Cold wet weather and an early winter blast greeted teams for the Australian GT Championship at Phillip Island over the weekend.
With an incredible line-up of cars, incredible speeds and possibly the best wheel-to-wheel car racing to be found anywhere on the calendar, crowd numbers at the track were surprisingly low for such a premier event.
Maybe it was the chill weather that kept crowds away, but there was no shortage of heat from the track in an action-packed double-header - the Australian GT Championship running on Saturday and the new Endurance Championship running Sunday over 101 laps (with two practice and qualifying sessions on Friday).
Day 1: Practice and qualifying
The new MARC GT BMW M6 GT3 was quick at its first event with its overseas import driver Bruno Spengler topping the time sheets in practice for the GT Championship. Later, in the GT Endurance practice session, the Audi JAMEC PEM Racing team of Steve McLaughlin and Garth Tander was quickest.
In the afternoon, the first Australian GT qualifying session was an all McLaren affair with Elliot Barbour, Matthew Kingsley and Klark Quinn taking out the top three places.
In the second session Garth Tander again topped the time sheets after the McLaren of Nathan Morcom had its time excluded for being under weight.
Qualifying two was delayed while the Mark Griffith Mercedes-AMG SLS GT3 that had hit the wall in Q1 was removed.
Unfortunately, the car was badly damaged and would not take part again in qualifying. The team, however, was able to source another car and managed to line up for Sunday’s Endurance race.
Saturday: Australian GT Championship
For race two it was a win for Yasser Shahin followed by Steve McLaughlin and Garth Tander with the Lamborghini of Justin McMillan in third.
Race two also saw the withdrawal of the Walkinshaw GT3 Porsche from the event after it suffered from severe suspension damage due to contact with the Lamborghini of Roger Lago. The team was unable to fix the car in time for the 101 Endurance event on Sunday.
Combining the two races results, the top three for the Australian GT championship resulted in South Australian Lamborghini driver Yasser Shahin taking the round win followed by Queenslander Nathan Morcom in the McLaren with the Audi of Steve McLaughlin and Garth Tander in third.
Sunday: Australian Endurance Championship
Sunday saw race day for the 101 lap event, beginning with two qualifying sessions in the morning, one for the team’s A driver and then another for the team’s B driver (after which both times were combined to give the overall grid standing).
Pole was taken out by Klark Quinn and Shane Van Gisbergen in the McLaren 650s GT3, alongside them on the front row was the BMW M6 GT3 of Morgan Haber and Bruno Spengler.
If there was one word to describe the 101 lap race it would be “tyres”.
There was a total of 11 tyre failures across the field, the MARC GT M6 GT3 suffering two such failures and, each time, having to endure the long limp around the Phillip Island circuit on ‘three wheels’ while watching the field rush past.
But, with no safety car periods, the 101 laps took just over two and half hours to complete.
The McLaren dominance continued with the Tekno/McLaren Melbourne of Nathan Morcom and Grant Denyer taking out the win, followed by Klark Quinn and Shane Van Gisbergen also in a McLaren.
The Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Dominic Storey and Peter Hackett came in third.
Next stop for the Australian GT Championship is the Townsville 400 on 8-10 July. For the Australian Endurance Championship, the next round is the Sydney Motorsport Park SuperSprint, 26-28 August.
Whatever you do, don’t miss it – this is sensational racing.
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