The Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli had the honour of being the first category to ever compete on the new Highlands Motorsport Park circuit at Cromwell in New Zealand just 12-months ago, but since that time, both the venue and the AGT category have ‘come-of-age’ and that presents a very different prospect for the 2014 event.
For a start, the Highlands venue has grown in stature to become one of the region’s most desired circuits, whilst for Australian GT, one a look at the entry list highlights just how well respected GT3 has become in the region with Craig Lowndes, Garth Tander, and local heroes Shane Van Gisbergen and Daniel Gaunt joining the field.
Such is the notoriety of both circuit and category that the best drivers and teams from both Australia and New Zealand have committed to be on track for the second weekend in November, and they’re all fighting for one prize… victory!
Last year the Australian GT Championship had all but been sown up by [then] reigning champion Klark Quinn, but this time around there is everything to play for with dual 2013 Highlands race winner Tony Quinn, and champion-elect Richard Muscat right in the midst of battle.
Thirty-two is the number to keep an eye on – it’s the difference between the championship points leader and their closest rivals in both outright [Championship] and Trophy classes.. Currently the decision is spilt as to who will win each class because the form drivers are the challengers, not the leaders..!
Richard Muscat has led the championship points since the opening round at Sandown back in March and he has five wins to Tony Quinn’s four, but since leaving the opening event of the season, Quinn has taken four wins to Muscat’s three and he is the defending Highlands champion.
Quinn has also engaged the services of former V8 Supercar champion and multiple Bathurst 1000 winner Garth Tander. The pair won the second ‘101’ event at Phillip Island in May, Tander reigning in the Muscat/Jack Le Brocq Mercedes in the dying stages to claim victory.
Muscat though will go-it-alone for the two 40-minute AGT races, and on paper, looks good to hang on to his lead, but with 110-points still on offer, there are no guarantees, and both have struck trouble during the year; Quinn at Sandown in March after an accident eliminated him from race two, and Muscat at Sydney in August with a rare mechanical failure whilst leading.
Thirty-two points is a fair margin for Quinn, who drives the VIP Petfoods Aston Martin, to make up, but consider the depth of the 28-car field. Shane Van Gisbergen re-joins Klark Quinn in the mighty McLaren MP4-12C for the first time since his lap-record setting run at the Bathurst 12-Hour. Lowndes will be behind the wheel of the Camarao GT3 – one of the most potent GT3 cars in history – while his V8 Supercar endurance co-driver Steven Richards will be back at the wheel of the Interlloy Lamborghini, and former V8 Supercars stars John Bowe and Cameron McConville will be Ferrari 458 mounted, as will local hero Jono Lester in another 458.
Then you have a fleet of Audi R8s… six to be exact, and on past performances (Rod Salmon won the first ever event at Highlands in an R8), you couldn’t discount them, especially when one carries experienced sportscar star Warren Luff.
Whilst the outright fight will attract plenty of attention, so too will the Trophy Class where Salmon is battling for his maiden GT title against Audi stablemate Dean Koutsoumidis. Former Trophy Class champion  Koutsoumidis has starred over recent rounds, and in fact, since Townsville in July has won four of the last five races with co-driver James Winslow sharing the driving duties. The duo won the opening round in March, but suffered a nasty crash [passengers in someone else’s accident] at the following round at Phillip Island, an accident which upset the balance of the car. The crack Melbourne Performance Centre team had the car sorted by Sydney in September where Winslow and Salmon’s co-driver Nathan Antunes went head-to-head during both 60-minute races, each taking a win. Since then it has been all Koutsoumidis/Winslow, but like the battle for outright honours, we can’t soon forget that Salmon was on the podium in all three races at Highlands in 2013!
Like Tony Quinn, the Koutsoumidis/Winslow combination will have their work cut out for them if they are to make up ground on Salmon, but anything is possible..
Challenge class will see a repeat of 2013, with reigning champion Ben Foessel once more leading the points coming into Highlands. Last year title rivals Brendan Cook and Matt Kingsley struck trouble early in the shape of the start-finish line wall, but this year they will present more of a challenge. However with a points lead of 48-points, Foessel looks all but assured of back-to-back titles.
GT Sports too will see a back-to-back champion crowned with Mark Griffith well clear of title rival Tony Martin, the Hog’s Breath Café Ginetta GT4 driver claiming the crown at Sandown last time out after early season points leader Tony Alford was eliminated in Sydney after heavy contact with the concrete barriers.
With two 40-minute races on the cards – both split by the compulsory pit stop [CPS] mid-race – there is still plenty to play for, so keep a close eye on the title contenders, but also be mindful of the depth of talent in all four classes, and whilst the bulk of the field is out of contention for championship victory, they’re all in the hunt for race victory!
Friday will see the Australian GT field complete two 40-minute practice sessions, ahead of qualifying mid-afternoon. Saturday will see the two 40-minute races contested, one at 11:45am, the other at 3:25, whilst Sunday will see qualifying for the Highlands 101, with the ‘main event’ starting at 1:25. Whilst not a round of the Australian GT Championship, all drivers are expected to make the grid for Sunday’s big race, with a few surprises in store..
