Shane van Gisbergen has added to his tally of Australian GT endurance championship victories with his maiden win in a Lamborghini Huracan alongside fellow former endurance race winner Liam Talbot, the pair emerging from the three-hour race around The Bend Motorsport Park with a win over points leaders Geoff Emery and Garth Tander, and former endurance champions Peter Hackett and Dom Storey.
As it had done throughout Friday’s official practice sessions, the day dawned damp with teams facing a wet circuit for both 20-minute legs of qualifying, Tony D’Alberto on top in the opening session in the WM Waste Mercedes-AMG, before Fraser Ross got the better of a see-sawing battle with Liam Talbot, Yasser Shahin and Peter Hackett to put the 59Racing McLaren on to the top of the timesheets.
Once the times were combined though it was an all Mercedes-AMG front row, with the #63 Eggleston Motorsport AMG of Hackett and Storey on pole alongside D’Alberto and Twigg.
In the GT4 category the two mighty M-Motorsport KTM X-Bows battled throughout the day, with David Crampton and Trent Harrison carding their first win of the season after the pole-sitting Justin McMillan/Glen Wood entry suffered a setback in the mid-stages of the race, bringing out the safety car, something which ultimately had a big bearing on the outright result.
After a challenging day of practice in intermittent rain across Friday, teams were looking to promises of blue skies and a dry track for qualifying, but heavy overnight rain had lingered with all drivers faced with a wet track, a situation which was amplified by the early morning sun which sat just above the horizon as the field streamed into turn one making it difficult to discern where the track ended and the sky began. Adding a slipstream of spray only amplified the issue which saw a number of drivers struggle to find the perfect entry to the opening turn.
The more experienced of the two drivers ventured out for the opening session, with a great battle brewing early between Mercedes drivers Jamie Whincup, Tony D’Alberto and Dom Storey.
A number of drivers elected to pit early and alter setup, but the changing conditions caught many of them out, allowing those drivers that had stayed on circuit to take advantage of the better track conditions to improve their times, leaving names like Whincup and Craig Baird further down the order by the time the clock ticked over to 20-minutes.
That left D’Alberto on top from Dom Storey and Shane van Gisbergen, who was having his first real run at the Lamborghini in the wet having left team-mate Liam Talbot to turn the bulk of the Friday practice laps.
The second session saw conditions start to improve, with at one stage the leaders finding almost two seconds a lap to improve the overall pace by more than three seconds over the opening session, Fraser Ross getting the best of his new McLaren to set the quickest time by more than a second over Peter Hackett.
Hackett’s impressive pace allowed the #63 team to claim the top spot on combined times, whilst a late push by Max Twigg which saw him improve by almost three seconds across the closing stages of the session, was enough to elevate the green #8 Mercedes to a front row start.
Likewise, Liam Talbot was impressive in the Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini, taking full advantage of his wet running on Friday to at times be the fastest car on track, his effort putting the menacing black Huracan on the inside of row two alongside Yasser Shahin and Jamie Whincup, but with Geoff Emery and Fraser Ross immediately behind.
With ongoing drizzling rain mixed with single digit ambient temperatures, officials elected to cancel the proposed Australian GT grid walk, opting instead for a ten-minute earlier race start, a start which began in bright sunshine and a drying track.
The race to turn one was a torrid affair, Yasser Shahin looking to emulate his 2018 start and be first into turn one, the circuit owner charging down the inside to make it a trio of Mercedes-AMGs all looking to make the turn one apex as leader..
Liam Talbot sat in a watching brief behind as Twigg squeezed across on the fast starting Shahin, whilst Hackett held his ground mid-track – the pit lane held its breath as not one of the three relented, and somehow they managed to make it through, Shahin using track knowledge to hold the outside and drive around his rivals to emerge as race leader.
Behind him Hackett settled into second with Twigg third, a scenario which would hold for the bulk of the three-hour journey, the two AMGs never more than a few car lengths apart at any time during the race.
Fraser Ross was swamped in the run to turn one, falling back behind Scotty Taylor. He soon recovered though to charge through to the tail of the leading trio after displacing Geoff Emery early in proceedings, the Audi driver quick off the start, but he started to fade as light rain began to fall. Fortunately the rain was light enough and intermittent enough to ensure that no-one hit pit lane, but with lap times dropping by as much as ten seconds a lap, it was clear it was affecting the pace.
