Porsche 944 Challenge save the best ’til last at Island Magic
The 944 Challenge put on a stunning display of racing over the past weekend at Phillip Island for the final round of their championship, with 3 different winners from the 3 races.
Qualifying gave the first indication of how tight the battle up front would be on the weekend with Title leader Cameron Beller, John Kennedy and retuning young gun Jamie Westaway all heading the time sheets before Beller was able to take the top spot before the session was red flagged with 6 minutes remaining when 16 year old Daniel Petselis beached his car at Southern Loop after impressing with the sixth fastest lap time to his name. John Kennedy was second ahead of Jamie Westaway, Dick Howe, Tony Westaway and Petselis. Petselis though was unfortunately out for the weekend after suffering engine issues after his spin.
Race 1 was the race of the year as John Kennedy led early from Beller after getting the best start before a loose wheel on his car caused him to pull off on the commencement of lap 3, allowing Beller through to the lead. Jamie Westaway moved past Beller for the lead on lap 5 as Dick Hower closed the gap on the pair in front. Howe then moved past Beller on lap 6 for the second position before challenging Westaway, with the youngster bowing to the pressure of the veteran over three times his age, spinning at Honda corner, with Beller capitalising and sneaking back into the lead.
Howe was back on Bellers tail however and overtook the reigning champion on the run down the straight to end the penultimate lap to be the fourth leader of the race – a lead he hung onto for his first race win in the series. Beller was second before a trio of Westaways, Jamie recovering for third ahead of Tony & Michael to round out the top 5 with Adam Brewer, Ken Rowland and Pedr James next.
Race 2 was a quick 5 lap blast on Sunday morning and Beller was in front early but was quickly reigned back in by Howe who made a pass for the lead on lap 3. Jamei Westaway was third before a brake issue caused him to go down the escape road at Honda on lap 2, dropping him back to eleventh position. John Kennedy meanwhile started off the back of the grid and was scything his way through the field, into fifth spot by the end of the second lap and chasing the leaders.
Beller was able to get pack past Howe on the last lap at Honda corner before Howe got a touch from Kennedy who had moved to third and caught the pair. That was all the help Beller needed as he took the win from Howe & Kennedy, with Brewer fourth ahead of Tony & Michael Westaway, Ken Rowland, Pedr James, Jamie Westaway and Toni Andreevski rounding out the top ten.
The final race to end the day was 10 laps, and the weekend long dice between the top three continued. Beller led early before Howe found a way past on lap 3, Beller returning serve a lap later. Jamie Westaway had moved up to fourth by this stage but would be out a lap later, the car pulling over to retire and prematurely ending a strong return to the series.
Lap 6 saw Kennedy take a turn up front a lap after passing Beller, and he was then able to pull a gap on Howe & Beller with a lead he wouldn’t surrender, to also take his first race win in the 944 Challenge. Howe crossed the line second while Beller was slowing on the final laps, ultimately breaking a CV joint on the run to the line and losing third position to Tony Westaway.
Michael Westaway rounded out the top 5 ahead of Pedr James and Adam Brewer who unfortunately spun on lap 5. Marius Catrina was eighth ahead of Toni Andreevski with Tim Wolfe rounding out the top ten ahead of a cautions Ken Rowland, ensuring he did what was required to seal his third position in the series points for the year.
Dick Howes win and two second positions were enough to secure the round win for the 75 year old from Beller and Tony Westaway in third overall. Beller secured the championship for the fourth year in succession from Tony Westaway, with Rowland a fine third position.
The 944 Challenge will return for 2020 as part of the Victorian State Racing Championships with Round 1 starting the year off at Sandown Raceway on February 15-16