After five months of summer holidays, Christmas with the family, plus some all important planning and preparation for the new racing season, the Shaw Vineyards New South Wales Production Touring Car Championship opened their campaign over Easter, at the holy grail of Australian Motorsport – Mount Panorama, Bathurst.
Supporting the annual Bathurst Motor Festival, it’s the opening round of six for season 2015, with the other rounds to be contested alongside the NSW CAMS Motor Racing Championships at either Wakefield Park or Sydney Motorsport Park.
Season 2015 is set to be one of the closest yet, with a compelling mix of sprint and endurance races to be contested over the next six months, to determine the winners of the NSWPTC Club Championship, the CAMS State Championship and the MoComm Cup Endurance Series.
Defending Champion Chris Reeves is the man to catch. The Toyota 86 from Class D will be wearing the prestigious #1 for season 2015, after securing his first title in 2014.
The points structure remains the same for 2015 – with drivers to be awarded points based on where they finish in Class, rather than their outright position.
As expected, the 2015 opener attracted massive interest, with drivers from not only the series, but also interstate converging on Mount Panorama, for their annual opportunity to go racing on the best Motor Racing Real Estate in the country, and there’d be no shortage of track time for them, with a practice session, plus two qualifying periods and two one-hour races across the course of the weekend.
Forty cars would contest the opening round of the season, with some of our regular drivers teaming-up to drive together in these two races – most notably, Robert Coulthard and Steve Hodges would drive together in Hodges’ Liqui-Moly HSV GTS VY Coupe.
Elsewhere, some other recognised names joined the grid for the weekend, including Aaron Seton – the son of two-time Australian Touring Car Champion, Glenn.
Jim Pollicina made his annual start in the series. Pollicina, of course, now races in the Kumho V8 Touring Car series, but is still involved off-track and behind the scenes with NSW Production Touring at the other rounds of the series.
As is the case in other endurance rounds of the series, drivers had the option of flying solo, or running with a co-driver, in the two one-hour races, and across the 40-car field, there was a good mix of both one and two driver entries. There would also be a compulsory pit-stop to be conducted in the allocated pit-window in each race.
As for the on-track activity on Good Friday at Mount Panorama – it didn’t get off to a good start. Not a single lap time was recorded in the sole practice session on Friday, but thankfully the qualifying sessions provided a form guide for what to expect in the races ahead.
Both qualifying sessions on Friday afternoon were held in dry conditions, with Luke Searle and Barry Graham topping session one from Dylan Thomas, who turned it around to top session two, as Searle and Graham slipped to 11th.
Graeme Muir was third fastest, with Brian Anderson and Chris Gough’s Targa Racing BMW E46 M3 had tremendous pace, and was fourth fastest in session one, and an even more impressive second place in session 2. Matthew Holt was third fastest in session two, after clocking the sixth fastest time in session one.
That was in the dry. The drivers departed the circuit on Friday night, and returned on Saturday morning with their umbrellas in tow, as the forecast rain descended on Mount Panorama, which in turn, would make for an interesting opening race, as we had a grid based on dry weather, in a series where some cars, let alone some drivers, are stronger in the rain than the dry, and vice-versa, meaning a lot of positional changing was to be expected in the season opener… and it didn’t disappoint.
A incident on lap 1 claimed Zach Loscialpo, Trevor Symonds and Ric Shaw, and triggered a Safety Car, but once it returned to pit-lane, the rest of the race ran uninterrupted, which is rather impressive given the fact that the probability of Safety Car interruptions increases once you add some precipitation into the mix.
It was terrific racing right through the field, but the big mover was Daniel Flanagan, who worked his way forward through the course of the race, to win after a cracking battle with Kevin Herben, who had to settle for second. Dylan Thomas started the season well with a third place finish, some 13 seconds behind our race winner, with David Thomas and Matthew Holt making up the top five.
Steve Hodges received a post-race penalty of 34-seconds, which saw the #2 entry relegated from 23rd to 26th position in the finishing order, but importantly, he didn’t lose and class points, as the two cars that moved ahead of him were from Class D.
On that very subject, the top three also won their respective class (Flanagan – A2, Herben – B2 and Thomas – A1)… Incidentally, it’s one of the rare occasions that we saw a car from a class other than A1 claim the outright victory.
Just 16 laps were completed in the opening race of the weekend, and elsewhere, Adam Proctor took Class B1 honours driving with McHenry – they placed 10th outright. The Shanks entry managed to win Class S – the Autorite Ford finished in 18th outright. Class C went to the Targa Racing entry of Adam Dodd and Tony Bonanno, in the VW Scirocco, and just behind them was Chris Reeves – the winner of Class D. They were 21st and 22nd outright, and further afield, Class E was taken out by David Crowe in the Suzuki Swift – finishing down in 30th position.
A good mix of cars and classes at the Mountain, but the surprise was Daniel Flanagan – an upset victory, but a sensational drive to win the opening race of the season.
Thomas Bounces Back to Win Race 2 at the Mountain.
With the arrival of the Easter Bunny and Chocolate came the sun on Easter Sunday in Bathurst, as the Shaw Vineyards New South Wales Production Touring Car Championship returned for Race 2 of their Bathurst Motor Festival campaign after a wet and sodden Saturday.
Daniel Flanagan delivered the knockout blow on Saturday, causing the upset for a surprise win in Race 1, ahead of Kevin Herben and Dylan Thomas.
Of the five cars that retired in Race 1, only Trevor Symonds was able to take the grid for the second 1-hour enduro.
Kevin Herben, who had such a terrific run in Race 1, and was involved in that thrilling battle for outright victory with Daniel Flanagan only lasted three laps in Race 2, before he was forced into retirement.
It was a race that ran free of Safety Cars, which saw the field spread right out across the 6.213km of Mount Panorama, and was relatively incident free. That said, there was a bit of attrition in that race, with another five cars joining Herben in retirement.
John McCleverty sadly retired on the very last lap of the race, and despite taking the chequered flag, Chris Gough and Brian Anderson were classified as non-finishers after only completing 17 laps, which was just shy of the 75% mark of our eventual race winner, Dylan Thomas.
Thomas may not have set the fastest lap, but he was still able to secure a victory by 20 seconds from Luke Searle and Barry Graham, who bounced back from a 17th place finish in the opener. Matthew Holt took third from Jim Pollicina, with Team Marshall securing fifth.
Four Class A1 cars in the top five – the exception was Holt who took Class A2 honours.
For the second day in succession, the Subaru of Proctor and McHenry reigned supreme in Class B1 – finishing 9th outright. Great run for Symonds and Lane to recover from the dramas of Day 1 to finish 12th, and claim Class B2 in Race 2. Class C was won by the BMW130i of Nicholas Cox. He finished 21st outright. Class D was taken out by Sugden and Williams. They finished 19th in the BMW E36 328i. Class E was taken out by David Crowe, who worked his way forward to 26th in the Suzuki Swift, and Class S belonged to the Autorite Ford of Shanks and Shanks, who finished in 15th position.
It was a terrific weekend at Mount Panorama, to start what’s shaping up to be a sensational 2015, and there’s bigger things to come from this series when they return to the holy grail next Easter, but in the meantime, they gear up for the next round of the series at Sydney Motorsport Park on the opening weekend of May, which will see the first sprint racing of the season.