Mar 25, 2014
SENSATIONAL FIELD FOR AUSTRALIAN GT OPENER
The opening round of the 2014 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli gets underway at Melbourne’s Sandown Park this weekend (March 28-30) with a staggering array of cars and drivers.
24 cars will line up across the four classes for opening practice on Friday March 28, including seven of the best GT3 cars in the world battling for outright victory across the two one-hour compulsory pit-stop [CPS] races.
Leading the outright charge will be two-time and reigning AGT champion Klark Quinn, although for season 2014, the Porsche stalwart has turned to British machinery, taking the wheel of the McLaren MP4-12C he shared with Shane Van Gisbergen, Aston Martin’s Andrew Kirkaldy and his father Tony at the recent Bathurst 12-Hour. The quartet were blindingly fast at Bathurst, and despite campaigning a harder compound Pirelli tyre, Van Gisbergen reset the GT lap record in the McLaren which ran faultlessly at the front of the field for the full 12-Hour distance to miss victory by just on two seconds..
Despite having never driven the car, Quinn was immediately comfortable, and quick, something which will work in his favour as he goes after title number three.
2013 runner-up Tony Quinn seemed a little at odds with the McLaren at Bathurst, admitting that he much prefers front-engined cars, something which saw him claim a pair of victories last year in his Darrell Lea Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and he’s itching to get back behind the wheel.
Erebus Motorsport are back too for 2014 with new recruit Richard Muscat onboard. The reigning Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champion was a standout performer in the one-make category last season and already his pace in testing the SLS AMG GT3 that took victory in three of the six rounds last year is impressing team-boss Barry Ryan.
“I think he’s every bit as good as Jack [Le Brocq],” Ryan admitted during a recent test session at Phillip Island - an ominous sign for the young Victorians opponents.
Klark Quinn might not have the Porsche that gave him such success over the last two seasons, but the car will return to the grid in 2014, and in very capable hands. Former GT and Carrera Cup competitor James Koundouris has purchased the car, and in further bad news for the series regulars, V8 Supercar part-timer Steve Owen will share the driving duties, Owen admitting that he’s really looking forward to the two 101-lap endurance races during the season.
Whilst 2013 may not have been the debut that dual Victorian State Series champion Justin McMillan had dreamt of, the Lamborghini regular has been fast in off-season testing, and was quick at Bathurst during the 12-Hour prior to a nasty mid-race accident at the top of the mountain with co-driver Ross Lilley at the wheel.
In typical M-Motorsport fashion, the 2013 Gallardo FL2 has been returned to pristine condition, and McMillan admits that this will be a very different season for the Interlloy supported team, especially with reigning Bathurst 1000 champion Steven Richards alongside for the year.
“There were a lot of things going on last year away from racing, so I didn’t get the chance to be in the car as often as I would have liked,” McMillan admitted. “This year though already, I’m fitter, I’m faster, and things are a lot more relaxed with Richo in the team, so I’d expect to be a little closer to the podium.”
Jim Manolios is another who could be expected to take a step forward in 2014, the Trofeo Motorsport team-boss has completely rebuilt the team’s Corvette Z06.R which now features a full upgrade to 2013 specification which includes much revised aero and the all important paddle-shift gearbox system, however he won’t be debuting the Corvette at Sandown, and has to turn instead to a ‘backup’ option.
“Unfortunately the upgrade to the Corvette couldn't be completed before Sandown, so we’ve been able to procure a Ferrari 458 for the opening round to ensure that I score points in the championship class for when the Corvette is back online.”
Throw in reigning Bathurst 12-Hour champions Peter Edwards and John Bowe in their Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and you have what is sure to be an intense battle for outright honours, but don’t expect that’s where the only interest will lie within the season opener.. far from it.
With entries for the championship class frozen for 2014 - meaning that just 2012 and 2013-sepcification cars are eligible - older cars like the 20111 Audi R8 LMS of Dean Koutsoumidis becomes a ‘Trophy’ class car. Whilst Koutsoumidis was keen to return to the class he and Andrew McInnes won in 2012 to battle former team-mate Jan Jinadasa (Lamborghini LP520) and reigning champion Steve McLaughlan (now also Audi R8 LMS mounted), not one of the three expected the huge influx of entrants in the class for 2014.. 11 cars!
Rod Salmon will join the class after his Skiwrk.com.au Audi R8 LMS ultra was all but destroyed in a qualifying crash at the Bathurst 12-Hour by V8 Supercar front-runner Jason Bright. The car is in the process of being repaired by the Melbourne Performance Centre, however it would not have been ready for Sandown, Salmon instead leasing the Peter Conroy R8 LMS to tackle McLaughlan and Koutsoumidis for outright honours.
Add in new Trophy Class recruits Theo Koundouris and Andrew MacPherson in their 997 Cup S Porsches, Michael Hovey in his ex-Craig Baird 997 Cup Car and you have a race on your hands. Include the gorgeous Ascari KZR-1 of Keith Kassulke, the Aston Martin DBRS9 of Ben Eggleston and a pair of Mosler MT900s for Graham Lusty and local driver Dale Paterson, and Trophy Class will provide its own championship-within-a-championship..
The GT Challenge class will see a resumption of the battle between 2013 title-rivals - eventual champion Ben Foessel with his father George alongside, competing for race victories against 2013 runner-up Brendan Cook and Matt Kingsley, whilst former GT3 Cup Challenge regular Indiran Padayachee will also rejoin the fight after making his AGT debut at Highlands Motorsport Park last November.
