Last weekend was the opening weekend of the Australian GT Championship weekend, as usual, held at Albert Park in support of the Formula One Australian Grand Prix. Across the weekend there were four sprint races, featuring Australian GT teams, Australian Trophy Series teams and GT4 runners, with a grid of 25 cars.
The biggest headline came early in the weekend, on the first day, when Fraser Ross steered his 59Racing McLaren 720S GT3 to a win on its Australian GT debut. It was also the car’s first win in customer hands globally.
Ross qualified third on the grid and had to fight hard with Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3 drivers Max Twigg and Kenny Habul in a three-way battle for the lead.
Off the line, for the opening race Twigg held Habul at bay early, but it was clear Ross had both the motivation and the speed to push the leaders. And push he did, at one stage grazing the wall on the exit of the final corner, before forcing his way through on first Habul (which involved contact that ultimately ended Habul’s race with a tyre failure) and then Twigg to give the new McLaren it’s maiden worldwide success.
Ross wasn’t the only star of the day, 18-year old Ryan How took the #125 generation one Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra to victory in Trophy Series as a result of his incredible fifth-placed finish, whilst Nick Karnaros claimed the win in the first ever race for the new Trofeo Challenge category, and Glen Wood dominated GT4 over rookie McLaren driver Ryan Simpson, also driving for 59Racing in a 570S GT4.
“59Racing worked so hard putting the car on the grid, McLaren have been amazing supporting us giving me the chance to drive this car for the first time in Australia, and to win is pretty cool,” Ross said after the race.
“We set up the car to come on a little bit later in the race, but I was a little bit impatient at the start, at one stage I glanced the fence coming onto the main straight. I could see where I was quickest and it was all about getting the run into turn three – when you’ve got the performance in braking you’ve got to have a lunge.
“I had a bit of car to car contact with one of the Mercedes, I don’t think he saw me, but that’s what it’s all about you can’t run around just following people can you.”
Whilst Ross and the new McLaren made an impressive debut, his results were overshadowed by a setback with the homologation for the new car, with documentation failing to arrive by the official start of the event, a factor which resulted in the new McLaren being classified ‘invitational’ and not eligible for championship points.
That effectively left Max Twigg as the winner [on points] of the opening race from Peter Hackett and Geoff Emery.
Then on Friday in the second race, US-based Kenny Habul, driving a Mercedes in his head-turning SunEnergy1 livery, bounced back in fine form to claim a lights to flag victory after getting the jump on pole-sitter Fraser Ross at the start heading into Turn 1.
From there Habul held his ground despite mounting pressure from the McLaren driver to claim his maiden GT win in Australia from Ross and fellow Mercedes-AMG GT3 driver Max Twigg. The winning margin was under a second between Habul and Ross, who had pulled away from Twigg by the end.
“We had good pace [yesterday] and I was just learning from Max [Twigg], he was weak in a few spots and I thought I’d just wait till the last lap or the second last lap and I’ll have a go, but I didn’t expect to get smashed from behind,” explained Habul.
“Today I just focussed and drove well, 55s in the race, so I was happy. I really focussed on those lights and getting a good start, I really worked hard on warming up the rears so I didn’t have any wheelspin. This place is tricky, it’s really easy to out-brake yourself, it’s so simple just to lock a brake and run wide.
“To me this place is more mentally challenging than physically so I had to focus on that and not make a mistake.”
Further down the order, Ryan How again stunned the established stars in the Trophy Series to claim his second win of the event, whilst Shane Barwood grabbed the win in Trofeo Challenge and Ryan Simpson his maiden victory in GT4 in the 59Racing McLaren 570S GT4.
Neither Ross or Habul could find winning form in the third race. This time it was Eggleston Motorsport’s Peter Hackett who claimed his maiden victory in the series in what turned into a 1-2-3 finish for Mercedes.
To claim the victory, Hackett had to push hard and fight past title rival Max Twigg late in the race as they came up to lap the ailing Dale Paterson, the pair crossing the line nose to tail with race two winner Kenny Habul third after an outstanding drive from the rear of the field.
Race 1 winner Fraser Ross meanwhile, finished a lowly sixth in the race, the 720S GT3 unable to add to its impressive start to the season with another set of silverware.
Victorian teenager Ryan How continued his incredible start to the season to claim not only his third consecutive Trophy Series victory but a fourth-placed outright finish, the Audi driver also taking advantage of traffic to charge through on Geoff Emery late in the race.
Nick Karnaros continued his strong form to take the Trofeo Challenge victory, whilst Glen Wood added to his winning tally in the #48 KTM to take back the points lead from McLaren’s Ryan Simpson.
Without Ross disrupting the Mercedes challenge, Race 4 saw a second Mercedes 1-2-3 finish, Habul claiming his second win of the weekend.
Habul stormed to victory from pole position, leading home STM teammate Max Twigg and Race 3 winner Peter Hackett to claim a second AMG 1-2-3 for the event.
For fellow front-row starter and race one winner Fraser Ross, the McLaren driver suffered a brake system failure on the grid, the car unable to move after stopping inside his P2 grid box ahead of the start, a technical issue forcing the front brakes to lock solid, the field then forced to circulate behind the Safety Car as the 720S was recovered from the main straight.
“Winning in Melbourne is everything, that’s what you race for,” said Twigg, who leads the points standings heading into the second meeting of the year with a second place finish in the final race of the weekend.
“I like to think we had two race wins. We went all the way to the last lap against a McLaren that wasn’t homologated, then we were thwarted by a lapped car on the last lap whilst leading race three. I think we had speed, which was good and in the last lap I just had to finish well, stay out of trouble and that’s what we did.”
Behind the three AMG’s a horde of Audis battled, with local teenager Ryan How ultimately claiming his fourth consecutive Trophy Series victory, whilst Shane Barwood claimed his second Trofeo Challenge win of the event to close in on points leader Nick Karnaros. In GT4, Ryan Simpson sealed his GT-debut with a second win to take the points lead in the McLaren 570S GT4.
Featured image courtesy of McLaren Automotive