Reigning Australian GT Champion Geoff Emery and co-driver Garth Tander have claimed top honours in the opening round of the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship under sunny skies at Phillip Island, the Audi duo withstanding all challenges to give the German marque it’s third consecutive win in the event, in the process crossing the line with the biggest winning margin since GT enduros returned to the Island in 2014.
Some strategists had predicted that with the condensed field and fine conditions, that the three-hour race could run without a safety car intervention, but just 11-minutes in that theory was blown wide open with David Crampton hard into the barriers on the outside of the final corner after a technical failure put him off the circuit.
Whilst unharmed, stewards red flagged the race to allow repairs to be made to the barriers, halting the race for just over thirty minutes.
For those teams that gambled by putting their faster driver in for the opening stint, that cost them significantly as the clock continued to tick, whilst on the restart, the leading #63 Mercedes of Dom Storey failed to re-fire, costing the former endurance champions more than a lap in pit lane.
A late technical issue with both the Jamie Whincup Mercedes and the Daniel Gaunt Aston Martin robbed fans of a five-way battle to the line across the closing stages, effectively leaving Garth Tander untroubled across the final hour, only a charging Fraser Ross in the stunning McLaren 720S GT3 making any inroads into the lead, the Victorian working his wasy past reigning endurance champion Tony D’Alberto to claim second with 20-minutes to go.
In the GT4 category, David Crampton’s brilliant opening laps saw him tucked up under the rear wing of his points leading team-mate Justin McMillan, before a lap six off and ultimately forced retirement left McMillan and team-mate Glen Wood clear in front to record maximum points for the weekend, and an extension in their championship points lead.
There was just a single 40-minute official practice session on Saturday morning leading up to the two 20-minute legs of qualifying, however the bulk of the field had been at Phillip Island since Thursday to conduct unofficial testing, some of it in less than ideal conditions.
The 40-minute session in dry conditions provided a better indication of what was to come, with the likes of Luke Youlden, Daniel Gaunt and ultimately Jamie Whincup (in his first laps at Phillip Island in the Shahin Mercedes-AMG GT3) going under Jack Le Brocq’s long-standing 1:26.5248 qualifying lap record – seven-time Supercars champion Whincup besting the field with a stunning 1:26.3914.
Qualifying though was a different matter, with Le Brocq’s 2013 record remaining intact, Whincup electing to turn just a single flying lap to conserve tyres, team-mate Yasser Shahin using the same set to ensure they would have green tyres to close out the three-hour race journey.
Whincup again emerged fastest, but 2018 race winner Dan Gaunt put him on notice in Tony Quinn’s V12 Vantage, the New Zealander getting to within 12 one thousandths of a second of Whincup’s 1:26.9902, whilst Fraser Ross put the McLaren 720S GT3 third fastest just a tenth of a second further back.
Reigning endurance champion Tony D’Alberto led a string of stars down to 2018 Phillip Island pace-setter Jon Martin in tenth place, all covered by six tenths of a second, even Barton Mawer in Australian GT Trophy Series champion Nick Kelly’s 2013 Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra was within a second of Whincup.. It was shaping up to be a fantastic race!
The second leg of qualifying saw more great pace with Ryan Simpson stopping the clocks with not just the fastest time in Q2, but the fastest time overall for both sessions – his 1:26.9737 fast enough to put the 59Racing McLaren on pole position for the three-hour enduro with Peter Hackett’s impressive 1:27.8216 elevating the #63 Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 to the front row on combined times with his team-mate Dom Storey.
Geoff Emery gave the #1 Audi the third fastest time and a position on the second row, alongside the #777 Mercedes of Whincup and Yasser Shahin after Shahin qualified fifth just behind Max Twigg in the #8 WM Waste/Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes.
In GT4 the points leading M-Motorsport KTM X-Bow of Justin McMillan and Glen Wood topped both legs of qualifying, although in Q1, Wood needed to find his best after team-mate Trent Harrison in the Vantage Freight KTM he shares with David Crampton came to within a quarter of a second of Wood’s #48 Equity One entry.
Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny – almost perfect conditions for the three-hour journey ahead.
The rolling start saw Dom Storey get the jump on pole-sitter Fraser Ross on the run down the main straight, the #63 Mercedes leading the McLaren, Geoff Emery, Yasser Shahin and Max Twigg who was immediately under fire from Cameron McConville in the Lamborghini.
Emery was the first to strike dramas on cold tyres over the top of Lukey Heights, the rear of the car stepping out as he got to the braking point for MG corner, fortunately the two-time AGT champion was able to gather it up, but that allowed the leaders to break away whilst behind Emery a freight-train of cars was looking for a way around the #1 Audi.
McConville was the early mover, getting through on Shahin to close on Geoff Emery, but no sooner had he done that, than the field was brought under Safety Car conditions on lap six, as the recovery crews came to the aid of David Crampton’s #50 KTM X-Bow GT4 which was deep into the tyre barriers on the outside of the final corner.
Ultimately race control red-flagged the field with all cars brought to a stop on the main straight as the KTM was recovered – with Crampton confirming he was unharmed – a technical failure the reason behind the incident which saw more than 30-minutes lost as the hard working Phillip Island team rebuilt the barriers ahead of the restart.
Sadly that restart led to the next setback – race leader Dom Storey unable to re-fire the #63 Mercedes which was forced back behind the pit wall as the remainder of the field circulated behind the Safety Car ahead of the restart, Storey ultimately losing two laps before charging back onto the tail of the field.
With no one driver in the two-driver lineup able to turn more than 55% of the timed distance (99-minutes) and with three compulsory timed pit stops to be committed (outside of Safety Car periods), the teams that had started with their ‘Pro’ driver were suddenly faced with a big change in strategy – whether to pit immediately to let their second driver complete their minimum 81-minute leg and their three stops, or charge hard as the remainder of the ‘Am’ drivers completed their stints..
The race restarted at the 50-minute mark, and with the pit-window now open, a number of cars with Pros at the wheel came straight down pit lane at the close of the opening lap to swap out their drivers or complete a first stop, amongst those – Fraser Ross, Geoff Emery, Yasser Shahin and Nick Kelly.
That left Cameron McConville in the lead from a charging Craig Baird, Max Twigg, 2018 winner Tony Bates, Tony Quinn, the impressive Vince Muriti and Joseph Ensabella in the Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini.
Things continued to change with the remainder of the field completing their pit stops, the Justin McMillan KTM the last car circulating, the GT4 leader holding a 40-second lead by the 68-minute mark of the race, before finally hitting pit lane on lap 25 to hand the point back to Max Twigg from Tony Quinn, Geoff Emery and Adrian Deitz.
The big mover in the field to this point had been Ryan Simpson – the 59Racing team regrouping after the longest compulsory pit stop in the field (the two McLaren drivers incurring a 127-second stop to the 121-second stop of Emery/Tander, Shahin/Whincup, Twigg/D’Alberto, Bates/Martin, Hackett/Storey), Simpson charging through the pack to be comfortably leading at the mid-point of the race, but with two stops still to come.
The 90-minute mark also provided one of the defining moments of the race, with Garth Tander being released from his pit-stop into the side of the #8 Mercedes of Tony D’Alberto. Contact was averted – but only just – however stewards judged it to be an unsafe release giving the #1 Audi an additional 15-second penalty during their third and final stop.
Dan Gaunt emerged not too far behind the two Supercars endurance co-drivers, with all three playing second fiddle to Ryan Simpson who was continuing to charge around the circuit with sub-1:30 laps. Ultimately Simpson was back down pit lane for his next stop, handing Adrian Deitz the lead in the #6 Wall Racing Lamborghini, with Tander, D’Alberto and Gaunt holding out Simpson and a charging Jamie Whincup.
With 66-minutes to go Deitz was in to hand the #6 car back to McConville, whilst just a couple of laps later, D’Alberto and Whincup completed their final stop, followed the next time around by effective race leader Garth Tander.
