Geoff Emery of Melbourne Performance Centre Audi clinched the 2019 Australian GT championship over last weekend’s finale at Sandown Raceway.
A pair of fifth places in the first two races of the weekend enough to secure the championship ahead of the final race of the series, which he went on to win, capping off a season that saw Emery taking home both the Australian GT Championship and the GT Endurance Cup earlier in the year.
“Absolutely awesome, I’m absolutely rapt.” Emery commented after the series win was confirmed in race 2. “Seriously, I’d never thought I’d win three of them, I just can’t believe it”
“I was pretty conservative in race 2, there was plenty of room for error so I took it easy. We only had to finish the race to wrap up the championship”
The final points margin over second-placed Peter Hackett was 99 points, with Max Twigg over 700 points behind in third place, after not contesting the latter part of the season.
The weekend started in patchy conditions as rain constantly threatened the Sandown circuit in Melbourne’s south-east suburbs. The 13 strong grid featuring six GT3 entrants would contest three 40-minute races with a compulsory pit stop in each. A largely dry qualifying session saw the #59 59 Racing duo of Fraser Ross and Ryan Simpson take pole, ahead of a pair of Audi’s in Geoff Emery in the #1 and Tony Bates in the #24, returning after a stint in the Audi R8 LMS Cup.
Friday afternoon’s race 1 was shortened to a 20-minute hit-out due to barrier repairs earlier in the day and was run in overcast conditions, with rain threatening to strike late in the piece. Bates got the best jump off the line and took the lead from Simpson in the McLaren, but that only lasted until turn 9 on the first lap, where Bates ran wide and dropped down to 5th.
Simpson got to work offsetting the longer compulsory pit stop time that his 59 Racing team had, while Liam Talbot in the #129 Trofeo Motorsport Huracan and Peter Hackett in the #63 Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes AMG made their way past Emery’s Audi.
The #59 car was also the only car running two drivers for the weekend, and the lengthy driver change saw them exceed their minimum required pit time by 30 seconds, dropping them to 9th place. Hackett emerged from the pit sequence in the lead, with Mark Griffith in the #19 Griffith Corporation Mercedes AMG jumping to the head of the field, thanks to a significantly shorter pit stop time.
Fraser Ross was able to recover in the #59 to 4th position, helped by a peculiar accident for Tony Bates in the #24 Audi. Coming into the fast sweeper at turn 6, the engine of the R8 shut off, leaving the #24 stranded in the fast sequence of corners, on the apex of turn 8.
He would be the only retirement of the race, as Hackett cruised to victory ahead of Griffith and Talbot. Ryan Millier in the #29 Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini Super Trofeo took home Trofeo Challenge honours from Nick Karnaros in the #25 Porsche 911 cup, while the Trophy class went the way of Joseph Ensabella in the #64 Porsche 911 997. GT4 was won by Dean Koutsoumidis’s #48 KTM X-Bow, 25 seconds ahead of David Crampton in the #50 KTM.
Race 2 on Saturday morning saw much sunnier conditions drying a damp track after morning rain, but saw the loss of one competitor from the entry; Tony Bates revealing that he’d pulled his hamstring while braking on the first lap of the previous race, causing him significant enough pain to pull out of the remainder of the weekend.
The race saw Fraser Ross make early inroads from 4th place, passing both Talbot and Griffith before the end of the first lap. Griffith was unable to stay with the pace of the quicker drivers around him, and made a mistake out of the final corner, dropping him down the order.
Hackett and Ross then reprised their battle from the endurance round at Sandown earlier in the year and were nose to tail heading into the pit sequence. It would be Hackett again emerging in the lead, as another pit stop drama for the 59 Racing team saw them exceed their minimum pit- stop time; this time the internal fire extinguisher activating in the middle of the driver change.
Hackett would remain untroubled to take race 2 in convincing fashion, 6 seconds ahead of Simpson who had taken the seat of the #59 McLaren. Liam Talbot finished third, with Ensabella taking fourth, and with it the Trophy class victory. Millier took his second Trofeo Challenge win of the weekend, as did Koutsoumidis in the GT4 category.
Changing conditions greeted the field for the final race of the championship on Saturday afternoon, but before racing could even get underway, the field was neutralised under the safety car.
On the formation lap, Koutsoumidis lit up the rear tyres on the main straight, and his KTM fired into the armco on the main straight. This incident forced the #48 to sit alongside both the #59 McLaren and #71 Dale Paterson driven Camaro as non-starters for the final race; the McLaren’s fire-bomb issue that saw it lose time in the race 2 pit stop not able to be rectified, and a significant misfire in the Camaro engine forcing both cars to be withdrawn.
The threat of rain throughout the race action finally materialised in race 3, with a significant shower around 10 minutes into the race. This brought champion-elect Emery into the pits for wet tyres, outside of the CPS window, while front runners Hackett and Talbot elected to stay out on slicks, waiting for the window to change to wets.
Despite a small moment immediately exiting the pits, Emery was the fastest car on track as the leaders tried to outlast the weather. Talbot appeared the more comfortable of the two, taking the lead into the sweeper at turn 6. Both Hackett and Talbot pitted at the earliest opportunity, jumping straight onto wet tyres. However, a mistake in the pit stop for the Trofeo Motorsport crew saw the Lamborghini drop onto the wheel gun hose, and have to be re-lifted to extract the hose from under the car. This delay was enough for Hackett to return to the lead of the race.
Emery was still gaining time, and with the conditions overhead changing yet again, elected to switch to slicks for the run to the line, taking his pit stop as late as possible in the CPS window.
Talbot managed to take the lead of the race once again, thanks to Hackett encountering traffic in the form of Ensabella and Karnaros at turn 9. Swooping on the scene, Talbot was able to round up all three cars on the exit, leaving Hackett trapped behind the pair of Porsches. Talbot’s lead was short-lived though; a pit lane drive-through penalty for too many crew members in the lane ending his shot at victory, dropping him to third place.
It looked like Hackett would have a relatively untroubled run to the line, but his wet tyres were struggling in the now-dry conditions. Emery raged onto the back of Hackett, and made short work of the Mercedes AMG into the last corner of the penultimate lap, putting an exclamation point on his season with a win in the final race. Hackett came home second, while Talbot rounded out the podium.
Millier took the Trofeo Challenge win, overcoming a wheel nut issue to record a perfect weekend for the Gallardo Super Trofeo. The Trophy class went uncontested to Joseph Ensabella, while David Crampton took the GT4 victory after Koutsoumidis’s pre-race incident.
The Australian GT series has one final event for the year, a non-competition test session at the Challenge Bathurst event. Next season for Australian GT starts at Bathurst, supporting the Bathurst 12 Hour from Jan 30-Feb 2, 2020.