Liam Talbot and Shane Van Gisbergen took the win in Round 2 of the Australian Endurance Championship at The Bend Motorsport Park last weekend after the team managed to eke out over an hour on fuel after a safety car intervention.
The championship-leading #1 Valvoline Audi of Geoff Emery and Garth Tander finished second, 15 seconds behind, while it was the #63 Eggleston Motorsport AMG of Dominic Storey and Peter Hackett in third.
The Bend Motorsport Park, located just outside of Tailem Bend, South Australia, played host to Round 4 of the Australian GT Championship and Round 2 of the Endurance Championship. Wild weather over the weekend saw no dry running for the 10 entries on Friday practice or during Qualifying, with lap times over the two-minute mark around the 4.95km International configuration of the circuit.
With both qualifying sessions rain-affected, it was the #63 Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes AMG which took pole position after both driver’s laps.
Twigg and D’Alberto completed the front row in their WM Waste Mercedes AMG, while the second row featured the Huracan of Trofeo Motorsport and the #777 circuit-sponsored Yasser Shahin and Jamie Whincup Mercedes AMG. The big surprise in qualifying was the current Australian GT and Endurance championship leaders Garth Tander and Geoff Emery who qualified down in 6th, alongside the McLaren 720s of Fraser Ross and Ryan Simpson.
The three-hour race started in bright and sunny conditions on Saturday afternoon, marking the first dry running for the GT cars over the weekend. Shahin got a great start from the second row of the grid, taking the lead around the outside into Turn 1. As the field squeezed in towards the first turn, the three AMG’s at the front made slight contact but managed to escape unscathed.
A brief shower minutes into the race caused havoc at the front of the field. Both of the leading cars, the #777 and #8, ran wide at the first corner, allowing Peter Hackett in the #63 Eggleston AMG and Fraser Ross in the #59 59 Racing McLaren to move up the order. Shahin and Twigg recovered to emerge third and fourth just ahead of Liam Talbot in the #129 Lamborghini.
The Australian GT Series equalises driver ratings by mandating three compulsory pit stops with a minimum stationary time, essentially parking quicker combinations as a method of balancing Pro and Am drivers. As the first pit stops approached, the leading #63 AMG of Hackett and Storey would have a 121-second pit stop to contend with, six seconds longer than the #59 McLaren of Ross and Simpson only just behind. About 10 seconds down the road, the three combinations of Twigg/D’Alberto, Shahin/Whincup, and Talbot/Van Gisbergen would all take 121-second stops.
The shorter stop for the #59 saw it emerge in the lead, while a spin for the #129 Trofeo Lamborghini saw it drop behind the #1 Valvoline Audi after the pit stops. Eggleston Motorsport elected to keep Hackett on the same set of tyres, which proved costly as Twigg quickly closed the gap and made the move for second.
Over the second stint, Hackett was able to claw back that lost time, with the three AMG’s of Twigg, Hackett and Shahin within 1.5 seconds come the next round of stops, right on the minimum driver time of 80 minutes. Ross still held a 10-second lead over the battle for second, with Emery around the same behind the battle in fifth place.
With Jamie Whincup now installed in the #777 Mercedes, that car began to move up the field. He started his charge by getting past the #63 and #8 in a single corner; Tony D’Alberto, now in the #8, running wide, and Dominic Storey in the #63 going off with him.
Then, Whincup started to eat into the 15-second gap that Ryan Simpson now had in the #59 McLaren, setting a new GT3 lap record in the process. The gap had halved until the safety car was called with an hour and 10 minutes remaining. The #48 M Motorsport KTM X-Bow of Glenn Wood and Justin McMillan parked up on the exit of Turn 13 with no drive, losing the class lead to the #50 KTM of David Crampton and Trent Harrison. This erased the gaps at the head of the field but also saw the #129 Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini with Shane Van Gisbergen come into the pits from sixth position to make the last of their compulsory stops.
The race restarted with just over 64 minutes remaining, and immediately Whincup moved to the lead around the outside through the fast sweeper at turn 5. He continued a blistering pace, dropping the lap record to a 1:45.661 and stretching the lead, until trouble struck a few laps later. The car had run out of fuel, leaving Whincup to limp it back to the pits. A missed warning in car as well as from the team in the garage the culprit, as the #777 returned to the track on the lead lap, but only just.
As the remaining cars made their stops, Shane Van Gisbergen inherited the lead and a 40-second gap to boot. Garth Tander, now at the seat of the #1 brought the gap down over the last stint but could do nothing to prevent the Lamborghini from taking the race win. The final margin at the finish line was 15 seconds, with the battle for third a further five seconds back.
The titanic race-long battle between the #63 and #8 went the way of the Eggleston Motorsport team and a five-second penalty for crossing the blend line at pit exit after the WM Waste car’s last stop resulting in the largest gap between the two cars over the course of the race! Shahin and Whincup took fifth, ahead of the #59 McLaren who finished five laps down. A sheared wheel nut for the McLaren damaged the front left tyre, resulting in an additional stop for repairs.
“That’s another team win,” race winner Shane Van Gisbergen said after the race. “[They] quickly realised we could get to the end and get in before the Safety Car and just manage the lead.”
The maiden win for Trofeo Motorsport also marked Van Gisbergen’s third Australian GT win (in three different cars) and Liam Talbot’s second.
The second-placed Melbourne Performance Centre Audi of Garth Tander and Geoff Emery extended their lead in the Endurance championship, with their closest rivals, the 59 McLaren, finishing down the order.
“The car was so fast, unbelievably good… I just didn’t want [Australian Supercars Co-driver] Shane to win!” commented Tander after the race.
The trophy-class for older spec GT3 cars went the way of the only entrant, the #69 Lamborghini Gallardo of Hadrian Morrall and Richard Gartner running a mostly clean race until late troubles forced them to manage the car until the end.
The GT4 class saw no classified finishers, as both KTM X-Bows failed to complete enough laps to classify. Both cars ran into trouble on the same lap; the #50 stuck in gear and the #48 losing drive with around an hour and 13 minutes remaining. The #50 crew returned to the track one lap ahead of the sister car and held that margin to the finish.
The only retirement of the race was the #222 Scott Taylor/Craig Baird Mercedes AMG. Taylor made contact with the wall on the exit of Turn 9, breaking the rear of the car.
Geoff Emery extends his lead over Max Twigg in the GT championship to 127 points, with Peter Hackett a further 76 points adrift. Australian GT resumes at Sandown Raceway on the 20th of September, with the finale of the Endurance Championship.
Photo courtesy of Australian GT