Tragically, as Tander rejoined, attention was turned back to Jamie Whincup who was circulating the Grand Prix circuit on three wheels with the right front having parted company on his first flying lap out of the pits. He managed to make it back down pit lane, but the time lost dropped the #777 out of contention, their qualifying strategy to leave them with fresh rubber for that crucial final leg failing at the first hurdle, much to the frustration of all concerned.
The next piece of dire news came in the Tony Quinn garage, with Dan Gaunt having hit the pits as race leader, but a flurry of activity under the front of the car soon revealed a power-steering pump failure which saw the mighty Aston leaking fluid, the #7 car immediately retired from the race.
Out front Ryan Simpson continued to charge as Garth Tander managed to break free from Tony D’Alberto and John Martin. Sadly the #6 Lamborghini – who was looking strong after a great mid-race stint by Adrian Deitz – was forced back down pit lane late in for a drive through penalty after striking a rival crew’s gear during their final stop, that dropped them back out of the outright fight leaving just four cars on the lead lap.
With 41-minutes to go Ryan Simpson was back down pit lane for the McLaren’s final stop, leaving Tander with an 18-second lead over D’Alberto, with Ross emerging six seconds back from the Mercedes with fresh rubber and a low fuel load.
Ross was clearly carrying more speed than D’Alberto, but it still took him more than 20 minutes to work his way past the reigning Endurance Champion, and by that stage Tander was 25-seconds down the road.
Ultimately the #1 Audi added victory in the opening round of the 2019 Australian Endurance Championship to their closing round victory in the 2018 series at Hampton Downs, Tander crossing the line 22 seconds clear of Fraser Ross, with Tony D’Alberto third, well clear of John Martin in Tony Bates’ 2018 Phillip Island winning Audi.
Luke Youlden and Vince Muriti were classified fifth as first team a lap down, defying their real pace – a mid-race spin by Muriti at Siberia, and a subsequent challenge to re-fire the car and get it going again costing them a potential podium, whilst Craig Baird and Scott Taylor were able to leap-frog the McConville/Deitz Lamborghini after the latter took their late drive-through penalty.
Tim Blanchard and Joseph Ensabella teamed up in the Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini as rookies in the GT3 category, the pair a solid eighth ahead of the recovering Peter Hackett and Dom Storey who missed the podium for the first time as a partnership at Phillip Island in the #63 Mercedes-AMG. Jamie Whincup continued hustling the #777 Mercedes around the closing laps to close out the top ten, the team lamenting what might have been after the issue during the final stop.
In the GT4 category, Justin McMillan and Glen Wood claimed an emphatic victory to top score for the weekend, in the process extending their Australian GT points lead to be comfortably clear in the championship heading to the mid-point of the season at The Bend Motorsport Park in mid-July.
Keep up to date with Australian GT via the various social media platforms, and keep an eye on the TV Guides on both Fox Sports Australia (Channel 506) and SBS in coming weeks as a highlights package for the event is replayed ahead of Rnd#4 of the CAMS Australian GT Championship/Rnd#2 CAMS Australian Endurance Championship at Yasser Shahin’s The Bend Motorsport Park at Tailem Bend in South Australia on July 12-14.
What the drivers had to say;
1. 1. Geoff Emery (Valvoline Audi R8 LMS GT3)
“I guess when everything goes right it goes right. The team were just faultless in everything they did this weekend, so it makes our life really easy on the track. We came here Thursday, set everything up, did our practice, worked out where the car needed to be, then we didn’t really practice on Friday, so that preparation I feel was the foundation for the result.
“It would be nice to win an endurance championship, but we haven’t enjoyed the same luck as we do in the sprint series, like I say when everything goes right it goes right, but when things go wrong.. Today the Safety Car went our way and other things fell into place and that’s where you end up I guess.
“Our car launches out of the box pretty hard because of the centripetal clutch system so we thought we were pretty good to go [pit-stop] but it took a little while to hook up because it was a green tyre on the car, so we copped the 15-second penalty for that and that’s fair enough.
