Shell Australian Touring Car Championship Round 1 - Sandown Park, Victoria -- Overview -- It was a day of carnage at Sandown, involing a seven car pile up and numerous smaller incidents, but it was also a day of triumph for the returning 1996 Champion Craig Lowndes taking the second and third heat wins. Bowe was best palced to win, but two missed starts would consign his fate. Young drivrs Jason Bright and Steven Richards, and Paul Romano early on excelled. Bright would claim a new lap record for the Stone Brothers, his speed a consolation for 2 DNF's. A lot of teams face big headaches to get cars repaired for Symmons Plains next weekend, but perhaps the biggest headaches are at Gibson Motor Sport, whilst damage was slight, the performances of Ellery, Hossack and Pate were far from stellar with the 3 driver collecting 20 points between them compared to Lowndes individual haul of 86.
-- Qualifying --
As always for a new season qualifying produced a few surprises. John Bowe returned to a track that has been fairly kind to him and grabbed Pole Position from the two HRT drivers by .2 of a second. Mark Skaife just pipped Craig Lowndes by around 4 hundredths for 2nd grid spot. Russell Ingall claimed 4th spot signalling that Dunlop would seem to have a great tyre for the new season. Glenn Seton was fifth, followed by the two new Jasons' Bright & Bargwanna, both having well out qualified their more credentialed team mates. Dick Johnson, Paul Romano and Tony Longhurt rounded out the top ten. Romano's perfromance for a Level 2 team is particularly note worthy. Top 14 covered by a second. After top ten was Mark Larkham, Steven Richards, John Faulkner, Larry Perkins, Steve Ellery, Mark Poole (Level 2), Terry Finnigan (Level 2), Trevor Ashby (Level 2), Darren Pate (Level 2), Darren Hossack (Level 2). 21st and Privateer Cup Pole Position went to Greg Crick in the Ericsson Commodore, followed by John Briggs, in only his second run in the Falcon, Ray Hislop, rookie Paul Weel, Danny Osborne, Chris Smerdon, Mal Rose, Garry Willmington, Michael Donaher, Melinda Price in the Cougardore, and Richard Mork's ageing VP. Of particular note is the disappointing performance of the three Gibson Motor Sport Commodores, Ellery two seconds off the pace, and the Wynns cars 3 seconds away.
-- Privateers Dash -- Michael Donaher failed to front for the race, despite having qualified. Danny Osborne won the start from the front row while Paul Weel bogged down, but it was Mal Rose who lead them into the first corner. turning on to the back straight the first time the field bunched up causing Osborne, Weel and Chris Smerdon to all step out badly. At the end of the first lap John Briggs had passed Osborne for second and set off after Rose. Trevor Ashby, starting from the back gradually passed the cars one by one and eventually finished 6th. Briggs passed Rose coming down the back straight the last time. Osborne spun enterring the back straight, dropping to last. Greg Crick fought his way to third place heading home the battling Smerdon and Weel. 1st John Briggs Super Cheap Autos Ford Falcon EL 2nd Mal Rose Fairfax Community Newspapaers Holden Commodore VS 3rd Greg Crick Ericsson Trust Bank Holden Commodore VS 4th Chris Smerdon Vittorio Holden Commodore VS 5th Paul Weel Tradelink Ford Falcon EL 6th Trevor Ashby Lansvale Smash Repairs Holden Commodore VS 7th Ray Hislop Ford Falcon EF 8th Garry Willmington Simons Earthworks Holden Commodore VR 9th Melinda Price Castrol Cougars Holden Commodore VS 10th Richard Mork Holden Commodore VP 11th Danny Osborne Colourscan Ford Falcon EL
-- Race 1 -- John Bowe won the start and bounced over the first corner kerb to make sure nobody got inside of him. Skaife followed then Ingall, Lowndes, Seton, Bright, a very fast starting Richards, Johnson and Bargwanna. Faulkner had a shoking start and was near last away whilst Larkham's was merely bad. Ingall had an off at the Dandenong Road Esses. Bowe and Skaife built up an early lead. Johnson spun on lap 6. Darren Hossack was involved in a multi-car incident at the old pits. Hossack parked the car. Ingall had a coming to gether with Jason Bright, as Ingall slid down the field. Ingall was brought in for a stop-go penalty, Ingall blamed fading brakes. Coming into the last corner for the second last lap Skaife dived up a big hole on Bowe's inside and Bowe closed the door too late, and Skaife spun, afterwards Skaife, perhaps realising it was a long season, was diplomatic in his comments. Bowe cuised the last lap to win from Craig Lowndes, Glenn Seton, Steven Richards and Larry Perkins. 