Action-packed battles and great recoveries feature in Darwin
Once again Darwin turned on some magnificent weather for this year’s round and the racing in all categories saw some fantastic duels, new records set and a few surprise results.
While there were some disappointments for a number of teams due to incidents, there were some well-deserved results for others, including several podiums for Team PAYCE members.
Team PAYCE drivers battled it out in three categories – Supercars (Garth Tander, James Golding and Macauley Jones), Porsche Carrera Cup (David Wall, James Moffat and Dale Wood) and Touring Car Masters (John Bowe).
Virgin Australia Supercars
All Team PAYCE drivers were familiar with the track, although for James Golding and Macauley Jones it was their first time at the circuit in a fully-fledged Supercar.
While the practice times set by the GRM team were respectable but not near the top of the timesheets, the sessions were put to good use trialling different settings in an effort to find those elusive tenths of a second. Unfortunately for Brad Jones Racing’s Macauley Jones, while sitting in 13th fastest time slot in practice three, he lost the rear at turn 10 and with little room to recover backed the # 4 Commodore into the tyre barrier which resulted in a big repair job for his crew before he was able to start the qualifying session.
One of the biggest challenges is to come up with settings that work for both qualifying and the race itself, while allowing for all the changing factors such as temperature, track conditions and tyre wear. Without a good qualifying time it becomes a nearly impossible task to get through the field, especially in the shorter sprint races.
Garth’s 13th fastest time in practice three on Saturday morning was a positive indication that Garth’s pit crew were on the right track with an improved set up. He backed that up with another 13th fastest in the first qualifying session that placed him mid pack for the first race. James was 21st on the grid and Macauley was 25th after a mammoth effort to repair the #4 Commodore.
The margins in the first qualifying session were small – just nine-tenths of a second separating the whole field in what is has consistently been the case through the season.
If Garth had been one-tenth of a second faster he would have gained six positions and if James had been just three-tenths of a second faster he would have been beside him on the grid, well inside the top ten.
David Reynolds led the race one field away from pole, but the best start came from Garth who took every opportunity and found himself in 9th place within half a lap. Back in the GRM camp, the decision was taken to leave the #33 car out when most of the field were coming in for their mandatory stop.
A good call as when he did finally pit on lap 32 he was able to pick up the 9th spot again on returning to the track and have the advantage of much fresher tyres to take him to the end.
This allowed him to pull in the likes of Lowndes, Whincup and Kelly and pick them off with ease and finish in 5th place.
One can only speculate what might have been if the race went for another five laps, but with the pace of the #33 car it would almost certainly have been a podium result and even a win – if only!
No such luck for James or Macauley who fought hard inside the pack near the rear to improve several positions before being caught up in incidents that resulted in a 25th place for James and a DNF for Macauley.
The GRM team were buoyed by Garth’s strong run on Saturday and were hopeful of a similar performance in Sunday’s qualifier for grid positions and the Top Ten Shootout.
Garth did not disappoint and although he probably felt the pressure he was 8th fastest which gave him a comfortable spot in the Top Ten Shootout where he improved two positions to start 6th on the grid. James was just six-tenths of a second off the pole time, but found himself back in 23rd spot. Macauley was two spots back in 25th.
As the field blasted away for the 200 kilometre race, David Reynolds pulled off the move of the weekend with a run down the outside to take the lead into turn one. Starting on the third row, Garth was not far behind Reynolds and for a moment it looked like he would follow him into the corner, but then decided to ease up and let Scott McLaughlin by.
Saturday’s race showed just how important strategies would be and with two mandatory stops. The plan initially was to again run Garth longer than most of the field, but then the call was made to bring him in early on lap 19 and then on lap 37. On re-joining the field for the second time, the #33 Commodore was in 6th place but with some on fresher tyres behind. To his credit, Garth only dropped one spot after a safety car intervention before coming home in 7th place for his second top ten finish of the weekend.
James was caught up in an altercation with Macauley and Blanchard on lap one that saw all three cars heading for the infield and then battling for the last few positions till race end. James finished 22nd and Macauley 24th. Reynolds and the Erebus team were the victors on this occasion and worthy ones given David’s brave start and for keeping McLaughlin and Van Whincup at bay throughout the race.
The Wilson Security Racing GRM team could be pleased with the weekend as it showed that the hard yards and long hours they are putting into the cars appears to be reaping rewards.
