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Ford set for Sandown 500


Ford will be out to score its third-straight win at the Betta Electrical Sandown 500 this weekend in Melbourne.

Heading the charge will be current championship leader and defending Sandown champion Craig Lowndes and Team Betta Electrical team-mate Jamie Whincup.

Lowndes has won three rounds in 2006 (Winton, Darwin and Oran Park), while Whincup took victory at the opening round on the streets of Adelaide.

Along with Bathurst, Sandown is a two-driver race, which also includes multiple pit stops for fuel, tyres and compulsory brake pad change.

The Team Betta Electrical crew was amongst a host of teams that tested last week at Queensland Raceway outside Ipswich.

"The team has dedicated a huge amount of time into ensuring the car is performing well for Sandown, and it simply is the best V8 Supercar I've driven," said Lowndes.

"Last week's test at Queensland Raceway had an endurance race focus, with the team practicing pit stops and Jamie and I making sure we had the driver change procedure perfected as every second in pitlane is important."

"I could not have asked for a better co-driver in Jamie, as well as being a quick and level-headed driver he also runs a very similar setup aboard his regular car which means we can both focus on racing rather than adapting to each others changes."

"Melbourne's changeable weather always seems to play a part in the Betta Electrical 500 and I'm confident we'll be able to set a cracking pace whether it is dry or wet."

"We're entering the business end of the season now, and strong endurance race results are essential to maintain the team's push for its first championship."

Last year Whincup was a stand-out performer at Sandown and Bathurst, with a third and second placing respectively.

Currently seventh in the championship chase, Whincup is fully aware of is role at Sandown.

"Last this week's test was purely endurance-focused with myself and Craig practicing numerous driver changes and the team working on setting quick pit-stop times," said Whincup.

"There were a number of positives to come from the test, and one of the biggest was that I feel just as comfortable and capable in Craig's car as I have in my own all season."

"We know the team has what it takes to win at Sandown but every round presents a new challenge and new circumstances, we're very well prepared and I'm very focused on setting fast, consistent laps for the entire race distance."

"I've taken on a different role for the race, I won't be going out there to break lap records, rather I'll be looking to bring home a perfect Betta Electrical Falcon at the end of each stint."

"It should be a fantastic weekend; I can't wait to get underway."

Another Ford team to watch will be the CAT Ford Performance Racing duo of Jason Bright and Mark Winterbottom. Bright has taken three pole positions this year, while Winterbottom was second overall at the New Zealand round.

Despite having great speed, Bright is fully aware of the challenge ahead.

Ford Performance Racing joined a number of other teams for testing at Winton in central Victoria.

"The Sandown 500 can be a tricky race and it rewards the teams who are prepared for anything to happen," said Bright.

"After all of the situations that we have managed to recover from to get strong results this season, I know that FPR heads to this race being more than capable of winning it.

"Mark and I share the same car set-up without any compromises and this is crucial for a long race like this. After the speed we have shown so far this season and our detailed testing last week, we intend to start the endurance season very strongly."

Apart from the opening round in Adelaide, Winterbottom has finished inside the top-10 at each of the following six rounds.

"It's great to be paired with a driver as experienced as Jason Bright heading into the endurance races," said Winterbottom.

"As we have displayed this season, we are both very comfortable with each other's car set-up. This is very important, particularly at Sandown because this long race is usually held in challenging weather conditions.

"Our experience behind the wheel and that of the team is sure to make us one of the fastest driver combinations out there.

"I have to say that it is an incredible feeling to be approaching the Sandown 500 with a very strong chance of being able to win it."

All up Ford will field 13 officially supported cars with 26 drivers.

Ben Beazley

Auto Trader New Zealand