Competitors in this weekend’s Shannons Nationals round at Morgan Park were greeted by sunshine and warm conditions for practice at Round 5 of the national motor racing championships.
GT3 Cup Challenge saw Matt Kingsley (Tyres & More 996) return to the fray, and despite dropping to third in Session 2 behind arch-rival Roger Lago (Falcon Property Group 997) and the man who donated Kingsley’s ‘new’ car Jon Trende (Boston Kennedy 997), he was happy with his return.
“To be honest I didn’t expect too much from the first practice session this morning,” Kingsley said.
“We just wanted to make sure the car was handling all right, and when we looked at the time sheets we were up the top.
“This car is a lot tighter than my old car. Now we have to tune it into a proper race set-up. At the moment, it’s a one lap wonder.
Despite having never seen the Morgan Park venue’s extended version, pre-event favourite and Kerrick Sports Sedan points leader Tony Ricciardello (Alfa Romeo GTV/Chev) was quickly on the 2010 benchmark pace set by Darren Hossack and James Sera. After two sessions, Ricciardello had set the fastest time (1m14.2388), more than three seconds up on Scott Butler (Menai Blinds Camaro/Chev), so he elected to sit out Sesson 3 to do a ‘spanner-check.’
“I love the layout,” Riccciardello said.
“But it’s pretty bumpy and as we didn’t take the car home after Eastern Creek, I wanted to just double-check everything and take my time doing it.”
Without Hossack and Sera in attendance, Ricciardello is expected to have a comfortable time at the front, although the six-time champion admits that tyre wear could be a concern.
“We’re trialling the new Dunlop that Darren [Hossack] used at Eastern Creek, and we’ve also got the Michelins, so we’ll do a bit of back-to-back running tomorrow and use it as a test session. I’m also pretty keen on that lap record too …”
Radical Australia Cup is contesting its last round of the year at Morgan Park this weekend, and while championship points leader Ed Singleton (MPA Project Group) has a comfortable title lead, Peter Opie was the standout, setting a lap time in the final session (1m14.2216) more than two seconds faster than Eastern Creek runner-up Tony Palmer and Radical Australia’s Byron Smith.
Down 60 points on Singleton, Opie knows his only real chance is to win everything, and is certainly on track to do just that.
“What a circuit,” he beamed after the final session.
“The car is great too, but it’s only Friday, so it really doesn’t count for too much!”
In the Manufacturer’s Championship, Stuart Kostera started his weekend much the same way he left the circuit in 2010 – On top.
Kostera and team-mate Inky Tulloch (TMR Lancer EVO X) set a strong pace in the two practice sessions ahead of the weekend’s two one-hour enduros, although admitted to understeer on their old rubber.
“It’s not too much of a drama,” Kostera admitted, “we’re only just dialing ourselves in on the old tyres, we’ll bolt green tyres on tomorrow and see how we go, but at this stage, we’re good.”
One driver who wasn’t good was the man many expected to threaten the leaders – 2010 Morgan Park sensation Jake Camilleri. Despite having a potent new Mazda 3 at his disposal, Camilleri was unable to improve on fourth – behind three EVOs – and was almost two seconds a lap down on Kostera, prompting a lot of activity in the Grand Prix Mazda camp.
Behind Kostera, Greg Symes and Dylan Thomas traded positions two and three in their EVO IVs.
Reigning Kumho Tyres V8 Touring Car champion Tony Evangelou (VT Commodore) was the pace-setter in Saloon Cars, despite running without Dorian timer, as did championship favourite Matt Lovell (AU Falcon), with Queensland front-runner John Van Gilst (AU Falcon) in the mix.
On home turf, the fledgling Swift Racing Series was hoping for a good turnout at Morgan Park, but sadly they were again plagued by dramas. Points leader Rex McCutcheon struggled to finalise a sponsorship agreement prior to opening practice, forcing the Kiwi teenager to return home without having turned a lap.
With title rival Jesse Dixon electing to miss the round, that opening the door for Brooke Leech to step up and make her mark on the one-make series, and she was staggered to find at the close of the three practice sessions that her name was on top of the timesheets.
“I’m stoked,” she laughed afterwards.
“I was braking a lot earlier than the boys in a lot of areas, but that gave me more track speed where I needed it, so I was surprised to see I was on top.”
The Australian Formula 3 title is also holding its third round of the series. CLICK HERE for Speedcafe.com’s earlier report.
Action starts tomorrow from 8:15am with the Swifts first on track for practice, before qualifying starts at 9:30am and the first race of Round 5 begins at 1:35pm for the first of the two Radical Australia 12-lap sprint races.