Stephen Grove won the battle on the Gold Coast, but ultimately it was Tony Bates who won the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge war on the streets of Surfers Paradise.
A consistent weekend ensured the Victorian driver had built an unassailable lead by the conclusion of the second race of the weekend, clinching his first circuit racing championship in style after years of trying in both Porsche Carrera Cup Australia, the Supercars Development Series and Commodore Cup.
Stephen Grove won the eighth and final round of the year, ahead of James Bergmuller and the champ Bates.
Grove finished third in the semi-pro category this year but was pleased to end the year on a high.
“That’s awesome. To put it on pole and lead every lap is really special,” said the former TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge champion.
“After Bathurst and the disappointment I’ve had this year I really wanted to set up for next year, so I’m stoked and it’s an awesome way to finish the year.”
After the most competitive year in TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge history, Bates won eight races in 2016 – however it was his consistency that delivered the overall championship results.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic. Between Carrera Cup and Commodore Cup there has been lots of placings in lots of championships over the years,” Bates explained.
“It was all about consistency this year with only the one round win. Over the previous years I’ve had the most round wins or most race wins but didn’t win the championship, so it’s funny how it works. I was more consistent this year, kept out of trouble and that is what got us the championship.”
Four drivers achieved both race and round victories this season, James Bergmuller, Stephen Grove and defending champion Shane Smollen also tasting the champagne throughout 2016.
The immense competition of the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge ensured that Bates’ title was hard fought and, as such, particularly satisfying.
“The quality is there. There’s been a hugely different amount of race and round winners and though there’s been six guys at most of the rounds and if you didn’t qualify well you knew it was going to be a battle.
“It was a shame in that last race (where Bates finished second) because Grovey doesn’t make mistakes and it’s tough to pass in these cars. It was a very competitive year and I’m just over the moon to have won it.”
A personal best year in Porsche Carrera Cup Australia saw James Bergmuller score second in the championship, while Stephen Grove’s up-and-down season saw him third.
Grove won six races in 2016, however four non-finishes cost him championship points.
Bergmuller’s second place came thanks to enormous consistency finishing 13 races on the podium this year including a late season swing of eight podiums from the last eight straight races.
Outgoing champion Shane Smollen ended his title defence in fifth place, scoring no points in Queensland this weekend after a hefty crash in the opening practice session damaged his car beyond repair.
Adrian Mastronado leapfrogged the Sydney driver in the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge standings, scoring fourth overall in the final race of the season to end his best ever year in the category strongly.
The ever-improving Sonic Motor Racing driver scored a trio of podium finishes this year and finished every race on the calendar.
Marc Cini finished his record-breaking season – one that included his 250th Porsche Carrera Cup Australia start – in sixth place of the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge runners and with one of the strongest performances of his season in Queensland.