Melbourne’s Geoff Emery is on target for his third Australian GT title this weekend at Sandown Raceway, the Audi driver comfortably leading the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship with one round remaining, the experienced campaigner rejoining former Supercar champion Garth Tander looking to seal what would be their maiden title together.
Historically, Sandown is arguably the one venue that is more synonymous with Australian GT than any other. Over more than 50 years the popular south-east Melbourne circuit has played a significant role in GT competition, both in the modern era, and across the formative years, settling battles between the likes of Leo Geoghegan and Bob Jane then later, Alan Jones and Peter Brock.
This year Sandown will again contribute to the history books with the 3.104-kilometre, 13 turn circuit hosting both the final round of Australian GT’s Endurance and Sprint championships – this weekend seeing the hotly contested Endurance title settled across three one-hour legs.
With victory at Phillip Island during the opening round of the Endurance Championship, followed by second at The Bend Motorsport Park thanks in part to a storming drive late in the race by Tander, they hold a commanding 111-point lead over former Sandown race winner Fraser Ross (who will have Ryan Simpson alongside) and 2017 endurance champion Peter Hackett, who is also within reach of the title should the Audi team falter.
Audi have never claimed an Endurance Championship title, despite being the dominant force in the Sprint Series across the last five seasons (three of those seeing them handed the coveted #1 plate, whilst Emery comfortably leads both the Endurance points and the Sprint series points this season), so they will be out in force to ensure that all important victory falls their way.
Across those last five years, the Australian GT Championship has visited Sandown five times (twice in 2014), however never for an endurance round. During that time, Audi has taken four wins (a record they share with AMG) and a record nine podium finishes, four of which have fallen to Geoff Emery himself (including two victories).
Of the GT3 title contenders though, it is in fact Fraser Ross who has claimed more podium finishes at Sandown over the last five seasons (13-races), with five to Emery’s four, although that only includes a single victory which came in the McLaren 650S GT3 in 2017.
Liam Talbot also has four podium finishes to his name (although no wins), and he will be hoping to throw his hat into that ring this weekend when he steps back into the Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini he took to victory alongside Shane van Gisbergen at The Bend in mid-July (he will be joined at Sandown by Joseph Ensabella who campaigned the car at Phillip Island alongside Supercars team-owner Tim Blanchard).
For the historians though, the last five years has perhaps shown one pattern that might have a bearing on the weekend, and that has been the success of the naturally-aspirated cars, with all but Fraser Ross’ race three 2017 victory claimed by non-turbo cars, whilst in qualifying trim, a turbo car has never claimed the top qualifying position, although based on the 2019 performances of the 59Racing McLaren 720S this year, that too could be about to change.
With regulations changed ahead of the Sandown event, fans will encounter a new scenario with respect to how the three single one-hour race legs will contribute to the outright result.
As an endurance round that was modified to allow entries that did not have access to refuelling and provide single driver entries an opportunity to compete, the points will not be decided until the final lap on Sunday afternoon.
Each leg will see the clock stop, then restart again at the beginning of the following hour. Compulsory pit stops will remain the same, as will tyre allocation. No single driver (in a two-driver entry) can achieve more than 55% of full race distance, however if they choose to contest one of the three race legs each, then split the final race as required, that is entirely down to what strategy each team would like to play.
The revised regulations have also opened the door for a number of teams who are looking to gain an advantage ahead of the closing round of the Australian GT ‘Sprint’ season in early November, with a string of ‘Invitational’ cars joining the endurance championship contenders.
Like the Trophy Series and Trofeo Challenge cars, they will be eligible for points and trophies in the Invitational category of the Dutton Garage Sandown GT Cup, which combines points from both Sandown events (20-22 September and 8-10 November).
Weather predictions for the Sandown weekend are sketchy, with some southerly weather expected and possibly a few showers on Saturday after a warm and windy start on Friday.
Source. Motorsport Media