The 2018 Australian GT Championship got off to a thrilling start of the weekend at Albert Park. Supporting the Formula One season opener, with a grid of over 30 cars, and for the first time a GT4 class, the series threw up some interesting storylines heading into the second weekend next month at The Bend.
Overall, while McLaren and Audi teams came close, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 proved to be the package to have on the world-famous Australian street course in Melbourne, the championship lead being claimed by Scott Taylor Motorsports’ Craig Baird after the four sprint races over the weekend.
Craig Baird claimed he has his mojo back after winning the first of four races in the opening round of the CAMS Australian GT Championship at Albert Park.
Driving the Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3, Baird led from the start, pegging out a three-second plus lead over his esteemed rivals before the race finished under safety car conditions.
The precautionary period came about when Wayne Mack spun his Trophy Class Ferrari 458 out of the final corner on Lap 5.
Second went to Giancarlo Fisichella in the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 with Marcel Fassler third in the Jamec Penn Audi R8 LMS.
Fassler was hounded throughout by Tony D’Alberto in the WM Waste Management Mercedes.
Throughout the opening laps, with Dan Gaunt (Audi) forced to pit due to a cut tyre in the opening melee, the top four had a gap to the next three, consisting of John Martin (Porsche 911 GT3-R), Dean Canto (Lamborghini Huracan) and Steven Richards (BMW M6).
In eighth was the Dom Storey (Mercedes) ahead of debutant Jaie Robson (Mercedes) and Fraser Ross (McLaren 650S).
Eleventh and first in Trophy was Nick Kelly, with three places (behind the Tony Quinn McLaren and the Ash Samadi Audi) back to class rivals John Morriss (Porsche GT3-R), Matt Stoupas and Rio Nugara in their Audis.
Jeremy Grey (Aston Martin) dominated GT4, finishing 23rd outright and several places ahead of Xavier West (BMW M4), Mark Griffith (Ginetta) and Justin McMillian (KTM X-Bow).
The eight and a quarter hour wait was worth it for Jaie Robson who won Race 2 of the first round of the 2018 CAMS Australian GT Championship at Albert Park on the Friday.
In a Mercedes-AMG GT3, Robson started third on the grid and was involved in a near-race long dice with pole-sitter Fraser Ross (McLaren 650S) before seizing the lead and going onto win by over five seconds.
Third across the line was Peter Hackett (Mercedes) who forged his way through from starting fifth, passing the 2017 Australian GT Champion Geoff Emery (Audi R8 LMS) and front row starter Max Twigg (Mercedes).
The latter two battled throughout with Twigg coming out on top towards the end.
The race was originally scheduled for at 10:45 start but was delayed after an incident in the previous event forced it to be rescheduled to 19:00.
It made for an incredible spectacle as the 31-car field raced with headlights blazing, Robson taking the flag as the sun finally dipped below the horizon.
Filling out the rest of the top ten were Liam Talbot (Porsche 911 GT3-R) who started tenth, Tony Bates (Audi), Tony Quinn (McLaren), Scott Taylor (Mercedes) and Ash Samadi (Audi).
Trophy Class cars filled the next three places with Nick Kelly (Audi R8 LMS Ultra) ahead of John Morriss (Porsche 911 GT3-R) and Matt Stoupas (Audi), Kelly taking his second Class victory of the weekend.
GT4 honours went right down to the wire, with Jeremy Gray (Aston Martin) coming from the rear of the grid to grab a last-gasp victory over Xavier West (BMW M4) at the last corner on the final lap.
In stark contrast to Friday’s twilight race, the third outing was in pouring rain where Craig Baird led from start to finish.
Saturday’s race began behind a safety car and finished behind one as well.
While Baird dictated terms out in front aboard the Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3, Marcel Fassler (Audi R8 LMS) chased and passed Giancarlo Fisichella (Ferrari 488) to finish second while Fisichella, the Australian Grand Prix winner in Melbourne in 2005, was eventually relegated to fourth by John Martin (Porsche 911 GT3-R).
The treacherous conditions saw Jan Jinadasa (Lamborghini) spin and contact the concrete on lap three, and on the next tour Ash Samadi crashed his Audi.
That brought out the safety car, under which the race was finalised after eight of the eleven scheduled laps.
Steve Richards brought his BMW M6 across the line fifth ahead of Dominic Storey (Mercedes), Fraser Ross (McLaren 650S), Dean Canto (Lamborghini Huracan) and Jaie Robson (Mercedes).
Tenth and first in Trophy Class was Nick Kelly (Audi) this time ahead of the Audis piloted by Matt Stoupas and Rio Nugara while John Morriss was fourth.
Within that class, the unofficial battle between the Porsche GT3 Cup Cars was claimed by Shane Barwood over Michael Loccisano.
The GT4 Class was taken out be Justin McMillian in the KTM X-Bow, beating Xavier West (BMW M4) and the winner of the previous race, Jeremy Gray (Aston Martin).
With a lights-out to flag lead, Jaie Robson won the fourth and final race of the opening weekend of the 2018 season, and claimed the top spot in the points standings heading into Round 2 at The Bend Motorsport Park.
Robson saw off the early challengers to steer his Mercedes-AMG GT3 across the finish line four seconds ahead of his nearest rival.
Starting out of position three for the 11-lapper, Peter Hackett dropped to fifth on the opening lap before progressively moving the Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes to third, and then nabbed second off Fraser Ross (Total McLaren 650S GT3) on lap seven.
Ross was able to withstand the advances of Liam Talbot (Walkinshaw GT3 Porsche 911 GT3-R) after he passed the 2017 champion Geoff Emery (Jamec Pem Audi R8 LMS) to retain third.
Behind Emery came Max Twigg (Mercedes), Tony Bates (Audi), Scott Taylor (Mercedes) and Tony Quinn (McLaren).
Tenth went Nick Kelly who took his fourth Trophy Class win for the weekend.
Unlike the early events, he had to come from behind John Morriss (Porsche GT3-R) after contact with fellow Audi driver Matt Stoupas at the first corner.
There was just 2.5 seconds between GT4 Class winner Jeremy Gray (Aston Martin) and Xavier West (BMW M4) while Mark Griffith (Ginetta) was third.
Over the four races it was Justin McMillian (KTM X-Bow) who was third behind Gray and West.
Robson now leads the Australian GT Championship after the opening round.
The competition now moves to the inaugural event at The Bend Motorsport Park in South Australia next month (April 14-15) for the first Endurance format round of the season.