GT: Cool Giz does the biz at Bathurst
AN ON-TRACK stop and re-boot, and a cruel penalty for speeding in the pit lane, failed to steal away a stunning victory for McLaren in yesterday’s annual Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour sports endurance race.
Shane van Gisbergen, Alvaro Parente and Jonathan Webb scored a deserved victory for the British marque at Mount Panorama.
Kiwi van Gisbergen heightened the excitement in the closing laps by managing the gap to the hard-driving Katsumasa Chiyo in the Nissan GT-R, showing a sense of theatre by allow the Japanese to close to with 1.2s at the flag.
“It was a pretty long day,” said The Giz. “The first stint was really awesome; I really enjoyed myself out there. I had never driven around here in the dark and we didn’t have our big lights on so couldn’t see much.
“I had a good agreement with Garth [Tander] and Luffy [Warren Luff] in the morning that we would just cruise along and then after three laps we would start pushing once it was all up to temperature. Then some Euro kid came along flashing his headlights. So it was cool, started pushing but there were kangaroos coming out and there were warnings every lap so, I am a Kiwi and I am not used to that either, but it was cool.”
A cool, awesome race for the winner then.
Denied a repeat Nissan win, Chiyo, Rick Kelly and Florian Strauss nevertheless fought tenaciously for second with Bentley Team M-Sport’s Matt Bell, Steven Kane and Guy Smith, who finished third.
It was the first success for McLaren at Mount Panorama, after a dramatic race that claimed several leading contenders early in the race.
Twenty of the 36 starters made it to the end, but only four remained on the lead lap. Nick Percat (Lamborghini) and Mika Salo (Ferrari) clashed on the opening lap at turn two, Finn Salo scathing of the local’s driving. The Lambo was out instantly while the 2014-winning Ferrari was parked after 63 laps.
The Jamec Audi crashed after a tyre failed and the Objective Racing McLaren slammed the wall at the dipper after just two hours.
The McLaren victory came despite 13 visits to pit lane, two more than the second-placed Nissan and the third-placed Bentley (pictured below).
Five brands finished in the first five places, with an Audi R8 and an Erebus Mercedes SLS completing the first fistful.
The winning McLaren suffered a very modern computer glitch when it stopped on track exiting the circuit’s final corner. Portuguese driver Parente was forced to re-set the car while his team-mates looked on anxiously, before resuming.
The bigger blow came when van Gisbergen was hit with a drive-through penalty for pit lane speeding when he began his final stint. Tellingly though, van Gisbergen did not go a lap down. Sensible strategy and help from safety cars – and fast lap times - returned the #59 car to the front.
Van Gisbergen also recorded a new outright lap record of the Bathurst circuit at 2m01.567s – the fastest ever recorded in a race at the famous circuit.
On Saturday he shredded the qualifying mark with a breathtaking 2m01.286s in his hijacking of pole position.
On a weekend of records, the leaders set a new high mark of 297 laps (1845km) completed and there were also a record 29 lead changes among eight cars.
The Grove Porsche 997 GT3 Cup car , shared by reigning Le Mans winner Earl Bamber, V8 ace Scott McLaughlin and car owner Stephen Grove, started slowly but surged to the class lead early in the morning and was never headed – ultimately winning their class by a mammoth 15 laps.
All-Aussie team MARC Cars Australia completed a 1-2-3 sweep of the BM Pro Invitational class with Aaron Seton – son of Glenn Seton – teaming with Jake Camilleri and Morgan Haber to win the class by nine laps.
Rick Kelly loved his experience in the “other” Great Race and was more than captivated with team-mate Chiyo’s ability in the Nissan GT-R. “…at the end his pace was quicker than what I got out of the car during qualifying which shows the cars capability and Chiyo’s capability. I don’t’ think there would have been another hundredth in the car to what he got out of it. I think we need to check the mirrors for some paint he was that close in some places which is really impressive. The high risk places around here he has nailed and same for the low risk…he definitely has the track under control, and I think that goes for a lot of the field,” Kelly said.
“You look at how strong a lot of the really great teams are from overseas and drivers from overseas - they come here get the track nailed pretty quickly.
