Ford Performance Racing's Mark Winterbottom made the most of a fast car and good strategy to take victory in race two of the Sucrogen Townsville 400.
Winterbottom ran fifth in the early stages, but was the first of the leaders to pit, emerging with the lead after the first round of pit stops were completed.
He had built up a comfortable 10-second margin over second place when a late-race safety car bunched the field back together, but held on to take victory despite close attention from James Courtney.
Courtney finished second but was somewhat fortunate to finish that high, though a top-five finish was a certainty. Poleman and early race leader Jamie Whincup looked set for back-to-back wins before a broken brake pipe forced him to pit after eight laps while leading for lengthy repairs, Whincup eventually finishing 23rd.
On lap 25 he lost third place to Craig Lowndes, but took the place back at the turn two hairpin on lap 42. Also on lap 42, and just one corner up the road at turn three, second-place runner Garth Tander understeered into the tyre wall on the exit.
With yellow flags waving, Tander reversed out just as Courtney and Lowndes arrived. But with Tander still on the race line as Courtney reached the apex, Courtney slowed sharply. Both Courtney and Lowndes made it safely past Tander as he reversed out the way. However, Lowndes couldn't react to Courtney's sudden slowing and ran into the back of him, damaging the front of his car and forcing him to the pits immediately, his crew eventually choosing to retire the car, while Courtney escaped with little more than cosmetic damage.
Tander took third despite the front of his car looking much the worse for wear after the tyre wall encounter, with fourth a great result for Paul Dumbrell after starting 14th. Fifth looked to be Jason Bright's, but despite time restraints shortening the race by a lap, he suffered cruel luck when with less than three laps before the chequered flag, engine problems struck and dropped him down to 18th.
This was good news for FPR, however, with Steven Richards in fifth completing a 1-4-5 result for cars run by the team, Richards just holding out Will Davison by a tenth of a second at the chequered flag, with Shane van Gisbergen, Jason Richards and Jonathon Webb right behind them.
Early contact for Steven Johnson got his day off to a bad start and didn't get any better, finishing 22nd, several laps down after pitting to repair body damage.
There was also early contact for Rick Kelly and Tony D'Alberto as they exited the turn two hairpin together, causing damage to both cars and leaving Russell Ingall with nowhere to go except into the side of D'Alberto's car. D'Alberto and Ingall's races retired while Kelly recovered to finish 13th.
With the next event, the L&H 500 at Phillip Island, nine weeks away, Courtney has some time to savor his championship lead. While he was under threat at the start of the day, leading Whincup by just 18 points, the race result leaves Courtney with a margin of 120 points over Whincup, with Mark Winterbottom a further 204 points behind Whincup in third.
Pos Driver Make Time
1. Mark Winterbottom Ford Falcon FG 1h36m49.3580s
2. James Courtney Ford Falcon FG + 1.2350s
3. Garth Tander Holden Commodore VE + 4.4763s
4. Paul Dumbrell Ford Falcon FG + 9.6783s
5. Steven Richards Ford Falcon FG + 13.1716s
6. Will Davison Holden Commodore VE + 13.2849s
7. Shane Van Gisbergen Ford Falcon FG + 13.9365s
8. Jason Richards Holden Commodore VE + 14.4176s
9. Jonathon Webb Ford Falcon FG + 15.4904s
10. Jason Bargwanna Holden Commodore VE + 23.7017s
11. Michael Caruso Holden Commodore VE + 24.0598s
12. Tim Slade Ford Falcon FG + 24.6065s
13. Rick Kelly Holden Commodore VE + 28.9725s
14. Alex Davison Ford Falcon FG + 30.3726s
15. Lee Holdsworth Holden Commodore VE + 30.8514s
16. Cameron McConville Holden Commodore VE + 46.4925s
17. Greg Murphy Holden Commodore VE + 52.2958s
18. Jason Bright Holden Commodore VE + 58.7969s
19. Todd Kelly Holden Commodore VE + 1m06.8035s
20. Tony Ricciardello Holden Commodore VE + 1 lap
21. Dean Fiore Ford Falcon FG + 3 laps
22. Steven Johnson Ford Falcon FG + 6 laps
23. Jamie Whincup Holden Commodore VE + 13 laps
Driver Make Laps
Fabian Coulthard Holden Commodore VE 70
Craig Lowndes Holden Commodore VE 41
Andrew Thompson Holden Commodore VE 25
Tony D'Alberto Holden Commodore VE 1
Russell Ingall Holden Commodore VE 1
Karl Reindler Holden Commodore VE 1