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Australian GT; Muscat Stuns Opposition With Record Pole At SMP
Posted by: newsla on Aug 22, 2014 - 03:39 PM
Sports Cars
Australian GT; Muscat Stuns Opposition With Record Pole At SMP

After a relatively low key start to his maiden run at Sydney Motorsport Park in the Erebus Motorsport Mercedes Benz SLS AMG GT3, championship points leader Richard Muscat stunned his opposition in qualifying by stopping the clocks more than a second clear of his closest rivals.


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Muscat’s conservative start saw the former Porsche GT Cup Challenge champion only third fastest to Warren Luff and Steve Richards during practice, but once qualifying started it took just four laps to put down a time that was just too far out of reach, a time more than two and a half seconds faster than his practice best!

“I learnt a lot during my time at Spa [24 Hour race] with the factory AMG team, and I applied some of that today,” Muscat admitted. “During qualifying they focused heavily on getting tyre temperature into the fronts for the first two laps, and going easy on the rears, then attacking on lap two and three, so that’s what I did. After that, there was no need to push any harder because we’d set the benchmark.”

Try as he might, practice one pace-setter Warren Luff - in Steve McLaughlan’s recently upgraded 2013-spec Audi R8 LMS ultra - couldn’t match Muscat’s 1:26.8645, the best the Carrera Cup regular could extract was a 1:28.0640.

“There was probably a 27 in it, but I don’t know that I could have found a 26,” Luff lamented post-session. Likewise two-time 2014 AGT pole-sitter Steve Richards, the reigning Bathurst 1000 champion finding just two one hundredths of a second over his practice time. “The car was fine - I’m not sure we had a 26, but the package is good so we’ll see what plays out in the race.”

Whilst Muscat’s efforts was impressive, spare a thought for Trophy Class front-runner Nathan Antunes, who despite campaigning a three year old specification Audi R8, was third fastest, less than two tenths slower than team-mate Luff.

“I was pretty happy with that,” the local driver-trainer admitted with a broad smile, “but I’d have loved pole!”

Klark Quinn recovered from a lacklustre run through practice to claim fourth, the reigning champion admitting that his head was still well and truly in chocolate in his role as CEO of Darrell Lea. “It’s a busy period at the moment,” he shrugged. “I reckon I might have my head right for racing by about Monday..!”

Typically though - just like his father - the two Quinns aren’t overly phased by the pressures of racing, and frustratingly for their rivals, require little time in the car before running at the front, Klark was classified fourth after qualifying, Tony seventh.

The mighty Interlloy Lamborghini in the end was classified fifth, with team-owner Justin McMillan more than happy with his pace, whilst Townsville winner and perhaps the only man capable of challenging Muscat for the championship - John Bowe - was sixth in the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 458, one of four ‘Prancing Horses’ in the field.

Steve Owen - fresh from his run at the Spa 24-Hour race - was eighth in the Supabarn Supermarkets Porsche GT3-R, ahead of the second Maranello Motorsport Ferrari - the 2012-spec 458 of new car owner Adrian Deitz and former US open-wheel graduate Josh Hunt.

Dan Gaunt rounded out the top ten in Jan Jinadasa’s JJA Consulting Gallardo LP520 Trophy Class car, with James Winslow next in the Equity-One Audi R8 he shares with car-owner Dean Koutsoumidis, the pair lamenting a lack of pace.

“We’re not too concerned right now, but we’re a little surprised to be this far back from our Melbourne Performance Centre team-mates,” Koutsoumidis lamented. “We did something a little different to them and it doesn’t seem to have worked in our favour, so we’ll work on it overnight and be ready to go tomorrow.”

Despite starting to the 2014 season in a ‘borrowed’ car, series sponsor Jim Manolios finished the opening round at Sandown with a badly bent Ferrari 458. With his regular mount - the team’s former French championship winning Corvette Z06.R - undergoing a major upgrade, Manolios was faced with campaigning the repaired Ferrari again for this round, signing on Trofeo Motorsport staffer Ryan Millier to drive alongside him.

Now resplendent in Trofeo Motorsport ‘carbon’ the rebuilt Ferrari looked pristine, and despite having driven just five laps in the car during testing, having never campaigned a left-hand drive car previously, and never used a paddle shift gear selection system, Millier stunned the established stars by setting the seventh fastest time in opening practice.

Manolios was in for session two, before Millier jumped back behind the wheel to start qualifying, setting the 12th fastest time in the process..

“We’re not here to try and prove anything this weekend,” Manolios admitted. “We’d have loved to debut the Corvette, but there’s a couple of little teething problems we’d like to rectify before we race it. It’s close, but the Ferrari was closer, so we elected to run that this weekend.”

In the battle for Challenge Class honours the day went to local driver-trainer Renato Loberto in the Mt Magnet Drilling Ferrari 458 Challenge EVO, with title rivals Brendan Cook/Matt Kingsley and Ben Foessel not far behind, although both Porsche teams suggested the Ferrari would be difficult to beat around the 4.5-kilometre circuit.

GT Sports looked in the early stages as if the battle between points leader Tony Alford and the Ginetta G50s of Mark Griffith and Tony Martin would be a closely matched affair, although as he has done on a number of occasions during the year, Alford seemed to find that little something extra when he needed it. In the end the Donut King Lotus Exige driver finished qualifying with a huge advantage, reigning class champion Mark Griffith admitting that he just couldn’t get close.

“I drove my backside off to get the time I set,” he shrugged, “and that was still more than four seconds shy.. it will be a lonely race!”

With Muscat carrying such a big advantage into the round, the big questions ahead of the opening 60-minute race is, who can catch him? The other question being proposed, is the safety of Jack Le Brocq’s 2013 GT lap record - 1:27.4848 - can Muscat improve.. it’s likely!

The Sydney Motorsport Park round of the Australian GT Championship consists of two one-hour races, each with a compulsory mid-race pit stop. Race one gets underway at 11:10am on Saturday 23 August, with race two at 11:30am on Sunday, 24 August.

The fourth round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli will be televised on Channel 7 in the coming weeks (time to be advised).

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

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

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).

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