Shane Smollen has maintained a narrow lead in the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge standings following round four of the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship in Townsville this weekend.
Smollen edged out defending challenge class champion Stephen Grove and James Bergmuller for the round victory after three tough races for the Carrera Cup ‘race within a race’ contenders.
Grove remains within close company of class leader Smollen heading into the second half of the Carrera Cup season, whilst Bergmuller’s podium was the clear highlight of an otherwise tough year blighted by non-finishes.
Having earlier scored the TAG Heuer pole position award in qualifying, only 1.0 seconds from outright pole winner David Russell, Smollen recorded finishes of first, first and third across the three races held on the challenging 2.87km Reid Park circuit.
“It was a tale of two races today,” Smollen said of Sunday’s pair of 20-lap encounters.
“The first race couldn’t have been clearer with a 13 second gap at the end but it was all happening at the start – I’ve never been able to survive so many hits in a race and still be able to finish it.”
Smollen encountered damage in the final race following contact with another car, however was able to limp his car home under a race-ending safety car.
“It’s just a bit of a freak that we didn’t do a radiator or a steering arm because they were coming from everywhere,” Smollen explained. “The rear left was shredded at the end of the race from mudguard damage and we’re probably very fortunate it finished under safety car.
“Across the board the two prior races, and the three sessions before, we had great pace and it certainly gives us plenty of confidence going into round five.”
Smollen now leads Grove by just 11 points as the championship heads into the second half of the season.
“It’s given us a good gap over a few of the guys and a small gap over Grove, and he’s always there banking points as he always does so well, but I’m confident with the tracks ahead,” Smollen said.
“A few of our favourite tracks are coming up and we’ve just got to keep it together and, as you can tell from this afternoon, anything can happen. We’ve just got to take it corner by corner, race by race.”
Defending Challenge class champion Grove said he was pleased to escape the challenging Townsville circuit with a solid haul of points towards his title defence.
Grove finished second in all three races and led the finale before being passed by Tony Bates in the races closing stages.
“It was very action packed! Three seconds was all we could do this round,” he explained.
“I lead there (in race three) after the safety car came out but got past me and from there it was just about keeping on, keeping on. It’s 100 per cent about building points from here. (Bates) had a lunge on me and I had to get out of it to make sure he got through because we can’t afford a DNF at the moment. It’s about chasing points and chasing the championship from here.”
Having started the season with a weekend-ending crash at the Clipsal 500, Bergmuller celebrated a birthday weekend with his first podium of the season.
The Melbournian qualified third in class on Saturday morning before logging finishes of third, seventh and fourth, respectively, across the three races.
“I always come to Townsville a bit nervous because we’ve had two massive crashes here over the last two years,” a relieved Bergmuller said following the podium.
“It started well and qualifying and the first race were quite good. In the second race everyone wanted to hit me and I hit them too.
“It’s great to be on the podium and I certainly didn’t expect it after this morning’s (race two) effort.
“I’m excited. Having a birthday here and this is great way to celebrate. It’s my first podium for the year after so many DNFs, a big crash at Clipsal and being injured coming into the year, so I’m pumped.”
Bates’ win in the final race made up for a challenging start to the weekend that saw him qualify 18th before failing to finish the opening race. He rebounded to third in the Challenge class in race two before storming through to score his fifth race win of the season in race three.
Bates remains third in the Carrera Challenge standings following the first four rounds this year.
TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge frontrunner Roger Lago, fourth in the standings entering the round, failed to score in Townsville following a qualifying crash.
Porsche Carrera Cup Australia continues at Sydney Motorsport Park in New South Wales on 21-23 August.