Erebus Motorsport’s Craig Baird was the undeniable winner of the opening race of round two of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli, however thanks to two separate Safety Car incidents - the first of which fell during the CPS window - some of the remaining positions were called into question.
"It was a good race, the car has been good all weekend and I got a good start. I had to build some time for the pitstop, so I just put my head down to do that.”
Behind Baird, team-mate Christian Klien struggled to get traction off the rolling start, the former F1-star dropping to second, before reigning champion Klark Quinn slipped around him to grab the advantage as Baird worked his Pirelli DH tyres up to temperature and charged.
Behind the leading trio, reigning Victorian state series champion, and like fellow Lamborghini pilot Roger Lago - a Clipsal rookie - Justin McMillan, entered turn one fighting over fifth position, before discovering the brake pedal went to the floor..
“It turned out that a wheel bearing had failed, which led to a sensor failure, and a shutdown in the system, so in the end I had no brakes. Turn one was okay, but turn four was hairy.”
That started recurring visits to the pits for the GB Galvanizing Gallardo LP600, before the team ultimately retired the car on lap six.
Up front though the two Erebus Mercedes and Quinn’s Porsche drove away from the field, but they needed to, with the two ‘gullwings’ earning a maximum CPS (Compulsory Pit Stop) of 111-seconds, compared to rear-of-field starting’s Tony Quinn (Darrell Lea Aston Martin Vantage GT3) 40-seconds.
“I thought, good luck to them, see ya later..” Roger Lago reflected afterwards as the trio of leaders disappeared into the distance.
“I wasn’t going to be able to stick with them, and I figured with the pit stop penalties, it would sort itself out in the end, but I was still surprised to be classified second..”
The race ran as expected up until the 20-minute mark and the opening window for the CPS. Having been ‘held up’ behind points-leader Klark Quinn, the Erebus team called Klien in, in the hope of giving him ‘clean air’ ahead of Quinn’s stop.
With the field bunched up behind the Safety Car, Baird’s 111-second penalty allowed him to complete his stop and rejoin on the tail of the lead group, effectively a lap in advance.
Behind him, Roger Lago, who like Baird was running longer before his stop did a similar thing, emerging in second place, the two quicker cars quickly adding a lap to the cars in front of them after the restart.
In his rush to get back through the field, Baird clipped the right rear of the Skwirk.com.au Audi R8 LMS ultra of Rod Salmon into the final turn, which whilst not slowing the progress of either by more than a few tenths, pushed the guard onto the rear wheel of the former Bathurst winning Audi, which ten minutes before the completion of the race bought out the second Safety Car period.
“The car was becoming a little difficult to drive,” Salmon admitted afterwards. “So I wasn’t pushing too hard, I just wanted to make the finish, but coming into turn eight, I just clipped the apex on the way into the corner and it spun me around.
“I couldn’t believe it, I felt like I had the hand of god on me, because I was just heading down the track backwards at 200km/h in a straight line and I thought great, I’m not going to be ‘one of those’ turn eight casualties. Then he must have realised I was an atheist, and I rolled backwards into the wall.”
Stalled on the exit of turn eight across the track, officials had no alternative than to call the Safety Car, although there was again, some visible confusion about who they should pick up, with a number of different cars ‘waved around’.
On the restart Baird continued to push whilst behind him Lago’s strategy to pit behind the race leader was playing dividends, the two of them now classified a lap up on Klark Quinn and Klien.
Just prior to the hour mark, the chequered flag was displayed handing Baird victory, comfortably clear of Lago with Quinn leading Andrew Taplin and Christian Klien to the line.
Post-race there was much animated discussion about the final order, with a number of drivers who had pitted during the green flag running confused about how drivers who had been on track behind them were classified in front of them.
“It was just unfortunate for some of them that they completed their stops before the Safety Car because those that made the stop at the moment the first Safety Car was called wound up gaining a big advantage,” Category Manager Ken Collier admitted.
"I lost the first position to Craig, starting out on the outside is a definite disadvantage,” Klien admitted afterwards. "There was plenty of understeer in the car compared to yesterday and I dropped behind the Porsche [Klark Quinn].
"Once comfortable with how the car was handling, I pushed hard and was being held up by Klark, so the team pitted me as soon as they could. When the Safety Car came out, it became a total mess. I don't know what happened but I feel as though Race Control didn't do me any favours.
Quinn was typically relaxed, but admitted “it was an interesting ride” alluding to severe understeer across the race. “I did my best to keep Christian at bay, and the advantage from the pitstop worked for us, but then understeer we had in qualifying returned, so we’ll be looking to dial that out tomorrow before race two.”
After failing to complete a single lap in practice or qualifying after his brush with the wall in the opening practice session, Tony Quinn - still suffering a little from the side effects of his Bathurst crash - worked his way up to 11th at the flag, just on the tail of local Porsche pilots Michael Almond and John Goodacre.
“It was okay,” was all he would offer, but it was clear for the VIP Petfoods boss that it had been a tough hour behind the wheel.
Australian GT Championship