A spectacular battle between the exotic "big bangers" of GT sports car racing is in store at Victoria's Winton circuit this weekend as drivers Paul Stokell and John Bowe resume a close race for the Donut King Australian Nations Cup Championship.
Bowe has parked his regular Ferrari in favor of a thundering 8.0 litre Chrysler Viper, in which he hopes to overcome a 16-point lead in the Meguiar's Drivers Championship standings held by Stokell in his 6.0 litre Lamborghini Diablo GTR.
And matching every move of the title rivals will be Garry Rogers Motorsport drivers Peter Brock and Nathan Pretty, both armed with 7.0 litre Holden Monaro coupes.
The three 20-lap races scheduled for round seven on Sunday will be some of the toughest of the PROCAR Champ Series weekend.
The program will feature a total of 18 races across Saturday and Sunday, with more than 160 cars contesting rounds of seven national motor racing championships.
Practice sessions tomorrow will be watched by hundreds of student from primary schools in the district, who will be briefed by drivers on the sport of motor racing and career opportunities.
On Sunday, other attractions for fans will include five performances on track by the Donut King Stunt Show, two free autograph sessions with drivers and a ute muster with several hundred utes expected to vie for trophies in seven display categories.
Bowe's change of mount has dramatically shifted the odds in the eight-round Nations Cup series and he is doubtful about his chances after testing the Viper -- borrowed from fellow Tasmanian-born racer Greg Crick -- at Melbourne's Calder Park circuit today.
"I don't think for a minute the Viper can beat the Lamborghini, but if Paul has a problem I want to be ready to pounce," Bowe said.
"Winton is a great little track, but if I had to pick one track for the Viper it wouldn't be there. The Ferrari would have been quicker, no doubt.
"It's very sporting of Greg Crick to lend us his car (Bowe's Ferrari has been sold). I'll have no trouble adapting to it and while I mightn't beat the Lambo I reckon it will be on a par with the Monaros."
Stokell, who won the round last year after the Viper set pole in the hands of former owner Geoff Morgan, believes he'll be the one under pressure.
"We've got a really big challenge. The Viper in the right hands has always been the car to beat and I'm sure Bowe will get to grips with it," Stokell said.
The pair has dominated the season -- Stokell with nine wins and Bowe with six -- but this could be the round that puts Brock or Pretty in the winner's circle.
Brock is yet to win, but Pretty has claimed three victories and says his Bathurst 24-Hour-winning Monaro is much improved since the previous round at Phillip Island.
"We've made some drastic changes to the handling of the Monaro and it's in the right direction," said Pretty, who lives not far up the Hume Highway, in Albury-Wodonga.
"Winton's my local hunting ground. I'm really looking forward to the weekend."
Stokell also will race a works-backed Volkswagen Golf in round seven of the Australian GT Performance Championship (presented by Lukey Mufflers), where a similar showdown is looming between Mark King in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII and Wayne Boatwright in a Subaru Impreza STi.
The points gap between leader King and Boatwright is only 21 and they are now the only drivers with a chance to walk away with the championship trophy in the final round at the Gold Coast Indy meeting next month.
"Winton will be all about qualifying. The big danger in not qualifying well is you have every chance of getting taken out if you're down in the pack at the start," Boatwright said.
"Any one of 10 guys could be on the front row, but I'll just be thinking about Mark and no-one else.
"There's only 21 points between us and that's nothing with six races to go. Of course I can win the championship!"
Round seven will be the last for the 2003 Australian Production Car Championship and Holden Commodore driver Scott Loadsman, from Sydney, will start the weekend already as the outright and Class A champion, having clinched the titles in round six.
However, the two Production races on Sunday will see an intense for the runner-up spot with three drivers, Steven Grocl (Volkswagen Beetle), David Ratcliff (Toyota Celica) and David Russell (Proton Satria) separated by just seven points.
Grocl and Ratcliff also will fight out the Class B title, but Russell already has won Class D.
At least five drivers still are mathematically in contention for the Poolrite V8 BRutes Series, although on form the defending champion and current pointscore leader Warren Luff should the driver to beat.
Luff, who drives a Ford Falcon XR8 ute, has scored 293 points from six rounds, but Holden drivers Gary MacDonald, James Brock, Gary Baxter and Charlie Kovacs all are in striking distance.
The trackside ute muster on Sunday is expected to draw plenty of participants from far-flung country areas of Victoria and southern New South Wales, but none is likely to have travelled as far as the Brute Strength racing team.
Five crew members have driven their two Holden SS racing utes from their Gold Coast base over the past two days, a 1500 kilometre road test of their reliability for just 72 kms of racing on Sunday in the hands of regular Gavin Harvey and rookie Matt O'Grady.
Races for the Australian Formula 3 Championship, Australian Porsche Drivers Challenge and Falken Tyres Mirage Cup complete the PROCAR Champ Series program at Winton.
More information about the PROCAR Champ Series meeting, including entry lists, race times and championship standings, is available on www.procar.com.au <http://www.procar.com.au/> .
SPEED READ -- PROCAR Champ Series (Round 7)
* Timetable. Track action starts daily at 9.00 am.Friday -- practice all categories, plus schools visit. Saturday -- practice all categories plus two races for Porsches, one race for Mirages. Sunday --15 races for all categories except Porsches, plus ute muster judging at 2pm, free autograph sessions with drivers at 12.10 pm and 1.00 pm, Donut King Stunt Show at 10.25 am, 12.00 midday, 12.30 pm, 2.15 pm and 4.05 pm.
* Ticket prices. Friday -- free. Saturday - Adults$15, children $10. Sunday -- Adults $30, children $10. Weekend -- Adults $40.