Australian GT prepares for AGP season-opener

Australian GT prepares for AGP season-opener

12.03.2019: CAMS Australian GT Championship The 2019 CAMS Australian GT Championship will coincide once more with the opening round of the FIA Formula One World Championship on the streets of Melbourne as part of the Au

CAMS Australian GT Championship

The 2019 CAMS Australian GT Championship will coincide once more with the opening round of the FIA Formula One World Championship on the streets of Melbourne as part of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, with some of the world’s most exotic supercars doing battle over four 25-minute races scheduled across the four days of the event.

Audi and McLaren will lead the charge with their new 2019 models, McLaren perhaps the highest profile of those with the stunning new 720S GT3 to be campaigned by 2018 front-runner Fraser Ross, but whilst he and the two new evolution models of the successful Audi R8 LMS GT3 will no doubt make their presence felt, it’s Mercedes-AMG who perhaps start favourites.

12-months ago Scott Taylor Motorsport’s Craig Baird and Australian GT rookie Jaie Robson in the ‘Aussie Driver Search’ Mercedes claimed two wins apiece to give the German marque a clean-sweep of victories.

This year there will be a range of new challengers all looking for Australian Grand Prix glory, amongst them an American-based Australian who holds the mantel of Bronze Drivers’ Champion from the 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge.

Kenny Habul is a passionate competitor and a former podium finisher at the Bathurst 12 Hour. Along with podiums at Spa (Belgium) and victory at the Suzuka 10-Hour last year, Habul claimed the coveted international title, but despite his status, he will be an Albert Park rookie and up against some seasoned campaigners who have already tasted success in Melbourne.

Max Twigg has significant experience at Albert Park, having contested a number of different categories across the last few seasons, he’s also a two-time AGT race winner on the Grand Prix circuit having claimed double victories in 2010 in a Porsche GT3 Cup Car. Since then he’s claimed the top qualifying time on his AMG debut in 2017, before finishing on the podium twice that weekend, his last six starts netting four top six finishes marking him as one to watch this weekend.

Peter Hackett is another driver capable of shaking things up, the series veteran claiming two podium finishes at Albert Park last year before pushing Audi’s Geoff Emery all the way to the final race of the season to fall just short of adding the outright title to his 2017 CAMS Australian Endurance Championship crown.

With back-to-back Australian GT titles to his name, Melbourne’s Geoff Emery is guaranteed to be in the mix at the front of the AGT field, the Audi driver coming hot off victory on the streets of Adelaide during his Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup debut just two weeks ago, and alongside long-time rival Tony Bates (who also claimed a race win in Adelaide), the pair will more than make their presence felt.

Whilst Emery and Bates have both shown themselves to be quick in the Audis and at the AGP, new Audi recruit Lee Partridge is very much an unknown, although as the next driver through the ‘Aussie Driver Search’ GT ranks, he follows hot in the footsteps of the program’s 2018 entry Jaie Robson who claimed two wins at the Grand Prix last year. Partridge is a GT - and - AGP rookie, but as an 18-year veteran of motorsport, he could well prove to be the wildcard amongst the outright contenders.

Of the new releases, perhaps the most anticipated is that of Fraser Ross, the 2018 title contender and top qualifier for race two at the AGP last year, debuting the stunning 2019 McLaren 720S GT3, a car which is sure to make its presence felt on the Albert Park circuit off the back of Ross’ two podium finishes last year.

The new 59Racing team tested both the GT3 and GT4 McLarens at Winton Motor Raceway in the leadup to race week, with both Ross, and new GT4 team-mate Ryan Simpson shaking down their new mounts and turning plenty of valuable testing laps on the regional Victorian circuit.

Whilst the outright class will see plenty of action as the leaders battle for podium positions, the Trophy Series, Trofeo Challenge and GT4 classes will also keep the fans on their feet.

Last year’s Trophy Series champion Nick Kelly returns to the AGP in his series one Audi R8 LMS with a big target on his back having claimed victory in all four races last year. That paved the way for his championship assault, but he faced increasing pressure across the closing rounds from two drivers who made just cameo appearances last year, but have committed themselves to a full program in 2019 - local teenager Ryan How and Queenslander Scott Taylor.

How was a sensation during his only Australian GT event at Sydney Motorsport Park last year, taking his Audi to two wins from three races on debut to take the round victory, whilst Scott Taylor took his immaculate Type 997 Porsche GT3 R to the round win at Winton to close out the 2018 season. Both are expected to push Kelly right across the Grand Prix event as they look to build valuable points towards their 2019 championship campaigns.

New for 2019, the Trofeo Challenge category was developed for one-make ‘challenge’ cars, for which the likes of Porsche and Lamborghini have dedicated cars. At Albert Park fans will be treated to the competition debut of the Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo EVO, a car which contests events all across the globe, the EVO having been introduced as a performance upgrade to the original Huracan Super Trofeo for the start of the 2018 season.

Car owner Jim Manolios though will have his work cut out for him this weekend with a horde of Type 991 Porsche GT3 Cup Cars entered for the event led by 2018 Grand Prix competitors Shane Barwood, Chris and Luke Seidler and Nick Karnaros, they will be joined this weekend by David Greig, the quartet sure to give the Lamborghini a run for its money across the four races.

GT4 too will provide plenty of action, with four manufacturers battling for round honours including 2018 title contenders KTM who will field two cars - one for M-Motorsport drivers Justin McMillan and Glenn Wood, and a second for Vantage Racing’s David Crampton and Trent Harrison. In damp conditions last year McMillan stormed away to a comfortable win in race three, but this year they’ll have no shortage of rivals.

Mark Griffith proved more than capable in the V6-powered Ginetta G55, taking a string of podium finishes at Albert Park in 2018, but it could be the new recruits who present the biggest challenge - local driver Victor Zagame in the V10 Audi R8 LMS GT4 and reigning Australian Production Car champion Ryan Simpson in a second new McLaren, the impressive 570S GT4.

Australian GT action begins at Albert Park on Thursday 14 March with two qualifying sessions ahead of the opening 25-minute race. The remaining three 25-minute races will then be conducted across Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.

- Sean Henshelwood  photo AGT


12.03.2019 / MaP

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