Bumper season ahead for PROCAR Production Touring Cars in 2004
(Thursday) 1 January, 2004 - Production touring car racing, featuring vehicles popularly in use on Australian roads, will feature bigger fields and unparalled variety of makes and models in the Australian GT Performance Championship and Australian Production Car Championship this year.
The 2004 championships, which will feature at PROCAR Champ Series events, are expected to attract up to 60 cars, plus brands from Mitsubishi to Mini Cooper.
The eight-round PROCAR Champ Series will open at the Clipsal 500 meeting in Adelaide on 18-21 March.
The one-class GT Performance (GTP) series will see many current competitors upgrading to new cars, plus some new teams, in races contested by at least nine different makes and 14 different models.
With Mitsubishi's Australian headquarters in Adelaide, the parklands street circuit will be a fitting venue for the debut of at least four examples of the company's latest rally-bred weapon, the Lancer Evolution VIII.
The GTP ranks also are due to attract at least two more examples of the BMW M3 coupe, which showed much-improved form in 2003.
Sydney-based Protecnica Racing will continue the attack for Subaru, with championship runner-up Wayne Boatwright expected to team again with Justin Hemmes to pilot the new-shape MY04 Impreza STi.
BMW stalwart Wayne Russell will enter two M Coupes, following his team's class success at the Bathurst 24-Hour. The team is still negotiating with drivers.
GTA Racing will debut two new Alfa Romeo 147 GTA hatchbacks. The team has the support of an Alfa dealership and has engaged drivers Scott Farquharson and Hugh Harrison.
After leading the Bathurst 2-Hour Showroom Showdown in the early stages, Sydney's Ric Shaw will return from the Konica V8 series to campaign his Mazda RX7 Series 8 in the full championship.
Also expected in the GTP field are up to three examples of the BA series Ford Falcon GT, including at least one for Trevor Haines' team and a new car for James Philip, from Melbourne.
PROCAR has planned changes to encourage diversity among cars competing in the Australian GT Performance Championship.
A license or franchise system will admit a maximum of six cars per make for the full championship, with any additional examples eligible to enter round-by-round if grid capacity allows.
The four-class Australian Production Car Championship also will experience a significant boost this year, with 11 marques and 18 different car models likely to compete.
Defending Australian Production Car Champion Scott Loadsman will campaign his winning Holden Commodore VY SS again.
He will have some tougher competition in Class A with the probable introduction of a BA Ford Falcon XR8, more Falcon XR6 Turbos and another 5.7 litre Commodore SS.
Class B will be under attack by the young guns in a two-car, factory-assisted team of Mini Cooper JCWs.
Entrant Wayne Russell has contracted 17-year-old Chris Alagajian and ex-Mirage Cup driver Richard Gartner to drive the Minis and believes they have what it takes to be successful.
"By bringing the young kids through we hope to foster young talent and create a breeding ground for the young drivers to develop their talent and driving skills," Russell said.
Class B also will see the return of one of its most successful and experienced teams, the two-car Toyota Celica outfit of Colin Osborne.
Osborne won the 2002 series outright and last November took an outstanding class 1-2 in the Bathurst 24-Hour.
Class C, home to Falcons, Commodores, Toyota Camrys and Mitsubishi Magnas, is expected to return to strength with regular entries this season.
The highly-competitive Class D will see the return of regular faces, including defending champion David Russell (Proton) and 2002 champion Martin Doxey (Holden Astra).
Benalla-based Doxey will prepare three cars with some factory assistance - two Astras and a Holden Vectra to be driven by himself, Dave Mertens and Mertens' son Lee.
"It's going to be a tough year. Proton will have a two-car team and will really be someone to battle with," Doxey said.
"We need to step up a level to compete with them and that's what we are aiming to do by running three cars."
Proton's two works cars will be back again stronger in 2004, but they will have competition as both Toyota and Daihatsu step into the game.
The PROCAR Champ Series will incorporate not only GTP and Production Cars, but also the Nations Cup, V8 BRutes and Formula 3 championships and the new Future Racers category aimed at motorsport beginners.