PREVIEW PHILLIP ISLAND, VIC AUST APRIL 9th. As you head down the fast Gardner straight at Phillip Island you could be forgiven for allowing your mind to wander as you take in the breathtaking panorama before you. But for the competitors in the...
PREVIEW PHILLIP ISLAND, VIC AUST APRIL 9th.
As you head down the fast Gardner straight at Phillip Island you could be forgiven for allowing your mind to wander as you take in the breathtaking panorama before you. But for the competitors in the 4th round of the Shell Australian Touring Car Championships there will be no time to contemplate the splendour of the spectacular coastline . Their minds will be focused on "that corner."
The long right hand sweeper at the end of Phillip Islands main straight is one of the great challenges in Aussie motorsport. A challenge made all the more poignant by the death of Gregg Hansford there in a Super Touring race only a matter of weeks ago.
The sweeper is just one of the many features that makes the Island such a great circuit.
There's a sense of place that only comes from a long and colourful history, the area was the home of the first ever Australian Grand Prix in 1928, The Armstrong 500 held at this very circuit was the fore runner to the annual Bathurst enduro and more recently it saw current touring car star Wayne Gardner win the first ever Australian round of the World 500cc motorcycle championship in front of over 100,000 rabid locals.
There won't be 100,000 there on April 9, but those who do make the long trip down the Sth Gippsland and Bass Highways will be expecting another John Bowe pole position and probable victory.
Since the Sandown 500 last September, Bowe's Ford Falcon has been the dominant force in 5 litre touring cars.
Bathurst, the AGP support race and the first 3 rounds of the Shell Australian Touring Car Championships have shown the skill of the bearded Tasmanian and the superiority of his Dick Johnson Racing Falcon which appears to have a small yet significant power advantage over the rest of the field.
The wild card in the race however is the track itself. The Island is the designated test circuit for a number of the top Melbourne based teams who will bring considerable local knowledge to setup for the track. Glen Seton and Alan Jones in their Falcon are well down on the power of Bowe and Johnson but Seton knows this track backwards after months of off season testing here over the Aussie summer.
Defending champion Mark Skaife in the Winfield Holden Commodore showed good form at Bathurst and like Seton could drive the track blindfolded. Regrettably Skaife's team-mate Jim Richards seems off the pace this year and perhaps he is spreading his talents too wide in NASCAR, GT's and in overseeing the fast raising career of son Steven in Super Tourers and AUSCAR.
Local hero and blue rinse matinee idol Peter Brock has done more miles - sorry kilometres - on this track than the rest of the field put together and after his return to the winners circle at Symmons Plains the factory Holden driver and his fast but fragile team-mate, Thomas Mezera will be looking to bounce back from their rev limiter problems at Bathurst.
Local journeyman and engineering whiz Larry Perkins will be another with a real chance at this race. Perkins has probably the most powerful of the GM power plants and on his day is capable of beating anybody.
Gardner and Crompton in their Coke Commodores were taken out early at Bathurst but the long break has allowed them time to regroup and as Gardner lines up on the straight that bears his name the adrenalin will be pumping for a good result.
Queenslands Tony Longhurst is improving race by race in his new self built Falcon and although not a real outright chance consistency could see him through to a podium placing.
Newcomer Mark Larkham will have his second run in his Hi-tech Falcon but the car is in need of solid long term testing and one must wonder whether such a new team was right in trying to "reinvent the wheel." The battle for the privateers takes on new significance at the Island as they will get their own 3 lap dash to give them more TV time.
Former Sports Sedan driver David Attard has been the class of the 2nd category drivers but others to show lots of potential have been former Open wheel star Mark Poole, Veteran racer and 2 litre pilot Phil Ward and young sensation Paul Romano all in Commodores.
Also on the card the 3rd Shell Super Bike round, the battle for Formula Ford supremacy continues between Jason Bright and the brilliant youngster Darren Weber and the 600 bhp super cars tackle the first round of the Australian Sports Sedan title.
-- Brett Ramsey On line Media consultant