GT: Clipsal: Round one preview

New drivers, new cars and new teams among a bumper field of more than 35 entries promise a hotly-contested start to the 2004 Australian GT Performance Championship for touring cars in Adelaide next weekend. The starting grid for three races in...

New drivers, new cars and new teams among a bumper field of more than 35 entries promise a hotly-contested start to the 2004 Australian GT Performance Championship for touring cars in Adelaide next weekend.

The starting grid for three races in round one will showcase the most diverse line-up in a major Australian series, representing Mitsubishi, Subaru, BMW, Holden Special Vehicles, Alfa Romeo, Ford, Volkswagen, Nissan and Mazda

A feature of the new season will be the appearance of more two-car teams, including manufacturers, as a result of moves by series organiser PROCAR Australia to encourage a greater number of professional outfits in GTP.

While the first races of the season are an open book, plenty of expectations ride with the most significant new model in the field, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8.

Eight of the turbocharged, all-wheel drive sedans have been entered for leading drivers including 2003 champion Mark King, plus Garry Holt, Bob Hughes, Gary Young, Barry Morcom and Bob Pearson.

Although the Mitsubishis are new, several teams have done plenty of pre-season testing and are expected to be competitive from the first practice session on Thursday.

King, who will have the backing of Mitsubishi's Ralliart division in the Japanese maker's first official venture into GTP racing, expects the Evo 8 will not necessarily be faster than its predecessor, although better in several ways.

"It won't be any quicker, but it's a new car and we've been able to build in some of the ideas we developed for our old Evo 7," King said.

The competition will be very tight at the pointy end. Holt has picked up a lot in the past year and anything from Chris and Nick Kousparis (builders of the Morcom and Ross Almond cars) will be good too."

Arch-rival Subaru's hopes rest heavily on the Sydney-based ProTecnica team of 2003 runner-up Wayne Boatwright and Justin Hemmes.

The Subaru Impreza Stis may have a small power advantage, but the Mitsubishis will corner faster, while Ric Shaw's Mazda RX-7 and the new Kawasaki HSV team of Peter Floyd and Warren Millett also will be strong contenders, Boatwright predicts.

"The Adelaide street circuit has something for every type of car. I think we'll have our work cut against the Mitsubishis, but if we can get up there I have high hopes for my teammate Justin," Boatwright said.

"He fought back from a big crash in Adelaide last year and eventually won races in only his first season of competition. He's fast and has learned a lot and has the potential to win the championship if our cars are competitive."

Apart from the Mitsubishis, other new cars and drivers include Queenslander Gary Jackson, joining a BMW M3 team with Gold Coast-based regular Beric Lynton, and Sydney Italian car identity Hugh Harrison, who will drive what is said to be the world's first Alfa Romeo 147 GTA hot-hatch in competition.

Nations Cup champion Paul Stokell will swap his Lamborghini to drive an all-wheel drive Golf hatchback for the factory-backed Volkswagen team and South Australians Steve Cramp and Charlie Kovacs will race 400 horsepower HSV GTS sedans.

As well as new drivers, cars and teams, results from round one also will be affected by new race-by-race weight handicaps. The first, second and third cars will attract non-cumulative handicaps for the following race representing four percent, three percent and two percent respectively of their overall vehicle weights.

Television coverage of the eight-round championship will be shown on the national Nine Network and on Fox Sports.

-procar.au-

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Series Supercars
Drivers Peter Floyd , Ric Shaw , Paul Stokell , Beric Lynton , Steve Cramp , Mark King , Wayne Boatwright , Charlie Kovacs , Hugh Harrison , Garry Holt , Gary Young , Barry Morcom , Bob Pearson
Teams Nissan Motorsports