Tony Bates has swept the opening round of Porsche Carrera Cup Australia’s TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide – however he still believes the toughest season yet lays ahead of the ‘Elite’ division drivers.
Bates won all three races in his class on the demanding Adelaide parklands circuit, heading Roger Lago and defending class champion, Stephen Grove to grab the top step on the famous Clipsal 500 podium.
The Melbournian benefited from another driver’s penalty to take the Race 1 victory however led from lights-to-flag in Race 2 and Race 3 to lock away the class round win in style.
“The Porsche was hooked up all this weekend and Ash Seward and the boys did a great job,” said Bates after spraying the champagne for the first time this year.
“We had a mindset to come here and consolidate what we did at the end of last year. If we qualify well, on pole, and lead a race we generally go on with it and we made sure we kept it out of trouble. In Race 1, unfortunately, there was an incident with a pro driver and that’s something we’ve got to be careful of this year – we need to avoid being stuck racing with the professional drivers who are keen to get stuck in and just pass on by. If we keep out of trouble the results will come.”
Bates, who finished third in the class last year, believes that this year’s TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge field presents the most competitive grid yet seen in Porsche Carrera Cup’s ‘race within a race’ – and that it’s only getting tougher.
“There’s been no new entrants, but the competition is just as tough as ever and I think people are starting to take notice that we are lifting the bar,” he explained.
“The gap to the Pros is closing and on lap 4, 5 and 6 they’re still there and in sight of us, and we’re battling with some of the tail-end pros so it all bodes well for a really, really solid year.
“Stephen Grove is doing a lot of laps, Shane Smollen has gone to a new team and Roger Lago is in a lot of different cars in a lot of different races so the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge is really lifting the bar.”
Roger Lago scored a third and two seconds to lock away second position in Adelaide, with Stephen Grove enjoying his first visit to the Clipsal 500 podium via a second, third and fourth in the three races, respectively.
Grove’s podium ensures he commences his TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge class title defence in a better position than his 2014 season, where he failed to feature in the top three in the opening round before building his championship charge later in the season.
“All we wanted to do this weekend was be consistent and get on the podium if we could,” Grove explained.
“I haven’t gone very well here in the past so to be able to get up here and spray the champagne is everything we wanted and a great start to the year.”
Sydney driver Shane Smollen finished fourth overall for the round thanks to a consistent trio of races that saw him score a fourth in Race 1 and two sixth-place finishes in Race 2 and Race 3, respectively.
He sits 16 points ahead of Ash Samadi, who placed fifth in class in Adelaide.
Scott Taylor, Marc Cini and Adrian Mastronardo completed the eight semi-pro racers on the grid this weekend with Mastronardo in particular impressing despite failing to finish the opening race of the weekend. A driveshaft issue on the start line cost Mastronardo a chance of a result in the opening race however a strong drive through the field to 5th in class in Race 2 represented a strong performance.
The TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge – known last year as the Elite Class – is the ‘race within a race’ for semi-professional drivers in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship.
The next round will be held in conjunction with the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, at Albert Park in Melbourne, between March 12-15, 2015.