The Audi Sport Customer Racing team turned up in force in Adelaide for the opening round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli, with six cars – four Audi R8 GT3 ultras, and two Trophy Class specification Audi R8 LMS GT3s – in which to do battle for outright and Trophy Class honours.
From the outset it was the clear the Championship class Audis were going to be outright contenders, with the Jamec Pem Racing team of Audi factory driver Christopher Mies and former V8 Supercar driver Steven Johnson dominating opening practice, whilst Clipsal debutante Nathan Antunes was also right in the fight in Rod Salmon’s Skwirk/Beechwood R8 ultra.
In Trophy class, new Audi recruits Mark Griffith (two-time Australian GT Sports champion) and Greg Taylor were right in the hunt too, carrying over the dominant performance that gave Audi a 1-2 result in the 2014 championship.
By qualifying it was clear that the Audi R8 was one of the perfect weapons of choice for the demanding street circuit, with three cars in the top five, whilst Greg Taylor’s co-driver Barton Mawer – a former front-running open wheel pilot – qualified their LMS GT3 in position eight, not a bad result in a field of almost 20 current FIA-specification GT3 cars..
Off the start of race one, Mies’ co-driver Greg Crick was forced wide off his front row starting position and back to fifth as Antunes followed the Aston Martin through to be third behind it and the pole-sitting Ferrari. By lap two though the field was brought under Safety Car conditions after new Mercedes recruit Morgan Haber came to grief at the notorious turn eight. That started a sequence of Safety Car laps that ultimately saw the field drive into pit lane for their compulsory pit stops [CPS], Antunes the big winner after engineer Rik Kemp called him in just seconds after the window opened – the leading Ferrari forced to go around again..
Off the restart Barton Mawer was holding down P2 in the Greg Taylor Audi R8 LMS, the Sydney-based driver quickly forced back to third as Marcus Marshall pushed his way through to second behind the #36 Mercedes, and then the lead. Behind the leading trio though Antunes and Crick were charging, Antunes catching the leading Porsche three laps from home, then taking the former V8 Supercar driver on the run down to turn eight with two to go.
By chequered flag time Antunes was two seconds clear, with Peter Fitzgerald doing a sterling job across the closing laps to move into fourth, a position which was upgraded to third after a ten second penalty was applied to Mawer for contact with the Klark Quinn McLaren at turn nine mid-race. Despite that, Mawer’s sixth place made him the leading Trophy Class driver, one position ahead of Crick in the #74 Jamec Pem entry.
Eleventh on his Australian GT Audi debut was reigning GT Sports champion Mark Griffith, the laconic Queenslander beaming from ear-to-ear, the result giving him second in the Trophy Class points race.
Saturday afternoon’s second 60-minute race was always going to be about strategy, with some teams putting their amateur driver in first, whilst others elected for the Pro..
Both Jamec Pem entries opted for the latter with Mies and Johnson in the thick of the action with race one winner Antunes from the outset. Mies moved into second on lap four behind Antunes (Skwirk Audi), whilst Johnson moved through the field to be inside the top ten after the opening lap, and third behind Mies by lap nine.
Mies pushed Antunes hard and grabbed the lead at one point, Antunes taking it back shortly after as Johnson closed in to make it a three-way Audi battle at the front.
Johnson’s third became second on lap 17 after Mies became the sandwich between Antunes and the lapped car of Kevin Weeks on the exit of turn nine, the contact sending Mies to the pits for an early stop, the team electing to put Crick behind the wheel as they checked the car for damage.
Johnson meanwhile continued to press Antunes until he made his CPS on lap 22 handing the car over to McLaughlan. By that stage the bulk of the field were forced to complete their CPS, which handed McLaughlan second, the Jamec Pem Racing team-boss soon through to the lead after Antunes made a late scheduled stop on lap 34.
By this stage Crick was pushing hard, the former Touring Car and Sports Sedan star moving inside the top ten, whilst McLaughlan continued to lead. Unfortunately, despite holding the lead for five laps during his maiden race on the streets of Adelaide, McLaughlan spun at turn four as Antunes closed in from behind. A slow recovery on a blind section of the circuit ultimately dropping the #75 Audi back to eighth at the flag, immediately behind team-mate Crick.
Fitzgerald starred once again, claiming a moral victory for the ‘old guys’ by taking fifth place, with Mark Griffith eleventh once again (and third in Trophy Class), and the #38 Taylor/Mawer Trophy Class car home in P17 after suffering on their debut with the increased grip levels after the two V8 Supercar races, a late spin by Taylor also dropping them a lap down.
The final 30-minute race provided the two Jamec Pem Racing Audi drivers a chance to battle with MPC team-mate Antunes at the front of the field, or so they thought. Sadly, the notorious Adelaide street circuit bit, and it bit hard, with the front-running Ferrari making heavy contact with the barriers on the run through the first chicane on lap one, the car bouncing back across the circuit in front of the closely following pack.
Johnson was an immediate casualty, as was the equally innocent Fitzgerald, whilst Mies was able to negotiate his way through the debris unscathed.
Behind them the field was able to work its way through the carnage, although with six cars stopped on the race line, the Safety Car brought the field under control as officials removed the stricken cars. Sadly Johnson and Fitzgerald became instant casualties, but from adversity comes opportunity, and as the field once more dived to pit lane under Safety Car conditions, some of the amateur drivers were able to move forwards including the #38 Adina Apartments Trophy Class Audi of Greg Taylor who was third with two laps to go.
Taylor ultimately held onto fourth outright, which gave he and Mawer the Trophy Class race and round victories, whilst Antunes charged over the final two laps to move from 11th to third, and with it, claim the outright Championship points lead, an impressive 46 points clear of former champion Klark Quinn.
Mies crossed the line in P7, with Griffith 16th, the new Audi recruit ruing what was an almost certain round win after being caught up in the first corner accident.
For the Audi Sport Customer Racing team, the focus is now on repairing the #75 Audi of Steve McLaughlan and the #2 car of Peter Fitzgerald, both cars suffering significant damage as a result of the race three accident, although with 11 weeks until round two, all six cars will be back at their pristine best at Phillip Island.
The Audi teams will now go into test mode at Phillip Island ahead of round two, the only endurance race in the 2015 Australian GT Championship, the 101-lap race at ‘the Island’ on 22-24 May.