Ford Performance Racing (FPR) has endured an unfortunate day of racing at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide where slick pit stops and a calculated gamble on strategy just failed to deliver a podium result.
FPR drivers Mark Winterbottom, Will Davison and Paul Dumbrell showed good speed in qualifying, with Dumbrell claiming provisional pole before a mistake in the top 10 shootout meant he started the first 250 kilometre race 10th.
Winterbottom qualified his #5 Orrcon Steel FPR Falcon fifth and held the spot in the early laps as the field settled into a rhythm.
He retained his spot in the lead pack after the first round of pit stops, though his second stop cost him ground as a congested pit lane meant he dropped down the field after not only being blocked on exit but because he was forced to wait as a long cue of cars passed FPR's garage.
Winterbottom then used the pace that kept him up front early to regain the lost ground and fuel-saving under two late-race safety car periods meant he finished the race sixth and moved to second outright in the championship.
"We finished sixth which is good but it should have been better," Winterbottom said. "The car wasn't particularly quick early and we never really recovered so I know the team will find something to improve my Orrcon Steel Falcon overnight."
Davison gained a spot on the opening lap and stayed in touch with his team-mate in the lead pack. The team then chose not to stop him during the early safety car period and he gained the lead before pitting out of sequence.
Despite dropping to 20th position the move should have put his #6 Trading Post FPR Falcon in contention for the win late in the race when his competitors would have needed an extra fuel stop.
However, his strategy advantage was nullified when an eight-lap safety car period near the end of the race meant the cars ahead of him conserved fuel and despite setting the fastest lap of the race and passing more than 10 cars, he could only finish the race ninth.
"Today was really unfortunate. We decided to stay out at the second safety car and although Frosty pitted, he and the others that did were going to have to stop again for fuel so we were actually looking really good until the safety car stayed out a ridiculously long time," Davison said.
"That allowed all the drivers ahead of me to conserve fuel and not need the extra stop. Despite that we had great speed at the end and I was passing cars one at a time - it was the most fun I have had in a while. It was encouraging to get back into the 10, but when things don't go your way there isn't much you can do about it."
Dumbrell ran in the top 10 throughout the opening stint and despite grazing the turn eight wall he was on for a solid points haul until he hit the same wall much harder on lap 44, putting him out of contention.
"It was a pretty disappointing day. Tomorrow we will work on being better and if I keep it off the fence we will be fine. We will make changes to improve the balance overnight to make the car handle better on a full tank (of fuel) but we will be fine," Dumbrell said.
FPR team principal Tim Edwards was buoyed by the team's car speed despite the lack of a podium finish.
"We split our strategy after the first safety car period and although Will had to play the long game, had it not been for an issue removing a car from the track we might well be celebrating a podium. Setting the fastest lap of the race proved he will be among the contenders tomorrow.
"Mark's delay in the pits cost him dearly and he did well to get back to sixth. PD had a tough day and if we stay out of trouble tomorrow we can no doubt have all three FPR Falcons up front."