After a challenging Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour campaign, Dylan Thomas left Bathurst, stopped in Sydney, swapped his Mitsubishi Evo for his trusty Formula Vee, and headed to Lakeside Park, a circuit he’d never raced at before, for the opening round of the 2018 Australian Formula Vee Series, and came away victorious.
The Sydney driver won two of the three races contested, and did so by the narrowest of margins, on both occasions.
The weekend just gone marked the first time that national-level Formula Vee competition had been held at Lakeside Park since the circuit re-opened in 2008, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
During qualifying, it became clear that the weekend would be a battle, between New South Wales and Queensland, for outright honours.
Initially, it was Curtis Porter who grabbed the upper-hand, claiming pole position by 0.2751, from Thomas. Thomas was driving the only Stinger chassis to feature inside the top seven, in what was a Jacer dominated field.
The defending champion, Michael Kinsella, was third fastest, ahead of Simon Pace and Paul Kellaway.
Formula Vee has a habit of producing highly entertaining racing, and this weekend was no exception, as the men at the front used race craft and slipstreaming to their advantage, as best as they possibly could, in a weekend that saw three of the four races decided by less than half-a-tenth of a second.
In the opening race, Porter and Thomas led the field away, and the lead chopped and changed right throughout the race, which was extended to twelve laps, after Ted Sibley’s retirement triggered a clamp-down.
Michael Kinsella, the defending champion, and Simon Pace were right in the thick of the action as well. The pair stuck with Thomas and Porter for much of the race, engaging in a battle for third place along the way.
Porter took the lead away from Thomas at the beginning of the last lap, which suited Thomas just fine, as he was in a position to use the slipstream to his advantage in the run to the chequered flag.
Thomas got a terrific run out of the eastern loop, and was tucked in behind Porter as the pair entered the final corner. From there, Thomas pulled out of the draft, moved to the inside, and narrowly edged out Porter, to take the first race of the season.
Just 0.0149 separated the pair, as it was proven once again, that you don’t want to be leading at the start of the last lap, or even at the final corner.
Kinsella edged out Pace for third, while David Caisley rounded out the top five.
Danny Cerro took the win the 1200cc class, and Alan Don took Historic class honours.
Race 2 followed a similar pattern to that of Race 1, with Thomas and Porter leading the field away in the early stages.
Behind them, Pace got the jump on Kinsella, who fell down as low as sixth by mid-race, as David Caisley and Wade McLean joined that growing fight for the minor placings.
Kinsella would later salvage fifth, as he managed to get by McLean in the closing stages, but he could do nothing about Caisley and Pace.
The race was neutralised on two occasions, as John McDonald and Aaron Pace came unstuck, and that saw the race extended to thirteen laps.
Again, it was Porter who led the field off the last corner, on the last lap, and once again, he was pipped at the post, with Dylan Thomas edging past right on the finish line, to win by 0.0228, from Porter, Pace, Caisley and Kinsella, with the latter three separated by less than half-a-second.
Thomas, with two wins on Saturday, was well placed to secure the round on Sunday, only needing second place in the third race, to take the overall win.
While it was a four-race program for the category, only the Queensland series competitors would contest that last race for points, as only the first three races counted towards the national series – a move put in place to ensure continuity with the other three rounds, which will all be three race affairs.
Dylan Thomas led in the early stages, but as we saw in the previous two races, the battle for the lead was a see-sawing affair, with Porter and Thomas chopping and changing throughout.
In race 2, it was Aaron Pace that failed to finish, in Race 3, it was, his father, Simon. Pace was one of several retirements, in what was a race of attrition, and one that was neutralised on three occasions.
When Simon Pace triggered the first clampdown, it was Thomas who was leading the field, only to be passed by Porter as soon as the race resumed.
Pace’s demise was good news for David Caisley, who cemented third, but he wouldn’t be comfortable for long, with Wade McLean and Michael Kinsella closing in.
An average weekend for Darren Williams only got worse when his race came to a halt on Lap 10, causing the second clampdown.
With the race scheduled for ten laps, it went into overtime as officials moved Williams’ car to safety.
Upon resumption, the duel between Thomas and Porter continued.
Thomas would lead at the post until Lap 13, before Porter made his move – taking the lead on the approach to the carousel, at the start of Lap 14.
Before the field got back to the line, the race was in clampdown again, this time for Alex Hedemann, who was buried in the sand at turn 2.
The race resumed, somewhat bizarrely, on lap 16, with Wade McLean charging around everybody, to take the lead. He was fourth when the race was neutralised two laps earlier.
McLean led the field onto the main straight, with Porter and Thomas in close pursuit. In the run to the line, it was Porter who snuck by McLean, and took victory, as the chequered flag was waved. Thomas was third across the line, ahead of Caisley and Kinsella.
There was no ‘last lap’ board shown in that race, which left spectators, drivers and commentators confused, but the officials later clarified that the race was DECLARED on Lap 16, and that final restart shouldn’t have actually occurred.
Officials later made the decision, based on that, to backdate the race results by one lap (to the conclusion of lap 15). which saw McLean drop back down to fourth position, while Porter was still classified as the winner, ahead of Dylan Thomas and David Caisley. Michael Kinsella was fifth, behind McLean.
The officials verdict ensured that Dylan Thomas would be declared the round winner in the 1600 National Series, with second position in that third race.
Danny Cerro won the 1200cc class, while the Historic Formula Vee battle was won by Alan Don, ahead of Steve Wood, after Wood failed to start the first race.
With many of the national series competitors hitting the road, for the long trek home, just ten cars took to the track for the final race of the weekend.
The reduction in competitors didn’t reduce the entertainment value, with Curtis Porter and Wade McLean fighting for victory right to the very end of the 10-lap affair.
David Caisley led the field at the end of the first lap, but it didn’t last long. Porter relegated him to second on lap 2, before McLean pushed him back to third on lap 4.
McLean and Porter engaged in a back-and-forward fight for the remainder of the race, while Caisley was later relegated to fourth, as David Campbell stole the final podium position off him, in what was his best race of the weekend.
In another tight finish, once again, Porter was defeated in the run to the chequered flag – this time by Wade McLean, as the Tasmanian scored his first win of the weekend.
While many of the other national series competitors didn’t contest that last race, looking to get back to their homes late Sunday night, McLean got value for dollar, as the trek back to the Apple Isle is a long one, and one that he wasn’t commencing until Monday.
Second place for Porter ensured a good haul of points in the Queensland series – he was the best placed state competitor all weekend. Campbell was third, ahead of Caisley and Shane Purvis, who rounded out the top five.
It’s a tight turnaround for the Queensland series, who’ll contest Round 3 this weekend, at Morgan Park. As for the national series, the all-new Tailem Bend is calling – round 2 of the championship will be staged in South Australia on June 9 and 10.
Australian Formula Vee Series
Pole Position: Curtis Porter (1:02.0362)
Race 1: 1st Dylan Thomas, 2nd Curtis Porter, 3rd Michael Kinsella
Race 2: 1st Dylan Thomas, 2nd Curtis Porter, 3rd Simon Pace
Race 3: 1st Curtis Porter, 2nd Dylan Thomas, 3rd David Caisley
QLD Race 4: 1st Wade McLean, 2nd Curtis Porter, 3rd David Campbell
Fastest Lap: Simon Pace (1:02.1406 | Race 1 – Lap 12)
Next Round: Tailem Bend, South Australia | June 8-10.