ASTC: Oran Park Preview

BOC GASES AUSTRALIAN SUPER TOURING CHAMPIONSHIP - ROUND 2 PREVIEW: Oran Park, Sydney, Sunday, May 2 WATTS AIMS FOR ANOTHER SUPER TOURING WIN British speedster keen to keep Peugeot ahead of Australian rivals MONDAY, APRIL 26: British...

BOC GASES AUSTRALIAN SUPER TOURING CHAMPIONSHIP - ROUND 2 PREVIEW: Oran Park, Sydney, Sunday, May 2

WATTS AIMS FOR ANOTHER SUPER TOURING WIN

British speedster keen to keep Peugeot ahead of Australian rivals

MONDAY, APRIL 26: British driver Patrick Watts is confident he can repeat his stunning debut win in the BOC Gases Australian Super Touring Championship when the series resumes at Oran Park in Sydney this Sunday (May 2).

Watts has no previous experience on the 1.9km Oran Park South Circuit layout, but he mastered the same situation in round one at Lakeside on April 18 and drove a Starion Team Peugeot 406 to victory in the second of the two races. The 42-year-old from Kent said he and Starion Team Peugeot manager Paul Grimm would adopt the same tactics at Oran Park which proved successful at Lakeside.

"We'll have three days of practice to dial myself and the car into the circuit and then go for the win on race day," said Watts. "It's not easy, because the Australians have been driving on these tracks for years, but it worked for us at Lakeside and I can't see why we can't do it again (at Oran Park)."

Watts heaped praise on the car preparation by Grimm's small, but skilled Independents Cup team, at Lakeside where he also starred in qualifying, winning pole position for race one and earning the right to start second on the grid for race two. The team's only blemish at Lakeside was in the opening race when Watts was forced to withdraw moments before the start because a fuel injector clip broke.

"Paul (Grimm) and his team are doing an fantastic job," said Watts. "This car has come from Britain where it was raced on different types of tracks, in different conditions, and on different tyres. Despite that I don't think we've lost anything in comparison to the works Audis and Volvos."

Watts is fourth in the championship with 16 points, behind the NEMO Racing BMW 320 of Queenslander Paul Morris, who leads on 27, works Volvo spearhead Jim Richards on 24, and 1999 title-holder Brad Jones on 18 in an Audi Sport Australia A4.

JONES AIMS TO EXTEND ORAN PARK WINNING STREAK

Reigning Super Touring champion Brad Jones is entitled to favouritism at Oran Park based on past results. The 39-year-old Audi Sport Australia driver from Albury has won the past four championship races on Oran Park's 1.9km South Circuit, and holds the race lap record with 42.80-secs. Jones' past victories on the venue's South Circuit were in both races of the final round of the 1996 championship, and both races in round two in the 1998 series. Significantly he won the title both years (1996, 1998).

"We've had a lot of success there (Oran Park's South Circuit), but I was driving the (Audi A4) quattro when I won those races. It's different this year in the front-wheel-drive car. The important thing for a fast lap time is getting a good run onto the main straight. There are several low to medium-speed third-gear corners and you need the car balanced so it can change direction quickly. It's not an easy place to pass so you need to qualify up the front and win the run to the first corner."

Jones' new team-mate, 25-year-old Victorian Matthew Coleman, said he was keen to consolidate fifth position in the championship at Oran Park. Coleman made an impressive championship debut at Lakeside, finishing fourth in race one and fifth in the second event.

"Lakeside was a good start - my aim was to finish both races, and stay out of trouble and I was happy to do that," said Coleman. "Oran Park gives me the chance to keep learning how to get the most out of the car under race conditions."

RICHARDS EXPECTS FURTHER IMPROVEMENT FROM NEW VOLVO S40

Six-times Bathurst 1000 champion Jim Richards expects further improvement from his 1998-specification works Volvo S40 at Oran Park after an encouraging debut at Lakeside. The British-built S40 arrived in Australia a week before the Lakeside meeting began, which prevented testing and restricted preparation on the car. Despite the late arrival of the car Richards qualified on pole position for race two at Lakeside, and secured second and third placings in the two events.

"Lakeside was valuable because it gave us the chance to work on setting the car up to suit the new Yokohama control tyres," said Richards. "We made many changes to the car over the weekend and tried things we've never done before. Oran Park should be better because we now know more about the tyres and how they perform under race conditions. The new car feels slightly nicer to drive than the (Volvo) S40 I raced in last year's championship - it seems more stable. There's not a lot of difference in horsepower."

