The streets of Canberra will be closed, but the race to win on them is expected to be wide open when the Megamantis.com Australian Nations Cup Championship stages its third round next weekend. A diverse field of more than 20 of the...
The streets of Canberra will be closed, but the race to win on them is expected to be wide open when the Megamantis.com Australian Nations Cup Championship stages its third round next weekend.
A diverse field of more than 20 of the world's fastest sports and grand touring cars has entered the three races scheduled for Saturday and Sunday on the 3.9 km street circuit.
Lamborghini driver Paul Stokell won the first three races of this season and Ferrari's Mark Noske the fourth, but if history repeats itself a Porsche driver will climb the podium on Sunday.
If not, it could be a Chrysler Viper, a Lotus, a BMW, a Brabham-Honda NSX or an all-wheel-drive Nissan bringing home the honors.
Last year, Jim Richards, Mark Williamson and Peter Fitzgerald each drove a German Porsche GT3 to a race victory and the round proved to be a turning point in the national series.
Richards and Fitzgerald followed up with a consistent string of good results over the rest of the season and finished first and second respectively in the Meguiar's Drivers Championship, ahead of Noske and Stokell in their exotic Italian machines.
Eight of the nimble Porsches are entered next weekend and their superb braking, ability to ride the kerbs and drivers of the calibre of GTP champions Richards, Fitzgerald and Domenic Beninca should see them in the thick of the action.
Stokell currently leads this year's pointscore over Richards, but doubts his chances in the Lamborghini Diablo on the narrow street track near Parliament House.
"I don't expect Canberra to be our best track," Stokell said. "It's tight and the Lamborghini is a big, wide car. If we're not at the front at the start, it's going to be difficult to force a way past.
"Last year we lost a front spoiler in an incident and also broke a drive-shaft due to the bumpy surface, so this time my priority has to be to bring the Lamborghini home in one piece and protect the championship lead."
Richards also was cautious in his prediction.
"The Porsche is a good little car. It gave us and Fitzy and Mark a win last year, but the relative performance of the competitors is different this time. As always, our team will do our best and if our best is good enough then I hope we can win again," he said.
Other factors - and other competitors - also figure in the weekend form guide.
Noske will drive one of four $350,000 Ferrari 360 Challenge coupes entered by the Prancing Horse team and his motivation is high after a superb performance in round two.
The big American-made Chrysler Vipers of Rusty French, Geoff Morgan and D'arcy Russell join the championship for the first time this season, revitalised by new 2001 specifications including Le Mans-type bodywork and a V8 Supercar gearbox.
The only Jaguar in the series has been on a diet since round two and is now around 100 kg closer to its approved minimum weight through the fitment of lightweight body panels.
Super Cheap Autos V8 Supercar team owner Bob Thorn will take over the driving from Mark Trenoweth, who says the supercharged Jaguar will be much more competitive.
Mark Williamson, winner of last year's race two in Canberra, is back but without his Porsche and without a reverse-grid standing start for that leg.
The reverse-grid format has been suspended this round and every Nations Cup race will have a rolling start.
Williamson will debut a Lotus Elise 200R, which he recently imported from England. The little coupe sports a modest 1.8 litre MG engine, but at just 775 kg, it is a massive 495 kg lighter than anything else in the field.
"The Lotus has really good potential. It's got fantastic cornering and braking and, being so small, it will give me more track to play with than anyone else," Williamson said.
"Hopefully around Canberra I'll have half a shot at doing okay. The important thing will be to get as far up the grid as possible in qualifying."
Drivers and cars in the Nations Cup and Century Batteries Australian GT Production Car Championship will be part of an official "BBQ with the Stars" in front of the Queanbeyan City Council building in Crawford Street, Queanbeyan, between 5.30 pm and 7 pm on Thursday.
MEGUIARS DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP: 217 points P. Stokell, 205 J. Richards, 190 P. Fitzgerald, 166 M. Noske, 161 T. Quinn, 95 D. Beninca.
TIMETABLE: Friday - 10.55 am Practice (20 min.), 4.05 pm Practice (30 min.). Saturday - 8.40 am Qualifying (20 min.), 12.55 pm Race 1 (8 laps). Sunday - 9.50 am Race 2 (8 laps), 12.40 pm Race 3 (8 laps).
LAST YEAR: Pole - J. Richards (Porsche) 1:50.36. Race 1 - J. Richards. Race 2 (reverse grid) - M. Williamson (Porsche). Race 3 - P.Fitzgerald (Porsche). Lap record - M. Noske (Ferrari) 1:51.80