From Falcons to Ferraris, Lambo, Porsche, Viper, stars in line for Sunday'S Sandown 500.
TOURING car teammates John Bowe and Brad Jones will swap their Falcons for Ferraris in a bid to win the 35th Sandown 500 next weekend, but instead of the usual Holden V8s they will find the cream of the world's sports cars racing them to the podium.
Lamborghini, Porsche, Viper, Ferrari and Honda, in the hands of some of Australia's best drivers, are on the final entry list for the 161-lap classic at Sandown International Motor Raceway in suburban Melbourne.
Close behind the Nations Cup exotics and with a strong chance of top five finishes will be popular performance and family cars from the GT Performance and GT Production series, completing the most diverse field in Australian endurance racing.
The race, starting at 12 midday on Sunday and televised live on the SBS network, is one of Australia's oldest and most prestigious events for showroom-based production cars.
It most prolific winner has been Peter Brock, who like many other drivers traditionally used it as a shakedown for Bathurst.
This year it will resume that role, with teams getting the feel of a long-distance race before the inaugural Bathurst 24-Hours on 16-17 November. Officials will be observing the drivers with a view to awarding the international competition licences required for Bathurst.
Bowe won Sandown in 1994, 1995 and 2001, but he will have to fight hard if he wants his name on the trophy a fourth time.
"This is going to be a heck of a race. The quality of the field is unbelieveable and it will be an enduro driven at sprint pace," said Bowe, who will share a new $750,000 Ferrari 360GT coupe with Steve Beards.
"Our new car has been quick in testing, but I can't say with any confidence that we can beat Jimmy Richards or Peter Fitzgerald in Porsches, or Paul Stokell in a Lamborghini, D'arcy Russell in an eight-litre Viper or my Ferrari teammates Brad Jones and Paul Morris.
"And if any of us should falter on the track or in a pit stop, there will be some very well driven GT Performance sedans waiting to pounce."
Plenty among the leading contenders have unfinished business at Sandown., which will add to their determination next weekend.
Stokell's Lamborghini retired with suspension failure while leading last year's race with co-driver Steve Johnson at the wheel. Richards and Tony Quinn, together again this year in a Porsche GT3 Cup, were forced out by a broken gearshift.
Peter Fitzgerald had transmission problems with his Porsche, although he managed to finish, as did Russell and Darren Palmer after the Viper broke a driveshaft.
GT Performance cars in strong contention are expected to include Holden's fastest model, the Commodore GTS, to be driven by Peter Floyd/Rod Wilson, Mark Cohen/Phil Polites and Barrie Nesbitt/Mal Rose/David Lawson.
Trevor Haines, Bob Hughes and Ed Aitken will be aboard Ford's V8-engined equivalent, the Falcon Tickford TE50, which promises to show well on Sandown's two long straights.
The small all-wheel drive cars also should perform strongly, with Mitsubishi's latest Evo VII rally rocket in the hands of Geoff Full and Mark King and Subaru's Impreza STi driven by Brett Peters, Grant Denyer and Gary Deane.
Pit stops will play an important role in the Sandown 500. Most cars are expected to pit at least three times for fuel, but crews are relatively inexperienced in the strategy or conduct of pit stops,as they race all year in sprint events.
The Sandown 500 field will take to the 3.1 km circuit for the first time in practice on Friday, with qualifying on Saturday including the Top Gun Challenge run-off for pole position.
As well as the 500 kilometre race, the Sandown weekend will include national championship rounds for GT Production Cars, Formula 3, Mitsubishi Mirage and V8 Future Tourers, with six races on Saturday afternoon and three on Sunday.
The Great Aussie Ute Race will be run over two heats and a final on Sunday morning, with V8 Ford and Holden utes driven by two-driver teams including Alan Jones/Alan Grice, Daryl Beattie/JackElsegood, Brad Jones/Grant Denyer and James Brock/Gavin Harvey.
The utes will open the six-hour live telecast at 10 am, with an RAAF Roulette aerial display at 11.40 am before the Sandown 500 start at 12 midday.