AUS: Albert Park season opener preview

Albert Park the launch site for Australian Carrera Cup season. We have what it takes to win in 2004! That is the message from a host of teams and drivers preparing for the Australian Carrera Cup as the clock ticks down to the first event on the...

Albert Park the launch site for Australian Carrera Cup season.

We have what it takes to win in 2004! That is the message from a host of teams and drivers preparing for the Australian Carrera Cup as the clock ticks down to the first event on the 2004 calendar -- the Foster's Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne from March 4 to 7.

The Carrera Cup at the Grand Prix will be a 'Special Event' or non-championship round of the Australian series this year, and will provide an insightful preview into who will be 'on the pace' in the Porsche series leading into its second year in Australia.

Reigning champion and series patron Jim Richards (OAMPS Insurance Brokers) won six of the nine rounds of the Carrera Cup last year, but has a bevy of drivers set to throw down an exciting challenge in 2004. This challenge will be showcased at Albert Park in just over two weeks time for the season preview event.

Leading the chase at Albert Park will be the one man that Richards did not beat last year -- Alex Davison (Team Braun) from the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn and the close runner-up to Richards in this year's Trans Tasman GT3 Cup Matthew Halliday (International Motorsport NZ) from Auckland.

Last year's Michelin Rookie of the Year and series runner-up Marcus Marshall from the Gold Coast who has secured a 'one-off' drive with TEKNO Autosports before embarking on an international campaign in 2004, and inaugural series third placegetter Peter Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald Racing) from Warrandyte in Victoria will add even more interest in the battle for the four race wins at Albert Park.

Add to the equation experienced Gold Coaster Charlie O'Brien, fresh from a promising Trans Tasman GT3 campaign, and youngsters Fabian Coulthard (Team Braun), Jonathon Webb (TEKNO Autosports) and Klark Quinn (Team VIP Petfoods), and there is a top-end field choc-full of talent pushing for chequered flag honours.

Carrera Cup Australia CEO Jamey Blaikie said a full field of 30 cars will contest the Carrera Cup at Albert Park with more than 10 of the new model 2004 Porsche GT3 Cup cars to line up.

"The Foster's Australian Grand Prix will be an exciting preview for what lies ahead for the Australian Carrera Cup in 2004," said Blaikie.

"We will have even more cars on the grid at Albert Park than last year showcasing how popular and successful this one-make series has become.

"And just as important, we believe there will be many more cars vying for championship honours in 2004, so Jim will have to be at the top of his game to retain his title."

Richards has one of the most enviable records in Australian motorsport history, and has sharpened up for the Australian Carrera Cup with an early season Trans Tasman GT3 triumph.

After wrapping up last year's Australian Carrera Cup, Richards campaigned his new 2004 GT3 911 in the six-round Trans Tasman series in New Zealand, just holding on for the title after a close duel with Kiwi talent Matthew Halliday.

"It is shaping up to be a close series in 2004 as you will see at Albert Park," said Richards.

"At the Grand Prix, there is up to potentially six or seven drivers who have the talent to take race wins. There is an exciting contingent of young drivers, who now have more experience under their belts, that will be tough along with some of the more experienced campaigners.

"Close racing will be the order of the day which augurs well for a great Carrera Cup season."

One man who had it over Richards in 2003 was Aussie international Alex Davison who won all of his six Australian Carrera Cup race drives -- three at the 'non championship' Australian Grand Prix round and three at the final round at the VIP Petfoods Main Event at Eastern Creek in Sydney.

Davison finished fifth in the highly-competitive German Carrera Cup last year and is soon to announce plans for his 2004 campaign.

"Going into Albert Park, I'm actually feeling more confident than this time last year. I had to re-learn the track last year, and felt I was a step behind some other guys," said Davison.

"But saying that, the Australian Carrera Cup is getting harder and harder. I'm expecting all four races to be tough at the Grand Prix -- there's plenty of good guys out there."

Out of the 30 drivers in the Carrera Cup at Albert Park, there will be eight newcomers to the Australian series including Halliday, Coulthard, multiple Australian Go Karting champion Troy Hunt (MOG Sport), former Australian Formula 3 frontrunner James Cressey (Team VIP Petfoods), former Porsche Cup champion Peter Bradbury (MPS Group Racing Team), Ash Samadi (Globe Racing), experienced Kiwi Ross Rutherford (International Motorsport NZ), and Irishman Hector Lester (Rodney Jane Racing).

Eight out of last year's top 10 Australian Carrera Cup drivers will also face the starter at Albert Park creating an 'appetite-whetting' mix of youth and experience along with new and established Porsche drivers.

The Carrera Cup is the most successful 'one make' championship in the world with 30 identical Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars built by Porsche' racing arm in Weissach, Germany set for racing at the Foster's Australian Grand Prix. All cars have a top speed in excess of 300 kilometres per hour with a 400-horsepower, 6 cylinder Boxer engine which revs to 8000 RPM.

The Michelin Carrera Cup at Albert Park begins with practice, qualifying and race one on Thursday March 4, race two on Friday March 5, race three on Saturday March 6 and race four on Sunday March 7. All races will be contested over eight laps of the 5.303km street circuit.

Network Ten will feature the Carrera Cup racing as part of its telecast of the Foster's Australian Grand Prix.

Round one of the 2004 Australian Carrera Cup will be held at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide from March 18 to 21 with the final round (Round Nine) to be held at the Lexmark Indy 300 on the Gold Coast from October 21 to 24.

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Series Porsche
Drivers Matthew Halliday , Jim Richards , Rodney Jane , Fabian Coulthard , Alex Davison , Klark Quinn , Peter Fitzgerald , Jonathon Webb , Hector Lester