Garth Tander took the chequered flag at the Hampton Downs 500 after a thrilling finish that saw his co-driver Geoff Emery claim back-to-back Australian GT Championship titles.
Last year’s winner went into the race in 4th place in the championship but Tander’s overtaking maneuver on John Martin in the closing laps was enough for Emery to leapfrog Steven Richards, Peter Hackett and Fraser Ross.
“We’re absolutely rapt,” says Emery. “We had some bad luck to start the weekend. We broke a driveshaft in qualifying so that set us back. But the race went well for us. I handed over to Garth Tander in P3 and he’s just a legend of course. Those final few laps were nailbiting stuff and I was pacing the concrete in the garage I can tell you.”
The race started with John Martin taking full advantage of pole position lapping two seconds quicker than the rest of the field in the opening couple of laps. Peter Hackett and Dom Storey lost pole when they were penalised after yesterday afternoon’s qualifying session and there was more drama for the championship contenders early in the race.
Hackett was shadowing championship leader Fraser Ross for second and when Ross went wide on the Double Bastard corner Hackett tried to dive down the inside. There was contact between the pair which spun Ross around and into the gravel trap prompting a safety car. Luckily for Ross his car was towed back onto the track before he was lapped by the field but on the way back to the pits his left rear tyre punctured. He managed to nurse his car back to the garage and rejoined the field a lap down.
After the restart Martin came under pressure from veteran Kiwi racer Craig Baird. Baird took the race lead on lap eight with an inside move on the last turn before the finishing straight. Hackett was pinged with a drive-through penalty for his role in the Ross incident which he served on lap 10, dropping from 3rd to 9th.
Martin was the first of the leaders to come into the pits for the first of three compulsory pit stops, swapping driving duties with Liam Talbot on lap 16. When the field had completed their pit stops Baird had stretched his lead at the head of the field to 50 seconds with Peter Hackett a further 20 seconds behind in third. Baird lapped the championship leader Fraser Ross on lap 32 putting paid to his championship chances.
Peter Hackett’s bid to win his first championship were dealt a cruel blow when Dom Storey was given a drive-through penalty for an incident while trying to overtake Martin. Storey redressed half a lap later allowing Martin to retake the position but there is no redress rule in the Australian GT Championship and the officials ruled against Storey.
Martin took the lead on lap 73 with the hard-charging Tander overtaking Tony D’Alberto to move into second. Tander was all over the back of Martin’s Porsche 911 for ten laps and when Martin opened the door into turn one, Tander dived down the inside to take the lead which he never looked like losing.
Martin held off D’Alberto for second which was good enough for the Twigg/D’Alberto pairing to win the Australian Endurance Championship (AEC). Daniel Gaunt was the first Kiwi home in 4th place, a result which confirmed second place in the AEC for Gaunt and his co-driver Tony Bates.
In the support categories at Hampton Downs, Christina Orr-West won the opening race of the day in the SsangYong Race Series with Callum Hedge taking out second SRS race later in the morning. Conal Dempsey led Michael Neville home in the first Pirelli Porsche Race Championship of the day with the placings reversed in the second race. Graeme Fraser won the only BMW Race Drivers Series race.
1. Geoff Emery/Garth Tander (Audi)
2. Liam Talbot/John Martin (Porsche)
3. Max Twigg/Tony D’Alberto (Mercedes-AMG)
4. Tony Bates/Daniel Gaunt (Audi)
5. Peter Hackett/Dom Storey (Mercedes-AMG)
6. Fraser Ross/Duvashen Padayachee (McLaren)
7. Steve Richards/Michael Almond (BMW)
8. Tony Quinn/Andrew Waite (Aston Martin)
9. Adrian Deitz/Cameron McConville (Lamborghini)
10. Scott Taylor/Craig Baird (Mercedes-AMG)
11. Andrew Fawcet/Jonny Reid (Audi)