Story and Photos by Vince Johnson
Italians at the Clipsal 500, South Australia, 2-5 March 2017
It was up to the Lamborghinis to fly the flag for Italy in the first round of the Australian GT Championship on the Adelaide street circuit during the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercars weekend. Last year’s sole Ferrari, Brenton Griguol’s 430GT3, had been replaced by his Reiter-engineered Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX, joining six others that had been breathed on by the Bavarian company. With the Huracan of Jim Manolios/Dean Canto, Sant’Agata cars were the most numerous in the 26-car field.
The Audi R8 LMSs of Kelvin van der Linde/Geoff Emery, James Koundouris/Ash Walsh and Greg Taylor/Nathan Antunes laid down the gauntlet in qualifying, taking the first three places. In front of the Huracan was the McLaren 650S GT3 of Fraser Ross/Come Ledogar. Behind Manolios/Canto were Scott Taylor/Craig Baird in their Mercedes Benz AMG GT followed by the Lamborghinis of Roger Lago and Brenton Griguol/Tim Macrow.
Race 1 on Friday was an entirely different matter. Following Tony Quinn’s crash in his McLaren 650S GT3 on lap 4, van der Linde picked up a drive-through penalty during the safety car period. After the compulsory pit stop Tony Bates’ Mercedes AMG GTS GT3 took the lead from Lago who held off a determined challenge from Peter Major’s Lamborghini R-EX.
Race 2 early on Saturday morning saw the field once again bunched up behind the safety car while Ash Samadi’s Audi R8 and the Steve Richards/James Bergemuller BMW M6 were stranded with mechanical problems. No sooner had the safety car come in than the pit stop/driver change window opened. Lago left his stop as late as possible taking the lead from Major but the two Lamborghinis weren’t done yet. With three laps to go Major left his braking late into the Brittania roundabout turn 9 hairpin, emerging the winner in only his second Australian GT start. The Lamborghini 1-2 was the first since Phillip Island in 2008. A strong drive from Tim Miles saw his Lamborghini R-EX home in fifth, behind Bates and Liam Talbot’s Porsche 911 GT3-R.
The red flag was soon out in Race 3 on Sunday when an incident at the fast turn 8 sweeper had Miles in contact with the wall. Right behind him, Canto’s Huracan couldn’t avoid taking both out of the race. Audi’s bad luck continued with a puncture and panel damage for van der Linde. A 20 minute dash to the flag ensued when the track was cleared, Bates trading fastest laps with Lago, narrowly leading him home by just 0.1sec from Tony Walls’ McLaren 650S GT3 with Major in fourth place.
Bates not only handed Mercedes its first global GT3 win but his two wins and a third over the weekend gave him a 9 point lead over Lago in the Australian GT Championship and an impressive tally of 11 wins from his last 12 starts in Adelaide in all categories.
Behind the Pit Straight grandstand were displays celebrating some other notable achievements. In 1957 Jaguar scored a 1-2-3 at Le Mans and to commemorate the 60 year anniversary an exhibition featured models from the early 1930’s to current cars, including the oldest registered Jaguar in Australia, Carl Lindner’s 1932 SS1 Coupe, chassis #21, engine #135269. The V8 Supercar drivers’ parade on Sunday gave many of the convertible Cats on display a taste of the track.
In its own dedicated marquee was Tony Quinn’s Aston Martin Vulcan, the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. Usually living at his Highlands Motorsport Park, South Island, New Zealand, it also had track time, raising funds for charity. Nearby, the 50th anniversary display of Chevrolet’s Camaro showcased the six body changes that have occurred during its half-century of production.
Whether the Italians can challenge the Germans and the English and take the Australian GT Championship this year remains to be seen, but judging by the performance of the Lamborghinis at this opening round on Adelaide’s street circuit it will be a close-run contest.