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Mar 31, 2016

ON TRACK: CRAILLSY'S PREVIEW

 

THANK GOODNESS.

Now the Bathurst 12 Hour, the Clipsal 500, Grand Prix and Easter are all out of the way we can go about the proper business of racing with the Shannons Nationals.

The series starts this weekend at Sandown in Melbourne and I can’t think of a better place to kick things off for a brand new year. I love Sandown: Not only does the place ooze history and tradition, but it’s one of the better race tracks around: There’s overtaking, there’s what I like to describe as ‘corners of consequence’ (i.e. if you get it wrong it will probably be expensive) and terrific viewing from pretty much wherever you’re sitting.

(Especially from the main, covered, grandstand when it’s teaming down - as is the nature of a circuit located on a rain band that exists thanks to the Dandenong ranges.)

So there’s plenty of reasons to get out to the track this weekend or get watching on Sunday’s live stream, because it should be a cracker.. Here’s a few reasons why.

Touring Car Masters. I mean, c’mon! Does this really need an explanation? A category that is based around the history of the sport – both cars and drivers – racing at one of the most historic venues in the sport is a match made in 102-octane heaven.

This year’s series is shaping up as one of the most competitive ever with Greg Ritter joining the party in his Chevrolet Monza, taking on Glenn Seton (Ford Mustang), Jim Richards (AMC Javelin) and John Bowe (Holden Torana) at the pointy end of the pack.

Those four alone have won a combined seven Sandown 500 enduro’s – so they’re all fairly handy when it comes to this suburban venue. When you throw in the likes of Eddie Abelnica in the world’s fastest XB Falcon (no, really, it does a genuine 290km/hr), Mark King’s speedy Camaro and Jason Gomersall’s excellent Torana amongst a host of other contenders then it’s quite a field.

The other interesting category for me this weekend is the growth within the Australian Sports Racer Series. The racing purist in me loves this class because it’s so diverse and this year it’s got even better thanks to an influx of new drivers and new cars.

Last year, four races in this series were decided by less than 0.2 seconds (usually in the last 100m of the race) so with a booming 19-car grid this weekend it should be another brilliant couple of races.

It’s always exciting to see the birth of a new category so being there for the first race of the Australian GT Trophy series will be very interesting indeed. We’ve all heard about, talked about and enthused about the general growth of GT racing in Australia over the last few years and the fact there’s now a fifth series (when you count Australian GT’s Championship and Endurance titles, plus the Porsche Carrera and GT3 Cups) on the market is remarkable.

Some of the older GT cars were pretty cool too – I personally miss the Dodge Vipers and the banshee howl of a Ferrari 430 – so it will be good to see some of those cars dusted off and get on the track.

Don’t forget the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge though. Over the last few years this series has found its happy place for not only developing young drivers but giving everyone a great place to race. They also have the best coffee in pit lane. This weekend is significant for plenty of reasons, not the least of which is watching John Goodacre hopefully crack his 100th race start in the category.

It’s likely to be a good one, too, because Johnny G is generally regarded as the best starter of Porsche’s GT3 Cup Car in the history of humankind. It’s actually a fact that he makes on average 8 grid positions every race start (don’t ask me to back that up), so hopefully he can make his 100th a good one.

Some other pointers: The Kumho V8 Touring Cars will be good, thanks to an influx of new metal and new faces that will make this already competitive series even better.

You haven’t lived until you’ve watched a proper open-wheel car head over the old ‘Rothmans Rise’ and turn into the left hander flat out – so go watch from the exit of Dandenong Road when Formula 3 cars are on the track. It’s epic.

Leanne Tander’s return to Formula Ford full time is a fascinating storyline, not to mention that it pairs two of the best and most influential women in Australian motorsport together in the same team. Maria Ritter, Sonic team owner Mick’s incredible wife, plays a huge role in the development of ‘her’ drivers not to mention the atmosphere in the paddock for the whole category so Leanne and Maria working together should be utterly fantastic to see.

And finally, I’ll end on a slightly sentimental note. We all loved to watch the great Des Wall race and this weekend his story will come full circle. The opening round of the Kerrick Sports Sedans includes the Des Wall Trophy race, a tribute to one of the greats of Sports Sedan racing’s incredible history. Racing in it will be his son, David, now unburdened by running a V8 Supercar and clearly revelling in the fact he can drive anything he wants, whenever he wants.

As such, he’ll be behind the wheel of Des’ old Corvette, taking on Tony Ricciardello (otherwise known as ‘old nine-time’) and Jack Perkins (back in my favourite racing car, ever) this weekend. Even if he doesn’t win, I doubt there’ll be a dry eye in the Wall Racing camp this weekend and that’s just great. It’s worth noting that anything with 900hp makes me well up, and that’s the excuse I’ll repeat right after that race, if asked.

Watch it on the stream, on Speedweek in a few weeks or scrounge under the couch for the very few pennies you need to get out there this weekend. You won’t be disappointed.

@Craillsy