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May 21, 2015

'RING INS' RETURN TO PHILLIP ISLAND

FOR THE SECOND year running the Shannons Australian Motor Racing Nationals round at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit will be opening the drivers’ door to a host of ring-in drivers this weekend.

The annual endurance spectacular – where the Australian GT Championship, Porsche Carrera Cup Australia and Australian Manufacturers championship go into long-distance mode – allows drivers from other series to jump into the co-driver’s seat of race cars they wouldn’t usually get to steer.

It’s becoming an annual tradition as some of the biggest names of the sport have a weekend away from their ‘day job’ pressures and race for fun.

But don’t make that fact suggest that it’s anything other than extremely competitive.

“It’s hard because it’s his car but for me, every time I go out in the car I try to be the fastest and that won’t change no matter what I do,” says factory Volvo V8 Supercars driver Scott McLaughlin of his role with Stephen Grove’s Porsche Carrera Cup team.

Grove and McLaughlin won the Porsche ProAm event twelve months ago, a result that helped set the car owner up for the Carrera Challenge class title at the end of the season.

The pair are back together this weekend and McLaughlin – one of half-a-dozen V8 Supercar full-timers on track this weekend – says he’s very aware of his role.

VIDEO - McLaughlin and Grove ready to defend Porsche ProAm title.

“It’s very important for me to bring the car home straight because I’m also racing for this guy’s championship. We had a great round here last year, winning the round, and got out of the round with a championship lead which was good, because he didn’t get beaten after that.”

The 21-year-old Kiwi star is one of several V8 Supercars regular joining the Porsche grid this weekend, with Supercheap Holden star Tim Slade to drive with Adrian Mastronado and LD Motorsport driver Nick Percat to rekindle his relationship with Shane Smollen, the pair having won the Sunday race at the Island last year.

Percat will have a busy weekend - he's on the spanners in the Formula Ford paddock, too.

Several frontrunners from the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge – a Shannons Nationals staple – have been called up to drive with the professional Carrera Cup racers including Geoff Emery (with Shae Davies) and John Goodacre – who will drive with Cameron McConville.

The Australian GT Championship grid has attracted a similar array of star drivers – including a couple of impressive international ring-ins.

Former Formula One and IndyCar star Andrea Montermini will return to Australian shores for the second time this season to drive the Vicious Rumour Racing Ferrari 458 GT3 with owner Tony Defelice.

The 50-year-old Italian driver started 29 Grands Prix during his Formula One career, raced in the IndyCar series in the United States and has also twice finished inside the top six at the famous LeMans 24 Hour race.

He raced with the Vicious Rumour team at the Bathurst 12 hour earlier this year, finishing sixth.

The other international ring-in has also tasted Aussie success: double 12-hour champion Christoper Mies set to do double duty in a Porsche and an Audi this weekend.

Mies, who won the Nurburgring 24 hour last weekend with the dominant WRT Audi squad, will race in the Porsche Carrera Cup ProAm with Marc Cini and the Australian GT 101 on Saturday afternoon with Greg Crick, in a JAMEC-PEM Racing Audi R8.

The versatile young German is one of the rising stars of GT racing and should help give both cars he’s driving this weekend a chance of victory.

Holden Racing Team star Garth Tander will return to defend his Phillip Island 101 crown with Tony Quinn, this time trading a V12-powered Aston Martin Vantage for the mid-mount V8 power of a brand new McLaren 650s GT3.

Tander was the star of last year’s race as he hunted down and passed the leading Erebus Mercedes Benz within the final two laps of the 2014 encounter, setting up a thrilling finish in the Island twilight.

The Darrel Lea team will run two McLaren’s this weekend, Klark Quinn having enlisted v8 team owner and enduro co-driver Jono Webb to co-drive his entry.

Meanwhile, Jack LeBrocq – a former Phillip Island Australian GT Championship round winner – will return to the category as he teams with Justin McMillan in one of the stunning new Chevrolet Camaro GT3s.

Steven Johnson will race an Audi with JAMEC owner / driver Steven Mclaughlan while Grant Denyer and Tony D’Alberto make a strong paring in the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari – a car recently rebuilt following a monster crash in practice for this February’s 12-hour.

Nissan Motorsport ace James Moffat is another to be making his Australian GT debut this weekend – he’ll drive a Ford GT with South Australian GT regular, Kevin Weeks.

Andre Heimgartner will race a Porsche while David Wall will be looking after the prospects of his family-run team, Wall Racing, that runs several Australian GT entries.

The AMChamp field has also undergone some co-driver changes for the annual Great Southern 4-hour – Dean Lillie slotting in alongside Jim Pollicina in the re-built and fire free HSV GTS that literally set the class field alight at Sandown in March.

Aaron Seton and Rick Bates return to drive with Bob Pearson in his Mitsubishi while the Sandown 3-hour classic winning combination of Robert and Shane Marshall remain unchanged.

As well as the endurance categories, the Australian Formula Ford Series and Australian Formula 3 championship will both be on track this weekend.

The Formula Ford field is bolstered by the national-level return of Leanne Tander, who will race an outright-class Mygale for the first time.

Both days’ racing from Phillip Island will be streamed live and free from the Shannons Nationals website starting from midday Saturday.

The stream will also be available through the MotorsportsTV app available for iPhone and Android platforms.