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It was a quick turnaround for the GT World Challenge Australia Championship, with the series back underway for Round 5 at Queensland Raceway only 2 weeks after Round 4 at Sydney Motorsport Park last weekend.
The 17-car grid saw Con Batzios jump back into the series and into GTP, driving the #102 Harrolds Volante Rosso Mercedes AMG alongside Josh Hunt, as well as the return of Darren Currie and the Geoff Taunton/Dan Jilesen MARC Cars, as well as the return of Garth Tander to the championship, sharing the #65 Shannons Insurance Audi with Liam Talbot.
Friday’s Qualifying 1 for the Am drivers saw championship leader Liam Talbot secure another pole position in the #65 Shannons Insurance Audi, only just edging out Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim in the #88 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes by 0.0426 of a second. Geoff Emery put the #75 Jamec Racing Audi into third, while Talbot’s closest Pro-Am championship challenger, Yasser Shahin in the #1 The Bend Motorsport Park Porsche, qualified down in 6th.
Qualifying 2 featured another Audi pole, this time Max Hofer in the #75 Jamec Racing Audi, by an even tighter margin than Q1; Josh Hunt in the #102 Harrolds Volante Rosso Mercedes only 0.0290 behind. It was tight at the top, with the top six cars within a quarter of a second, but the grid would still be set with a Top 10 Shootout on Sunday morning. All eight Pro-Am entries made the top 10, joined by the #45 RAM Motorsport Mercedes thanks to Garth Walden, and the #55 Kelso Electrical Audi at the hands of Brad Schumacher.
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Hot and sunny conditions greeted the field for Race 1 on Saturday afternoon, with Yasser Shahin making the best of the starts, jumping through the middle of the row ahead and slotting the #1 The Bend Motorsport Park Porsche into fourth place. Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim tried an audacious move around the outside of Turn 3 to try and put the #88 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes into the lead, but bowled a big wide and had to slot back in behind Liam Talbot in the #65 Shannons Insurance Audi.
Talbot tried to pull out a lead to overcome the additional 15 seconds he would have to take in his pit stop, but Abu Bakar kept him in touch, with the battle for third between Emery, Shahin and Poulakis all within 10 seconds of the leader.
The opening of the pit stop window saw the top group all come in at the same time, with Triple Eight electing to put new tyres on the #88 to give Jamie Whincup a chance of chasing the lead. Due to the added time for the lead group, it was Max Hofer in the #75 Jamec Racing Audi that exited the pits first, with Whincup just behind in the #88 Triple Eight Mercedes, then Patterson in the #1 The Bend Motorsport Park Porsche. The 15 second longer pit stop for the #65 Shannons Insurance Audi saw Garth Tander back on track in 4th position, and a small gap to overcome before getting onto the tail of the leaders.
Patterson immediately jumped Whincup for second, throwing the #1 The Bend Motorsport Park around the outside of the Mercedes at Turn 3, and setting off after Hofer. Further down the field, the Brad Schumacher in the #55 Kelso Electrical Audi and Paul Stokell in the #23 KFC Audi were embroiled in battle for the lead of the Am class, separated by only a second. With just over 10 minutes left in the race, Schumacher ran wide on exit of the final corner, running off the end of the concrete run off and tipping the left-side tyres into a trench that had been dug out of the turf.
The turf spat the Audi back up, pitching it into a slide that Schumacher couldn’t get a hold of, firing the Audi into the inside wall along pit straight, before shooting across the circuit, narrowly missing the following Stokell, and coming to rest on the inside of the circuit. The DNF for Schumacher was a big hit to his championship battle in the Am class, with Stokell and Stoupas driving the #23 to victory in class at the end of the race.
Out in front, no-one could catch Max Hofer as he brought the #75 Jamec Racing Audi home with a comfortable lead over the field.
The battle for second went down to the wire, with Jamie Whincup pushing Patterson all the way to the line, but the #1 The Bend Motorsport Park Porsche managed to hold on; Patterson and Shahin in second, while Whincup and Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim came third. Fourth was Talbot and Tander in the #65 Shannons Insurance Audi, with Talbot ceding the lead of the championship to Hofer in the process.
The top five was completed by Jayden Ojeda and Ross Poulakis in the #101 Harrolds Volante Rosso Mercedes, with Stoupas and Stokell taking the Am win, in seventh overall. Renee Gracie crossed the line in 14th place, and with her Trophy-class rival Paul Lucchitti not making the finish after the front splitter disconnected from his Audi, Gracie was confirmed as the Trophy Class Champion in her #181 Onlyfans Audi.
Sunday Morning’s Shootout, based on Friday’s Qualifying 2, saw the Am drivers given a chance at an elimination-style Top 10 session; all 10 cars were given 7 minutes to set a lap, with the top 5 going into a second session to set the top end of the grid. It was Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim in the #88 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes that topped the session, setting a 1:08.5814 to better Liam Talbot’s #65 Shannon’s Audi by almost 3 tenths.
