Shane Smollen has raced to a home-track round victory in the fifth round of Porsche Carrera Cup Australia’s TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge class this weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park.
While Nick Foster and Craig Baird significantly closed the points gap to outright championship leader Steven Richards in the Professional Class, the same tight competition was on offer in Carrera Cup’s ‘race within a race’ this weekend.
Sydney driver Smollen scored two wins and a third to edge his points leading margin over defending class champion Stephen Grove to just 17 points across the first five rounds of the 2015 season.
It sets up a thrilling battle to the line between the pair this season with three rounds – at Sandown, Bathurst and the Gold Coast – remaining.
Smollen edged out Adrian Mastronado for the Carrera Challenge pole on Saturday before winning race one, ahead of Grove and Ash Samadi.
Grove levelled the score with a win in race two before Smollen returned to the top in the finale’, sealing a narrow round victory over Grove and James Bergmuller – the same top class three as the Townsville round held in July.
Smollen explained that it was satisfying to win the round on his home turf.
“It’s satisfying and there were a few friends and family out watching this weekend,” he said.
“It makes you try a bit harder and it’s also a track I’m very familiar with. I was happy to bookend the weekend with two good races – and one sketchy one in the middle – and come out with our third round win, which is excellent.
“I just wish we could have had a bigger margin when we look at the points score. It’s what you want – it’s been good clean racing and we had a good clean tussle with Steve and James in race two.”
Smollen said he was aware that Grove would pose a strong challenge in the remaining three rounds of the season.
“We know he will be consistent in the final rounds and we plan to do the same. Making sure we keep winning races is the goal and that’s all we can do.”
Second-placed Stephen Grove said his plan for the remainder of the year was to go on the attack and focus on grabbing as many race wins as possible.
“I need to push and win now: This time last year I had a good bank of points and was able to consolidate but this year we have to push and go for wins. I’ve got to win and that’s what I plan to do.
“The weekend was good and just to get a first place and put that behind me was good. James was there (in race three) and pushed and pushed and got the result but it was good, clean and fun racing.”
After failing to finish the first three races of the season, James Bergmuller scored his second successive TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge podium in Sydney this weekend, climbing to seventh in the class standings in the process.
The Melbourne driver sits less than two race victories outside the top three in the class standings, with just 113 points splitting third placed Tony Bates and Bergmuller on the points table.
“This year it’s a case of being fit again, I’m not injured and I’m back driving like I was last year. Because I’m not banking points I’m really just going for round wins and that’s my goal for the rest of the year.
“I want to try and get a (Challenge class) pole and a round win and that would be great. With Tony Bates having a DNF this weekend it might, just let me sneak back into the podium at the end of the year.”
Third, sixth and fourth-placed results across the weekend saw Ash Samadi finish fourth in class this weekend with Scott Taylor in fifth.
Samadi now sits equal third in the Carrera Challenge standings, tied on 514.5 points with Bates.
Bates failed to start the Sydney Motorsport Park round following a hefty accident at turn one early in Friday practice – the Victorian forced to withdraw from the weekend in an effort to get his car repaired in time for his home round at Sandown this September.
Despite a disappointing non-finish in the first race, Mastronado had one of his strongest rounds to date.
The second-year Carrera Cup racer enjoyed battles with the likes of Smollen, Grove, Bergmuller and Samadi across the weekend, ultimately finishing fourth and fifth in class in the final two races, respectively.
The next round of the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship, and the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge, will be at Melbourne’s Sandown Raceway on September 11-13.