After six hours of world-class GT racing at Australia’s most beautiful and exciting race track, Australian V8 Supercar star Craig Baird in the #33 Clearwater Racing Ferrari leads the two Erebus Motorsports Mercedes driven by Alex Roloff and Lee Holdsworth, and the Johan Kristofferssson in the #1 Phoenix Motorsports Audi under a caution flag; as soon as the race restarts, all four will immediately try to seize the lead of the race.
Eight caution periods broke up the first six hours of racing at Australia’s Mount Panorama Circuit, a 23-turn, six-kilometer loop made of public roads which winds up the mountainside, twists across the peak, and roars back down the very long Conrod Straight to the tight turns of The Chase—a gorgeous setting for a very challenging course. When there was racing, it was worthy of the setting, with about a dozen lead changed hands half-a-dozen different leaders, plus hard competition in eight classes.
The race started a 7 a.m. local time and the drama started almost immediately. Tim Slade in the #63 Erebus Motorsport led the field off up the mountain, while behind him Craig Baird in the #33 Clearwater Racing Ferrari pushed past Mika Salo in the #88 Il Bello Rosso Ferrari to take second.
Baird took the lead on lap four but held it for only a few laps before the first Safety car period of the race was called. A Ginetta spun and a Porsche lsot control trying to avoid it coming across the top of the mountain. Mika Salo in the #88 Ferrari got squeezed into the right hand wall trying to avoid the Porsche. Salo kept driving, and even took the lead when the #63 Mercedes pitted, but that whack into the wall would have repercussions later.
When the race went Green Salo took off with Slade in hot pursuit, but again the race didn’t stay green long. Three cars—Chris Porritt in the #76 St. Gallen Aston Martin, Tony Quinn in the #77 VIP Petfoods Aston Martin, and David Russell in the #11 JBS Swift Lamborghini tried to race side-by-side at maximum speed down the long Conrod Straight, the fastest part of the track.
As Porrit told Radio Le Mans.com, “I was coming down the hill—there was oil the way down the hill—I was minding my own business when the Lambo came down the outside. The Aston was trying to go by on the inside at the same time—he hit me into the Lambo … an unnecessary accident really.”
This brought out the safety car again, as there were bits and pieces of exotic GT cars everywhere.
The safety car came out, but instead of calming the field, the safety car confused things. For some reason the safety car picked up the fifth place car, not the leader. Some of the leaders were waved around and essentially got a free lap. While the rest of the field had to stay behind the safety car. The same t8ing happened during the third caution period—many team mangers protested, but nothing could be done in the middle of the race.
When the race went green again on lap 36, Erebus Mercedes led the race, with Tim Slade in the #63 ahead of Alex Roloff in the #36, followed by Harold Primat in the #1 Phoenix racing Audi. Yet again, the green-flag racing only lasted a few laps.
This time it was the #16 Liqui Moly BMW which lost control, possibly on some oil, coming across the top of the mountain. The car fishtailed, slammed the right-hand wall, and ricocheted across the track to nose into the wall on the left.
When the race went green, an interesting battle developed: Thomas Jaeger in the #36 Erebus Mercedes was right on the wing of his team mate Peter Hackett in the #63; right behind them came a storming Warren Luff in the Skwirk Audi, trying hard to get back the lap lost due to the safety car’s error. While those three dodged and danced, Alan Simonson, running third in the Phoenix Racing Audi caught the trio and tried to get around all of them.
After a few laps of some very dangerous driving, Hackett decided—or was ordered—to let Jaeger through. Luff and Simonson forced past too.
This time the green-flag racing lasted almost an hour before safety-car period four was called. The safety car again picked up the wrong car and split the leaders, though this time no one lost a lap.
A lap after the racing resumed, a load of green-flag drama unfolded. First, Alan Simonson in the #88 Ferrari had to pit for a tire right after the green flag waved. Half a lap later, the Class D leading #19 Sherrin Rentals BMW 135i, driven by a trio of Sherrin brothers, blew its engine on the way up the mountain. Instead of pulling aside and parking or continuing along off the racing line, the Sherrin BMW kept going, dropping oil and trialing a gigantic plume of smoke which entirely obscured the track for a hundred feet behind it.
The race leaders, coming up behind the Sherrin car, had to slow severely—visibility was zero and traction almost gone. Bernd Schneider in the #36 Mercedes, more willing to risk driving blind stumbled past the Phoenix Audi to take the race lead.
At the same time the AF Corse Ferrari headed down pit lane and right to the garages, and Alan Simonson brought the #88 Il Bello Rosso Ferrari, which had led the race, also pitted with its right front suspension collapsed. Apparently that early brush with the wall weakened something, which failed some 70 laps later.
While the #88 Ferrari was still rolling to a stop in the pits, so too was the #65 Daytona Sports Cars Coupe out on track, bring out safety car number five—26 minutes of green-flag racing this time.
Another half-hour of racing ended with yellow flag number six when the #70 Seat stopped running at the top of the mountain.
When the race again resumed on lap 95, it was again Erebus Racing running one-two, with Lee Holdsworth in the #63 leading Alex Roloff in the #36, with Johan Kristoffersson in the #1 Phoenix Racing Audi and Craig Baird in the #33 Clearwater Ferrari chasing.
Baird took third on the next lap, and ten minutes later took second from Alex Roloff. Lee Holdsworth held off Baird for fifteen minutes but then had to pit for fuel. Baird himself had to pit after another fifteen minutes, but he got the lead back as Roloff in third and Kristoffersson in fourth, both had to pit as well.
The race managed to make it almost ninety minutes under green this time, before the #56 Seat lost control at the very peak of the course, just before heading down off the mountain. The #88 Ferrari, which had rejoined the race after lengthy repairs, hit the slowing Seat and went through the gravel trap at very high speed and slammed the wall on the right.
The track was cleared and the green flag waved at ten minutes to one local time. This time it took only four minutes for the next stoppage: The #67 Motorsports Services Porsche spun at the Falken Tire Elbow and couldn’t restart, bringing out safety car number eight.
So with the halfway point passing under a caution flag (normally passing under caution would be a penalty) the stage is set for a big battle to start the second half, when it finally goes green: Craig Baird, the leader, has about fifteen laps worth of fuel left; behind him both Erebus Mercedes and the Phoenix racing Audi will be poised to explode past as soon as the green flag waves.
Of course race leader Craig Baird tops the A class; here are the rest of the class leaders:
Class B: #12 ASM/BRM Motorsports/Blundstone Porsche 997 GT3 Cup, 12th overall
Class C: #62 nurburgring.com.au Lotus Exige S, 26th overall
Class D: #7 Maximum Motorsport Subaru Impreza WRX S 27th overall
ClassE: #3 Racer Industries Holden Astra HSV VXR, 28th overall
ClassI3: #44 Mal Rose Racing Holden VY Commodore, 16th overall
ClassI2: #2 Racer Industries Holden Astra HSV VXR, 22nd overall
Class I1: #60 1Cover Motionsport Lotus Elise, 19th overall
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