International co-drivers set for pre-Sandown test

Thursday 21st August, 2014 - 1:00pm

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Oliver Gavin will pair with Nick Percat at Walkinshaw Racing

Oliver Gavin will pair with Nick Percat at Walkinshaw Racing

International stars Oliver Gavin and Alex Buncombe will both test at Winton Motor Raceway prior to next month’s Wilson Security Sandown 500.

The pair will join Nick Percat at Walkinshaw Racing and Todd Kelly at Nissan Motorsport respectively for the three-event Pirtek Enduro Cup.

The two Brits had initial tastes of their endurance mounts at Sydney Motorsport Park’s pre-season test in February, having been in the country for the previous weekend’s Bathurst 12 Hour.

Both teams have confirmed that they’ll run their imports at Winton during scheduled test days early next month.

Walkinshaw Racing has booked the Victorian venue on September 1 and 2, with Nissan set to join proceedings on the second day.

According to Walkinshaw managing director Adrian Burgess, whether his team will run for both days, or save its final test of the season for pre-Bathurst, will depend on a number of factors.

“We’ll wait and see how we go in Sydney (this weekend) and then how the first test day goes before deciding what we do,” Burgess told Speedcafe.com.

Gavin will compete in his regular Corvette Racing squad at this weekend’s United Sportscar event at Virginia International Raceway in the United States before flying out to Australia next week.

Alex Buncombe will share the #7 Nissan with Todd Kelly

Alex Buncombe will share the #7 Nissan with Todd Kelly

A previous V8 Supercars starter on the Gold Coast with Kelly Racing in 2011, Gavin is expected to adapt quickly to the latest Walkinshaw equipment.

“It won’t hurt that he already knows the layout of the cabin and has spent time with Alex (Somerset, race engineer) and Nick in Sydney,” said Burgess.

“We’ve been keeping him abreast with what’s been going on, there’s been a lot of email and phone contact throughout the year.

“If we run the two days (at Winton), he’ll get plenty of running in the car before he goes to Sandown.

“It was good that he did the 12 Hour, that was instrumental in our decision making process. He was very quick up there.

“Having experience there and doing the Gold Coast previously should allow him to do a good job for us.”

The September test will mark the first hit-out for the team’s WR 019 chassis in HHA colours following Garth Tander’s move to a new car.

While Percat can complete a further two ‘Rookie Test Days’ this year under the category’s rules, Burgess says the team may forfeit them due to the tight post-Bathurst schedule.

Like Walkinshaw Racing, Nissan has only completed one test so far this year and is looking to give Buncombe maximum laps on September 2.

“One of the hardest things with an international driver is trying to get the schedules to work,” Todd Kelly told Speedcafe.com.

“We’ve got a full day booked in where Alex can spend the whole day in the car, other than a few baselines from me here and there.

“Winton is a little bit different to Bathurst but it’s very similar in a lot of ways to some of the corners at Sandown, so we’ll have him more than comfortable in the car by the time we get to the first round.”

After seeing the 32-year-old in action at SMP in February, Kelly has full confidence that Buncombe will be up to the task in the endurance races.

“All of those guys we had on the Gold Coast in previous years, the guys that drive around at 300km/h in big downforce type race cars generally hop in our cars and find them very easy to drive,” said Kelly.

“He jumped straight in and was within half a second or less towards the end of the day there, which is a pretty grunty sort of track where you have to carry a bit of speed. That was a good eye-opener to what he’s capable of.

“He’s not seen Sandown or the Gold Coast, but he was going around Bathurst (in a GT-R GT3 at the 12 Hour) a lot faster than we’ll be.

“He’s one of those top, professional global drivers so I’ve got a lot of confidence in him and am really looking forward to seeing what he can do in our cars.”

The Pirtek Enduro Cup’s third import, Frenchman Alex Premat, will also get more miles in Volvo Polestar Racing S60s prior to Sandown.

The former full-time V8 Supercars driver already cut laps in Scott McLaughlin’s #33 Volvo at the team’s first private test of the year at Winton on June 2.

Last year, Tekno Autosport’s internationals Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Lieb both arrived at Sandown having not previously driven the team’s Next Generation Holdens.

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