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Australian GT Championship Season Preview

The 2015 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli gets underway this weekend at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide to bumper grids and some international names that could throw the Championship race wide open.

The 2015 Championship will once again see six rounds, four supporting the V8 Supercars championship and two stand alone events. The first round will have two 20 minute sprint races and the one hour feature race. Other rounds throughout the year will feature two one-hour race or in the case of the Phillip Island round round two, a 101 lap race.

After Adelaide’s opening round the Championship visits Phillip Island in May, rejoining the V8 paddock for Townsville, Sydney and Sandown; before ending the Championship in New Zealand in November.

The 2015 Championship will have three classes:

Championship

The premier class is the Championship class designed for new GT3 cars. There are 19 entries for the first round – and there are two notable cars missing, the Ferrari of Marenello Motorsport and the Bentley of Flying B. Both of their cars were heavily damaged at the recent Bathurst 12 Hours. They should both be back for round 2 at Phillip Island in May and should compete at the front.

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The Championship Class features no less than seven ‘Pro’ category drivers with European names, Tomas Enge and Christopher Meis topping the list. Four ex-V8 Supercar drivers, Steven Johnson, Cameron McConville, Steven Richards and Dean Canto with Asian GT regular Jono Lester making up the high class field.

There are four Audis in the field, with Peter Fitzgerald coming off a strong performance in the Bathurst 12 Hour in the #2. Nathan Antunes is back for another year in the GT, stepping up to the outright class in the #6. The former open wheel star took third in the Trophy class last year and should pose to be a threat this year.

The #74 and #75 Audis are undoubtedly some the championship favourites this year. The #74 car features the rapid Steven McLaughlan and Steven Johnson. McLaughlan was the 2013 Trophy Class Champion and Johnson is a V8 Supercar veteran having started some 419 races.

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The #75 Audi has former champion Greg Crick and Christopher Mies behind the wheel. Mies has proved extremely rapid when he’s been in Australia for Bathurst 12 Hours and Greg Crick is a reliable driver will be more than capable of racing at the front. In fact cricket finished on the podium in the 2014 Bathurst 12 Hours.

There will be three Ferraris in the field although one will be missing at the first round, the #88 Maranello Ferrari as mentioned earlier. Two of the Ferraris will be entered by Maranello Motorsport, but all three will be housed in the Melbourne based team’s garage.

Former V8 Supercar driver Cameron McConville will be racing alongside Adrian Deitz in the #8 Maranello Motorsports Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia. McConville has a long history in V8 Supercar, and before that super touring racing. Deitz is a newcomer to GT racing, having competed in a handful of races last year.

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The Trass Family Motorsport Ferrari, the #27 will have New Zealander Jono Lester behind the wheel, fresh off a few seasons in Asia where he proved his pace. Gentleman driver Paul Kelly competes their lineup.

There are three McLarens is on the grid, one 650S GT3 for Tony Quinn who owns the championship and has been progressing in pace over the past few seasons.

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His son Klark, a two time champion of the series will be in an MP4-12C. The key for this team will be ensuring that the cards are reliable enough over a race distance to run at the front runners pace will be undoubtedly quick this year. The other McLaren is a 650S GT3 for championship newcomer Tony Walls.

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Defending champions Erebus Motorsport back with two of that Mercedes SLS GT3 packages. Champion Richard Muscat has moved onto the Porsche Carrera Cup and Erebus squad had taken on a pro-am lineup like most of the field.

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The #28 will have Morgan Haber at the wheel. Haber has several seasons in the V8 development category and this car could prove to be a dark horse for the championship title at the end of the year.

The #36 Mercedes will feature Geoff Emery and long time Porsche GT3 Cup driver Max Twigg. Both drivers are capable, Twigg with the huge amount of GT experience and Emery with a huge amount of V8 experience.

The Lamborghini marque also remains popular in Australia with two cars on the grid one for long-time GT racer Ross Lilly, who probably won’t feature at the front and the other for former F3 racer John Magro. The latter had shown pace in the Formula 3 championship and may spring a surprise here and there.

Porsche and Chevrolet will be there with two cars. The Camaro will feature Tomas Enge – the Czech driver will be immensely fast in this field and his experience will prove invaluable for Justin McMillen, who has been proving quick over the past season.

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The other car will have Steven Richards, ex-V8 Supercar driver who scored a few pole positions in a Lamborghini last season. he will be alongside Dale Paterson.

