This weekend will see Australian GT return to The Bend Motorsport Park for the second round of the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship where the battle for the first title of the season will heat up thanks to some exciting additions to the field.
Reigning and two-time Australian GT champion Geoff Emery gave Audi their first endurance round win at Phillip Island last time out alongside Garth Tander, defeating the exciting new McLaren 720S of Fraser Ross and Ryan Simpson and 2018 enduro champions Max Twigg and Tony D’Alberto in a dramatic race that saw an early red flag intervention, something which created chaos in pit lane as teams raced to alter their strategies.
Ultimately Emery’s win gave him the points lead in both the Endurance Championship and the outright Australian GT standings after three rounds, but the Audi Sport Team Valvoline driver knows that consistency will be the key in maintaining that advantage, admitting that his preference is to make a late assault on the title, not lead so early in the season..
The #1 Audi though will have no shortage of challengers, not the least from one of the men responsible for the emergence of the world class South Australian facility, Yasser Shahin.
Alongside Luke Youlden 12-months ago, Shahin signed on seven-time Supercars champion Jamie Whincup for this season’s assault and the pair were quick at Phillip Island before a mid-race drama dropped them back down the order. You could expect that with the addition of Whincup’s Red Bull Holden Racing Team team-mate Shane van Gisbergen and new Red Bull signing Garth Tander, that Whincup will want to make an impression in his second ever Australian GT start.
The pair will likely start favourites especially off the back of the performance of the Mercedes-AMG at the venue last year, Shahin and Youlden the early pace-setters before victory fell to the #8 WM Waste entry of Max Twigg and Tony D’Alberto, a result which played a significant part in their maiden endurance title victory.
Twigg and D’Alberto were impressive at Phillip Island, returning to the podium to claim some valuable championship points, whilst also keeping Twigg in touch with Geoff Emery in the GT3 points battle. They were the form team at The Bend last year, and will go into the event as one of the teams to keep a close eye on as they look to return to the top step of the podium.
Mercedes though have not just two, but four teams capable of taking a podium finish, and any one of them on their day could make it to the top step. Former endurance champions Peter Hackett and Dom Storey were unlucky last time out at Phillip Island with an electrical issue on the grid during the lengthy red flag stop, an issue which cost them not just the race lead, but valuable championship points. Like Scott Taylor and Craig Baird, their car showed impressive pace across the Phillip Island weekend, and both cars will be right in the mix again at The Bend.
Liam Talbot was a title contender right up until the final round of the 2018 Australian GT season and excited to be back in the category after moving to Carrera Cup this year, he and van Gisbergen will be the dark horses in this weekend’s event in the Trofeo Motorsport Huracan GT3, a car that has already proven quick in the hands of drivers like Cameron McConville and Dean Canto.
Talbot and 2018 team-mate John Martin were right in the outright battle at The Bend 12-months ago, whilst van Gisbergen too showed impressive pace behind the wheel of Tony Quinn’s McLaren 650S.
Speaking of McLaren, the 59Racing Team entry of Fraser Ross and Ryan Simpson was arguably the standout at Phillip Island during the opening race of the endurance season, Simpson especially impressive on his GT3 debut, the car showing great pace across the event and they are expected to figure in the battle at the front of the field again this weekend in their efforts to give McLaren their second endurance championship title.
With Emery and Tander leading the charge for Audi, a horde of storming AMGs, a new McLaren 720S and van Gisbergen/Talbot in a Lamborghini, there will be no shortage of action at the front of the field, whilst in the battle for GT4 honours, 2018 race winners Justin McMillan and Glen Wood will be hoping to return to victory, although their M-Motorsport KTM team-mates might have something to say about that.
David Crampton and Trent Harrison were right in the fight at the front during the early laps at Phillip Island off the back of impressive qualifying efforts by both drivers, but an unusual failure in the car saw Crampton into the barriers on the run through the final corner, ending their weekend as the field sat motionless on the grid as the barriers were repaired.
Crampton was okay and the tough little #50 X-Bow has been repaired, and both are looking to make amends and take the fight to their team-mates this weekend after finishing the 2018 race at The Bend on the bottom step of the podium.
Also making a return to Australian GT after a run at the Australian Grand Prix earlier in the year is Richard Gartner in the brilliant yellow Safe-T-Stop Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX, he will be joined by Hadrian Morrall at the South Australian venue for his first miles at the circuit.
The weather at The Bend across the weekend could see mixed conditions for the Australian GT teams with sunshine and strong winds predicted for testing on Thursday, with a possibility of rain for Friday’s practice sessions, however Saturday looks like being almost perfect for fans and teams with temperatures in the mid teens and a mix of sunshine and cloud for the three-hour race.
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