Australian GT racing is lighting up an icy Phillip Island this weekend: a double-header of premier motorsport with the fourth round of the Australian GT Championship and the inaugural round of the Australian Endurance Championship.
It is the biggest-ever event in the category’s history and all the ‘big boys’ have come out to play.
Now split into three championships, the Australian GT Championship, the Australian Endurance championship and the Australian GT Trophy, the profile of the series got a huge boost after it became involved with the Bathurst 12-Hour race in 2011, when GT3 cars were first granted entry to the event.
Since then, new manufactures have been piling in behind the series.
The latest to join the championship is BMW which announced that it was entering the 2016 Australian GT championship with Steve Richards Motorsport (SR) to run the BMW M6 GT3 race car.
Richards and team mate Max Twigg debuted the car at the opening round of the championship in Adelaide at the Clipsal 500 with mixed results.
And, just weeks ago, a second M6 GT3 arrived to be added to the grid with Ryan McLeod’s MARC GT team (with the support of BMW Europe).
The new team has Morgan Haber and Jake Camilleri paired, but, for the Phillip Island round, BMW has flown in BMW works-driver Bruno Spengler – a former DTM champion – to drive with the team. He’s not visited Australia before, and the Phillip Island track is entirely new to him.
So, a brand new car, and a driver who has only ever “driven the track” on You Tube, how is the new M6 GT3 and the new team faring in the (icy) crucible of Phillip Island?
And lining up against a 30-car field rippling with driver talent and fearsome machinery like Yasser Shahin's Lamborghini Huracan, no less than four Audi R8 LMS, plus a brace of Mercedes-AMG SLS GT3s, Porsche 911 GT3, McLaren 650S GT3s, plus Ferrari 458s, and more.
Well, not unexpectedly – new car, new driver – for MARC GT the fortunes have been mixed thus far.
While European ace Bruno Spengler was the fastest in the first practice session with the team going on to qualify 11th for Race 1, the race did not go well. Mechanical problems benched Spengler’s team mate Morgan Haber on the first lap, and, unable to be fixed, the car sat out the race in the pit garage.
For Race 2 the result was better with the team at least being able to finish, though at the tail of the field.
Stephen Richards’ SR Motosport also had mixed results, with the team qualifying 5th for the first race, the team’s best qualifying for the season so far.
Race 1, the team finished 10th, for race 2 the team was running strongly in the top 10 but then had to garage the car with a power steering issue.
So, no cigar for the M6 GT3 teams for the Australian GT Championship part of the weekend, the cars finishing with the SR Motorsport team at 20th and the MARC GT team at 29th.
Today, Sunday, sees the first race of the Endurance Championship, wth the 101 lap race starting at 1:05pm. Qualifying for the race is split into two 20 minute sessions, the first is 10:35 and the second at 11:05am.
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