Porsche will have James Koundouris, fresh off his class B victory at the Bathurst 12 Hours whilst the other car will have James Winslow, no stranger to Australian audiences and Andrew MacPherson behind the wheel. Winslow is a known quantity and will partner his Australian commitments with ELMS his year. MacPherson on the other hand does have a tendency to throw the car after track at times and will need to calm himself if they have a chance of victory.

There will be one car each for Aston Martin and Ginetta. Andrew Taplin and Dean Canto will be at the wheel of the Aston Martin both with plenty of experience and will be interesting to see if they have the pace to compete at the front.

Ginetta will be featuring for the first time in the Championship category with Michael Hovey upgrading from his GT4 car for 2015.

AGT-Ginetta

Challenge

The challenge field features just a four cars for the first round, three Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge and a single Lotus.

The Lotus will be driven by Tony Alford, fresh off his class D win at the Bathurst 12 Hours. The Donut King Lotus Exige Cup R will be well presented and Alford has plenty of experience in the Australian GT Championship.

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The #12 Matt Kingsley/Brendan Cook Porsche will be the other car that is a favourite for the Championship. Both Kingsley and Cook rapid drivers with a lot of experience in the machine. Both were quick at the Bathurst 12 Hours and will be tough for Richard Gartner and the #53 and Michael O’Donnell and the#68 to manner consistent challenge against that duo.

12 Cook Brendan Gold Porsche GT3 Cup Car MY09
Kingsley Matt Expert
53 Gartner Richard Gold Porsche GT3 Cup Car MY09
54 Alford Tony Gold Lotus Exige Cup R
68 O’Donnell Michael Gold Porsche GT3 Cup Car MY09

Trophy

The third and final class, the Trophy class features 11 cars for round one and is for older GT3 machinery.

Class features five Porsches, a combination of Cup Cars and older GT3 machines. Another F3 graduate Tim Macrow will prove to be rapid but will be up against the experienced an equally as rapid as the Theo Koundouris. The latter has years of experience in Porsches having raced in both the GT Championship and the Carrera Cup In the past.

Ex-V8 Supercar driver Warren Luff finds himself beside Simon Ellingham. Luff will be the gun of the field. John Goodacre will put in solid performances in the #66 while the other Porsche will be steered by Danny Stutterd.

The vastly experienced Kevin Weeks has bought back his Ford GT GT3. It was only a couple of years ago that Weeks was competing at the front with a Lamborghini for an outright victory. His Ford never proved to be reliable or as fast as he wished but remains a fan favourite.

Mark Griffith has upgraded from his Ginetta GT4 to an Audi R8 LMS. He was quick in the GT4 class but there is more depth in this field so his chances are hard to determine.

Mark-Griffith-Audi-Mockup

The other Audi will be piloted by the rapid and experienced Barton Mawer who will drive alongside Greg Taylor. Mawer has run at the front of the Championship in many different machines in the past.

Jan Jinadasa will be at the helm of Lamborghini LP560 GT3 and will be a chance at a class win should bad luck befall some of the faster runners.

Finally Ben Foessel will race a Ginetta G50Z. The 2014 Challenge Class Champion has stepped up for 2015. He was rapid and reliable in the Challenge class but like Griffith, the deeper Trophy class will prove an interesting indicator of pace for Foessel.

3 Foessel Ben Master Ginetta G50Z
5 Weeks Kevin Gold Ford GT 2011 GT3
19 Griffith Mark Master Audi R8 LMS
21 Danny Stutterd Master Porsche GT3 Cup Car MY11
33 Ellinghham Simon Gold Porsche GT3 Cup Car MY11
Luff Warren Pro
38 Taylor Greg Gold Audi R8 LMS
Mawer Barton Expert
43 Griguol Brenton Gold Ferrari F430 GT3
64 Simon McLennan Master Porsche GT3 Cup Car MY11
Tim Macrow Expert
66 Goodacre John Gold Porsche GT3 Cup Car MY11
69 Koundouris Theo Gold Porsche 996 GT3-S
77 Jinadasa Jan Gold Lamborghini LP560-4 GT3 2011

Like much of the world GT racing in Australia is going through a high point at the moment. Capacity grids feature for the races in Adelaide and will undoubtedly fluctuate through the year as drivers take on the races they can make and skip the races they can’t.

It is impossible to pick a winner. Over the past few seasons there has been an overall favourite whether it’s been David Wall’s Porsche. Klark Quinn or the Erebus squad. This year’s six round championship will prove to be close in each class and it is hoped that the Australian GT championship will have a publicity and TV package to match the strength of the grid.

Sam Tickell