Words and Images: James Turner.
Last weekend I made my annual daytrip to Sydney Motorsport Park. It’s become something of a tradition for me to check out the Supercars round at the venue formally known as Eastern Creek.
For the last couple of years, I’ve started going on the Saturday – which might sound a bit weird, but sometimes I feel like Saturday often offers up a better program than Sunday. One of the reasons I’ve come to this conclusion is the Australian GT Championship – or in this case, the Endurance Championship.
I’ve made it no secret that GT racing is my favourite form of motorsport. I like the variety of the cars that are raced, and I like that the cars are the kind of machines that we want to see out on the track. Who doesn’t enjoy watching Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, BMW and Aston Martin all carving it up around the track and being driven the way they were intended?
So with Round 2 of the Australian Endurance Championship scheduled to start at 7:35 on Saturday morning, I happily hit the road early and made it for the start of the 500km race.
There were plenty of talking points to come out this race. Let’s start with the positives.
There were some great drives from the international stars. South African Audi gun Kelvin Van der Linde absolutely carved his way through the field early on and opened up massive lead. Austrian Mercedes pilot Dominik Baumann was more subdued but just as impressive.
The local guns were also impressive. Cameron McConville followed Van der Linde and Baumann through field in a very impressive manner. Kiwi Jaxon Evans drove a brilliant final stint to take the win – holding off a charging John Martin.
And Steven Richards, despite running 6 laps off the lead after the BMW team had pushed the fuel limit too far mid-race, absolutely ragged the M6 as though it was still within a shot of winning.
It was also a good, close race. Just seconds separated the lead battle at the finish and there was plenty of hard racing throughout the 500km journey, which speaks volumes for the quality of the field.
But now for the negatives, and I’m afraid to say, there were quite few of them.
Just 17 cars were entered. In comparison, the corresponding race last year had 26. And that 17 quickly became 15 when one car didn’t make the start and another crashed on the second lap. Regardless of how much I enjoy GT racing and the quality of the drivers in the field, 17 cars for a 500km race just isn’t enough.
Then came the penalties. Two cars – the Greg Taylor/Grant Denyer Audi and the Max Twigg/Tony D’Alberto Mercedes – were disqualified for taking one of their compulsory pit stops outside of the pit window.
And by disqualified, they weren’t just simply excluded from the results post-race. No, instead they were forced into the pits immediately, the cars were jacked up and not allowed to leave. Now I understand that they broke the rules, but that punishment was way too harsh. Two perfectly healthy cars, were pulled from the race, leaving the paying public with just 13 cars at the finish. Hmmm…
So with falling grid sizes and questionable penalties, what does the future hold for Australian GT?
There’s no doubting that 2017 has been a tough year for the category. The last-minute calendar changes, and the proposed CAMS rule restricting GT competitors haven’t shone Australian GT in a good light.
With GT4 cars being allowed into the series next year, grid sizes could rise again, which would help improve the spectacle. As for calendar though I’m not sure.
You see, Australian GT want to be recognised as a premier category. Fair enough, I’m sure every series has that aspiration too. Thing is though, they get shafted when they’re on the Supercars support card.
On the flipside, if they run with the Shannons Nationals or independently, they get almost no exposure compared with what they would get if they did run with Supercars. It’s a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t scenario.
Trying to fit a 500km, 3 hours + race into a Supercars weekend schedule is a hard thing to do, so I. Would recommend keeping the endurance series separate. Either run with the Shannons Nationals – where the event would undoubtedly be the headline act – or independently, were track time would be unlimited for competitors.
I would argue that the key to a strong future for Australian GT is simplicity. Simplify as many things as possible. Get rid of the pit stop times and give every car the same mandatory pit time – less confusion for the spectator. Get rid of the overly-harsh punishments – or at least let the offending car finish the race-they’ve paid their entry fee so let them race – and promote the star drivers as much as possible.
At Sydney on the weekend we had the current Nurburgring 24 Hour champion, the current Blancpain GT Series champion, and a 4-time Bathurst 1000 winner all in the race, but the casual race goer probably wouldn’t have picked up on it.
One final thing that I would suggest, is to simplify the championship structure. Australian GT currently has three different series’: the GT Championship, the Endurance Championship and the Trophy Series. By combining the GT and Endurance Championships, we would have something similar to the British GT Championship, a series that I’ve really enjoyed this year.
Aside from great racing, the series has all sorts of formats from the traditional 2 one-hour sprints and 2-hour mini-enduros to 500km marathons. It’s a good mix and I think it would be a great template for Australian GT.
Another good element of this would be a longer championship. The five round GT and four round Endurance series’ are too short for my liking. Combine them, and we’ve got a nine round series. More rounds and races equals more exposure for the series regardless of whether they run with Supercars or not.
What ever the future holds for Australian GT, I’m sure that I’ll still follow it and I’m sure the die-hards will too. But the product still needs to be good. So let’s hope that the future is bright.
James Turner is a life-long motorsport fan and blogger. You can checkout his blog The Motor Sport Nerd at: http://motorsportnerd.wixsite.com/the-motorsport-nerd