The Willowbank 300 is back, and in a big way.
Report by Zak Caban | Photos courtesy of MTR Images.
Round 4 of the MotorsportSales.com.au Queensland Production Car Championship marks the start of the second-half of the, six-round, 2020 campaign, and the biggest test that the teams and drivers have faced so far this season, with the Ultimate Diesel Tuning 300 to be staged at Queensland Raceway this Saturday night.
While the MotorsportSales.com.au Queensland Production Car Championship has staged no shortage of endurance races in the past, this will be the biggest, and longest race that the category has ever contested – 96 Laps, 299.52km of the 3.12km Willowbank circuit.
This will be the seventh edition of the Willowbank 300, but the first with a naming rights sponsor, as Ultimate Diesel Tuning heralds the start of the third incarnation of this annual event.
Since 2014, the Willowbank has been the signature event on the Queensland Motorsport calendar, but not without some drama along the way.
For the first two years, the Willowbank 300 formed part of an expanded, three-round Australian Endurance Championship. The Queensland event was the second-round of the series, on both occasions. The AASA promoted series started with the Wakefield 300 – at Wakefield Park in Goulburn, and finished with the Winton 300 – at Winton Motor Raceway, near Benalla, in north-eastern Victoria.
In 2016, the Willowbank 300 dropped off the AASA promoted series, as Queensland Raceways launched the Queensland Endurance Championship – a move that saw the introduction of the Lakeside 300 onto the racing calendar.
Initially, interest was strong, with grids exceeding 30 entries in the opening two years, thanks largely to the presence of entries from New South Wales and Victoria, due to the allegiance with the two events in the southern states.
In recent years, the event has struggled to attract entries, thanks in part to poor scheduling, which has seen the event placed in close proximity to the Bathurst 6 Hour for the last two years. Furthermore, the 2019 Lakeside 300 was CANCELLED, after failing to attract entries – but it was never going to, when scheduled against a Morgan Park round of the Queensland Production Car Championship, which is THE category that events like this cater to in the first place.
Thankfully, after the failings of 2019, and some discussions between former QR competitions manager, Robert Haseldine, and former QPC President, Gerry Murphy, the Queensland Production Car Championship took ownership of these prestigious races, in a bid to return them to their former glory, and it’s fair to say that mission has already been accomplished BEFORE the 2020 event gets underway.
This weekend, the field that will contest the 2020 Ultimate Diesel Tuning 300, will be as big as the field for the 2018 Willowbank 300, 2018 Lakeside 300 and 2019 Willowbank 300 COMBINED, which is an embarrassing reflection of how close these must-do events – on the grassroots calendar – came to being buried into the ground.
Records will be broken this weekend. Eleven manufacturers are represented in this thirty-two car field – that’s the most variety we’ve seen, in terms of manufacturers, since 2015.
In a series of firsts for the event, the program will be squeezed into a single day, the race will be staged on a Saturday, and under lights. Prior to this year, only the 2017 race finished in the dark, due to delays in the on-track schedule.
In this field, three former winners… Ryan McLeod (2014), co-driving with Tony Quinn in a Ford Mustang, Karl Begg (2017) in the BMW M4, driving alongside David Russell, and Dylan Cothill (2019) teaming up with Hudson Sinclair, in the Nissan R35 GTR. It’s a stellar line-up of drivers, and an impressive cohort of co-drivers as well, but it always is in the Queensland Production Car Championship.
Sadly, border politics has impacted the potential size of this field, with competitors – both teams and drivers/co-drivers – unable to make the trip up from New South Wales, but the cast of 32 is the biggest field the 300 has seen since 2015.
Of the eight eligible QPC classes, seven are represented in this field, and it’s a welcome return for Class I this weekend, specifically brought in to accommodate those who participated in the Willowbank 300, in its previous incarnation.
In the six-year Willowbank 300 history, this event has never been won from Pole Position, and only BMW has enjoyed success here more than once.
In total, five different manufacturers have claimed outright honours, in this race, over the years.
Class X is the outright class, and it’s been dominated by BMW so far, in this truncated 2020 season. Based on that alone, it’s hard to not see BMW adding to their Willowbank 300 tally on Saturday night.
As always, class battles will be an interesting talking point in this event. Class C dominates the top end of town, on the overall outright points table, with Paul Keefer (337), Frank Mammarella (317) and Timothy McDonald (303) leading the way – just thirty-four points separates first and third, with three rounds to go.
Hot on McDonald’s tail, is the Class E leader, Adam Talbert, and the Class X leaders, Tristian and Dalton Ellery (300 points).
In the Class X battle, just two points separates first and second, with Karl Begg sitting sixth outright, on 298 points, as he goes out in pursuit of another class championship win, in the MotorsportSales.com.au QLD Production Car Championship.
Gerry Murphy continues to hold top spot in Class B2. Steve McHugh remains in control of Class E, while Brad Carr (A2), Robert Gooley (A1) and Mitchell Maddren are the other class leaders, at the half-way mark of the championship.
This weekend, Aaron Seton will contest his first Willowbank 300. The third-generation racer is no stranger to the QPC championship, and will co-drive with John Harris, in the Class A1 Mitsubishi Evo, on Saturday night.