“We did that whole last hour on those tyres and a tank of fuel. Not many people know but we actually came home on our reserve tank on the last lap. We thought there might be a Safety Car towards the end, but we had just two litres left when we crossed the line!”
2. 59. Fraser Ross (59Racing McLaren 720S GT3)
“It was unknown territory for us in the 720, this is the first endurance race with it for us, so to bring a brand new car here and finish P2 was fantastic. The outright speed over a qualifying run was excellent, to be on pole at such a big event – we knew we had our work cut out with the change to the driver seedingz, but that’s part of the game, but we just got stuck into it as a team, and what a great job the 59Racing Team did – faultless. To give me the car at the end able to chase down someone of Tony D’Alberto’s calibre was really nice for me to do, so we’re really happy with that and really good points.
“To be honest I think that stoppage had a massive impact. When that Safety Car came out we were about nine and a half seconds ahead of Emery. That was the plan for us, for me to gap the field as much as I could, but look the car is excellent, I’m enjoying driving it, especially around here, and P2 – you can’t complain about that!”
2. 59. Ryan Simpson (59Racing McLaren 720S GT3)
“I probably didn’t expect to be faster than Jamie Whincup [qualifying], but I knew that a 26 was possible, so I pushed for it – the conditions weren’t ideal but we managed to just sneak in there and just pip Jamie, but the car was awesome, and the tyres around here just give it so much grip. You have to compare yourself against the others and what the pace is in the track and the car, and judging by what they were doing, I knew the car had it in it, so I just kept pushing.”
3. 8. Max Twigg (WM Waste, Mercedes-AMG GT3)
“Our car was good all week, we’re not complaining. We suffered a bit from tyre degradation today, that was our biggest issue – I think other than that our pace was fine, but the Audi just stayed solid, and the McLaren is fast, so we’ll take third. When we get over to the Bend I think we’ll be fast over there and we won’t suffer so much with the rears, but third here is fine. Last year we finished on the podium at every round and we won the Endurance Championship.
“Friday was good for me – I found the sweet spot in the tyre, I just nailed it with a good clean fast lap, but the car was set up well for here but we used a lot of the tyre, and that’s detrimental at the end of the race.”
1. 48. Glen Wood (M-Motorsport, KTM X-Bow GT4) [GT4]
“The buzz for me was during qualifying with Trent [Harrison] we were out their juking times within half a second of each other, so I checked in with the boys and they told me Trent actually had me by half a tenth, so I settled things down for a bit then jumped back into it and managed to just go quicker in the closing stages.
“We’re here to have fun and to work with the amateur drivers and I love nothing more than seeing those guys progress, go well and hone their skills out on track. At the end of the day they tip a lot of money into their cars, a lot of money into the racing – we’re here because of them, so it’s up to us to make sure they’re doing well and they’re enjoying themselves.”
Rnd#1, 2019 CAMS Australian Endurance Championship
Rnd#3 CAMS Australian GT Championship
Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, Victoria (7-9 June)
1. 777. Jamie Whincup – The Bend Motorsport Park Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 1:26.9902
2. 7. Dan Gaunt – Local Legends Snacks, Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – 1:27.0024
3. 59. Fraser Ross – 59Racing/hsy/Opti-Coat, McLaren 720S GT3 – 1:27.1162
4. 8. Tony D’Alberto – WM Waste, Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 1:27.3572
5. 1. Garth Tander – Valvoline, Audi R8 LMS GT3 – 1:27.3727
6. 6. Cameron McConville – Wall Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – 1:27.4425
7. 222. Craig Baird – Scott Taylor Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 1:27.7112
8. 63. Dom Storey – Eggleston Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 1:27.7140
9. 33. Luke Youlden – Perfect Auto Body, Audi R8 LMS GT3 – 1:27.8201
