Aaron Love takes victory in Races 1 & 2 of Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge
Thanks to some long hours by the mechanics, the Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Australia field was back to full strength after Friday’s incidents with a 19-car field rolling out for Race 1 on Saturday morning.
As the lights went out, Harri Jones made the perfect start, launching past the Bob Jane T-Marts / Sonic Racing entry of Max Vidau into the lead in Turn 1. Vidau’s sluggish start also saw him get passed by Aaron Love, Christian Pancione and Tom Taplin on the first lap with Suhle making up one spot to sixth – after a pit lane infringement saw him starting seventh.
Brett Boulton would jump from tenth overall to seventh and lead the TAG Heuer Pro-Am field from Sam Shahin and Danny Stutterd.
Despite light rain and drizzle characterizing the early laps, the conditions didn’t hinder the early pace, with Jones pulling out a 2.278sec gap over Love in second. Andrew Goldie mechanical issues continued from his Friday accident and Jones would catch the Class B competitor just as the West Australian limped back to the pit lane.
Jones lost his early 2-second advantage as a result and Love quickly seized the opportunity to make his move taking the lead at the end of the back straight.
Meanwhile, Ryan Suhle was setting a blistering pace, breaking the lap record on more than one occasion and eventually passing Max Vidau. Vidau would then spin while attempting to retake the position on Lap 9.
At the front of the field, the pace of Jones’s Helimods 911 GT3 improved as the race went on allowing him to challenge Love toward the back end of the race. In a thrilling final few laps, Jones would get held up while lapping Graham Williams, while Suhle would spin challenging Love for the lead. Love too, would run wide on the final corners but hold onto his advantage over the line and take the Race 1 win.
By the time the flag fell, the times set by the top six cars were all below the existing lap record – with the fastest lap of 1:10.012 of Suhle a testament to the grip of the Michelin tyres throughout the race.
Brett Boulton would take TAG Heuer Pro-Am line honours, 2.5secs ahead of Danny Stutterd and Sam Shahin, while David Greig would go unchallenged in Class B
As the teams lined up for Race 2 on Saturday afternoon, Harri Jones consistency through the first five rounds meant the McElrea Racing driver held 110-point championship advantage.
Race 2 started with the leading quartet spread four-wide into turn 1. Suhle made the best stat from the second row, but out braked himself heading into turn 1, leaving Christian Pancione to take the early race lead.
Further down the field, Danny Stutterd would spin out of contention while Tom Taplin would make contact with Vidau onto the back straight, earning him a drive-through penalty from the race stewards. Class B Championship rivals, Andrew Goldie and David Greig would also spin after contact in turn 1.
At the front Love would take lead in a tenacious high speed move into the infamous turn 6, forcing Pancione to run wide, damaging his front splitter and relegating him to third just ahead of Jones. The championship leader got a good run on Pancione down the pit straight, passing him on outside into turn 1.
Meanwhile, Vidau had fought his way back to fifth with 3 laps to go, with teammate Love ahead of Suhle, Jones and Pancione at the head of the field.
Unlike the first race, the backmarkers didn’t alter the result and Love held off the chasing pack taking his second victory for the weekend.
After the race, Love said, “It was a really hard-fought race, but I’m absolutely stoked to get the win by getting passed Christian and holding off Ryan to the end of the race.”
Sam Shahin would finish sixth behind the five Michelin Juniors, making it a win apiece in TAG Heuer Pro-Am ahead of the round’s final race on Sunday.
After the race, the Bend Motorsport Park owner said, “I got squeezed out being a little too courteous in Race 1, so the Race 2 start was good and once I was in the lead, no one was going to pass me.”
David Greig would again take the Class B win from Murray and Goldie, while debutant Oliver Shannon continued to impress in seventh from eleventh on the grid, in only his first Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge event.
Tomorrow’s final race will also decide the Jim Richards Endurance Champion for 2019. The race starts at 09:40 and will broadcast live on the Shannon’s Nationals livestream
Schedule – Round 5, Sandown
Sunday, 4 August
09:40-10:00am: Race 3