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Rick's crown in V8 Supercar season ending battle

 

Toll HSV Dealer Team's young gun Rick Kelly won his first V8 Supercar Championship in an action-packed, winner-take-all showdown in the final race of the series at Phillip Island.

The 23-year-old became the second youngest champion in V8 Supercar history when he came back from a pit lane penalty to defeat rival Craig Lowndes.

The icing on the cake for Kelly was a round win for his older brother Todd and a great fight-back from 18th place by team-mate Garth Tander that almost netted him a race win.

Rick Kelly now has completed every V8 Supercar driver's dream, of winning the big double - Bathurst (twice) and the Driver's Championship.

Kelly said that while winning his first Bathurst in 2003 was a big thrill, winning the championship was a lot harder.

The Driver's Championship also completed the double for the Toll HSV Dealer Team, which wrapped up the Team's Championship in Bahrain.

In a promoter's dream, the Mildura driver and Lowndes went into the final race of the weekend - and the year - all square on points and side by side on the second row of the grid.

Both Kelly and Lowndes managed to jump second-placed Winterbottom off the line and move into place behind race leader Todd Kelly.

On lap 2, Kelly pulled up on the inside of Lowndes at the hairpin, and contact was made between Kelly's #15 Commodore and Lowndes' Falcon. Lowndes and Todd Kelly then tangled and spun while Rick Kelly moved into the lead.

However, his position at the front was short-lived as officials deemed that Kelly had made an indiscretion, and awarded him a drive-through penalty.

Kelly immediately served the drive-through and then set about chasing after the field. By the time the chequered flag came out, he had made up 10 places to finish 18th

Combined with the fifth and fourth from the two earlier races for the weekend, he came seventh for the round with 240 points - one place behind team-mate Tander who came sixth on 256 points.

Lowndes finished 28th for the race and ninth for the round on 227 points.

The final championship points tally was 3308 points to Kelly and 3271 points to Lowndes - a margin of 37 points.

The final-race showdown was set up in the morning's Race 2 when Lowndes led Kelly to the finish line by a mere 2 seconds, in fourth and fifth places.

Kelly got a great start, jumping two spots on the first lap and then rocketing past Lowndes and into second place behind his brother Todd on Lap 2.

It was all looking great until Lap 10 when Kelly pitted for two tyres. Hearts in the Toll HSV pit garage sank as the noise of prolonged rattle gun action signified a sticking wheel nut.

Finally, the recalcitrant nut came off and the new front tyre went on, but Lowndes, who had pitted on the same lap, was out in front.

However, Kelly fought back to catch Lowndes again within five laps, but he couldn't quite get in a position to make the overtaking lunge.

In a controversial decision late in the race, Tander was given a drive-through penalty for allegedly blocking Lowndes - a charge Tander hotly denies.

Tander said his understanding of the rules was that blocking was allowed in the last few laps of the race when racing for position.

However, Tander was nevertheles pleased with his weekend and his pace all season, which gave him two round victories, saying he was looking forward to 2006 already.

"I'm stoked," begain the new champion. "I think the team did a fantastic job of preparing the car. We got a result the team really deserves. Our car lacked a little bit of pace early in the weekend, but it is all about being positive. We always told ourselves 'we'll get back'. Finishing 18th is not the ideal way of winning the championship. There was an incident on the track and we got the pit lane penalty, but nevertheless managed to get back and win the championship. Our car's steering got wounded on the first lap when Craig ran me wide, and our car would have been a lot quicker if that had not have happened. Our strategy this year was to finish in the top five each round, and it got us the championship. That's the way Russell (Ingall) won the championship last year and over the summer we analysed the way he won it and that's the approach we took as well. I am looking forward to the new points system next year, and we'll have a look at our strategy for that this summer."



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