As it was in 2013, the weekend will be one for the record books!
*CPS – Compulsory Pit Stop
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR?
GT Championship (for 2012-2013 specification GT3 cars)
This is a tough one, but based on current championship form you’d be hard pressed to look past Richard Muscat, the Tony Quinn/Garth Tander combination and Shane Van Gisbergen alongside outgoing champion Klark Quinn. As for Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards, keep a close eye on them too, and watch out for the Audis..
GT Trophy (for GT3-spec cars 2011 and older)
There is a lot on the line at Highlands, and the two MPC stablemates are both keen for the victory. Rod Salmon has won at Highlands before and team-mate Nathan Antunes is blisteringly quick, but so too is multiple F3 champion James Winslow, and Dean Koutsoumidis has been a standout in recent rounds. Realistically – like Muscat – Salmon just has to keep his nose clean, but anything can happen, and with Dan Gaunt alongside Jan Jinadasa in the Lamborghini, and a selection of local drivers looking to impress, it’s certainly not a done deal..
GT Challenge (Challenge class cars – Porsche/Ferrari)
Current Ferrari Challenge Asia front-runner Paul Van Leonhout showed just how competitive his 458 Challenge car was during his AGT debut at Sydney, taking the round win with local star Renato Loberto alongside. Expect the Ferrari to again be the Challenge class pace-setter at Highlands, but keep an eye on Matt Kingsley too. He’ll do his best to take the title for car-owner and good mate Brendan Cook, but it will be a big mountain to climb!
GT Sports (GT4 category cars)
After wrapping up the title at Sandown in September, Mark Griffith is looking to go out on a high in what might well be his last appearance in the mighty Ginetta, but look to Tony Martin to keep him honest! Martin won his maiden AGT round at Sandown and liked the taste of victory, he’ll be keen to add another!
Rnd#6 2014 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli
Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell, New Zealand (7-9 November)
Schedule: [NZDT – GMT +13]
Friday, 7 November
10:45am – Practice #1
12:30am – Practice #2
2:25pm – Qualifying
Saturday, 8 November
9:25am – warm-up
11:45am – Race#1 (40-minutes – CPS)
3:25pm – Race#2 (40-minutes – CPS)
Sunday, 9 November
10:30am – Highlands 101 (qualifying)
1:25pm – Highlands 101 (race – 101-laps)
AUSTRALIAN GT AND HIGHLANDS MOTORSPORT PARK
The first of the two 40-minute races that constituted the final round of the 2013 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli was the first ever race event on the Highlands Motorsport Park circuit.
The maiden race winner was Rod Salmon in the Skwirk.com.au Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3, the 2-time Bathurst 12-Hour winner inheriting the lead late in the race after early pace-setters Klark Quinn (sharing with pole-sitter Craig Baird) and Fabian Coulthard (in Tony Quinn’s Aston) succumbed to deflating tyres as a result of debris on the circuit. Salmon claimed his maiden victory in AGT with Coulthard hanging on for second, and Greg Murphy/Neil Crompton third in the Highlands McLaren MP4-12C.
Race two saw Tony Quinn claim the race win with Coulthard, from Klark Quinn/Craig Baird and Rod Salmon/Liam Talbot.
Baird’s pole time of 1:34.214 set the AGT benchmark. He also held the race lap record from race two with a best of 1:34.575, the very same time that Fabian Coulthard set during qualifying for the Highlands 101.
WHERE TO WATCH..
Coverage of the Highlands event will be available via www.australiangt.com.au each day, with a one-hour AGT/Highlands 101 package going to air on TV3 in New Zealand (23 November, 2:00pm) and a one hour package available in Australia at a date yet to be determined. Stay tuned to, to www.facebook.com/AustralianGT for regular updates, video clips and photographs.
Tickets are available through TicketDirect via; www.ticketdirect.co.nz
WHO’S ENTERED AT HIGHLANDS?
