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May 24, 2014 - 06:36 AM
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Garth Tander Tops Practice On Australian GT Debut
Posted by: newsla on May 24, 2014 - 06:35 AM
Sports Cars
Garth Tander Tops Practice On Australian GT Debut

V8 Supercar regular Garth Tander has topped the opening day of practice during round two of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli in treacherous conditions at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, the VIP Petfoods Aston Martin GT3 pilot taking little time to come to grips with the V12-powered British machine.


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“It’s the first race car outside of V8 Supercars I’ve driven since 2003,” Tander admitted with a grin, clearly happy with his debut in the Tony Quinn Aston.

“It’s everything I’d heard it would be - quick, great mid-corner grip, and just easy to drive compared to a V8 Supercar. The conditions weren’t ideal, but it was enjoyable.”

Tander may have been quick, but perhaps the biggest surprise was the performance of points-leader Richard Muscat, the Erebus Motorsport GT driver right in amongst the ‘hired-guns’ who were supporting their car owners at ‘the island’ ahead of tomorrow’s 101-lap endurance event.

“I’m pretty happy to be sitting third fastest in amongst guys like Garth Tander, Craig Baird and Warren Luff,” Muscat smiled on reviewing the timesheets at the end of the day. “What’s better is that my pace and Jack’s [Le Brocq] pace is very similar, so we should be in with a good chance for tomorrow’s race.”

Tragically for the rest of the field, it is Le Brocq who is the current lap record holder at Phillip Island, the young Victorian smashing the established benchmark 12-months ago in the very car he will share with Muscat, the duo though looking to further improve Le Brocq’s 1:27.1505. “There wasn’t much chance today with damp conditions right through to heavy rain during the three sessions, although it looks like Saturday will be fine for the race,” Le Brocq confirmed.

Whilst the duo were clearly the quickest combination, their final session retirement into the barriers on the exit of MG corner (turn 10) highlighted just how tricky things could get during the race in heavy traffic.

“I was very comfortable with the pace of the car, and on that lap I was three seconds up on my best in the drying conditions,” Muscat explained. “I came over Lukey Heights behind the Lotus and a Ginetta, and I could see Roger Lago in the Lambo trying to negotiate them both.

“The Lotus seemed to run deep into the right hander, and Lago at the last minute dived up the inside as I got alongside. Next thing I know I’ve had a tap in the side which has spun me around and on the wet grass there was no way I could pull the car up before the tyre wall.

“Damage is pretty light, but it’s damage. Honestly, looking back at the footage, there wasn’t much I could have done to avoid it, but it highlights just what a big impact lapped traffic could have in a three-hour race..”

The onboard footage and external video footage showed that Lago had spun right on the exit of the still damp circuit as he exited turn ten, spinning into the path of the unfortunate Mercedes ending Muscat’s session. Damage to the Lamborghini too was slight, although Lago was able to return to the pits under his own power.

Fresh from his debut in the GT Asia Series in South Korea, Warren Luff was second fastest overall in Steve McLaughlan’s Trophy Class Audi R8 LMS, McLaughlan too happy with his pace, whilst fellow Melbourne Performance Centre Audi team-mates Dean Koutsoumidis and co-driver James Winslow were fifth fastest by the end of the day, with Ferrari’s Tony D’Alberto separating the Equity-One Audi and the third placed Mercedes.

John Bowe was next up in the Bathurst 12-Hour winning Il Bello Rosso Ferrari 458, the experienced Tasmanian admitting that things were pretty tricky during the afternoon session, especially after fitting slicks. “I think I was a bit premature picking the dry line,” he laughed. “It was pretty hairy out there..”

Craig Baird was next fastest in the Darrell Lea McLaren MP4-12C, with reigning GT Champion Klark Quinn admitting that the changeable conditions weren’t much to his liking. “I think I’m still in Kia Carnivale mode,” he laughed, signaling towards the hire car he’d driven to the circuit from Melbourne Airport. “I had to keep reminding myself I was in a McLaren and I had to get my act together.. Look, the conditions were pretty treacherous, so it wasn’t time to go looking for a quick lap. Saturday is expected to be fine, so we’ll concentrate on going fast tomorrow. We’ve got 101-laps ahead too, and we’re pretty happy with the overall pace of the car.”

MPC’s Nathan Antunes was next quickest in Rod Salmon’s Audi, the young Sydney driver doing nothing to tarnish his reputation in the wet opening session by setting the second fastest time, separating Muscat from Garth Tander, whilst ninth fastest and the first of the Lamborghini’s was former Challenge Class champion Jan Jinadasa.. “How cool’s that,” he beamed post-session two after co-driver Daniel Gaunt had put the JJA Consulting Group Gallardo LP520 well inside the top ten, displacing both David Russell in the Lago Lamborghini, and reigning Bathurst 1000 champion Steven Richards in the Interlloy FL2.

“They sent me out in the wet on slicks,” Richard’s team-mate and M-Motorsport team-boss Justin McMillan explained on reviewing the overall timesheets. “Richo went out and set a good time in session one, then focused on driving his Carrera Cup car, and I went out on slicks in the slippery conditions because the boys wanted me to get a better feel for the car in the damp.. it was a hell of a ride!”

One of the stars of the early sessions was rising Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge star Matt Campbell in the Michael Hovey owned, ex-championship winning Porsche Carrera Cup car, the young Queenslander setting the ninth fastest time in the opening wet session, and smiling from ear-to-ear. “This car is just fantastic, I can’t thank Michael enough for inviting me to join him.” Hovey meanwhile was all praise.. “How good is this kid!!”

Despite the often treacherous conditions, off-track excursions were rare, so retirements limited. The Theo Koundouris/Sam Power Porsche was in at one point with damage to the front splitter, whilst the second team car of James Koundouris and Steve Owen was suffering from a problem in the rear of the car.

New international Australian GT entry Simon Ellingham and Jono Lester too sat out much of the day after the team discovered a gearbox issue after session one. “Something didn’t feel right,” Lester explained, “so the team had a look at the gearbox and found metal fragments so we had to source another box from Melbourne. Unfortunately that forced us to sit out sessions two and three, but we’re confident that we’ll pick things up pretty quickly.”

Saturday will provide the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli teams with just one short qualifying session (25-minutes) at 11:05am, before the 101-lap endurance race gets underway at 2:05pm, with the race scheduled to reach it’s conclusion by 5:00pm at the latest, however calculations have it finishing somewhere in the 140-150-minute mark.

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