MORRIS & CHAMPIONSHIP-LEADING TEAM PRACTICE PIT-STOPS

Championship leader Paul Morris and his newly-formed NEMO Racing BMW team have been busy in the past week practising pit-stops in preparation for Oran Park. The second race at Oran Park will feature a compulsory pit-stop for all cars requiring two wheels to be changed. The compulsory pit-stops were introduced to the championship in 1998, but were not used in this year's opening round at Lakeside because the design of the pit lane at was deemed unsuitable. This year only four personnel are allowed to participate in the pit-stops, compared to six in 1998. Audi Sport Australia was consistently the quickest team with pit-stops in 1998, often changing two wheels in less than 9-secs.

"We're a new team so it's important to practice these pit-stops before going to Oran Park," said Morris. "I'm confident we'll be able to do the stops in about 11-seconds, which is a little slower than the Audis last year, but there now are two less people involved so no one will be as quick as before."

The 31-year-old Gold Coast driver said his team partner and co-owner, Tim Neff, would not be at Oran Park. The American-based Australian, who engineered the car at Lakeside, is assisting teams involved in qualifying for this month's Indianapolis 500 in the United States. Morris said that in Neff's absence Greg Wooster would assume top responsibility for the performance of the ex-works BMW 320.

SUPER TOURING BRIEFS

Sydney-based New Zealander TONY NEWMAN will race at Oran Park after being forced to withdraw from Lakeside after practice when an oil pump drive belt broke on his TC Motorsport Peugeot 406. Newman opted not to race rather than risk engine damage. Team Manager Garry Mennell said the engine had been repaired and said Newman would test the car in practice at Oran Park this Thursday. NSW driver AARON McGILL is determined to perform strongly at Oran Park after mechanical problems prevented him racing at Lakeside. McGill travelled to Lakeside, but his Ford Mondeo was kept off the track by gear, clutch, and engine problems. His Penrith-based team has since repaired the car and it will be given a thorough systems check in practice at Oran Park on Thursday. McGill is being sponsored by Dux Hot Water, Omega, Rack Technologies, and OSI.

Independents Cup leader PETER HILLS said the Team Mondeo Ford which was to have been raced by team-mate DEAN CANTO at Lakeside would be repaired in time for the Sydney teenager to drive at Oran Park. Canto, 18, was unable to make his championship race debut at Lakeside because of engine damage to the Mondeo in qualifying.

The TOCA Australia website (www.toca.com.au) had 107,502 hits during the week of the Lakeside round of the championship.

ORAN PARK SOUTH CIRCUIT - SUPER TOURING FAST FACTS

CIRCUIT LENGTH : 1.9km

RACE LAP RECORD : 42.80-secs, Brad Jones (NSW) Audi A4, 26.4.98

1998 POLE POSITIONS : Race 1: 42.67-secs, Brad Jones (NSW) Audi A4 Race 2: 42.68-secs, Brad Jones (NSW) Audi A4

1998 RACE WINNERS        :        Race 1:  Brad Jones (NSW) Audi A4
                                :        Race 2:  Brad Jones (NSW) Audi A4

ORAN PARK - SUPER TOURING SCHEDULE

Friday, April 30 : Practice - 10am-10.30am, 12.05pm-12.35pm, 2.10pm-2.40pm

Saturday, May 1 : Qualifying 1, 11.15-11.45am; Qualifying 2, 2.25-2.45pm

Sunday, May 2 : Race 1 (21 laps) starts 12.45pm; Race 2 (24 laps) starts 3.05pm

DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS (after Round 1): Morris 27, Richards 23, Jones 18, Watts 16, Coleman 14, Hills 11, Williamson 8, Wall 8, Auger 4, Henderson 3, L. Searle 1, Robson 1

MANUFACTURERS CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS (after Round 1): Volvo 30, Audi 24

TEAMS CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS (after Round 1): Audi Sport Australia 42, Volvo Racing 41, Team Mondeo 16, Project Racing 16

INDEPENDENTS CUP CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS (after Round 1): Hills 27, Wall 22, Watts 17, Auger 16, L. Searle 11, Robson 11, Henderson 10, Leslight 6, Rea 6, Cornish 4

PHOTOGRAPHY: New high resolution action and headshot photographic images of most drivers in the 1999 BOC Gases Australian Super Touring Championship are now on the TOCA Australia website: www.toca.com.au

Mike Porter mikep@qldnet.com.au

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Series General
Drivers Jim Richards , Brad Jones , Paul Morris , Patrick Watts
Teams Williams