The Westpac Townsville 400 is next on the championship trail and it is a track that both GRM drivers like and where they have performed well in the past.
Garth Tander 13th up 1 place
James Golding 26th no change
Wilson Security Racing GRM 9th no change
Porsche Wilson Racing Carrera Cup Australia
The Wall Racing team of David Wall and James Moffat, along with Dale Wood were off to a strong start in both practice sessions, with reigning champion David setting a new lap record in practice one and topping the times in practice two.
Dale was third in both sessions while James was not far behind with a 5th and a 4th place on the timesheets.
The Hidden Valley track holds good memories for David from the previous two years and he was quietly confident of a good weekend as they went into qualifying.
Qualifying saw David maintain his supremacy over the field of 23 with another fastest time, while James recorded 3rd fastest and Dale 7th.
Race one was a start to finish lead for David in racking up his first win of the season, although he has been consistently up at the pointy end in the previous three rounds. Both James and Dale had strong performances coming home in 4th and 5th places respectively.
Race two should have been another good result for David starting off pole, but a stall on the line by him saw the field diving left and right to avoid the stationary #1 Porsche. As everyone held their breath, it looked like the field would clear but Dale Wood had nowhere to go and caught the offside rear of David’s car, leaving the #100 car’s wheel and suspension components on the track and David’s#1 with substantial damage to the rear corner.
After the damaged cars and the debris were removed, the race was re-started and James went on to pick up a podium 3rd placing. The incident was the first time that David had not completed a race since returning to the series in 2016.
Both David and Dale’s crews worked tirelessly through the remainder of the day and into the night and it was a great relief to see both cars grid up for the third race on Sunday, albeit at the rear of the field. As David and Dale battled through the field, James was in pursuit of race leader O’Keeffe and near race end and after a safety car period, James swooped on the leader and came home to record his first win since returning to the series and his second podium for the round.
The overall round win went to O’Keeffe with James Moffat 2nd, David Wall 5th and Dale Wood 8th.
The championship resumes at Sydney Motorsport Park on 3-4 August when the field will swell with the inclusion of cars competing in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia championship.
Dale Wood 3rd down 1 spot
David Wall 4th no change
James Moffat 5th up two spots
PAYNTER DIXON Touring Car Masters
This round was expected to be a continuation of the duel between Team PAYCE member, John Bowe and his arch rival Steve Johnson, along with strong challenges from other front runners.
Both cars were quick to log fast times in the only practice session of the round, with Johnson marginally faster and then repeating the effort in qualifying that locked both cars into the front row of the grid for race two. JB left his run till late in the qualifying session after a red flag reduced the already short session.
Their top times also meant they went to the rear for the reverse grid Dometic Trophy race in the first of the four-race format that is now firmly established for the season.
The Trophy race is always a thriller for the fans and usually quite a heart-stopper for the rear markers coming through the field. As JB and Johnson got away, it was JB who made the best moves as he threaded past car after car, but a 5th placing was best he could manage by race end. Mark King in his Chev Camaro came out the winner in a race that had four different leaders over the 10 laps.
Race two was shaping up to be another great duel between JB and Johnson, only to see that evaporate when JB was turned around in the opening lap as the field barrelled into turn one. That resulted in a multi-car incident that left a number of cars the worst for wear, including the front and rear of JB’s Torana.
Johnson made the most of clear air and was never seriously challenged through the race. JB recovered to come back past most of the field to finish 7th.
Race three was a case of follow the leader. Johnson led with JB in full flight as he closed the gap towards the end but could not quite catch the Mustang and had to settle for 3rd.
Race four was again a great battle for the first corner between JB and Johnson and this time JB bravely committed to an outside line and grabbed the lead which he held for the full ten laps. It was a great result for JB given his earlier incident that left the Torana battle-scarred. His eight second gap to Johnson at the end showed the #18 car is still a strong contender for this year’s championship.
Johnson’s round win meant he now tops the leaderboard over JB, but with the season entering the second half it is shaping up as a repeat of last year when the championship went down to the wire in the last round at Newcastle.
The PAYNTER DIXON Touring Car Masters makes its next appearance at the Watpac Townsville 400 on 6-8 July.
John Bowe 2nd
Contact: Bill Smith 0412 446 058