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Mar 30, 2014 - 05:00 AM
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Muscat Claims Race Two And Maiden AGT Round Win At Sandown
Posted by: newsla on Mar 30, 2014 - 04:59 AM
Sports Cars
Muscat Claims Race Two And Maiden AGT Round Win At Sandown


Despite an early Safety Car intervention which all but decimated the advantage he had eked out over his title rivals, new Erebus Motorsport recruit Richard Muscat as dominated race two to comfortably claim back-to-back wins in the opening round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli and lead the points into round two.

 

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Whilst Muscat worked his way through to a strong early lead off the start, a Safety Car at quarter race distance decimated his advantage, which set up an intriguing close to the race before a mechanical issue first claimed the Interlloy Lamborghini, then an incident claimed Tony Quinn and slowed the attack of John Bowe handing Muscat an opportunity that he would not relinquish.

Behind him an intriguing battle ensued in the Trophy Class with Ben Eggleston coming through for the class win - and third outright thanks to some clever mid-race strategy - whilst overall the Melbourne Performace Centre Audi team came up trumps with a 1-2-3 podium whitewash, Dean Koutsoumidis and James Winslow claiming the round win.

Challenge class saw a great battle again between 2013 title-contenders Ben Foessel and Brendan Cook, with the latter and co-driver Matt Kingsley coming up trumps, whilst in GT4 Sports, the Lotus Exige of Tony Alford and Mark O’Connor took back-to-back wins and with it maximum points for the weekend.

Muscat held control of the field off the rolling start, but like pole-sitter Steven Richards in race one, he soon came under fire from the thundering VIP Petfoods Aston Martin Vantage of Tony Quinn. Muscat held position into turn one and set about a string of quick laps to pull clear of the field.

Behind him, Tony Quinn held son Klark at bay, with Steve Owen fourth ahead of Peter Edwards, with Justin McMillan and Ben Eggleston working their way through the field from the rear. Liam Talbot held the early lead in the Trophy class, whilst Brendan Cook held the advantage off the line in Challenge and the Lotus held the point in GT4.

Over the following laps Muscat continued to extend his lead, negating the loss of time he would suffer over the McMillan Lamborghini in the pits during his compulsory stop by virtue of his race one victory - by quarter race distance he was 45 seconds ahead of McMillan who would gain 35 back during the stop to hand over to Bathurst 1000 champion Steven Richards.

But as Muscat’s second win from his second start looked all but set, fate intervened as Jan Jinadasa spun his JJA Consulting Lamborghini Gallardo LP520 into the Dandenong Road gravel forcing a Safety Car intervention. “I was attacking one of the Porsches into the corner but had a wiggle at the flip-flop just prior which put me a little off-line and I just went in too deep and spun,” he explained afterwards.

Whilst the compulsory pit stop [CPS] window hadn’t opened, Muscat’s advantage had been significantly reduced as the field bunched up behind the pace car. Once restarted a group of drivers dived into the pits - now that the race had passed the 20-minute mark and the CPS was open - including Muscat, whilst McMillan continued to circulate behind the two Quinn cars because he needed to complete at least 45% of the race distance before handing over to the ‘Pro’ rated Richards.

As the compulsory pit stops played out, it was V8 Supercar Development Series team-boss Ben Eggleston who emerged in front thanks to a great strategy play, the Aston Martin Trophy class driver taking advantage of his rear-of-field start and the subsequent lack of CPS penalty to come out comfortably in front with Muscat, the Quinns and Steven Richards hunting him down.

Richards was the threat, emerging well in front of the charging Muscat after his stop, but despite all but matching the Erebus pilot and John Bowe in the Ferrari, he was soon back into the pits with a right-rear wheel issue.

“The wheel worked its way loose again like it did during practice,” a deflated Justin McMillan shrugged afterwards. “Not much we could have done.”

In the end the Lamborghini team lost a lap to the leaders, dropping outside the top ten in the process.

By three quarter race distance Eggleston was finally caught by Tony Quinn, Muscat and John Bowe. Quinn was first through, taking the older Aston on lap 35 with Muscat following him through soon after.

Muscat then grabbed the lead from Quinn with a big move under brakes at turn 12, before John Bowe closed in on the leaders, making it a four way battle at the front, with Eggleston caught in the middle.

The leaders caught Trofeo Motorsport’s Jim Manolios in the final corner at the close of lap 39, the Ferrari bunching the cars up behind him as he negotiated the final corner, Bowe using the opportunity to attack Quinn and pull alongside on the front straight.

The power of the Aston kept the Ferrari at bay, the pair going deep under brakes into turn one, neither willing to concede. Both drivers went in too deep, and as they battled to rejoin the circuit, Quinn was forced onto the high kerb on the exit of the corner to avoid the Ferrari, the Aston forced into the air as a result, spinning across the circuit and directly into the path of the Manolios Ferrari.

“I got to the corner and the VIP Petfoods Aston was broadside across the circuit and I just couldn’t do anything to avoid him,” Manolios explained afterwards.

The impact pushed both cars off the circuit and made not insignificant damage to the front of the Ferrari (although with the engine mid-mounted it was mostly superficial) and the driver’s side of the Aston forcing both into retirement.

Whilst the spectators and teams waited for a Safety Car to appear, Keith Kassulke spun the gorgeous Ascari KZR-1 at turn 12, coming to a stop on the run into the final corner. He ultimately re-fired the car and continued whilst at the other end of the circuit, officials waved double yellows and left the damaged cars where they were off the race line - no Safety Car..

With little time left on the clock, Muscat extended his lead to cross the line more than two seconds clear of Bowe with Eggleston an impressive third.

Klark Quinn crossed the line fourth, admitting that he wasn’t 100% comfortable in the McLaren by virtue of the seat size, whilst James Winslow took advantage of the late race accident to move into the top five by flag-fall, having taken reigning Trophy Class champion Steve McLaughlan for position on lap 38.

Trophy Class race one winner Theo Koundouris looked good to back up his opening race win, but a broken drive shaft on lap 32 forced him into an early retirement allowing the Audi team to claim a podium whitewash for the round, with Salmon/Talbot third.

Challenge class came down to a battle between the 2013 contenders after George Foessel and Brendan Cook battled closely during the early stanza of the race, handing over to 2013 champion Ben Foessel and Matt Kingsley respectively for the post CPS run to the flag, Kingsley in the end too good handing the Walz Group GT3 Cup Car the round win with the Foessels second and Indiran Padayachee third.

The impressive Donut King Lotus came out on top in the GT4 Sports class, comfortably out-pacing the Ginetta G50s of reigning champion Mark Griffith and Tony Martin, Martin ultimately claiming second for the round after Griffith was forced into the pits early with a diff problem.

“That Lotus is just so damn fast,” The Hogs Breath Cafe supported driver admitted, “I was driving ten-tenths every lap to try and keep up, but that thing was just too quick. We’ll see how we go at Phillip Island..”

Round two of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli is scheduled for Phillip Island on May 23-25 with the first of the 101-lap endurance races where all cars will feature two drivers.

Keep track of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli via the AGT website - www.australiangt.com.au and via Facebook; AustralianGT

The opening round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli will be televised on SBS Speedweek on Sunday, April 13 from 1:00pm AEST (check local guides for confirmation).


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