Whilst it affected the speed of the teams, it also affected the result, with race leader Yasser Shahin – arguably the pioneer at the front of the field – running too deep into turn one, allowing Peter Hackett through to the lead, whilst Max Twigg also ran wide to allow Fraser Ross through to second, Shahin ultimately rejoining fourth.
Just as quickly as the sudden fall of rain had started, it stopped, with crews and engineers looking to the heavens to try and determine the best strategy to adopt with just ten minutes on the clock.
Hackett and Ross were comfortable up front, the McLaren driver unable to find a way past the Mercedes and forced to settle into second, his frustration visible with at one point the iconic orange 720S off the circuit on the penultimate corner after running wide in his effort to find a way past Hackett. The leaders at this stage were almost 15 seconds down the road on the trio of Twigg, Shahin and Liam Talbot, with points leader Geoff Emery 30-seconds down on the race leader ahead of the first round of stops.
With three compulsory timed pit stops to conduct, the teams made their first run at pit lane at around the 40-minute mark, Ross and Emery first in, Ross in an effort to undercut Hackett, the McLaren team stopping six seconds shorter than their rivals on adjusted compulsory pit stop times, a scenario which saw the McLaren emerge as race leader once everyone had committed their first stop.
None of the teams elected for a driver change, and with a minimum drive time of 45% of race distance, they could not complete their stint until at least the 81-minute mark of the race, a point at which all the cars came into pit lane en masse with Ross leading from Twigg – who had jumped Hackett shortly after rejoining the circuit, the Eggleston Motorsport team electing to run their first set of tyres for a second stint, whilst their rivals elected to change to ‘green’ Pirellis.
Shahin was a close fourth with a comfortable margin to Talbot, the Lamborghini driver holding a similar margin to Geoff Emery who had stabilised the gap once the conditions started to improve, the Audi driver moving through for position after Talbot suffered a spin late in his second stint.
Sadly Scotty Taylor at this point was a retirement, the stunning blue AMG coming off at the back of the circuit around turn eight, broken suspension forcing the STM team-boss to abandon the car well off the edge of the circuit and grab a ride back to pit lane.
By the second round of stops at almost exactly 81-minutes, Shahin was in first to hand over to Whincup, whilst Twigg and Hackett followed a lap later, Ross and Emery the next time around, Talbot and Gartner the last of the GT3 cars in before the two KTM GT4s hit pit lane four laps later.
At the close of the second round of stops, Ryan Simpson held the lead in the #59 McLaren from Jamie Whincup who had closed in significantly in his opening laps, but as Simpson became settled in the car the gap had stabilised to around seven seconds. Dom Storey was third a similar distance back with Tony D’Alberto in close company, whilst Garth Tander held a comfortable advantage over Shane van Gisbergen..
Then came the decisive moment of the race.
Frustratingly both KTM X-Bows struck trouble at almost exactly the same time, just over 100-minutes into the race, Glen Wood rolling to a stop at the top of the circuit with a broken driveshaft, whilst Trent Harrison was back down pit lane with a gear selection issue.
Wood had stopped on the edge of the circuit expecting he could reset the electronics and get going again, but with drive to only one wheel it was clear he couldn’t immediately continue, the race director left with no other choice other than to call a safety car intervention.
Being close to pit entry, the Trofeo Motorsport team made an immediate call to Shane van Gisbergen to pit, bringing the #129 entry down pit lane as the field bunched up behind the safety car. Leaving pit lane with 68-minutes on the clock, the Trofeo team new they’d rolled the dice, the race restarting though with just over 63-minutes to go with van Gisbergen having completed all three compulsory stops and on the tail of the leaders, albeit a lap down..
Tucked up under Ryan Simpson’s rear wing, Whincup charged off the restart, throwing the #777 Mercedes down the inside to grab the lead, Simpson holding out Storey and D’Alberto as Whincup punched out the fastest lap of the race and a new lap record (1:45.6607) to forge a strong lead. He ultimately opened the margin to nine seconds, but with 53-minutes to go the Mercedes dropped its pace significantly, the team revealing it had run short on fuel, the seven-time Supercars champion limping back to pit lane, losing the lead and track advantage in the process.
