With championship finishes of fourth, third and second in the last three seasons, Shane Smollen finally climbed to the top step of the podium by winning the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge title on the streets of Surfers Paradise.
The Sydney driver clinched his maiden Porsche title with a third place round result in the eighth and final round of the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia season to beat home defending champion Stephen Grove and a fast-finishing Tony Bates to the prestigious ‘race within a race’ title.
Smollen took the championship by just 66 points – little more than one race victory – over Grove after a year-long arm wrestle between the semi-professional pair.
Bates won the Gold Coast round, his third in a row this season, but it was the ever-consistent Smollen who did exactly what he needed to do to win the title.
After finishing fourth overall in 2012, third in 2013 and second last year, a title victory was the only result possible in the eyes of Smollen this season.
“By finishing fourth, third and second in the last three years – there was really only one way to go,” said Smollen.
“We really needed this win and we worked hard for it. We didn’t have a DNF all year and the team gave me a faultless car every single time.
“I had that piece of mind knowing that everything was going to be right and it was all up to me. We had great pace and some really strong consistency. I’m really happy.”
Bates’ third TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge round win in succession ensured he locked away third place in the standings, heading into the off season full of confidence after a fast yet unlucky season.
The Victorian driver won six of the last eight races and backed up his round one victory at the Clipsal 500 Adelaide with wins at Sandown, Bathurst and the Gold Coast.
“I made that statement (about winning the final three rounds) going into Sandown!” Bates grinned.
“We’ve changed a few things with our driving and I wish it was the start of the season three rounds ago. We’ve bookended the season again by winning at Clipsal and then at the Gold Coast.
“We won the most rounds and races – but you can’t have ‘letters’ – DNFs or DNSs probably, ultimately really hurt us.”
A podium finish for James Bergmuller ensued he was another driver who ended the year stronger than he started it.
The Melbourne racer started the year carrying some off-season injuries but bounced back in the second half of the year with a series of strong results.
“I’m very happy about that. It gives you confidence for next year,” he explained.
“The boys have worked hard all year and I went and did stupid things like getting hurt! It makes it hard, but this is great and we’re very, very happy.
“I didn’t make any mistakes this weekend: Practice was great and gave us plenty of confidence.
“Qualifying wasn’t brilliant but we kept our tyres and didn’t do anything silly. We had no damage and I just kept on banking points and did what we needed to do.”
Defending TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge winner Stephen Grove finished second in his title defence, a consistent season having him in the top three 17 times from the 22 races contested this year.
With Bates third, Ash Samadi finished fourth overall and Bergmuller fifth. Marc Cini, Adrian Mastronado and Scott Taylor completed the order of the eight drivers who contested every round of the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge this year.