Just 47 points split TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge title contenders Shane Smollen and Stephen Grove following the penultimate round of the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship at Mount Panorama.
Meanwhile, Tony Bates put years of frustration behind him to win round seven of the championship in style – his first such success on The Mountain and his second straight class victory in the ultra-competitive title race.
Bates and Smollen tied for the round seven honours with one race win each – race two was red flagged on the opening lap following a massive downpour – however Bates won the round by virtue of grabbing the class victory in the final race.
The Melbourne based driver was thrilled to grab a Bathurst victory after years of bad luck at the famous Mountain venue.
“It’s been a long time coming, I’ve certainly had my fair share of incidents at Bathurst over the years,” Bates said.
“I remember James Koundouris, Max Twigg and I had a close finish and I lost it on a countback – James and I crossed the line side by side and he just eased me out. It’s worked in my favour today and it’s always nice to come out of here with a straight car.
“Winning is an absolute buzz. It’s a highlight. We never had a lot of luck here. I was very determined to keep the car straight and finish. My improvement over the last couple of rounds with a new focus and a few new things we’re trying is working well.
“We had a great weekend at the Gold Coast last year. Our plan was to try and win the last three rounds – and we’re two down now!”
Bates was penalised 10 championship points for brief contact with Smollen during his overtake in the final race, however retains the round victory.
Points’ leader Shane Smollen was pleased to rebound with a solid points haul following a hefty crash in qualifying that left him behind the eight ball.
“We showed great potential early but that incident earlier in the weekend shortened our stride – it kept us on pole but it also left us with one set of tyres. Yesterday (red flag) played into our hands a little bit. It was just a small mistake and Tony, to his credit, took advantage.
“There was nothing between the three top Challenge guys and it was a really fun race.”
Smollen said he has the championship big picture in mind ahead of the climactic finale set for the Gold Coast in two weeks.
“The team has been in my ear,” Smollen explained. “It’s a track you want to push on but you really just have to inch on: We go into the Gold Coast with a handy lead but it’s a long way from being unassailable – so we’ll have to work hard and stay focussed.”
Defending TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge class champion Grove finished third overall at Mount Panorama and will need to find 47 points over Smollen at the Gold Coast should he wish to grab back-to-back titles.
“Good to get on the podium! There was an incident in the last race coming around turn two and I had to run wide – then (Tony) Walls came through. I had to pass him and then push to get to Smollen – I wasn’t too concerned about Bates but I had to get to Smollen for the championship and I pushed and pushed as best I could and did some good times.
“Let’s go to Gold Coast, have a big go and see what happens.”
On his return to the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship for the first time since the Gold Coast round in 2014, Tony Walls finished fourth overall with a pair of fourth-placed finishes this weekend.
The consistent Ash Samadi finished fifth, Marc Cini sixth and Adrian Mastronado seventh.
On his Porsche Carrera Cup debut Brenton Griguol finished 8th in race one however failed to finish the second race.
The final round of the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship will be held on the streets of Surfers Paradise on October 23-25.