The Erebus Motorsport GT team stole the spotlight during practice and qualifying for the opening day of competition on the streets of Adelaide for round two of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli, with star recruits Craig Baird and Christian Klien topping the timesheets. Despite limited laps in the car prior, Baird was immediately the pace-setter, but it was team-mate Klien who stole pole, smashing the lap record by more than a second and a half on the team’s Pirelli debut.
• Ex-F1 star Christian Klien steals pole
• Craig Baird set the pace till the final stages of the session
• Reigning champion and points leader qualifies third
• Lamborghini’s Clipsal rookies set a stunning pace
“The car was absolutely mega,” Baird said after falling just four tenths short of pole having held the top spot for the bulk of the session. “I was going for a lap and made a small error at turn seven. I thought I had another lap up my sleeve, but the chequered flag was out when I came across the line.
“I couldn’t be happier that the only guy in front of me was Christian. It’s a pair of long races to come and I am content with the pace that we have on board.”
“It’s been a great day for me,” Klien said. “I have built my pace slowly, but in qualifying I could really hammer it. I felt comfortable in the car and went for it. I am pretty happy with the time and hope that from pole position, there will be a clean start and a clean race.
“The track is a great challenge, it’s very tough and the weather is becoming quite warm. It’s a real honour to be racing here in Adelaide this weekend in a car as nice as the SLS AMG GT3 and with a team as good as Erebus Motorsport.”
From opening practice it was clear that Erebus would be the pace-setters, with their two professional drivers in two of the fastest cars in the field. Despite this, reigning champion, reigning Clipsal winner and current AGT points leader Klark Quinn was not too far in arrears, his place at the front of the field cemented with third in qualifying.
“In the end the car started to develop understeer, and that was costing me time,” he admitted. “I felt like I could challenge the Erebus cars early, but it wasn’t to be in the end. We’ll work on it tomorrow and be ready for race one on Saturday afternoon.
“Fortunately we’ve got a bit of a points advantage after the win in round one, so if I can keep within sight of the two Mercs, I might be able to get a break during the pitstops with their ‘Pro’ driver status time penalties.”
Klien ran conservatively through opening practice, but was quick enough to be third behind the pace-setting Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of team-mate Baird, with Klark Quinn splitting the pair.
Sadly for Tony Quinn, his teams herculean effort to repair his Aston Martin Vantage GT3 suffered a huge blow in the opening lap of practice one, the VIP Petfoods boss grabbing the wall after a steering issue, bringing the session to a halt whilst they retrieved the car. Sadly despite just a 40km/h impact, the damage was severe enough to warrant a visit to the TAFE repair crew and force Quinn to miss P2 and qualifying. He will however be back for race one.
“It’s disappointing, but it is what it is,” he shrugged afterwards.
That left the battle for the remaining positions inside the top ten to be waged between local stars Kevin Weeks, Andrew Taplin, Jordan Ormsby and Michael Almond, Clipsal rookies Justin McMillan and Roger Lago, and Audi pilots Rod Salmon and Dean Koutsoumidis.
In the end it was Lago who held on to grab fourth in the dying stages of qualifying, dropping fellow Clipsal rookie and Lamborghini pilot Justin McMillan to fifth. “I had it until the final few minutes and I thought I’d be able to hold it, but Roger put in a blinder in the end,” reigning Victorian State Series champion McMillan added.
“I’m pretty happy with the result though, especially being my first time here. I’m treating it the same way I approached Bathurst - conservative to start with and creep my pace up. There’s still a few areas I can improve, but from what I can see, a big part of success here at Clipsal is being there in the end, so that’s the plan.”
After running fourth during practice, Andrew Taplin finished sixth in the Tony Quinn Ferrari 458 Italia, the local driver over a second clear of arch-rivals Jordan Ormsby and Kevin Weeks. Weeks had done a solid job in his ageing Lamborghini after electing to leave his gorgeous Ford GT back in the workshop.
“We back-to-backed the cars at Mallala last week,” he confirmed, “and the Lambo won out in the end, in part because we’re still struggling to get rear grip in the Ford. It’s an inherent thing with the car, and the new 2013 evolution is much improved, so if we can upgrade it to 2013-spec during the year, we might bring it back later in the season.”
Behind the three South Australians, Andrew McInnes took the honours for Audi, usurping Rod Salmon’s newer ultra after the latter suffered a lurid slide through the notorious turn one chicane. At that point he had been comfortably quicker than the Mciness/Dean Koutsoumidis car, but the spin - attributed to cold tyres - slowed the former Bathurst 12-Hour winners pace allowing McInnes to sneak inside the top ten.
“The car feels great,” McInnes said afterwards. “It’s nice to drive around here, and as we’ve seen in the past with the R8, it’s very kerb compliant, so you can find time through the first chicane. Dean has been quick too, so we’re really looking forward to Saturday’s first race.”
Whilst Ormsby’s pace saw him top the times for the Trophy Class, local Porsche pilot Michael Almond grabbed Challenge Class honours, just ahead of John Goodacre and Keith and Kuan Wong. In the battle of the mighty Ginetta G50 GT4’s, opening round winner Michael Hovey topped the list ahead of Darren Berry, Mark Griffith and newcomer Tony Martin who tagged the wall in the dying stages of qualifying, although the team expect to be on the grid for race one on Saturday afternoon.
The opening race of the second round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli will get underway at 5:30pm on Saturday, March 2, with race two (30-minutes) at 9:45am on Sunday, March 3.
Australian GT Championship