1st John Bowe Shell Helix Ford Falcon EL 2nd Craig Lowndes HRT Mobil Holden Commodore VS 3rd Glenn Seton Ford Credit Ford Falcon EL 4th Steven Richards Valvoline Holden Commodore VS 5th Larry Perkins Castrol Holden Commodore VS 6th Jason Bargwanna Valvoline Holden Commodore VS 7th Mark Skaife HRT Mobil Holden Commodore VS 8th Tony Longhurst Castrol Ford Falcon EL 9th Paul Romano Holden Commodore VS 10th Jason Bright Pirtek Ford Falcon EL (new lap record 1:12.7780) 11th John Faulkner Fisher & Paykel Holden Commodore VS 12th Steve Ellery Konica Young Lions Holden Commodore VS 13th Mark Poole Gawler Holden Commodore VS (first Level 2 car) 14th Russell Ingall Castrol Holden Commodore VS 15th Dick Johnson Shell Helix Ford Falcon EL 16th Mark Larkham Mitre 10 Ford Falcon EL 17th Crick (first Privateer Cup entry) 18th Darren Pate Wynns Holden Commodore VS 19th Ashby 20th Weel 21st Hislop 22nd Smerdon 23rd Terry Finnigan Sony Autosound Holden Commodore VS 24th Rose 25th Briggs 26th Osborne 27th Price 28th Willmington
-- Race 2 -- Lowndes won the start, and Faulkner made a brilliant start, and was starting to thread through Jason Bargwanna and Mark Skaife when Faulkner was squeezed, then spun around Bargwanna's noseand into Steve Ellery. Jason Bright went in hard on the inside, as did Greg Crick, whilst Garry Willmington and Danny Osborne tangled on the outside. Willmington's Commodore was pushed against a section of armco which broke up and collected a Herald Sun photographer, breaking his leg. The race was red flagged and Faulkner, Crick, Bargwanna, Bright, Willmington, Ellery and Ray Hislop would not restart whilst the damaged cars of Dick Johnson and Danny Osborne made the restart. Lowndes won the start again, from Seton, Bowe, Richards, Skaife, Ingall & Perkins. Near the end of the first lap Paul Romano got out of shape at the Dandenong Esse, causing him to be tapped by Dick Johnson. Romano then rotated into the path of Tony Longhurst, putting both out on the spot and Romano for the day. Bowe soon passed Seton and started hunting down Lowndes, ultimately it would be a fruitless chase, Lowndes always just out of reach of the Tasmanian. On lap 3 Steven Richards spun out of an excellent 4th place, tapped ever so slightly by Mark Skaife after Richards barely recovered from going in to deep at the end of the Esses. Seton settled in for third, and was chased home by the Castrol Commodore duo, Ingall leading, with a big gap back to Skaife and Mark Larkham. 1st Lowndes 2nd Bowe 3rd Seton 4th Ingall 5th Perkins 6th Skaife 7th Larkham 8th Poole (first Level 2 car) 9th Johnson 10th Ashby (first Privateer Cup entry) 11th Richards 12th Hossack 13th Smerdon 14th Finnigan 15th Briggs 16th Rose 17th Osborne 18th Price 19th Mork
-- Race 3 -- Of the seven pile up retirements, only Jason Bright, Ray Hislop and Steve Ellery made the third race. Lowndes won the start again, whilst Bowe bogged down even worse and was swamped. Ingall forced his way to second followed by Seton, then Bowe, Perkins, Johnson, Larkham, Richards, Skaife, Longhurst, Poole & Smerdon. Ashby received a stop-go penalty for jumping the start. Bright, starting from the back, lost his nose in a early race incident. Bowe was never able to make up for his poor start and was trapped behind Seton in fourth all race. Lowndes motored comfortably away to win in the end chased by Ingall, Seton and Bowe. Johnson was shown the bad sportsmanship flag, but no penalty was applied, Johnson chsing Perkins most of the race. Skaife and Larkham again fought for postion, this time the Ford driver getting the better of Skaife. 1st Lowndes 2nd Ingall 3rd Seton 4th Bowe 5th Perkins 6th Johnson 7th Larkham 8th Skaife 9th Richards 10th Longhurst 11th Ellery 12th Finnigan (first Level 2 car) 13th Smerdon (first Privateer Cup entry) 14th Briggs 15th Ashby 16th Rose 17th Hislop 18th Price 19th Mork
-- Points Score -- Shell Australian Touring Car Championship 1 Lowndes 86, 2 Bowe 78, 3 Seton 72, 4 Perkins 60, 5 Ingall 50, 6 Skaife 48, 7 Richards 42, 8 Larkham 32, 9 Johnson 31, 10 Longhurst 24, 11 Bargwanna & Poole 18, 13 Ellery 14, 14 Romano 12, 15 Ashby 11, 16 Bright 10, 17 Smerdon, Finnigan & Faulkner 8, 20 Hossack 6, 21 Briggs 3
Privateers Cup 1 Ashby 80, 2 Smerdon 76, 3 Briggs 66, 4 Rose 62, 5 Price 48, 6 Hislop 42, 7 Osborne 34, 8 Mork 32, 9 Crick 30, 10 Weel 24, 11 Willmington 10
yours Mark Jones Australian Motorpsort Internet Bulletin www.ecn.net.au/~amib/home.htm