Twenty-three cars would take the start of the second one-hour enduro, with Shane and Luke Eberhart missing from the grid, as well as the entry of Jordan Cox and Craig Thornton.
For all the off-track excursions and drama witnessed on Saturday afternoon, the bulk of the paddock still had a straight race car to play with on the second day, but with the dry weather came new challenges.
On Saturday, drivers were forced to adapt to driving in the rain, learning how the car handles in those ever-changing conditons, adjusting their braking points, dealing with the standing water, which resulted in multiple cars aquaplaning off the circuit, and being forced to fight their way to other side of the turn 2 gravel trap, and rejoin the circuit.
For day 2, the mindset was now about readjusting to driving on a dry track, but one that had no grip, as that was washed away the day before, and also being mindful of the price you’d pay if you ended up off the circuit, in the dirt, gravel or grass, with the grass being slipperier and the gravel not as easy to drive through – the direct result of the
Series organisers scheduled the same program for each day, meaning the drivers would get a very important 20-minute practice session, in order to get a feel for their cars and the track now that the rain had dispersed.
The man who won the opening four races of the season, Daniel Smith, was the pace-setter in that session, clocking a 1:11.4662 – two-tenths faster than Craig Thronton, with Race 1 winner, Josh Heath, in third place.
Trackschool Team Manager, John Boston, said the pace was 1.3 seconds slower than Smith’s fastest ever time around Wakefield Park, giving some idea of the track speed after all the rubber was washed away on the opening day.
Matthew Boylan clocked the fourth fastest time, while another of the Trackschool team, Iain Salteri rounded out the top five.
After the opening race of the weekend, Boylan held a slim 35-point lead, over Josh Heath in the championship, meaning the equation for the final race of the season was very simple – should Boylan finish ahead of Heath, he’s the champion. Should Heath win, Boylan would only have to finish second or third to secure the title, but if Heath was to win, and Boylan finish off the podium, Heath would snatch the series out of Boylan’s hands at the very last hurdle.
The pressure was on our title contenders when Qualifying commenced. Again, as it was on Saturday, the session would be split into a bottom and top 50%, with two-driver entries featuring in both sessions, as both drivers were required to set a time.
Craig Thornton and Jordan Cox were fastest in Top 50% Qualifying, but Car #71 was later excluded, due to a technicality, and as mentioned earlier, they did not start the race later in the day.
The exclusion of the #71 saw Daniel Smith inherit top spot, carrying his pace over from the earlier practice session. He finished ahead of Thomas Petrovich, who got the better of his FullGas Racing team-mate, Matthew Boylan.
Smith (1:11.1353) had almost four-tenths of a second over Petrovich (1:11.5057), who was three one-hundredths ahead of Boylan (1:11.5348).
Saturday’s winner, RaceAway Track Time’s Josh Heath was fourth, with the Josh and Jamie Craig entry rounding out the top five.
The big movers from Practice to Qualifying were Sam Maio and Ashley Birks, as well as Dimitri Agathos and Trent Murray. Both entries found their way into the top-ten, after sitting 13th and 12th at the conclusion of practice.
Unlike Saturday, we did see the scheduled Top Ten Shootout take place on Sunday afternoon.
There wasn’t much moving and shaking in the shootout, with Daniel Smith again prevailing with pole position. Joshua Heath was the big winner, gaining two positions, while Thomas Petrovich lost two. Heath not only out qualified Petrovich, but also Matthew Boylan, who had to settle for third, setting up a mouth-watering final race of the season.
Smith’s pole time was a 1:11.5038, in a shootout which saw the top three separated by only three-tenths of a second.
While Smith was comfortable driving in the rain, he was far happier with the dry conditions on Sunday, or at least he was… moments before the cars were scheduled to take to the circuit for the final race of the season, the rain returned to Wakefield.
While it was only a passing shower, it was enough to make the track damp for the opening stanza of the race.
Instead of a standing start, officials opted for a single-file rolling start, after two formation laps behind the Safety Car.
There’s no doubt that the damp conditions played right into the hands of Josh Heath, but it was Daniel Smith who held the early lead, as the field made it through the first sequence of corners cleanly.
Daniel Smith set the pace at the front, but had a handful of cars, including Osmond, breathing down his neck. The Josh and Jamie Craig entry wasted no time in displacing Matthew Boylan, to run third behind Heath, but Boylan wasn’t phased, as he was still in the box seat to win the 2017 Pitcher Partners APRA Series.
Heath did all he could to find a way past Smith, but was unsuccessful on multiple occasions, as the dicey conditions did competitors no favours if they drifted off the racing line. On lap 13, Heath ran into trouble, losing two places, slipping to fourth, behind Craig and Boylan. Heath slipped to fifth at the same time, as Osmond took over fourth place.
Two laps later, Boylan displaced Craig, and was chasing down Daniel Smith, who he would eventually pass, on lap 17, to take over the lead. Josh Heath reclaimed fourth position on that same lap, as Osmond fell back to fifth position.
By this time, lap traffic was playing its part, and the pit-window was open, but most of the front pack opted to run long, hoping for a Safety Car interruption, in order to complete the stop under caution, and therefore lose less laps compared to those who may pit under green.
After leading the race from lap 17, Matthew Boylan pitted on lap 24, and was the first from the leading pack to visit the lane, as Josh Heath inherited the lead from Daniel Smith, after earlier fighting back from fifth position.
As is often the case, the pit-window is where the race was won and lost, with Josh Heath transiting the lane quickest, stealing the lead away from Matthew Boylan in the process, but only by mere seconds.
Over the final third of the race, Boylan did his best, trying to close the gap, later admitting that he was “giving it everything”, but it wasn’t enough, as Heath gradually eased away, cruising to the chequered flag, to record a 12-second victory.
Heath did all he could do from a championship aspect, but by bringing it home safely in second position, Matthew Boylan secured the 2017 Pitcher Partners NSW APRA Series, by 15 points from Heath, with Daniel finishing the season in third place, which is where he also finished in the final race of the series.
Josh and Jamie Craig were fourth, with Iain Salteri coming home in fifth spot. Further back, Jack Winter scored sixth, Murray and Agathos were seventh, Maio and Birks, after their podium heroics on Saturday, finished 8th, with Gene Alexander in ninth and Ben Sheedy in tenth.
Further down, the all-Lachlan entry, Mansell and Mineeff, came home in 17th position, after the commentator turned racer set himself the goal of finishing inside the top twenty.
Just seven cars finished on the lead lap, in a race that went by Safety Car free.
The fastest lap of the race was set by the race winner, Josh Heath, on lap 32, with a 1:11.4198.
In the end, Boylan won 7 of 17 races, with Heath taking his tally to six this weekend, while Smith won four at the beginning of the season.
Next year, Pitcher Partners will continue their support of the NSW APRA Series, which will start where it finished, at Wakefield Park in Goulburn, as part of the opening MRA event of 2018, on Sunday, February 25.
For now though, a long, deserved off-season awaits, but rest assured that the preparations for 2018 have already begun. We’ll see you then, but for now, from Wakefield Park in Goulburn, the APRA crew wishes all its teams, drivers and fans a safe and Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.
The 2017 Pitcher Partners NSW APRA Series is proudly supported by: Toyo Tyres, Bluett Bodyworks, BlueSky Modular Buildings, Kubota, New Image Kitchens and Trackschool.