2001 Holden Australian Drivers Championship Season Preview The field for the 2001 Holden Australian Drivers' Championship has taken on an entirely new appearance. Gone are most of the established runners and in comes a host of young prospects...
2001 Holden Australian Drivers Championship Season Preview
The field for the 2001 Holden Australian Drivers' Championship has taken on an entirely new appearance. Gone are most of the established runners and in comes a host of young prospects hoping to claim the coveted CAMS Gold Star. There has been so much change during what has been one of the silliest 'silly seasons' on record that this weekend's Phillip Island opening round is a hard one to predict.
Making it even harder to forecast a potential champion is the fact that a number of last year's stars are looking to make selected appearances throughout the year, which could impact greatly on the championship aspirations of those competitors looking to contest the entire eight round, sixteen race program.
One thing that is confirmed is the arrival of a hot new property in Rick Kelly. Eighteen-year-old Kelly, from Mildura, was the runner-up in last year's FF championship by a solitary point and has joined forces with the might of multiple championship winners Birrana Racing. Driving the ex-Simon Wills championship winning machine, in Holden Young Lions colours, Kelly will enter the championship as the man to beat and it would seem his closest full-season adversaries appear to be NRC Racing's Emerson Newton-John and Stewart McColl, Ralt Australia's Alan Gurr and Hocking Motorsport's Chris Staff.
Wills heads up a large list of drivers progressing through the category and is currently contesting the Konica V8 Supercar Championship, with an opening round win to his credit already. Joining him in the tin-tops are Dale Brede and Paul Dumbrell who are also contesting the burgeoning Konica Series. Kiwi's Andy Booth and Matty Halliday have headed to the US to Indy Lights as has Steve Owen, while LeRoy Stevenson is staying at home in New Zealand.
In addition to a number of new faces in this year's championship, Australia's fastest racing cars will also have a new tyre to contend with and a new venue to compete at. Yokohama have replaced Dunlop as the control tyre for this year and is already more than a match for its predecessor, while Darwin's Hidden Valley circuit will host the third round of the title fight in May.
Here is look at some of this year's more fancied rivals.
Rick Kelly made a brilliant debut in NZ last year scoring a podium spot first time out. He is armed with the right equipment, the right attitude and definitely worth watching. Can Birrana make it their seventh Australian Drivers' Championship? Emerson Newton-John joins reigning NZGP winners NRC Racing and could be the series 'dark-horse'. California based 'Emmo' showed good speed in NZ, races hard and can draw on extensive international experience. He will drive the machine Andy Booth used so successfully in the NZGP series and recorded competitive times in Island testing recently. Stewart McColl will also be making his FH debut alongside Newton-John in the second NRC 95D. McColl took four victories during 2000 in Formula Ford and will complete an all rookie line up for NRC this year.
Ralt Australia's Allan Gurr is another debutante and has racked up over 800 kilometres of testing over the summer. He has impressed team boss Graham Watson with his speed and application, and despite having a steep learning curve ahead wants to pursue a career in open wheelers. Making the graduation to Australia's premier open wheel category after two F3 titles, is Melbourne's Paul Stephenson. Stephenson has driven in FH before and if his small team can get the ex-Damien Digby car sorted he should be on the pace.
Peter Hill finished last season giving the youngsters at the front a fright and will be out for his first podium spot this year. Another to test successfully at PI last week and with Greg Murphy helping to sort the car he could score an upset. A strong engineering team and glorious car preparation should help the reigning Silver Star champion in what is only his second full season of open competition.
Chris Staff raved about the Hocking Motorsport 98D after a recent test session at PI and is a driver who excels on street tracks and in difficult conditions. He won at Canberra last year and could be just what Hocking's enthusiastic team needs. Outside of this group are a bunch of interlopers hoping to claim a periodic scalp or two with Wills, Paul Dumbrell, Tim Leahey and Brenton Ramsay all looking to contest selected rounds. Wills' record speaks for itself, Leahey's also and Dumbrell will throw a cat among the pigeons if he returns. NZ FF champion, 16-year-old James Cressey, is also looking at joining the category mid-season in one of Graham Watson's machines.
As always, the hotly contested Silver Star battle will also form an important part of the championship. With last year's winner Peter Hill hoping to score regular Gold Star scalps, he has left the way open for Doctor Roger Oakeshott, Ian Peters, Mark Ellis and Rohan Carrig to kick-off a four-way fight at this week's Phillip Island opener.