The opening day of a new year – the first day back at school – the final hit out before the teams and drivers head to Bathurst for the 6 Hour at Easter. Yep, there was plenty of excitement in the Wakefield Park paddock, as the New South Wales Production Touring Car Championship burst back into life for 2016.
Hi everyone. I’m Zak Caban. Welcome to our coverage of the opening day of the first round of the 2016 Championship.
It’s been four months since Chris Reeves claimed back-to-back Championship in Sydney, and whilst some drivers have enjoyed a summer break, other have been working feverishly in readiness for the new season, and for some, that work continues in the garage, with some key contenders missing the opening round of the season in order to hit the ground running at Mount Panorama.
The defending champ was one of those missing in action – although Chris Reeves did still spend Sunday in the paddock, helping out and watching on. Dylan Thomas left his Mitsubishi Evo at home in order to run a Daytona Coupe with Stuart Kostera in the Wakefield 300. He’ll be back behind the wheel of the Evo, when he teams up with Terry Nightingale for a crack at outright honours in the Bathurst 6 Hour on the Easter weekend.
This is the start of a massive season for this championship – the series will visit Sydney Motorsport Park three times, Bathurst, of course, for the Hi-Tec Oils 6 Hour (a non-championship outing), and the season will end at Winton Motor Raceway in north-eastern Victoria, but it all starts here in Goulburn – the first of three trips to Wakefield Park. It’s a sprint round, and there are two of those here in 2015 – we’ll hit Enduro mode on the opening weekend of July.
Of the seven championship rounds, there are four sprint events, and three enduro events. In total, 17 championship races – 13 sprint races and 4 endurance races, including a two-race enduro weekend at Winton to close the season – the other two endurance race weekends will be single race affairs, and all four will make up the MoComm Cup portion of the season.
All rounds at Sydney Motorsport Park, and the remaining two at Wakefield Park will make up the CAMS Championship portion of the season – a total of 11 races will make up the State Championship contest in 2016.
But, it all starts here in Goulburn, supporting the Valvoline Wakefield 300 for the first time.
A 20-minute Qualifying session was dominated by Daniel Oosthuizen, as was expected, but the margin surprised some. He scored pole by 1.2 seconds from Barry Graham, and afterwards, Oosthuizen said the aim was to get the time set as quickly as possible, and then park the car and save the wear and tear – having achieved that, clocking a 1:05.1078, he headed for pit-lane, and didn’t return to the circuit, as those left went after chasing down his time.
No one was successful in getting close to Oosthuizen’s time, and so it was a battle for second, which was won by Barry Graham, who was closely followed by Jacques Oosthuizen and Greg Symes.
It would be those four men who would be in the thick of the action for the rest of the weekend.
Daniel Oosthuizen absolutely dominated proceedings in Race 1. The CXC Global driver lead from start to finish, and pulled away from the field, to win by over ten seconds from Barry Graham and Greg Symes.
Symes held off Jacques Oosthuizen, who was pushed all the way by David Ayres – Ayres, of course, getting some extra race laps in the BMW 135i in preparation for the Wakefield 300.
Ayres claimed honours in Class B1, with a big gap back to Anthony Soole, who was first across the line in Class B2 ahead of Brett Heeley in Class A2.
Simon O’Donnell was first home in Class C, while David Bailey was the winner of Class D.
A great array of classes represented, as well as four manufacturers in Mitsubishi, Holden, BMW and Toyota, and if that wasn’t enough, there was a couple of new faces – most notably, Formula Vee champion Matt Stubbs, and V8 Ute racer, Merrick Malouf.
Race 2 was, without doubt, the race of the weekend. Greg Symes was like a bull at the gate as the lights went green, and he bolted to the lead from Daniel Oosthuizen and Barry Graham. What followed was 10 laps of gripping racing, as Symes fought off challenge after challenge from Oosthuizen.
The CXC Global driver had a lunge a turn 4, but it was to no avail, and it turned out to be his best chance at getting past Symes, who just did enough to hold on and win by the narrowest of margins. Oosthuizen scored second, with Barry Graham finishing right on his tail – the three of them were separated by less than a second at the end of ten laps.
It was interesting for Barry Graham, as he was the odd one out in the BMW, and you sensed that he was waiting for Oosthuizen to make a move, so he could follow him through, or that he was going to pounce if Oosthuizen and Symes came together, or made a mistake, but in sitting there, no only did he have the best seat in the house, but he also scored some valuable championship points.
While the focus was on first, second and third, there were some good battles through the field for the minor placings.
David Ayres was a comfortable fourth, and again, the best car in Class B1. Class B2 was taken out by Anthony Soole, but he was pushed all the way by the best placed A2 car of Brett Heeley.
Jonathon Fishburn was the winner of Class S, while Simon O’Donnell and David Bailey claimed classes C and D respectively.
Jacques Oosthuizen was an unfortunate retirement from the second race of the day, as he came to a stop at the top of the hill.
So, two different race winners to start the season, but as was the case in 2015, it’s the Mitsubishi Evo that is the car to beat. Races three and four still to be run at Wakefield Park – Race 3 will be run over 12 laps, and Race 4 will be 15 laps, as the opening weekend of season 2016 continues in Goulburn!