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Mar 28, 2014

NATIONALS STARS STEP UP IN SANDOWN PRACTICE

TWO YOUNG STARS of Australian Motorsport who came to prominence throughout the 2013 Shannons Australian Motor Racing Nationals have taken their first laps in their new-for-2014 categories today at Sandown Raceway.

Reigning Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge winner Richard Muscat has switched to the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli this year, driving a Mercedes Benz SLS AMG for Erebus Motorsport.

Meanwhile, former Suzuki Swift series star Ben Grice has switched his attention to the Dial Before You Dig Super Six Touring Car Series, driving a Ford Falcon.

The pair will make their track debuts in their respective new rides this weekend as the 2014 Shannons Nationals commences at the Melbourne venue.

Muscat was confirmed a member of the Erebus program earlier this year and after several days testing today finally got his first laps in a competitive environment behind the wheel of the thundering 6.2-litre GT3 car.

He ended up quickest across the three practice sessions today at Sandown, ahead of a tasty 24-car GT field.

“It’s a very different thing to drive compared to the Porsche I was racing last year,” Muscat said.

“It’s taking time to learn how to drive this car and adapt to things like traction control and ABS, as well as the fact the engine is at the front rather than the rear, but it’s been great.

“Working with guys like (Erebus team manager) Barry Ryan and Jack LeBrocq (who raced with the team at the recent Bathurst 12-hour), has made it easier. It’s a great process but you never stop learning.”

This weekend’s GT field not only features a stunning array of cars but several front-line starts of the sport, too – including reigning Bathurst champion Steve Richards, FPR enduro ace Steve Owen and racing legend John Bowe.

Muscat says he’s happy to have strong benchmarks amongst the GT grid this year – and happier to be in front of them.

“It’s great to be able to race those guys – they are the best at what they do and it’s good to be able to benchmark yourself against them. It’s also great for the category to have them involved.”

While Muscat has gone from rear-engine Porsche to front-engined Mercedes, Ben Grice’s transition has been even more extreme – trading in his front-wheel drive, four-cylinder Suzuki for a heavy, six-cylinder Ford Falcon this weekend.

The ever-quotable Queenslander said it was a good challenge to adapt to the heavier, rear-wheel-drive Falcon.

“You have to have the patience of the Dalai Lama,” he said.

“Rear wheel drive throttle control was not a problem, but getting used to the body roll is something else – the car likes to take a lot of curb.”

Grice ended the day 10th out of the 22-cars that completed laps in practice today, but has an easy strategy for the first race to be held tomorrow afternoon.

“My race tactic is to go like a greyhound and chase down whoever is in front of me.”

The Formula 3 Australian Drivers Championship, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge presented by Pirelli, Australian Manufacturers Championship and Radical Australia Cup cars also completed practice sessions today – all unofficial save for the Formula 3 cars.

Championship leader Simon Hodge topped both F3 sessions today, edging out title rivals Ben Gersekowski and John Magro in his Team BRM Mygale.

Action proper commences tomorrow at Sandown Raceway with practice, qualifying and the first races of the 2014 Nationals season commencing in a big day of on-track action.

Tickets are available at the gate for just $15 – or $30 for a weekend pass.

For more information head to www.thenationals.com.au