Amid
the burnout smoke and champagne spray it was hard to deny a truly jubilant
Russell Ingall his V8 Supercar crown. One of Australian sport’s biggest losers,
a four-time championship runner-up, finally sheds the bridesmaid’s dress to
claim the biggest prize in domestic motorsport.

But
still the question has to be asked: did the right man win?

Teammate
Marcos Ambrose, who now bids farewell to the championship, was as impressive in
winning yesterday’s final round on Phillip Island as any other time in his
twice championship-winning V8 career. It was the United States-bound racer’s second
round win of the year, finishing the series in third.

And
brilliant racer Craig Lowndes, widely regarded as the most gifted driver in the
field, won his seventh race of the season on Saturday – more than any other
driver this year. But his last-gasp title tilt fell just short, finishing second.

The irony is the man that has built his reputation as
a ruthless, win-at-all-costs racer finally wins the championship with a
cautious and conservative approach. He’s won just one round compared to Lowndes’ four – the
worst winning record for a series champion in 21 years – compensated by a contrived
points system that rewards consistent finishing over winning.

Marketing-savvy officialdom decided the points system
would tighten the contest and ensure the title would go down to the wire. It
worked, and still delivered a thoroughly deserving champion in Ambrose in 2003
and 2004. This year just about any other points system used in
world motorsport would have given Lowndes the title.

Officials got their last-round shootout, but their
fastest gun took the bullet. Instead of bringing excitement to the sport,
they’ve only encouraged an uninspired champion. This from an organisation that too often puts the
entertainment factor ahead of the sporting contest. It was announced yesterday that next year will see the
reintroduction of reverse grid racing (read: a
multi-million dollar smash-‘em-up derby).

Crashes make the evening news. But fabricating them
does as much for the sport’s credibility as not rewarding courage over
conservatism.

Lowndes will win the championship again, perhaps as
soon as next season where he’ll start a firm favourite. And he, along with
everyone in the sport, won’t begrudge Ingall his championship – no longer the
best driver never to win the major prize. The only shame is that there’s any doubt whether, this
season at least, Ingall is worthy.