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Nov 8, 2016

THE YEAR THAT WAS

As we head into our final round of the 2016 Shannons Nationals presented by Penrite, Richard Craill recaps what has been a great season of the Nationals.

There have been a lot of things to follow throughout this year’s Shannons Nationals presented by Penrite tour.

Close racing – as always, has been a highlight, but there’s also been controversy, lap records, big crashes and smaller, quieter moments in the paddock that continue to define the sport for being more than just loud, shorty race cars ground around and around.

So, while we take a look at some of the bigger storylines of the year below, let’s also take a journey through some of the things you might have missed.

 

CRANSTON CRASH


 

The series of violent flips that saw Adam Cranston sent skywards at Queensland Raceway on the last day of July saw everyone in the venue hold their breath – but they needn’t have worried for too long. Once again the safety of the sport was shown as the Sports Racer competitor was helped from his rather damaged West race car and taken to hospital with a broken ankle. Incidents are part of the sport, but the fact that drivers can walk – or in this case, hobble – away from them so often is a testament to the safety procedures in place. Well played to West, too for their strong race cars.

 

YOUNG AND OLD(ER)


 

Formula 3’s fight was more nuanced this year than the straight-out shootout between Tim Macrow and Chris Anthony would indicate, mainly because it also involved young Toowoomba driver Cameron Shields. 14 years of age at the start of the year and 15 when he won his first race, the young Will Power wannabe was electrifying this season. Should he go on to achieve all that most around his inner circle think he can, we can all say ‘we were there’ when he was truly discovered.

 

MASTERFUL


 

Speaking of Formula 3, words must be spared for how good Tim Macrow is. History will record that he won his third title this year, but a detailed examination will reveal that he also did it in a previous-generation car and with a budget so small that on some occasions they didn’t even run Friday. What a testament to the Victorian and the Alpine Motor Sport team he has truly established as an open-wheel force.

 

JACK-OF-ALL TRADES


 

Not much more can be said about the way Jack Perkins adapted to his Audi than what has already been written, but few have an insight into the passion that the third-generation driver put into the program. When reliability was instilled in the car at Phillip Island, his ruthless dedication to breaking the lap record created thrills in a race that would otherwise be considered dull. The stream of text messages this author received throughout the weekend, relating to the gradual increase top speed achieved down the Gardner straight, affirmed the level of enjoyment being had at the other end of the phone.

 

YOUNG RIVALS


 

Hamish Hardeman versus Jaxon Evans will be remembered as one of the better Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Australia title battles. Both young drivers were at the top of their game this year and their battles at Sydney Motorsport Park – including an epic last lap duel in July – were amongst the best GT3 Cup Challenge has seen in 150-plus races and were much better exchanges than anything Telstra or Optus has ever offered. Hardeman was the winner, but had Evans’ not suffered that devastating DNF at Winton when caught up in someone else’s spin, the title fight would’ve been a whole heap closer.

 

STACKING UP


 

Phillip Island’s Kumho Tyre V8 Touring Car Series round in September gained added interest thanks to the addition of Supercars Dunlop Series runner Garry Jacobson to the grid ... and then his impressive efforts to turn his Matt White Racing Falcon into a lawn mower – a 280km/hr one – at Turn 1 in the opening race. His drive through the field was spirited but it also showed that the best of the Kumho Series young guns, namely Josh Smith and Tyler Greenbury, aren’t far off matching it with the guy who leads the DVS – nothing like having a good benchmark.

 

MARC IT DOWN


 

2016 will be remembered as the year of the MARC car – at least, outside of Mount Panorama. Already well established in the Bathurst 12 Hour, the MARC Cars Australia squad found a sensational home in the Australian GT Trophy Series this year and boy, did they impress. Not only were they positively racy when competing head-to-head with their own kind, but they also starred when the bigger, faster and much more expensive GT3 cars failed. Jake Camilleri’s outright victory was superb and only served to boost the popularity of these cleverly engineered, all-Aussie race cars.

 

WINNING STREAK


 

Roger I’Anson has been desperately unlucky in previous years of the Australian Sports Racer Series. In a fluctuating finale’ two years ago he was in the box seat to beat year-long rival Adam Proctor before his car broke just a few laps from home in the finale. Last year his series campaign was aborted early after a shocking opening round, and then work commitments stood in the way. But his return this year has been breathtaking, dominating a majority of the races after an early hurdle at Sandown. Roger is one of more underrated drivers around – but we’re sure his Sports Racer rivals rate him very highly indeed.

 

MASTERS


 

One of the most memorable moments of the year happened at Round 1 at Sandown, when Touring Car Masters legends Jim Richards and Steve Johnson had a terrific fight up the long back straight of the iconic Melbourne circuit. Two classic surnames, two great drivers and two sensational cars cracking on certainly generated some buzz – the subsequent video posted on the TCM Facebook page is still the series’ most viewed of the year to date.

 

PRODUCTION BOOST


 

Perhaps inspired by the enormous lure of their own 6 Hour race at Bathurst, the advent of new, stable regulations across the board or perhaps just a natural evolution: the slowly growing grids in Aussie Production Car racing has been a good news story this year. With time will come new models and there are already reports of at least two new Ford Focus RS’s being built for next year – will they be the next EVO?

 

101 THRILLS


 

The Phillip Island 101 has never, ever disappointed. Perhaps it’s just long-distance GT racing in a nutshell, but it was a pearler. It’s the kind of race where the Aussie GT parity system has less of a role in deciding the result and the drivers can have their say. This year’s thrilling finish, where Shane van Gisbergen chased down Nathan Morcom (and Grant Denyer nearly had a coronary watching) was a cracker. And so was Garth Tander’s drive in the Audi and Craig Baird’s in the Merc … and… and… well. I could go on for days.

 

THE NEARLY MAN


 

Finally we conclude with a brief mention of the fickle Victorian weather. Your intrepid author was all set to drive a Porsche GT3 Cup Car at Winton this year, a generous offer made by Sydneysider Dave Ryan. Fully suited (thanks Ross McGregor), Helmeted (McElrea Racing) and booted (my own purchase) things were all set to happen until light drizzle (okay) turned into rain (not okay) during the meeting ride session we were due to partake in. When an Audi R8 – fully loaded with Traction and Stability control – spun twice, a look from down low where the author was to the race control above, and the subsequent shake of the head from the race director Darryl, ended the party. So close – yet, so damn far.

The beauty of the sport is, there’s always next year!