Two rounds, two weeks and two winners – it’s been a competitive start to the season for competitors in the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge racing within the 2016 Porsche Carrera Cup Australia presented by Pages championship.
Stephen Grove became the second different winner in two rounds this season, claiming the class TAG Heuer Pole Position Award on Thursday and taking victory in races two and three to score the round win on home turf.
Grove edged out Adrian Mastronardo and defending champion Shane Smollen for the class victory this weekend after round one winner Tony Bates struck dramas in the final race of the weekend.
A win at his home track and in front of the massive Formula One audience highlighted a competitive weekend for the Challenge class racer.
“You can never give up at this level; you’ve got to keep pushing. I was disappointed with a DNF coming off the back of Adelaide so to come here and win is a real confidence boost. It’s hard work and you can never take a race or round win for granted racing against these boys in the Challenge class,” said Grove.
“Winning at Albert Park does rate pretty highly for me. I love this track and love this event so to win here this weekend is a definitely highlight of the season. What this tells me is that it’s ‘game on’ for all of us and anyone can win the Challenge title this season.”
Clipsal 500 winner Bates won the opening race however slipped to third in race two after a race long dice with Grove and Smollen.
His weekend became more challenging in race three after contact with Adrian Mastronardo in the penultimate corner saw him off the road and limping to the line.
His fourth race was over early when he ended up in the sand trap at turn three on the second lap, dropping him out of the round podium contention. Bates, however, remains in the lead of the Challenge standings ahead of round three, now a reduced margin over second-placed Grove.
A stunning second overall for Mastronardo saw the New South Wales driver finish fifth in the opening race prior to scoring a trio of third-placed results in the subsequent three races, respectively.
“It’s my first single driver podium in 25 years. I’m very happy with the result; I’ve stepped up my driving this weekend so finally great results are starting to come,” said Mastronardo.
“Like [team boss] Michael Ritter has always told me, you can’t force it, it has to come but you’ve got to push through. I felt like I had a lot of speed. It was just a shame in the last race that the power steering was broken; had that not happened it may have been a different result. But I’ll take this with open arms.”
Defending TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge champion Shane Smollen rebounded from a race three non-finish to score the final spot on the podium at Albert Park, rebounding from a tough start to the season at the Clipsal 500.
Though remaining in fifth place in the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge standings, the Sydney driver is less than 70 points from class leader Bates ahead of the third round of the championship.
With Bates fourth overall in Melbourne, James Bergmuller finished fifth – a non-finish in the second of four races costing his chances of a round podium.
Bergmuller stormed from last to second in race three to rebound strongly – finishing that race just two-tenths-of-a-second behind winner Grove.
A spin at turn one while battling for position in the final race saw him spin into the gravel, though he was able to re-join the circuit and finish the race.
A challenging weekend for Marc Cini saw him sixth of the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge runners this weekend in Melbourne – a race three non-finish costing him valuable round and championship points.
The next round of the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge and the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship will take place within the Porsche Rennsport Australia festival at Sydney Motorsport Park on April 29-May 01.
TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge Standings – Post-Round 2
1. Tony Bates – 292.5
2. Stephen Grove – 267
3. Adrian Mastronardo – 236.5
4. Shane Smollen – 225
5. James Bergmuller – 223.5
6. Marc Cini – 190.5