Not to be outdone on the class battles, GT4 Sport will see reigning champion Mark Griffith battling with 2013 rival Tony Martin, whilst new recruits Tony Alford and Mark O’Connor will join the series in their new Lotus Exige Cup R.
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR?
GT Championship (for 2012-2013 specification GT3 cars)
Klark Quinn can never be discounted for outright pace, but the form GT3 car in the world right now is arguably the SLS AMG GT3, and one of the form young drivers in Australia is Richard Muscat, the pairing could be the new benchmark. Don’t discount Steven Richards in the Lamborghini, or Steve Owen in the former Klark Quinn Porsche, and for that matter, Tony Quinn. He won two of the last five races of 2013 and the Sandown round in a Mosler in 2010.. it will be tight, and intriguing..
GT Trophy (for GT3-spec cars 2011 and older)
This is almost harder to predict than the Championship class. Three very quick Audis will be in the mix, but so too local stars Dale Paterson and Ben Eggleston, and discount the Porsches at your own risk! This will be well worth keeping a close eye on. Expect too a selection of fast young stars to join the car-owners during the year as the regulars turn what they say is just a good day out with mates, into a battle for sheep stations..!
GT Challenge (Challenge class cars - Porsche/Ferrari)
With Matt Kingsley back from a brief sabbatical, the Cook/Kingsley combination look the goods, but Ben Foessel too developed as a driver across 2013 and got stronger with every round, so he could prove to be the thorn in his rivals side and again keep them from title victory.
GT Sports (GT4 category cars)
Mark Griffith should have the series his own way in 2014. He emerged as a strong contender during 2013 with team-mate Jack Perkins offering support, but he showed at the Bathurst 12-Hour that he was up to six seconds a lap faster than he’d been 12 months prior. Don’t be surprised to see some guest drivers in the #19 Ginetta this year, and keep an eye on the battle with the Lotus, that should be interesting too!
Friday, 28 March
Practice #1 - 10:40am (20-minutes)
Practice #2 - 12:55am (20-minutes)
Practice #3 - 3:10pm (20-minutes)
Saturday, 29 March
Qualifying - 12:45pm (30-minutes)
Race #1 - 3:10pm (60-minutes)
Sunday, 30 March
Warm-up - 9:35am (10-minutes)
Race #2 - 11:10am (60-minutes)
AUSTRALIAN GT AND SANDOWN PARK
The Australian GT Championship has competed at Sandown on four prior occasions; 2007 (won by Allan Simonsen/Tim Leahey - Ferrari 430), 2008 (Allan Simonsen/Nick O’Halloran - Ferrari 430), 2011 (Tony Quinn - Mosler) and 2011 (Greg Crick - Dodge Viper).
Greg Crick is the current GT lap record holder on the 3.104 kilometre circuit is Greg Crick in his Dodge Viper Competition Coupé GT3 at 1:11.8700 set in 2011.
WHERE TO WATCH..
Keep track of round six of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli via the AGT website - www.australiangt.com.au and via Facebook; AustralianGT
The event will also be liv-streamed on Sunday, you can watch the footage by logging-on to www.thenationals.com.au
Tickets are available at the gate for the Sandown event, or by visiting www.sandown.net.au
Saturday tickets; $15 (adult), Saturday; $25 (adult), weekend; $30 (adult), children under 14 free.
WHO’S ENTERED FOR ROUND ONE?
GT CHAMPIONSHIP CLASS
1. Klark Quinn (Darrell Lea McLaren MP4-12C)
7. Tony Quinn (Darrell Lea Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
29. Jim Manolios (Trofeo Motorsport/Pirelli Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
36. Richard Muscat (Erebus Motorsport SLS AMG GT3)
47. James Koundouris/Steve Owen (Supabarn Supermarkets Porsche GT3-R)
48. Justin McMillan/Steven Richards (Interlloy Gallardo LP600+)
88. Peter Edwards/John Bowe (Il Bello Rosso Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
GT TROPHY CLASS
5. Graham Lusty/Geoff Fane (Lusty Trailers Mosler MT900 GT3)
6. Rod Salmon (Skwirk.com.au Audi R8 LMS GT3)
38. Ben Eggleston (Eggleston Motorsport Aston Martin DBRS9)
51. Andrew MacPherson (IMAK Int. Porsche 997 Cup-S)
52. Keith Kassulke/Jonathan Venter (Ascari KZR-1 GT3)
69. Theo Koundouris (Supabarn Supermarkets Porsche 997 Cup-S)
70. Dale Paterson (DPM Mosler MT900 GT3)
71. Dean Koutsoumidis/James Winslow (Equity-One Audi R8 LMS GT3)
73. Michael Hovey (Associated Projects Porsche Type 997 GT3 Cup)
75. Steve McLaughlan (JAMEC PEM Audi R8 LMS GT3)
77. Jan Jinadasa (JJA Consulting Group Lamborghini Gallardo LP520)
GT CHALLENGE CLASS
3. Ben Foessel/George Foessel (Motor School Porsche Type 997 GT3 Cup)
25. Brendan Cook/Matt Kingsley (Walz Group Porsche Type 997 GT3 Cup)
35. Indiran Padayachee (Rentcorp Porsche Type 997 GT3 Cup)
GT4 SPORT CLASS
9. Tony Martin (TM Motorsports Ginetta G50 GT4)
19. Mark Griffith (Hog’s Breath Cafe Ginetta G50 GT4)
54. Tony Alford/Mark O’Connor (Donut King Lotus Exige Cup R)