The opening round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli has been run, and what an opening 50-minutes of the 2013 Bathurst 12-Hour it was.
“How good’s that, it was certainly action packed. It wasn’t expected, but I’ll take every win I can. To win at Bathurst, no matter what race you’re in or what car you’re in is fantastic, I’m really proud.
“I didn’t have any nasty moments, the car’s going pretty good but we’re having a few brake issues which is just me pushing a little bit too hard for a 12-hour, I just needed to back off a little bit.
“I kind of had two mindsets at the start - I had the AGT Championship in my mind, and pit strategy kind of helped us in that regard, but for the 12 hours you’ve just got to get in the zone, and I felt like I was there and not pushing too hard.”
In the end it was pit strategy that won the reigning champion the race, with the Maranello team - like arch-rivals Erebus - concentrating on the 12-Hour and pitting at every Safety Car period for fuel and driver changes to work the ‘long game’.
For some though, even making the opening 50-minutes was difficult, with the first incident coming in the opening laps after pole-sitter Mika Salo made contact with a Class B Porsche on the exit of Griffin’s Bend after looking for an inside move on both the Porsche and the race leading Erebus Mercedes. The Maranello Ferrari made light contact with the wall and the Porsche, the Porsche spinning across the field, collecting amongst others the Mark Griffith Ginetta, which was recovering from a rear-of-field start.
“My contact was light,” Griffith admitted afterwards. “It looked worse, but I actually threw the car sideways to brush off speed because I was trapped by all the cars going down the inside of the Porsche as it spun. I took a bit of a knock, but I’m alright and damage to the car is superficial.”
After a number of laps to recover the damaged cars, the race restarted, but within minutes the yellow flags were out again after a Class C Aston Martin Vantage GT4 made contact with the JBS Swift Lamborghini of David Russell on the run out of Forrest’s Elbow, the Aston then moving across as a result into the path of the similar GT3 Aston of Tony Quinn, forcing both AGT regulars hard into the concrete retaining walls.
The impact spun both cars around and tore a wheel off the Roger Lago owned Lamborghini.
“We pitted early after the first Safety Car. We did the right call there and in another 20 minutes we would have been in the lead, because the other leaders hadn’t pitted at that stage..
“Coming out of the Elbow there were some slower cars and Dave’s telling me he got tapped in the rear, and he was just a passenger. Dave’s alright, that’s the main thing.
“We’ve had a quick look at the car and it doesn’t look very good. It’s like anything. Money will fix it, but for the second year in a row, we won’t make Clipsal.”
Whilst Russell was quickly out of the car, Tony Quinn was a little shaken after the incident which did some serious damage to the gorgeous new Darrell Lea Vantage GT3.
“Tony has gone to hospital for precautionary scans to make sure he’s okay, but he’s coherent so that’s important, but he feels okay and is keen to get into Klark’s car for his stint in the 12-Hour later in the day,” AGT Category Manager Ken Collier confirmed.
As a result of the second Safety Car period the opening round of the GT Championship finished under a caution, which in turn served to bunch up the cars, something which had a big impact on the overall result.
“With no CPS (Compulsory Pit Stop) at the event, the driver grading came into play with the end result, so the penalty that a ‘Pro’ driver would receive during a normal CPS, was added to their total race time,” Collier explained.
What that ultimately meant was the advantage that the faster teams had during the early laps had evaporated during the Safety Car period as the field bunched up, dropping the Maranello team from victory to second position in the Championship.
The big winners of the 12-Hour/AGT combination though were qualifyings big losers - Trofeo Motorsport. Heavy contact during the opening qualifying session saw the Trofeo team work tirelessly into last night, the crew getting just one hours sleep before the big race.
With just a single warm-up lap to check systems, Greg Murphy was faced with a list of unknowns heading into the first stint of the race, but the Bathurst hero delivered, and he delivered in spades, taking third points overall in AGT, after running as high as fifth outright in the 12-Hour race.
“What the team did to get the car repaired was amazing.. they worked till 3:00am this morning to do that - there was a lot of work because they wanted it to be right.
“First session we wanted to take it a bit easier obviously, but the car felt solid and smooth and there wasn’t too many issues.
“The Safety Car won that first stint, there wasn’t too much question about that. There was some crazy stuff going on - it never ceases to amaze me how some people don’t understand this is an endurance race, much less 12-Hours, and they go out to try and win it in the first half an hour..”
The other big winners of the opening round of AGT were new Audi recruits Dean Koutsoumidis and Andrew McInnes who along with Simon Middleton and reigning 12-Hour winner Darryl O’Young were well inside the top ten by the 50-minute mark, with O’Young working his way towards the front with a strong AGT finish the goal.
“There was a lot of aggressive driving, more than I expected,” O’Young admitted afterwards. “I was surprised by some of the moves in those early laps. We had a couple of different strategies to play out, but we were focusing on the Australian GT race for the first 50 minutes, and we were quite happy with that result.”
New AGT entrants M Motorsport ended up fifth on debut after experienced V8 Supercar and Carrera Cup pilot Steven Richards ran through the opening stint, carding the GB Galvanizing supported team some strong championship points, whilst in sixth, Rod Salmon had started the Skwirk.com.au with the Melbourne Performance
Australian GT Championship