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Jun 6, 2016

CRAILLSY'S PENRITE PREVIEW

 

A few years ago two of the best drivers in the history of the category staged one of the better races in the Kerrick Sports Sedan Series.

And it wasn’t at Sandown, or Sydney Motorsport Park, or Phillip Island. Nope – it was humble old Winton where old foes Tony Ricciardello and Darren Hossack went to war in a continuation of their longstanding rivalry at the pointy end of Australia’s Fastest Tin-Top Category.

Ricciardello’s Alfa, on its short wheelbase and with driver working hard, was quicker though the point-and-squirt sections while Hossack’s Audi was phenomenal through the high speed turn five and down the straights.

It was one of those races you just can’t help but be compelled to watch and enjoy and experience until whatever the conclusion may be.

So the news that there will be nearly 20 of the big bangers at Winton this weekend for Round 3 of the Shannons Nationals presented by Penrite, will be a breath of welcome fresh air for this ardent fan of the things with wings.

Even if only one or two of them are ultimately capable of winning the race, there’s few better things in life than a stacked grid of Sports Sedans all waiting to rumble, no matter the track. The noise ... no, make that ‘the feeling’ when they get the green flag is worth the price of admission alone.

There’s some terrific story lines as well, like the ongoing form of Supercars ace Jack Perkins in the Audi, and the ongoing pursuit by old nine-time in his famous Alfa. Expect the Alfa to be on even closer terms to Jack right out of the box this weekend.

The addition of a Top 10 Shootout for the Kerrick field will also liven things up even more. While a bulk of the field are experienced hands at this caper, not too many will have experienced the pressure and commitment required to extract the most out of chassis, tyre and braking performance over that one special lap that can get you pole.

It’s the kind of scenario that has ‘mixed up grid’ written all over it, doesn’t it?

Of course, the Kerrick series is only one part of another fascinating round of the Shannons Nationals this season.

As there has been across the opening two rounds there’s another big GT presence this weekend with both the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge presented by Pirelli and the Australian GT Trophy Series both on the program.

The opening round of the GT Trophy was nothing but an unqualified success, with a good group of cars entered and two quality one-hour races that offered all of the usual intrigue, strategy and enjoyment that their big brothers offered at Phillip Island just two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, in Porsche-land it’s the opening round of the Jim Richards Endurance Trophy which has become an integral part of the series.

Now in its sixth year, ‘The Jim’ (as almost no one else calls it, but I retain hope that it will catch on) was founded in 2011 as a way to get the GT3 Cup Challenge guys some extra time behind the wheel, and leverage their vehicles better for what they were designed to do – pound around and around for as long as possible with complete reliability and the best enjoyment possible.

It’s been an incredible success and drivers in the series now covet that title as much as they do the outright series crown. Watch for the twilight race on Saturday on a circuit that in the past has challenged both driver and tyre fitness over the near one-hour duration.

Meanwhile the new surface at Winton means that there’s a real possibility the outright track record could be broken for the first time in years thanks to the hot pace at the front of this year’s Aussie F3 series.

My propeller-head colleague Shane, who drinks numbers in the same way I drink a decent Cab Sav (responsibly, but with great enthusiasm), informs me that the Winton lap record was beaten by an average of more than three per cent at the Supercars round a month ago, with the Supercars (3.4%), Utes (3.4%) and Touring Car Masters cars (3.0%) all going comfortably underneath their old benchmarks.

Meanwhile, he tells me, F3 cars are already only 2.6% off the outright lap record on the old surface – so if the maths (and the weather) holds up then that 1m14.56s benchmark could be dusted for the first time in 15 years.

Formula 3 already holds outright records at five different Aussie venues so another one would be a nice addition to the record books of Australia’s fastest racing cars and a satisfying cherry on the top of a number crunching cake. Some people have too much time..

Finally and in what is unquestionably another good news story for the sport, this weekend will see another stout field lining up on the Australian Sports Racer Series starting grid.

It’s hard to not like this series, such is its diversity and penchant for producing racing that borders on the insane, so it’s great to see the grids starting to really thrive after a few challenging seasons.

Of note in the Sports Racers will be the debut of the West LMP4 – a brand new model to the series. It’s the latest and greatest in Sports Racer technology and should represent an interesting evolution forward for the class. Go and check it out.

And in a final note, here’s to anyone who complains about the inevitable cold at Winton this weekend: drink a glass of anti-freeze and harden up because you know deep down, there’s no place you’d rather be.

Alternatively, there’s a warming feeling available for free when the Sports Sedans go green on Sunday morning.

I’m off to get my jacket.

Craillsy.