For competition, they’ll have the formidable combination of Robert Gooley and Mika Tehorst, and also Wade Scott, in their respective Mitsubishi Evo entries.
2016 QLD Touring Car Champion, Steve Hay, is lining up in a Mazda 3, in what’s a welcome addition to Class E tomorrow night.
Former Queensland Series X3 champion, Brock Giblin, returns to the Willowbank 300, in a Ford Falcon that will be stiff competition for those contesting the Invitational Class.
Elsewhere, Nash Morris, who recently enjoyed success in the Track Attack Australia Excel Cup, will partner Andrew Wilton, in the latter’s Toyota 86.
The 2019 Track Attack Australia Excel Cup champion, Scott Green, is back on-track this weekend, teaming up with Frank Mammarella, in the Class C Hyundai i30N.
Kyle and Tony Alford – no strangers to Production Car racing – join the Willowbank 300 field, in their Mustang as well.
Normally, Paul Hibberd and Karlie Buccini would be racing against each other in Class C, but they’ll join forces tomorrow night, in Buccini’s BMW 130i.
Class A2 will be worth watching, with good mates Colbey Cowham and Lindsay Kearns teaming up in a Ford Mustang, against Anthony Gilbertson, in the BMW E92 M3, Bradley Carr in the BMW M3, and the C63 AMG of Jason Simes and Anthony Levitt.
Last weekend, Oscar Targett was tearing it up, in the Queensland Karting Championship, a little further down the Champions Way road, at the Ipswich Kart Club. Tomorrow night, he’ll be the youngest driver in this Willowbank 300 field, when he teams up with Cameron McLeod, in the Class E Suzuki Swift.
Both Classes C and E are well represented in this field, with both attracting more entries than any other division, and with Class C hosting the outright top three in this championship right now, expect a lot of focus to be placed on their progress, throughout the 96 laps tomorrow night.
It’s important to note, with the Bathurst 6 Hour being officially cancelled this week, the two QLD Production Car 300’s (the Lakeside 300 will be held on December 5) will be the biggest Production Car races held anywhere in Australia, in what’s turned out to be a very strange 2020 Motorsport season.
It’s also worth noting again, that this event, MotorsportSales.com.au Queensland Production Car Championship, Ultimate Diesel Tuning 300, is not the replacement of the Australian Production Cars ‘Fight in the Night’ – despite featuring some familiar faces, entries and cars from that event… it’s the next chapter of the RACERS sanctioned Willowbank 300, which badly needed reviving, after the pathetic entry numbers we’ve seen over the last two years.
2020 MotorsportSales QLD Production Car Championship | Points after Round 3 of 6
|1||Paul Keefer||C||Volkswagen Scirocco||337|
|2||Frank Mammarella||C||Hyundai i30N||317|
|3||Timothy McDonald||C||BMW M3 E36||303|
|4||Adam Talbert||E||Mazda 6||303|
|5||Tristian/Dalton Ellery||X||BMW M3 F80||300|
|6||Karl Begg||X||BMW M4 F82||298|
|7||Gerry Murphy||B2||Holden VF SSV CL Special||260|
|8||Steve McHugh||E||Suzuki Swift||260|
|9||Bradley Carr||A2||BMW M3 E92||245|
|10||Paul Hibberd||C||Mazda RX8||245|
|11||Robert Gooley||A1||Mitsubishi Evo X||224|
|14||Mitchell Maddren||D||Toyota 86||207|
Willowbank 300 Honour Roll
|2014||Ryan McLeod/Steve Owen||Holden Astra||1||2:22:43.3306||4|
|2015||Nathan Jess/Matthew Thompson||Future Racer||2||2:18:42.2885||6|
|2016||Matt Mobsby/Glenn Trigger||BMW E30||2||2:36:52.9445||4|
|2017||Karl Begg/Glenn Trigger||BMW E92||2||2:28:27.8069||5|
|2018||Jayson Cassells/Ken Samway||Nissan 180SX||2||2:27:54.2231||2|
|2019||Dylan Cothill/Trent Laves||Toyota GT86||4||2:28:36.9047||3|
*Information correct at time of publication.
Tonight, the field will take to the circuit, for two 30-minute practice sessions, ahead of tomorrow’s action, which gets underway at 8am Local Time, with a 30-minute warm-up. That will be followed by two 15-minute qualifying sessions, to be conducted just before lunch, and then a top-ten shootout mid-afternoon, before the 96-lap Ultimate Diesel Tuning 300 commences, at approximately 5:55pm Local Time.
Sadly, with no commentary being provided or paid for this weekend, the only way to witness the latest chapter in this championship, and the 2020 instalment of this iconic event, is to be trackside.
In something this reporter never thought he’d say, in relation to this venue, spectator entry is FREE tomorrow, but if you can’t be trackside, you can watch LIVE timing via Natsoft, as per usual.
The 2020 Queensland Production Car Championship is proudly presented by: MotorsportSales.com.au, MoComm Motorsport Communication, Massel Australia, B-Tuned Euro Specialist, Loc8te, Ultimate Diesel Tuning, BOSS Surveillance Systems, and Evoke Realty.