2001 Holden Australian Drivers Championship
Round 5 - Calder Park,
Kelly Looking To Outdistance Rivals,
Peters Looking For First Win
Melbourne's wind-swept Calder Park hosts the fifth round of the 2001 Holden Australian Drivers' Championship this weekend, and series leader Rick Kelly will be after a pair of wins to distance himself from his nearest championship challengers, Singapore's Christian Murchison, Victoria's Peter Hill and NSW's Alan Gurr. If Kelly wins both Calder events he could wrap up the championship at the very next round in late July at Oran Park, but Murchison, Hill and Gurr will be out to upset the applecart on the relatively uninspiring Victorian circuit.
Speed at Calder is all about horsepower and straight-line aerodynamic efficiency, something Murchison feels he has lacked this year. Gurr's Graham Watson prepared machine has always been quick in a straight line as has the M ONE 11 machine of Peter Hill, who scored his first podium last time out on the streets of Canberra. Recent testing form on the 2.6 kilometre Calder circuit, held in dry and sunny conditions, saw Kelly quickest from Gurr and Murchison with 0.7s covering the trio. Hill was another 0.5s behind, but a solid day at Winton the previous day has given the team new confidence for the upcoming races.
A late development will also see a return to the category of American Emerson Newton-John. Newton-John will line up in the Graham Watson prepared Reynard 96D used by Con Toparis last time out at Canberra. The former NRC driver will be a welcome addition to the ranks, and after a strong showing at Phillip Island will be keen to impress on a circuit he has tested at on more than one occasion. Newton-John is scheduled to contest the entire remainder of the eight round championship and the likable Californian can not be discounted to figure in the title outcome.
While most of the glory, press column inches and television exposure seems to surround the youngsters at the front of the field, behind them is a very serious battle for Silver Star supremacy. The Silver Star battle, which is effectively contested by the 'privateers', sees older drivers, some in older cars, going head-to-head for a championship within a championship. In fact, such is the competitiveness of this year's battle, a number of Silver Star runners have actually scored some handy Gold Star points and a select few have shown they may well be headed for a podium spot.
Terry Clearihan came closest to claiming that feat when he finished the first race at Canberra in fourth spot outright, and his older Ralt machine (the only one of its type in the field) is a bullet in a straight line, which could help him at Calder. Clearihan currently sits second in the championship, just twelve points behind points-leader Ian Peters and has recorded five Silver Star wins, from six starts - he missed the opening round at Phillip Island. Roger Oakeshott is third just thirteen points behind Clearihan and after scoring three early season wins has recently suffered from a bout of unreliability, although this should be on the improve quite soon as the car is now being prepared by the Hocking Motorsport team.
Ahead of this pair and the man they have to catch is South Australian Ian Peters. Peters, who drives the ex Jason Bright 1997 championship winning machine, is 'Mr Consistency' and having finished runner-up last year, is keen to avenge defeat by claiming the 2001 title. Although he hasn't scored a win this year, he has six second place finishes to his credit and finished every one of the eight races contested so far. The Peters Racing outfit (Ian's wife Rebecca attends every event and is a hands-on member) are staunch supporters of the FH category and have contested all three end of year NZ trips, including one event which saw Ian finish ahead of Craig Lowndes during Ruapuna's NZGP meeting.
While the Silver Star class may be seen as the slower group of cars, these drivers could argue they experience a bigger bang for their buck than their younger adversaries can lay claim to. Most run on a shoestring budget, and Peters team is a perfectly good example of how to experience Australia's fastest racing cars at a smidgen of the costs of running at the front in FH, V8 Supercars or Nations Cup. With an annual budget of around $4,000 per meeting, his small, but enthusiastic team are always well turned out and a good result at Calder this weekend will put him one step closer to Silver Star glory. <pre> 2001 Holden Australian Drivers Championship (Top Ten):
1 Rick Kelly 145pts 2 Stewart McColl 74pts 3 Christian Murchison 72pts 4 Simon Wills 60pts 5 Peter Hill 52pts 6 Alan Gurr 46pts 7 Terry Clearihan 32pts 8 Ian Peters 29pts 9 Emerson Newton-John 25pts 10 Roger Oakeshott 25pts
2001 Formula Holden Silver Star:
1 Ian Peters 112pts 2 Terry Clearihan 100pts 3 Roger Oakeshott 87pts 4 Rohan Carrig 58pts 5 Mark Ellis 27pts.