pairing for the factory Holden squad.

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