IF THAT couldn't convince Ford to keep sponsoring V8 Supercars in Australia, nothing could.
In the most extraordinary race in the history of the Bathurst 1000, rookie driver Chaz Mostert took the lead on the last of 161 drama-charged laps to claim victory for Ford.
As triumphant as the win was for Mostert and veteran co-driver Paul Morris, it was tragic for V8 series leader Jamie Whincup, who drove arguably the greatest race ever seen at Mt Panorama before limping across the line in fifth place, his car out of fuel.
Whincup, who started from the back row of the grid after crashing out in qualifying on Friday, worked his way up to the leaders with some inspired driving, before being handed a one-lap penalty by race officials after taking out Todd Kelly.
The four-time champion recovered from that and was still set for victory when he led Mostert by three seconds on the final lap, before a lack of fuel robbed Whincup of what would have been a stunning win.
He struggled over the line in fifth, swamped by a series of young challengers led by the 22-year-old Mostert who won his first V8 Supercars race at Ipswich last year when given a chance by legendary Ford man Dick Johnson.
The young Victorian had a disastrous debut at Bathurst last year when he crashed out, but this time the addition of Morris, who was having his 22nd start in the great race, was a stroke of genius.
"Wow - second year in main game and this happens," Mostert said after getting out of the car.
"We didn't have it in qualifying, but god we had it in the race … unbelievable. I had to have a crack and we pulled it off - it is unbelievable. Everything went our way… and now we're Bathurst champions."
Nissan grabbed second place through James Moffat and Taz Douglas, with Nick Percat and Oliver Gavin the first Holden across the line in third place.
The race had everything, including a one-hour suspension mid-race to allow for repairs to the track which was breaking up despite being given a $2million re-surfacing after last year's event.
It was also punctuated by crashes and engine failures, with last year's winner Mark Winterbottom, Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen and Craig Lowndes among a significant number of drivers who could count themselves extremely unlucky.
Van Gisbergen was the leader with just nine laps remaining, before pulling into the pits under the safety car, only for his Commodore to stall and the starter motor to fail.
Mostert's victory gave Ford its second consecutive title, but whether the manufacturer continues its support of teams in the V8 Championship will not be known until later in the year.
Ford Australia president Bob Graziano said ongoing sponsorship of Ford Performance Racing was undecided.
"We are working with the teams now and any announcements we have will be after the season is over," Graziano told the V8 Supercars website.
1: Chaz Mostert/Paul Morris (Ford)
2: James Moffat/Taz Douglas (Nissan)
3: Nick Percat/Oliver Gavin (Holden)
4: Will Davison/Alex Davison (Mercedes)
5: Jamie Whincup/Paul Dumbrell (Holden)
- APN SPORTS BUREAU
Bathurst carnage continues despite stoppage for broken track
THE carnage has continued at the Bathurst 1000 after a one-hour stoppage to repair a damaged section of the Mount Panorama circuit.
Officials red-flagged the race with 100 laps to go on Sunday when a patch of new tarmac at turn two was breaking up heavily, causing a number of accidents.
Nissan co-driver Taz Douglas twice went into the wall at high-speed corner, with the Fords of Paul Morris and Scott Pye also crashing at the same spot.
The area was filled and sealed with resin before the race resumed.
In 53 editions of the endurance classic, never has it been restarted after a red-flag.
The drama didn't end there, though, with two more safety cars called in before the midway point of the 161-lap epic.
V8 Supercars championship leader Jamie Whincup took out the Nissan of Todd Kelly on the first lap after the restart, for which he copped a drive-through penalty.
The two cars were forced back into the pits for some quick repair work on the damage. Whincup had produced the drive before the red flag, managing to climb from 23rd to fifth in just 15 laps and breaking his own race lap record.
Soon after his collision with Kelly, Steven Johnson hit a wall and spun his Ford at the top of the hill.
His retro-themed No.17 Falcon had to be towed back to the garage.
Five laps later, Pye also crashed heavily and wrote off his car - triggering the day's fifth safety car.
"Man, that escalated quickly," said Garth Tander, who was forced to sit out of the race after his wrecked Holden Racing Team Commodore was withdrawn after practice on Saturday.
Holden veteran Craig Lowndes had earlier predicted plenty of carnage in the endurance classic given what he'd experienced on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The grippy new track surface bit several cars in nearly every practice and qualifying session, including Lowndes.
Volvo's Scott McLaughlin is currently front of the pack and has led for more laps than another other car.
The young Kiwi started third on the grid but got the jump on Holden's polesitter Shane van Gisbergen and defending champion Mark Winterbottom of Ford. Volvo hasn't contested the 1000km classic since 1998, when Jim Richards and Rickard Rydell won as part of the two-litre series.
Despite a bright and clear start, a thunderstorm has been forecast for late Sunday afternoon.
- NZ Herald