That gave Simpson an eight second lead, but with a charging Tander closing in at more than a second a lap. The teams then began their final round of pit stops, and with van Gisbergen just a lap down on race leader Simpson, he inherited a 38-second lead once every team had committed their final fuel and tyre stop. Simpson returned in second having extended his advantage over Tander during his shorter stop, whilst the Storey-D’Alberto train continued as it had for much of the race.
Sadly, the McLaren’s impressive run came to an end on lap 71, Simpson limping into pit lane with the left front tyre completely flat, the team revealing afterwards that debris or a wheel stud had come loose destroying the inside of the rim and deflating the tyre, the team losing five laps in pit lane checking the car before sending it back out to complete the race.
With Simpson gone, van Gisbergen was keeping a close eye on Tander, but with a 30-second advantage he managed the gap, and began to push over the closing stages knowing he could match the Audi driver where needed, the immaculate black Huracan emerging from the darkness to claim Trofeo Motorsport’s maiden victory, 15-seconds clear of Tander with Storey continuing to hold out D’Alberto for third.
Jamie Whincup continued to charge over the closing laps to get to within 55-seconds of his Red Bull Racing team-mate, whilst Ryan Simpson carried on to claim sixth, five laps down.
Richard Gartner and Hadrian Morrall were classified sixth in the Trophy Class Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX, ahead of the #48 David Crampton/Trent Harrison KTM and the sister #50 Justin McMillan/Glen Wood car, both returning from pit lane after effecting repairs, Crampton and Harrison claiming their maiden GT4 win of the season and a strong haul of points.
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.
What the drivers had to say;
1. 129. Shane van Gisbergen (Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3)
“That’s another team win.. I saw the car stopped – and knew it was going to be a safety car and the team did a good job, [they] quickly knew we could get to the end and just manage the lead. Liam did an awesome job at the start, it was really tricky when it rained. It was an awesome weekend, thanks to Trofeo Motorsport for having me.”
1. 129. Liam Talbot (Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3)
“The race in the rain was diabolical, you think you’re okay and then you’re just trying to hang on – it was pretty exciting stuff.”
2. 1. Geoff Emery (Valvoline Audi R8 LMS GT3)
“It was a fantastic weekend – I struggled in the first stint but Garth did a mega job to bring us up to the pointy end, and obviously it’s awesome for both our championships.”
2. 1. Garth Tander (Valvoline Audi R8 LMS GT3)
“Geoff did a good job in the first stint, it was quite greasy conditions early and he did a great job just keeping it on the island. The safety car probably helped us a bit, but the car was so fast, it was unbelievably good.”
3. 63. Peter Hackett (Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3)
“Dom did an unbelievable job when you look at the podium, van Gisbergen, Tander – to be first AMG GT3 home is fantastic – it’s a good bag of points for us.”
3. 63. Dom Storey (Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3)
“That was a long stint towards the end in the darkness – that was one of my first times in the dark, but it was an enjoyable race.”
1. 50. David Crampton (Vantage Freight KTM X-Bow GT4)
“After a tough run at Phillip Island it was nice to come back and take the win here at The Bend. It wasn’t an easy race, getting caught with a gear issue was a hiccup that saw us back in the garage mid race, funnily enough right alongside our team-mates, but Trent drove a brilliant last stint and we were able to come away with our first win of the year, I’m very happy.”
1. 129. Liam Talbot/Shane van Gisbergen – Trofeo Motorsport Huracan GT3 – 94-laps
2. 1. Geoff Emery/Garth Tander – Valvoline, Audi R8 LMS GT3 +15.0021
3. 63. Peter Hackett/Dom Storey – Eggleston Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3 +19.7407
4. 8. Max Twigg/Tony D’Alberto – WM Waste, Mercedes-AMG GT3 +25.2437
5. 777. Yasser Shahin/Jamie Whincup (The Bend Mercedes-AMG GT3) +55.2358
6. 59. Fraser Ross/Ryan Simpson – 59Racing/hsy/Opti-Coat, McLaren 720S GT3 – 89-laps
7. 69. Richard Gartner/Hadrian Morrall – Safe-T-Stop Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX GT3 – 85-laps
8. 50. David Crampton/Trent Harrison – Vantage Freight, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4) – 67-laps
9. 48. Justin McMillan/Glen Wood – M-Motorsport, KTM X-Bow GT4 (GT4) – 65-laps
DNF. 222. Craig Baird/Scott Taylor – Scott Taylor Motorsport, Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 28-laps
Source. Motorsport Media