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Aug 21, 2014 - 06:58 AM
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26-Strong Australian GT field tackles Sydney Motorsport Park
Posted by: newsla on Aug 21, 2014 - 06:56 AM
Sports Cars
26-Strong Australian GT field tackles Sydney Motorsport Park


After a seven week break, the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli returns to action at Sydney Motorsport Park for the second event on the V8 Supercar calendar with two 60-minute races scheduled across the weekend. An impressive 26-car field will meet the starter, with a record high 10 Championship class cars and 10 Trophy class cars dominating the entry list.

 

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We’re at the mid-point of the season, and already patterns are starting to emerge, patterns which could see a number of drivers firm in the odds to claim the series silverware.

Leading the charge for outright Championship Class honours is points leader Richard Muscat in the Erebus Motorsport Mercedes Benz SLS AMG. So far in 2014 Muscat has been the standout with three victories from six races (Sandown x2/Townsville). He holds a 43-point lead in the points over Bathurst 12-Hour winner John Bowe, but comes to SMP on the back of the complete domination of the round in 2013 by Erebus favourite Jack Le Brocq, an ominous sign perhaps for Muscat’s rivals.

Bowe will be joined once again by car-owner Peter Edwards and they will be hoping for big things, however they won’t have things all their own way. 12-months ago the Maranello Motorsport team claimed a podium finish in race two, whilst reigning champion Klark Quinn carded a pair of second placed finishes.

Quinn has upgraded his mount since last season, and will enter SMP for 2014 in the relatively untried McLaren MP4-12C. Tony Quinn failed to make the podium in 2013, but has been quick so far this year and is currently third in the points, so don‘t discount him, nor the Steve Richards/Justin McMillan combination, they’ve taken pole twice in 2014 and are hungry for a result, the Interlloy Gallardo too is quick around SMP.

Whilst the battle for outright honours will keep the fans on their toes, the fight for Trophy Class honours is really starting to heat up. Local hero Rod Salmon leads the points in his Skwirk.com.au Audi R8 LMS, but he will have an internal fight on his hands with Melbourne Performance Centre team-mate Dean Koutsoumidis, who is looking to recover from the Phillip Island accident which took the points lead away from he and co-driver James Winslow.

The battle between the two teams will be a highlight, as SMP is also the ‘home’ track of their co-drivers Nathan Antunes and James Winslow, the two youngsters acting as driver coaches on an almost full-time basis at the facility.

Last year Antunes made his Australian GT debut at SMP, stunning the established stars. He has just returned from another weekend in the GT Asia Series, but likewise Winslow too has been busy, having recently returned to the Formula 3 category for which the Englishman is a two-time national champion, so both are fit and race-ready.

Throw in Phillip Island Trophy Class winner Theo Koundouris in his Supabarn Porsche Cup-S, former race winner Kevin Weeks in his gorgeous Supaloc Ford GT and new AGT recruit Barton Mawer in the impressive Lotus Exige S GT3 and you have one hell of a race on your hands, a race which could well rival that of the outright cars!

12-months ago the Challenge Class battle came down to the wire at the final round at Highlands Motorsport Park with Ben Foessel finally prevailing over Porsche Cup Car rival Brendan Cook. Season 2014 sees the pair doing battle once more, with Foessel still holding the edge over Cook and his regular co-driver Matt Kingsley, however last year it was the Cook/Kingsley partnership that prevailed with two race wins in Sydney. Throw in new AGT recruits Paul Van Leonhout and co-driver Renato Loberto in their Ferrari 458 Challenge EVO and you have a race as unpredictable as the battle for Trophy Class honours.

2013 GT Sports champion Mark Griffith returns to SMP full of hope after two race wins last year, although at that stage he was enjoying the support of [then] part-time V8 Supercar driver Jack Perkins. The 2014 season has seen one significant change in the class though with the addition of the Donut King Lotus Exige Cup R of Tony Alford. Alford leads the 2014 points after victories at Sandown and Townsville, however Griffith is hanging in after taking top points at Phillip Island, although the long straight at SMP is likely to suit the pink Lotus..!

WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR?
GT Championship (for 2012-2013 specification GT3 cars)
He’s the form driver in the form car, and fresh from an outing at the Spa 24-Hours and British Carrera Cup, Richard Muscat is likely to start favourite - after all, 12-months ago young Jack Le Brocq demolished the field in the same car.. There’s a number of drivers though that will figure if Muscat strikes trouble [as he did at Phillip Island]. The power of Tony Quinn’s Aston Martin will play into the equation, and with two pole positions from three rounds, don’t discount the Richards/McMillan combination. Warren Luff set pole at Phillip Island in a 2011-spec Audi, but that car has now been upgraded, and with rain predicted across the weekend, don’t be surprised to see the McLaughlan Audi at the pointy end of the field..

GT Trophy (for GT3-spec cars 2011 and older)
The Melbourne Performance Centre Audis have been battling all year with Sydney’s Rod Salmon leading the points, but whilst the lead is strong he’s not resting and has contested a state series round at SMP in the interlude between rounds. Dean Koutsoumidis too has been turning laps in his historic Formula Ford, so both are ‘race fresh’. Expect a strong battle between the two MPC team-mates and Theo Koundouris in the Porsche Cup-S, but keep a close eye on Barton Mawer in the super-quick Lotus Exige S, he too has been on-track at SMP, defeating Salmon in a state series event..

GT Challenge (Challenge class cars - Porsche/Ferrari)
12 months ago Ben Foessel and Brendan Cook fought over title honours in Challenge Class, and 2014 is following an almost identical path. Cook and co-driver Matt Kingsley won the opening round at Sandown, but from that point on it has been all Foessel, the reigning champion even ‘stepping things up’ at Townsville by employing Porsche star Michael Almond as co-driver. At SMP last year though it was all Cook/Kingsley with two wins from two starts, although with local star Renato Loberto entered in a Ferrari 458 Challenge and Foessel improving with every outing, the outcome is far from predictable.

GT Sports (GT4 category cars)
Tony Alford continues to lead the points in the Lotus Exige Cup R, but comes up against reigning champion Mark Griffith who won at SMP 12-months ago. So far the Lotus has been the class benchmark on the longer straights and SMP’s main straight falls into that criteria, watch out for the Donut King entry, it’s likely to be the pace-setter.

SCHEDULE (AEDST)
Friday, 22 August
Practice #1 - 8:45am (20-minutes)
Practice #2 - 10:45am (20-minutes)
Qualifying - 12:45pm (20-minutes)

Saturday, 23 August
Race #1 - 11:10am (60-minutes)

Sunday, 24 August
Race #2 - 11:30am (60-minutes)

AUSTRALIAN GT AND SYDNEY MOTORSPORT PARK
Sydney Motorsport Park [SMP] is an annual fixture on the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli calendar, and has been contested at least once every year since 2005 (twice in 2008). The most prolific winner is former champion and V8 Supercar regular David Wall with four wins, whilst the late Allan Simonsen and Peter Hackett have two apiece. An ominous sign perhaps for the 2014 field is that Mercedes Benz have won the last two races at SMP, the last of which saw former national Formula Ford champion Jack Le Brocq win both one-hour races and smash the lap record in the process (it currently stands at 1:27.9783).

WHERE TO WATCH..
Keep track of round four of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli from Sydney via the AGT website - www.australiangt.com.au and via Facebook; AustralianGT


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