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Sep 21, 2012

STAR NAMES ON THE MONEY QUICKLY AT PHILLIP ISLAND

A SPEEDY international and the recent Sandown 500 winner featured at the front of an already feisty Australian GT Championship grid, as practice for round 7 of the Shannons Nationals Presented by Hi-Tec Oils began at Phillip Island today.

German works AMG driver Maro Engel was super quick in combined practice for this weekend’s GT Championship round, driving an Erebus Racing Mercedes Benz SLS AMG.

He adapted quickly to the high-speed 4.46km Victorian circuit and his best lap placed him easily within the top three times of the day; fellow international ace Allan Simonsen banging in the day’s fastest lap, driving a Ferrari.

“The Erebus Motorsport SLS AMG GT3 is clearly very fast, it hasn’t taken me long to get comfortable with the team or the track,” said Engel.

“It was fantastic that we could end two of the sessions on top of the time sheets.

“I still think we can find a little more to be even faster tomorrow. I would like to have a bit better balance in the car and we’ll be working on that.

“So far this trip to Australia has been a great deal of fun, everyone at Erebus Motorsport has been very kind, we’ve been able to see some Australian animals up close whilst down here at Phillip Island.

“The circuit is a great circuit, the racing between the GT Championship field is very tight, so I think tomorrow will be very interesting. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing and see where it ends up. Today could not have started any better for me.”

Meanwhile, Sandown 500 winner Craig Lowndes had his Audi R8 LMS comfortably inside the top three each time he took to the track, clearly revelling having what he described as a ‘weekend off’ before the build-up to Bathurst continues.

There was nothing to split Ferrari, Mercedes and Audi across today’s three session with the ring-ins even deflecting some of the interest away from title rivals Peter Hackett and Klark Quinn – not to mention Ferrari driver Peter Edwards.

In the Kumho V8 Touring Cars it was the form drivers of the year to date at the front of the field; title contender Josh Hunter fastest and recent Queensland Raceway round winner Morgan Haber second.

V8 title leader Jim Pollicina was third overall with Bobby Jane and Matthew Hansen also in the mix.

British ace James Winslow may have already wrapped up the Formula 3 Australian Drivers Championship – but that hasn’t stopped him from chasing more victories in his already record breaking season this weekend.

At a track which he describes as ‘one of the best anywhere in the world,’ Winslow edged out impressive Island F3 rookie Nathan Morcom in today’s (combined) 60-minutes of practice.

Steel Guiliana and Chris Gilmour were also in the mix – Gilmour coming within 0.005s of the day’s quickest time before mechanical issues sidelined him this afternoon.

As it did in the open-wheelers, experience ruled the day in practice for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Australia series; long-time campaigners Jon Trende and John Goodacre topping the two sessions, respectively, today.

In his borrowed 997 GT3 Cup Car, Kane Rose was third quickest in the second session showing that he was still a factor for wins – despite focussing on sealing his inaugural Porsche title this weekend.

A late new-tyre run from points leader Neale Muston saw him top the three sessions held for the Radical Australia Cup sports cars today, his 1m33.44s lap a full 1.6s faster than Oliver smith in the third practice session and the quickest of the day by a similar margin.

Oliver Smith was second across each session the full field contested, with Tony Palmer, Peter Johnston and Nick Kelly in close contention.

Championship leader Simon Tabinor was fastest in practice for the Dial Before You Dig Australian Saloon Cars; the local driver having a comfortable margin over much of the field in today’s unofficial running.

Sprintcar graduate Jon McCorkindale impressed; climbing as high as 11th overall in the third and final session of the day.

Action commences after 9am tomorrow morning and includes qualifying and the first races of the weekend; including a one-hour Australian GT enduro and a 50-minute race for the Radical Australia Cup.