Craillsy’s Preview: Round 2

Welcome to Sandown International Raceway – the home of horsepower and this weekend, home of the most water to ever fall from the sky in a single weekend.  

That is at least, if you listen to the local weather ‘experts’ who are predicting most of Melbourne’s May rainfall to come in a single weekend. Of course, because we’re going car racing and we’re in Victoria, it’s this weekend.  

Still, there are far worse places to be when it comes to torrential downpours, nor should it stop you from heading to Sandown this weekend.  

While I think we can all agree that we’d prefer it to be more dry than damp, Sandown is actually sensational place when it’s wet mainly because it has Australia’s largest covered grandstand.  

Seriously, it could be the kind of weather Noah would enjoy but you could be perched in the grandstand and be perfectly dry, sipping a warming coffee and eating a jam doughnut.  

Rain at Sandown spices the racing up, too – not that this brilliant historic place needs added excitement, for it really is one of the last old-school circuits. It’s quick, bumpy and (as Todd Hazelwood will happily tell you) the walls are reasonably close to where the racing cars race.  

This all makes for sensational entertainment and there’s a safe bet that wet or dry that’s what we’re going to see this weekend.  

One of the many headlining acts this weekend includes the opening round of the Australian Production Car Series, which makes a triumphant return to Sandown with bigger numbers than ever before.  

A joint effort with the Production Touring Car crew from New South Wales has resulted in a packed grid for this weekend at a circuit famed for epic series production races in the ‘60s and ‘70s, between some of the greats of the sport.  

Headlining the field is the addition of a trio of cars from iconic British brand Lotus. 

A change in regulations has allowed the four-cylinder sports cars into the field for the first time and they have responded by bringing some talent to drive them.  

Tony D’Alberto and Grant Denyer make a talent-packed combination in one car entered by Simply Sports Cars, while Jim Pollicina and Ryan Simpson are also similarly potent in their privately entered entry.  

At a horsepower circuit though, the Lotuses (Lotus’ or is it Loti?) will need to be strong because it’s likely the pace setters will be the BMWs.  

Easter’s Bathurst 6 Hour showed the potential of the German thoroughbreds as they dominated proceedings.  

Defending series champions Grant and Iain Sherrin won the race, while Beric Lynton’s new BMW M3 Competition – which will debut in the series proper this weekend – scythed seconds off the Mount Panorama lap record. It’s a serious bit of kit.  

It’s great to see Production Car racing thriving again and not just at an outright level.  

While the Lotus and BMW entries at the pointy-end are stealing all the headlines, the addition of two reasonably well-known brands in ‘MG’ and ‘Brock’ to the field are also worth talking up.  

James Brock’s MG6 shows that the series continues to provide value to class racers as well as the outright fight and a new brand engaging with the sport is always a good thing.  

Speaking of brands engaging, the CAMS Australian GT Championship field has 12 of them strutting their stuff this weekend.  

Running with the GT Trophy Series as part of their ranks, along with a five-strong GT4 field, the near 30-strong grid is a good one.  

While the Mercedes-AMG brigade were too strong at The Bend Motorsport Park, the shorter races this weekend should suit more cars.  

Last year Audi’s locked out the front row in qualifying and won the first race, while McLaren’s 650s won the second and third, proving that while Sandown may be the home of horsepower, the balance and poise of the cars with mid-mounted engines is also a bonus here.  

Also keep a look out for Steve Richards’ BMW M6 GT3. Richo scored a strong podium at The Bend and with speedy young-gun Ricky Capo co-piloting this weekend and they should be similarly strong.  

However, it’s the Porsche 911 GT3R of Liam Talbot I’d keep an eye on: Sandown has long been suited to the characteristics of Porsche’s most famous model (great power down and superb braking) and the Walkinshaw-run car should be in its element here.  

From one Porsche to many, the Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge Australia field is one of the best in any national-level category this year.  

The talent from the juniors at the pointy-end was reflected in stunning racing at their opening round in South Australia, when teenagers Max Vidau and Cooper Murray put on a show as they battled for race and round honours.  

Throw in the likes of Simon Fallon, Luis Leeds, Jimmy Vernon, Chelsea Angelo, Dan Day and Christian Pancione and you’re witnessing the next generation of Australia’s sports car or Supercars stars in action.  

As always with Porsche racing, there’s action throughout the field with the Pro-Am and Class B runners also fighting their own battles.  

From one grid of exotic cars to another, the Australian Prototype Series presented by Hot Wheels is also looking good.  

Much like GT racing, the series has cars that each have their own strengths and weaknesses depending on the weather conditions.  

For instance – at Sandown last year the lithe and nimble Wests were clearly quickest in dry conditions, but when the rain came on Sunday it was the more sure-footed Radicals that shone.  

So, while the Radical runners will be pleased with the forecast, don’t count out the still-new Wolf GB08 Prototypes this weekend. Jason Makris and JP Drake were superb at The Bend, and they’re joined this weekend by young-gun Sage Murdoch in a third car. 

Rounding out the program (and not worrying about the weather) is the one-make Radical Australia Cup, which features plenty of crossover with the APS grid as well as those focused only on their own category.  

The RAC grid is something of a family affair with two father-and-son combinations on track with Tony and Simon Haggarty to be pitted against each other, while Brad and Mitch Nielson will join forces in their own car.  

Interestingly, John-Paul Drake will do double duties and have James Winslow as his co-driver which, as far as co-driver signings go, would be like the cellar-dweller Brisbane Lions signing Hawks premiership captain, Luke Hodge.  

Oh, wait…  

So, there you go. Another massive weekend which, whether the weather be good or whether the weather be bad, will be well worth weathering the weather at the wonderful Sandown.  

Now… did someone mention doughnuts?   

– Craillsy