Queensland's Paul Morris appears on target to clinch the BOC Gases Australian Super Touring Championship for the fourth time after emerging fastest in today's opening practice sessions for Sunday's sixth round at Symmons Plains.
The 33-year-old Queenslander, who leads the championship by a massive 76 points with three rounds remaining, clocked the quickest lap of 59.07-secs around the 2.4km circuit near Launceston in his Mount Cotton Estate Winery BMW 320i. He set the time in the first of the two practice sessions, both held in overcast conditions on a dry track surface.
Morris has won all 11 races in this year's championship and can claim the title on Sunday by scoring a further 21 points. His closest rival, Sydney policeman John Henderson, finished sixth fastest in practice at Symmons Plains after driving off the track at high speed in the first practice. The session was temporarily stopped while Henderson's undamaged car was removed from a trackside sandtrap.
Newcastle's Luke Searle was second quickest after recording 59.51-secs in a SAE College Roadchill Express BMW 320i, followed by Sydney's Jamie Miller in a Phoenix Motorsport Toyota Camry. Searle will not take part in qualifying tomorrow because of religious beliefs, and so will start from the rear of the grid in the first of Sunday's two 28-lap race.
King BMW 320i prepared by Morris' all-conquering Gold Coast-based team. The 23-year-old from Devonport was fourth fastest in his first outing in the ex-works rear-drive BMW. Victorian Jason Domaschenz was the leading V8 Future Tourers driver with the 11th quickest time in an APS Racing Holden Commodore. He was followed by Victorian Ray Sidebottom and Tasmanian Tim Shaw in Holdens.
PAUL MORRIS (Mount Cotton Estate Winery BMW 320i)
"The track is bumpy and we need to do some work on the 'shocks' overnight to make it more comfortable to drive. Our gearing was also a bit tall so we'll be changing that before qualifying. As far as the championship goes I'll still be racing for the win on Sunday, rather than just going for points, because that's what has worked best for me all season."
LUKE SEARLE (Roadchill Express-SAE College BMW 320i)
"This is my first time at Symmons Plains, but I got the hang of it after three to four laps. The car is a little unsettled under brakes and I flat-spotted three tyres beyond repair. I think the BMWs may have an advantage here with braking, but our corner exit speed is about the same as the front-wheel-drive cars."
OWEN KELLY (Thermo King BMW 320i)
"The BMW Super Tourer is fun to drive. I like the sequential gearbox and the late braking, compared to other cars I've raced, but I still need more time in the car to get on top of things. I didn't go out in the second session because we had a problem with the instruments on the dash and we needed to make some other changes."
JOHN HENDERSON (Sydney Cranes & Transport Holden Vectra)
"I went in too deep under brakes at the left-hander at the end of the back straight. I was trying to go up the inside of another car and the track was slippery there. I tried to pull the car up, but I slid into thick grass and onto the dirt."
TIM SHAW (Shaw Motorsport Holden Commodore)
"We're struggling with front-end grip. Maybe it's because the track changed after the rain between the sessions. I'm leading the class (V8 Future Tourers), and I'll settle for points here if I have to, but I'd prefer to win if I can."
<pre> PRACTICE LAP TIMES (Friday): POS DRIVER CAR TIME 1. Paul Morris (Qld) Mount Cotton Estate Winery BMW 320i 59.07-secs 2. Luke Searle (NSW) SAE College-Roadchill Express BMW 318i 59.51 3. Jamie Miller (NSW) Phoenix Motorsport Toyota Camry 60.26 4. Owen Kelly (Tas) Thermo King BMW 320i 60.31 5. Peter Hills (NSW) Signature Security Systems Ford Mondeo 60.44 6. John Henderson (NSW) Sydney Cranes & Transport Holden Vectra 60.56 7. David Auger (Qld) Leatherman Racing Alfa Romeo 60.83 8. Jim Cornish (NSW) Visit You Vet Honda Accord 60.89 9. Mark Zonneveld (A.C.T.) Signature Security Systems Ford Mondeo 61.00 10. Alan Gurr NSW) Telecell Peugeot 406 61.16 11. Jason Domaschenz (Vic) APS Racing Holden Commodore 61.45 12. Ray Sidebottom (Vic) APS Racing Holden Commodore 61.56 13. Tim Shaw (Tas) Shaw Motorsport Holden Commodore 61.66 14. James Brock (Vic) Biante Model Cars Holden Commodore 62.07 15. Paul Leabeater (NSW) Red Line Motorsport Hyundai Lantra 66.25