“So I think it really opens up our eyes to drivers overseas for the 1000 here in October because the quality of driver internationally is outstanding and now they have experience at our home track so they could certainly be assets for us in the future.”
Sounds like Chiyo-san has a Bathurst 1000 gig in October…
F1: Circuits are the new punching bag
THE dominance of Mercedes-Benz, the ridiculous costs faced by teams and the lack of real exhaust noises from today’s V6 hybrid cars were regular criticisms directed at grand prix racing over the seasons of the recent past.
Here’s another: today’s circuits are too sanitised and lack the character of the much-missed older venues.
Kimi Raikkonen is the latest to lament having to race on the newer F1 circuits laid out by Bernie Ecclestone’s favourite track designer, Hermann Tilke, the candid Finnish star tossing in a postscript that he misses Imola, Magny Cours and other venues discarded from the calendar.
The modern circuits have copped a panning from more experienced drivers and long-time followers of the sport bemoaning their lack of character.
Raikkonen has described many of the newer tracks as being “made up of Tilke corners”.
Tilke created Austria’s A1 Ring, Sepang, Bahrain, Shanghai, Singapore’s Marina Bay Circuit, Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, Austin’s COTA and Russia’s Sochi Autodrom.
He was also responsible for venues that came and quickly went from the F1 calendar - Istanbul Park, the Valencia street circuit, Korea, and India’s circuit. Tilke was also involved in the creation of the forthcoming Baku City Circuit, which will host the first Grand Prix of Europe to be held in Azerbaijan in June.
One of the more experienced drivers on the grid, having made his F1 debut back in 2001, Raikkonen's career span has seen him witness the demise of more traditional circuits on the schedule, including Magny-Cours, Imola and the Nurburgring.
Raikkonen isn’t about to bite off the hand that feeds him but he is honest enough to suggest the modern new venues carry the unmistakable stamp of Ecclestone’s designer du jour, Tilke.
“When we go to a new track, we know what to expect,” he told Finnish publication Turun Sanomat. “They all look the same. There are no trees or anything else in the landscape. Of course, each track is always a little bit different, and each corner at the track is a little bit different, but ultimately the new tracks are made up of Tilke corners."
Raikkonen took particular aim at the Korean International Circuit, no longer hosting a grand prix, labelling it the worst of the venues.
He did suggest that another Tilke design, the Istanbul Park circuit, home to the Turkish GP between 2005 and 2011, was a “nice” track.
Of course, Ecclestone has priorities other than satisfying race drivers. Character and the driving challenge are not keys. Most important is the promoter’s ability to pay the fee for the circus, followed by facilities for the VIPs…
F1: Magnussen in at Renault, Maldonado out
THAT didn’t take long.
The late conclusion of Renault’s deal to return to F1 with its takeover of Lotus at first appeared to mean it would be forced to inherit two already signed drivers, Jolyon Palmer and Pastor Maldonado, who were a long way short of the pace and experience needed to return the French marque to glory.
Palmer replaced the much improved Romain Grosjean, who - rattled by the uncertainty over the team’s future - grabbed a slot at start-up squad Haas. Maldonado’s deal including bringing Venezuelan oil money in abundance.
Palmer could develop into a good driver but Maldonado’s record of crashing, with a career highlight of a single F1 win, was hardly inspiring for the Renault people and their hopes of returning to competitiveness with their own full factory team.
But just when it seemed Renault would need to wait at least a year to grab a proven star to lead the renaissance, the perfect legal reason to dump Maldonado emerged when the oil sponsor money was late.
Renault smartly signed Kevin Magnussen in time for the launch of the team in Paris on February 3, and now optimism is rising that the Dane may hasten the team’s return to glory in the way that a young Fernando Alonso did in Renault colours in 2005 and 06.
Magnussen will be ultra-keen to seize his chance this time around after recent shabby treatment from McLaren. His brief career has been a roller coaster ride. He scored a podium on debut at the Australian Grand Prix in 2014 but was relegated to test/reserve driver status for 2015. Then he was unceremoniously fired last October. On his birthday.
