Stephen Grove claims Morris Finance Pro-Am victory in Queensland
Cameron Hill’s 16-month unbeaten odyssey in the Porsche Paynter Dixon Carrera Cup Australia has come to an end as Cooper Murray edged out the championship leader to claim Round 3 in Townsville.
It was a close-run thing, however, with the round result decided on countback in favour of Murray’s higher finishing position in the final race.
Impressive Michelin Junior Matthew Payne completed a remarkable comeback to finish third overall, his first Carrera Cup podium, while also claiming a race victory in the final sprint.
Things were just as tight in the Morris Finance Pro-Am category, Stephen Grove edging out Geoff Emery by a single point to claim the Round 3 victory.
Grove’s single-digit margin came thanks to the bonus point awarded for pole position, while Dean Cook completed the Townsville Pro-Am podium.
Murray’s pathway to his third Carrera Cup round win was anchored by a measured drive to victory in the Sunday morning Enduro Cup race, where he beat home Hill and Matt Payne following another typically combative affair.
He then trailed Payne home in the third and final race to do just enough to claim the round victory, Hill finishing fourth, behind Aaron Love, to ensure his remarkable three-round winning streak came to an end.
Murray’s win was his first since the Adelaide 500 last February and also reasserted his position at the top of the Michelin Junior standings, over teammate Harri Jones.
“I love it here, been here twice and I’ve won the round twice, it’s an amazing track and it was good that we could come back here this year,” Murray said.
“I know I had to beat Cam in the last race to take the round win, but its great reward for the team and I’m just glad that we’re back on top.”
Payne’s remarkable maiden race win and round podium came in just his third ever Carrera Cup round start, the young Kiwi star making an immediate impact in his rookie season.
“It was an awesome race, I got a great start behind the front row and followed them into turn 1, Cooper looked like he locked up a bit and ran Cam wide and I snuck under him a grabbed second place,” he explained.
“Cooper was really quick, I managed to pull him in, get past and pull a gap from there. I love the track, the car was awesome and very balanced the whole race.
“P1 is a little long time coming for us as we’ve qualified pole twice, so to do this in our third race is just awesome.”
Grove’s path to the Morris Finance Pro-Am win was similar to Murray’s, in that it came via a strong performance in the enduro cup race – the three-time champion winning his class in the 23-lap affair.
He finished second behind Emery in the third race to do enough to claim the overall round result – the 17th of his Carrera Cup career.
“It was a tough race, but Geoff (Emery) is a great guy to race, he’s got good vision and it’s great to go against him,” Grove said.
“Our weekend was pretty good, I was disappointed I couldn’t push much more in the last race, but to finish in P1 overall is a good result. The good thing is I don’t get back into the (Porsche 911) GT3 R until September so I can just focus on driving this car, so I’m looking forward to next round.”
Sunday’s racing continued the intense theme of the Townsville weekend with the Sunday morning enduro cup race a particularly dramatic affair.
While Murray stormed from fourth to first on the opening lap to claim the lead and ultimately the win, Payne continued his march forward by finishing third from tenth on the grid.
He led home David Russell and Harri Jones, the latter pair among an enormous battle pack that included Michael Almond, Aaron Love – recovering to seventh from the back of the field – Dale Wood, Christian Pancione and Luke Youlden.
There were also several high-profile non-finishers; Craig Lowndes an early out after his car was badly damaged following contact from behind from Simon Fallon at turn two.
Following a safety car and restart, the action was again paused after a huge impact saw Sam Shahin and Adrian Flack removed from the race on the exit of turn three.
Flack had spun exiting the corner, glancing the inside wall before entering the path of Shahin’s car as he tried to negotiate his spinning Pro-Am rival. Both drivers emerged unscathed from the incident, however would fail to start the final race.
That was won by Payne as he marched his way past Cameron Hill early in the race before attacking and passing Murray on lap six to grab a lead he would never lose.
The 18-year-old then edged away from Murray to take the win, Sonic’s Aaron Love splitting the McElrea driver and Cameron Hill to grab third and inadvertently help decide the round result.
Harri Jones was fifth with Dale Wood’s recovery from Race one complete in a fine sixth position aboard his Timken / ASM machine. Russell, Youlden, Wall and Almond completed the 10, while Emery beat Grove and Cook to the Morris Finance Pro-Am race win.
With three rounds of the 2021 Porsche Paynter Dixon Carrera Cup Australia Championship now complete, Cameron Hill holds an expanded 160-point lead over Cooper Murray, who now sits second.
Harri Jones is third in the standings while David Wall and Aaron Love complete the top five.
Geoff Emery’s strong weekend has him with an 80-point lead in the Morris Finance Pro-Am class, Stephen Grove and Sam Shahin split by just 10 points in second and third, respectively.
The fourth round of the championship is currently scheduled for the Sydney SuperNight event at Sydney Motorsport Park this August 20-22.