Stuart Kostera and Inky Tulloch have won the first round of the Australian Production Endurance Championship today at Phillip Island.
The TMR Mitsubishi Lancer went relatively unchallenged throughout the six-hour race, save for a controversial pit lane penalty enforced after Kostera – exiting the pit lane during a mid-race safety car – was reported to have exited a closed pit lane.
Kostera and team officials claimed the red light at the end of the pit lane – signifying a closed pit – was obstructed from the drivers’ vision, with a race official instead visually telling Kostera he was clear to go.
The penalty, however, only dropped the dominant Evo Lancer to second for less than thirty minutes of the six-hour affair, eventually winning comfortably by a little more than one lap.
“It’s a fantastic victory in a day that had plenty going on,” a clearly pleased Kostera said post-race.
“Last year at Eastern Creek we had one of those days where everything went perfectly, but today was different with the tyre management, weather, safety cars and even that penalty. But the team did a great job and Inky was right on the money all day so it’s a great win for everyone.”
The closest challenger to the TMR domination was the ever present Grand Prix Mazda 3 MPS of Jake Camilleri and Scott Nicholas, which finished second outright and only lost a lap to the winning car in the last ten minutes of the race after suffering a slowly deflating tyre.
The other potential winner – the WBR Subaru driven by Cam Wilson and Peter Burnitt – looked to have the TMR crew under pressure after showing remarkable fuel economy and the potential to complete the distance on one less stop than the eventual winner.
However, that plan came undone when V8 Ute racer Burnitt crashed heavily coming onto the pit straight on lap 97, ending their day early.
The Mitsubishi Lancer of Jim Pollicina, Dean Kelland and Steve Cramp finished third outright, two laps behind the winners.
Ryan McLeod and Winton V8 Supercars winner Jason Bright finished a remarkable fourth outright (second in Class C) after a three-hour anchoring stint from the Team BOC driver at the beginning of the race put them in a strong position they’d never lose.
The McLeod / Bright Astra edged out the BMW 335i of Barry Morcom, Garry Holt and Nathan Morcom for fifth, and first of the class B (Rear wheel drive) cars home.
The father-son duo of Declan and Phil Kirkham won a dramatic class D battle, despite losing five laps of their seven-lap class lead in the last half hour of the race after the car sheared two wheel studs, forcing it to pit lane.
The McGill / Brunsdon Celica held off the Lauren Gray / Jake Williams Corolla in a spirited battle for second in class at the end of the race, the LGM Corolla team having previously lost five laps with a broken driveshaft. The class also lost the Renault Clio early in the race after a heavy rollover, Carl Schembri crashing at high speed and rolling the Clio early in the race. Though shaken, the driver emerged relatively unscathed from the crash.
The Proton Satria edged out the Toyota Echo in Class E, whilst Beric Lynton and Tom Pickett won the MINI Challenge class, holding out Brendan Cook and Matt Mackelden after the pair of cars were rarely split by more than a few seconds all day.