Provisional pole-sitter Geoff Emery put the #75 Jamec Racing Audi into third, followed by the first of the Am-class cars; Brad Schumacher putting the #55 Kelso Electrical Audi into fourth. The #1 The Bend Motorsport Park Porsche of Yasser Shahin finished 5th, while the bottom 5 cars were all Mercedes AMG’s – Poulakis in the #101, Prince Jefri in the #888, Bailey in the #96, Sheargold in the #45 and Batzios in the #102 filling the bottom half of the top 10.
It was a frantic start to the second race on Sunday afternoon, with Max Hofer and Garth Tander banging doors through turn 1 as the Audis jostled for position. The result was Hofer sliding the #75 Jamec Racing Audi through into second, while Jamie Whincup streamed away to a three-second lead in the #88 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes as the bickering continued behind.
Eventually, the race-start melee subsided, and the race settled into a rhythm. Hofer dragged onto the back of Whincup, while Tander held the #65 Shannons Audi ahead of Broc Feeney in the second of the Triple Eight Mercedes at bay for third. Feeney had been the biggest beneficiary of the start, passing Patterson in the #1 The Bend Motorsport Park Porsche, Jayden Ojeda in the #101 Harrolds Volante Rosso Mercedes, and Brad Schumacher’s #55 Kelso Electrical Audi off the line. Patterson and Ojeda battled for 5th, a few seconds behind Tander and Feeney’s battle for third.
The entire field stayed out to the absolute limit of the pit stop window and fired in all at once. Whincup had done just enough to stretch the gap to Tander to over 5 seconds; the difference in their required pit stop time. This dropped the #88 with Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim out in the lead of the race, with Talbot just behind in the #65 Audi, with the sister Triple Eight Mercedes in third, followed by Poulakis in the #101 Harrolds Volante Mercedes, Emery now in the #75 Jamec Racing Audi, and Shahin in the #1 The Bend Porsche, 10 seconds further back.
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Abu Bakar pulled out a three-second lead after the pit stops, but once Talbot got into a rhythm the Audi started to draw the Mercedes back, with less than a second between them with 15 minutes left on the clock. Talbot showed the nose through Turn 1, then tried to use traffic to make the pass, but Abu Bakar held on to the lead. With six minutes left, Talbot sent the move down on the inside of the final corner, making contact with the right rear of the Mercedes, and spearing the #88 off and into the gravel. Prince Abu Bakar was able to get the car back on track, but lost second position to Geoff Emery, who had threaded his way through a wild moment at Turn 1 to take third place earlier in the stint.
Exiting the pits in 5th behind the Mercedes pair of Prince Jefri Ibrahim in the #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering car and Ross Poulakis in the #101 Harrolds Volante Rosso machine, Emery managed to split the middle when both Mercedes made mistakes through turn 1. Prince Jefri ran wide in the #888, riding the slide through the grass on the exit of turn 1, while Poulakis spun off to the inside of the track in sympathy, lighting up the rears to avoid following the #888 off-track. Emery kept the #75 Jamec Racing Audi on track and drove between the two of them, taking third and setting off after the leaders.
The stewards adjudicated a 15-second penalty to Talbot for the contact at the final corner, and with a 13-second gap to Emery in second, the battle was on the timing screen to see if Talbot could stretch out enough of an advantage to claim the win. With two laps remaining, the gap was 14.9 seconds, and at the fall of the chequered flag, Talbot had a 16.8-second advantage; just enough to take victory. Emery was second, which was good enough to take the round win for himself and Max Hofer, while Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim brought the wounded #88 Mercedes home in third.
Abu Bakar was clearly frustrated post-race but was calm in his interview with the host broadcaster.
“[Talbot] had more pace than me at the end of the race,” he said. “I had a few moments, but, it’s part of racing.”
“I had my nose in there – I was well up,” replied Talbot to the host broadcaster. “He kept turning in, but what can you do?”
“It’s a split-second decision. I’d have to look at the replay… I had my nose in there, and people have had less in there before and not gotten penalties.”
Poulakis recovered from his spin to finish in fourth in the #101 Harrolds Volante Rosso Mercedes AMG, ahead of Prince Jefri Ibrahim in the #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes, rounding out the top five. Yasser Shahin brought the #1 The Bend Motorsport Park Porsche home in sixth, with the Am class winner, Brad Schumacher, finishing in seventh overall. The Invitational class was won by Geoff Taunton and Dan Jilesen in the #20 MARC GT, while Renee Gracie completed a perfect weekend in Trophy class.
With a win and second for the weekend, Max Hofer jumps to the top of the GTWC Australia standings, on 182 points. Sitting in second is Liam Talbot, 6 points behind, with Geoff Emery a further 14 points back. Reigning champion Yasser Shahin and his co-driver Garnet Patterson have dropped away on 153 points, 29 points behind.
The Am category sees Brad Schumacher’s lead cut to 23 points after the DNF in Race 1, with the Stoupas/Stokell pairing less than a race behind heading into the last round of the season, which will be on streets of the Adelaide Parklands Circuit supporting the Supercars on November 23-26.
Images courtesy of World Challenge Australia, Daniel Kalisz
Michael Zalavari
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