Magnussen was concerned that he may not be given another chance. But opportunity and timing are often bedfellows in motor sport. The McLaren sacking may well be the best thing to happen to Magnussen if the Renault car proves to be reasonably fast and reliable – things the McLaren Hondas are not.
Magnussen’s brief previous stint in F1 showed fleeting promise. If nurtured properly, he could be on the road to redemption, dragging Renault along too.
UTES: Changes reflect harsher realities
THE iconic Australian V8 Ute Series has been stirred and shaken by a structural change for the 2016 season. Fear not, though: it will be back this year.
Australian V8 Ute Racing Pty Ltd, the company which represents the 16 Ford and 16 Holden shareholders competing in the series, will be voluntarily wound up, effective immediately.
This will allow a new entity or structure which effectively releases the 32 current shareholders from the sometimes crushing financial obligation to compete at every round of an eight-round series
“The commercial market has tightened significantly over the past 18 months,” explained Australian V8 Ute chairman Peter Henry. “It’s clear that all 32 shareholders are not in a financial position to compete in 2016 and a number have asked to be released from their current obligation. The only way we can release shareholders from the company structure and the obligation to compete at every round is to effectively voluntarily wind up the current structure.”
The category is working with CAMS on the handover of the Category Management Agreement and to secure a sustainable model that will see the series continue as a key support category to V8 Supercars in 2016, without the need for all 32 shareholders to commit financially to the category and turn up at every round.
INDY 500: Matt Brabham cranks up Aussie assault
THIRD-generation Australian racer Matt Brabham has emerged from a baptism of fire with the American media in an important step along his path to the 100th Indianapolis 500 in late May.
The embryonic PIRTEK Team Murray’s driver was introduced as part of 2016 IndyCar Series field although at this stage only his start in the Indy 500 has been confirmed.
At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Brabham participated in numerous interviews with the IndyCar press corps as well as having his official medical to ensure he was fit to take part in the race.
The entry of Brabham into the 500 under the PIRTEK Team Murray banner has created a great deal of interest both in Australia and in the USA, where he was born. His is a big media story in light of the family history at the Brickyard, where his father Geoff and grandfather Jack are fondly remembered.
Matt was also filmed for a number of vignettes that will form part of the IndyCar Series television programming in the lead-up to, and during, the 500.
Following the official launch, he attended a dinner at the home of Mark Miles, CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 500 Rookie also took part in his first full IndyCar driver briefing on Wednesday as part of the pre-season gathering.
Brabham senses momentum is building for the 100th 500 and now feels he is well on the way to drive in the greatest race on the planet.
“There was a lot of talk among everyone about the 100th race, the connections involved and the history of the Indianapolis 500,” said Brabham.
Sir Jack Brabham started the Indy 500 on four occasions and Geoff Brabham competed in 10 of the 99 races held so far.
GT: Walkinshaw Group expands to Porsche
FOLLOWING its reduction in V8 Supercars entries to two HRT cars for 2016, the Walkinshaw Group has continued its different business focus with a decision to enter the latest Porsche 911 GT3 R in the growing Australian GT category.
The Walkinshaw-run Porsche, an outright contender in the category internationally, will arrive here in the coming months with drivers yet to be named.
Owner of the Walkinshaw Group Ryan Walkinshaw said Porsche’s history in endurance racing was unrivalled and he believed there was no better partner to be allied with.
“The GT3 category has enjoyed much success globally and is at the forefront of motorsport around the world – we are looking forward to being a part of that as a factory supported team,” Walkinshaw said.
“My family has a rich history in endurance racing and under the Porsche brand the Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) designed Porsche WSC-95 won Le Mans 24-hour races in 1996 and 1997.”
Welcoming the Walkinshaw involvement with the new Porsche, spokesman for Porsche Cars Australia Paul Ellis said: "It is critical for Porsche to have a strong presence in GT racing in Asia Pacific beyond the already successful one-make Carrera Cup championships in the region.”
Walkinshaw Group is looking to build on its previous racing success, having won the 2014 Australian Rally Championship with Scott Pedder at the wheel.