A dramatic fourth round of the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge will see the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia’s race within a race head into the season’s half-way break wide open.
Defending class champion Shane Smollen won the round at Hidden Valley Raceway in the Northern Territory, returning himself to championship calculations following a challenging start to the season.
The Sydney driver has now won five of the last six races this year, closing to just 28.5 points of class leader Tony Bates in the process.
Bates (second) and Adrian Mastronado (third) completed the Darwin TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge podium however it was Smollen who was all smiles after a comprehensive performance.
“It got better as the weekend went on,” Smollen said.
“We had a reasonable practice day on Friday but qualifying was just crazy. We had one problem after the other and got out with just minutes to go and managed to bank a pole lap.
“Race one was messy but we won it on penalties (to other drivers) but today was just outstanding. I had a really quick and mistake-free day, kept my head on in the heat and as it turns out it’s probably quite a reasonable re-order of the standings which has helped a lot.”
Smollen is ready for the title fight that now has five drivers covered by just 145.5 points – potentially less than one round victory.
“It’s always gloves off! We generally have very close racing and the best man wins,” Smollen said.
“Some people have bad luck but I’ve had my share this year for the year and caught up in other people’s DNFs. It’s still anybody’s championship and if this has happened after four rounds this and more can happen for the next four.”
TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge leader Tony Bates survived a challenging weekend with his points lead in-tact, though reduced from its earlier more comfortable margin.
The Victorian was penalised in race one following contact with erstwhile leader James Bergmuller, and then copped a five second penalty in the third race for a start line infringement – dropping him behind Smollen at the end of the race.
He still posted a fourth and two second-place efforts in the Top End to continue his strong form this year.
Adrian Mastronardo finished third, his consistent results ensuring he still sits a strong fourth in the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge standings.
Round three winner James Bergmuller was another to endure a tough weekend in Darwin, though he retains third in the standings.
The Victorian driver led a majority of the opening race before contact from behind spun him out of the lead in the final corner of the first race. He then finished fourth in race two, however failed to finish race three when he and Stephen Grove made contact on the high-speed run through turns three and four on the opening lap of the race.
Both drivers emerged unscathed from the incident however were unable to continue.
Grove, the 2014 Challenge class champion, walked away with one finish from three races in Darwin however remains in championship calculations, just 145.5 points from the series lead.
A fast if unlucky weekend highlighted the efforts of Scott Taylor, making his first Porsche Carrera Cup Australia start of the season this weekend.
The Queenslander qualified fourth in class on Saturday and finished sixth in race one, however was ousted from race two after he and Marc Cini banged wheels at turn one.
Deemed a racing incident by the race officials, the contact saw Cini’s car launched into the air with both cars subsequently out of the race.
Both cars were quickly repaired and both finished the final race strongly – Taylor third in class and Cini fourth.
The next round of the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge will see the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia field combine with the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia at Sydney Motorsport Park in August.
Challenge leader Smollen said he was looking forward to racing against the best of the Asian series’ challenge runners.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Smollen enthused.
“I suggested the idea to separate the Pro and Challenge ranks (the respective classes will contest separate races) and I think it will work really well.
“Hopefully it will be damage free and I’m sure we’ll enjoy racing the Asia boys – hopefully it’s not the last time we do it.”