10. 24. John Martin – Tony Bates Racing, Audi R8 LMS GT3 – 1:27.9580
11. 99. Barton Mawer – Industrie, Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra – 1:28.0201
12. 129. Tim Blanchard – Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – 1:28.4671
13. 48. Glen Wood – M-Motorsport, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4) – 1:37.5834
14. 50. Trent Harrison – Vantage Freight, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4) – 1:37.8552
1. 59. Ryan Simpson – 59Racing/hsy/Opti-Coat, McLaren 720S GT3 – 1:26.9737
2. 63. Peter Hackett – Eggleston Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 1:27.8216
3. 1. Geoff Emery – Valvoline, Audi R8 LMS GT3 – 1:28.3097
4. 8. Max Twigg – WM Waste, Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 1:28.6111
5. 777. Yasser Shahin – The Bend Motorsport Park Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 1:28.7133
6. 24. Tony Bates – Tony Bates Racing, Audi R8 LMS GT3 – 1:29.2688
7. 7. Tony Quinn – Local Legends Snacks, Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – 1:29.8376
8. 6. Adrian Deitz – Wall Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – 1:30.1039
9. 222. Craig Baird – Scott Taylor Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 1:30.3282
10. 33. Vince Muriti – Perfect Auto Body, Audi R8 LMS GT3 – 1:30.4278
11. 99. Nick Kelly – Industrie, Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra – 1:30.9377
12. 129. Joseph Ensabella – Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – 1:31.3692
13. 48. Justin McMillan – M-Motorsport, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4) – 1:39.5353
14. 50. David Crampton – Vantage Freight, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4) – 1:41.4875
1. 59. Fraser Ross/Ryan Simpson – 59Racing/hsy/Opti-Coat, McLaren 720S GT3
2. 63. Dom Storey/Peter Hackett – Eggleston Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3
3. 1. Geoff Emery/Garth Tander – Valvoline, Audi R8 LMS GT3
4. 777. Yasser Shahin/Jamie Whincup – The Bend Mercedes-AMG GT3
5. 8. Max Twigg/Tony D’Alberto – WM Waste, Mercedes-AMG GT3
6. 7. Tony Quinn/Dan Gaunt – Local Legends Snacks, Aston Martin Vantage GT3
7. 24. Tony Bates/John Martin – Tony Bates Racing, Audi R8 LMS GT3
8. 6. Cameron McConville/Adrian Deitz – Wall Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3
9. 222. Craig Baird/Scott Taylor – Scott Taylor Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3
10. 33. Luke Youlden/Vince Muriti – Perfect Auto Body, Audi R8 LMS GT3
11. 99. Nick Kelly/Barton Mawer – Industrie, Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra
12. 129. Joseph Ensabella/Tim Blanchard – Trofeo Motorsport Huracan GT3
13. 48. Justin McMillan/Glen Wood – M-Motorsport, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4)
14. 50. David Crampton/Trent Harrison – Vantage Freight, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4)
1. 1. Geoff Emery/Garth Tander – Valvoline, Audi R8 LMS GT3 – 94-laps
2. 59. Fraser Ross/Ryan Simpson – 59Racing/hsy/Opti-Coat, McLaren 720S GT3 +22.0193
3. 8. Max Twigg/Tony D’Alberto – WM Waste, Mercedes-AMG GT3 +30.6559
4. 24. Tony Bates/John Martin – Tony Bates Racing, Audi R8 LMS GT3 +1:07.4064
5. 33. Luke Youlden/Vince Muriti – Perfect Auto Body, Audi R8 LMS GT3 – 93-laps
6. 222. Craig Baird/Scott Taylor – Scott Taylor Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3
7. 6. Cameron McConville/Adrian Deitz – Wall Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – 92-laps
8. 129. Joseph Ensabella/Tim Blanchard – Trofeo Motorsport Huracan GT3
9. 63. Dom Storey/Peter Hackett – Eggleston Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3
10. 777. Yasser Shahin/Jamie Whincup (The Bend Mercedes-AMG GT3) – 91-laps
11. 48. Justin McMillan/Glen Wood – M-Motorsport, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4) – 87-laps
DNF. 7. Tony Quinn/Dan Gaunt – Local Legends Snacks, Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – 58-laps
DNF. 99. Nick Kelly/Barton Mawer – Industrie, Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra – 42-laps
DNF. 50. David Crampton/Trent Harrison – Vantage Freight, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4) – 5-laps
Source. Motorsport Media