Michael Almond has sensationally won the Porsche Paynter Dixon Carrera Cup Australia season opener at Sandown Raceway, while multiple champion Stephen Grove commenced his quest for title number four with a victory in Morris Finance Pro-Am.
Starting from second, Almond barely managed to keep his Sonic Motor Racing / Bob Jane T-Marts Porsche on the track through the opening corner – as polesitter Harri Jones ran out of grip and sent his Helimods / McElrea racing car off the road and tumbling down the order.
After locking both front Michelins, Jones’ – who had earlier recorded his first Tag Heuer Pole Position award – recovered in 21st position and set about charging through the field to recover lost championship points.
Almond then assumed the lead over Cameron Hill and Dale Wood, while Pro-Am polesitter Geoff Emery was another to strike drama as contact just before Turn 4 on the opening lap saw him spinning down the order to last place.
As the race settled down, Almond built a small margin over Hill, while Wood found himself under serious pressure from former teammate Aaron Love.
The young West Australian made a move at turn six on the sixth lap of the race, the pair of Porsches bashing wheels as they battled for position through turns seven and eight – trading paint and both ending up wide and allowing Cooper Murray to slip past both of them to grab third.
Wood then spent the remainder of the race fending off a long freight-train of cars that included former champion David Wall, Craig Lowndes, Nick McBride and Luke Youlden.
Those positions remained consistent until the final two laps when Youlden struck debris and was forced to retire his car, elevating Christian Pancione to 10th position on his Carrera Cup debut.
With Almond winning the race outright and the Mobil Pro class – his fifth Carrera Cup Australia victory – Cameron Hill won the Michelin Junior class.
“The race was great, the start was pretty hectic going into turn one, Harri was pretty unfortunate and locked brakes – so did I – but just not as bad as him,” Almond explained.
“Cam Hill was nice to me at turn two and I managed to maintain a lead and manage the gap to Cam. I was pushing to stay ahead of him.. I can’t be more thankful to the team for that, it’s the perfect way to start the year.”
Harri Jones recovered to 11th position after slipping as low as 21st position after his opening lap off, while Aaron Love set a new Sandown Carrera Cup lap record (1m10.2899s) on Lap 11 as he chased Cooper Murray in their battle for third.
With polesitter Emery down the order, the Morris Finance Pro-Am fight turned into a fight between Stephen Grove and Sam Shahin, the pair finishing line-astern split by less than one second.
Tim Miles finished third in class with Ben Stack fourth on debut, Marc Cini fifth.
“I was a fair way down the grid so I knew I needed to push on early,” Morris Finance Pro-Am winner Stephen Grove said.
“I got a couple of spots at turn one.. there was some biffing and barging going on so I picked the right line and got through.
“As soon as we got to the front I just pushed as hard as I could. I pushed to lap 10 or 11 and after that just conserved, because I want to make sure our tyres are good for tomorrow.”
Earlier in the day, Harri Jones and Geoff Emery shared the TAG Heuer Pole Position awards in a flat-out qualifying session.
Jones’ stunning 1m09.2626s best was comfortably a Sandown qualifying record for the category, and saw the young Queenslander score his first Carrera Cup pole by almost four-tenths of a second.
Michael Almond qualified his Sonic Motor Racing entry second for the fourth time in his career, while Cameron Hill rebounded from an earlier off to qualify third.
The top 13 cars were covered by less than a second
In Morris Finance Pro-Am, intense competition saw Geoff Emery edge out Stephen Grove and Tim Miles by the tiniest of margins; the top three covered by just 0.08s in a remarkably close session.
The Porsche Paynter Dixon Carrera Cup Australia returns tomorrow for two further races, including the first Enduro Cup race of the season.
Both races will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 506 and Kayo Sports.