GT CHAMPIONSHIP CLASS
1. Klark Quinn/Shane Van Gisbergen (Darrell Lea McLaren MP4-12C)
2. Peter Fitzgerald/Michael Almond (Evolve Technik Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3)
7. Tony Quinn/Garth Tander (VIP Petfoods Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
08. Peter Edwards (Flying B Racing Bentley Continental GT3)
8. Adrian Deitz/Cameron McConville (Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
22. Inky Tulloch/Craig Lowndes (Interislander Chevrolet Camaro GT3)
27. Gerald Trass/Jono Lester (Trass Family Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
29. Jim Manolios/Ryan Millier (Trofeo Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
36. Richard Muscat (Erebus Motorsport SLS AMG GT3)
48. Justin McMillan/Steven Richards (Interlloy Gallardo FL2 GT3)
51. Andrew MacPherson/Ben Porter (IMAK Int. Porsche GT3-R)
63. Ross Lilley/Paul Kelly (Koala Furniture Gallardo FL2 GT3)
75. Steve McLaughlan (JAMEC PEM Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3)
88. John Bowe (Il Bello Rosso Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
GT TROPHY CLASS
6. Rod Salmon/Nathan Antunes (Skwirk.com.au Audi R8 LMS GT3)
33. Simon Ellingham/Andrew Heimgartner (Fastway Couriers Porsche 997 GT3 Cup)
35. Indiran Padayachee/Duvashen Padayachee (Rentcorp Porsche 997 GT3 Cup)
52. Keith Kassulke/Les Walmsley (Outbound Racing Ascari KZR-1 GT3)
67. Sam Filmore/Danny Stutterd (Motorsport Services Porsche 997 GT3 Cup)
71. Dean Koutsoumidis/James Winslow (Equity-One Audi R8 LMS GT3)
72. Ockert Fourie/John Magro (OLOF Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)
73. Michael Hovey/Matt Campbell (Triffid/Triple H Porsche 997 GT3 Cup)
77. Jan Jinadasa/Dan Gaunt (JJA Consulting Group Gallardo LP560)
GT CHALLENGE CLASS
3. Ben Foessel (Motor School Porsche Type 997 GT3 Cup)
11. Paul Van Loenhout/Renato Loberto (Mt Magnet Drilling Ferrari 458 Challenge)
25. Brendan Cook/Matt Kingsley (Walz Group Porsche Type 997 GT3 Cup)
GT4 SPORTS CLASS
9. Tony Martin (TM Motorsports Ginetta G50 GT4)
19. Mark Griffith (Hog’s Breath Cafe Ginetta G50 GT4)
2014 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli
GT Championship Class points (after round five of six)
1. Richard Muscat (487 points), 2. Tony Quinn (455), 3. John Bowe (388), 4. Justin McMillan (313), 5. Klark Quinn (292), 6. Peter Edwards (273), 7. Steven Richards (213), 8. Tony D’Alberto (147), 9. James Koundouris (138), 10. Ross Lilley (136), 11. Andrew MacPherson (119), 12. David Russell (101), 13. Steve McLaughlan (93), 14. John Morriss (89), 15. Steve Owen (84), 1165. Jim Manolios (78), 17. Ryan Millier (74), 18. Garth Tander (58), 18. Warren Luff (58), 20. Jack Le Brocq (52), 21. Josh Hunt/Adrian Deitz (43), 22. Tony DeFelice (32), 23. Craig Baird (30), 24. Ben Porter (24), 25. Roger Lago (1)
GT Trophy Class points (after round five of six)
1. Rod Salmon (507 points), 2. Dean Koutsoumidis/James Winslow (475), 3. Nathan Antunes (439), 4. Michael Hovey (314), 5. Jan Jinadasa/Daniel Gaunt (276), 6. Theo Koundouris (265), 7. Matt Campbell (175), 8. Simon Ellingham (173), 9. Kevin Weeks (132), 10. Indiran Padayachee (116), 11. Ockert Fourie/John Magro (99), 12. Steve McLaughlan (97), 13. Dale Paterson (70), 14. Liam Talbot (68), 15. Ben Eggleston (56), 16. Sam Power (52), 17. Barton Mawer (48), 18. Andrew MacPherson (44), 19. Keith Kassulke (33), 20. Jono Lester (29), 21. Peter Conroy/Dean Grant (18), 22. Duvashen Padayachee (16), 23. Warren Luff (10), 24. Jonathon Venter (1), 25. Graham Lusty/Geoff Fane (0)
GT Challenge Class points (after round five of six)
1. Ben Foessel (541 points), 2. Brendan Cook/Matt Kingsley (493), 3. Michael Almond (150), 4. George Foessel (149), 5. Paul Van Loenhout/Renato Loberto (102), 6. Indiran Padayachee (77), 7. Jeff Neale/Terry Knight (43)
GT Sports Class points (after round five of six)
1. Mark Griffith (485 points), 2. Tony Martin (373), 3. Tony Alford (297), 4. Mark O’Connor (110), 5. Hayden Cooper (102), 6. Karl Reindler (58), 7. Grant Bromley (52), 8. Ryan McLeod (42)
The 2014 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli is proudly supported by Pirelli, AHG Ltd, Darrell Lea, Mentum Design and Z Motorsport Memorabilia.
2014 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli – calendar
Rnd#1, 28-30 March – Sandown, Melbourne, Victoria*
Rnd#2, 23-25 May – Phillip Island, Victoria*
Rnd#3, 4-6 July – Townsville, Queensland**
Rnd#4, 22–24 August – Sydney Motorsport Park, NSW**
Rnd#5, 12-14 September – Sandown, Melbourne, Victoria**
Rnd#6, 7-9 November – Highland Motorsport Park, NZ
2015 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli
Rnd#1 – 26 February-1 March, Clipsal 500, Adelaide, SA**
Rnd#2 – 22-24 May, Phillip Island, Victoria*
Rnd#3 – 10-12 July, Townsville, Queensland**
Rnd#4 – 21-23 August, Sydney Motorsport Park, NSW**
Rnd#5 – 11-13 September, Sandown 500, Melbourne, Victoria**
Rnd#6 – 6-8 November, Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell, NZ (TBC)
(* with the Shannons Nationals, ** with V8 Supercars)