ROUND 4 REPORT - SKYE SANDS NATIONAL SPORTS SEDAN SERIES
Round 4 may be in the middle of winter, but it was held in warm and sunny Queensland and the National Sports Sedans were again on the programme at the Shannons Nationals, with a strong 16 car all V8 entry list headed by 10 times champion Tony Ricciardello, all the way from WA in the amazing Chev V8 powered Alfa Romeo GTV and Ford Tickford Super 2 driver Thomas Randle in the Skye Sands Chev powered Saab.
Perhaps the fastest car in the series of recent years has been the incredible Audi A4 of Victorian John Gourlay, but this car had a new driver for the weekend, former multiple series Champ Kerry Baily from Tasmania. Fans were keen to see how well the proven, quick car and experienced and accomplished driver would go in their first outing together.
After a strong showing at a cold and wet Sydney Motorsport Park for Round 3, Qld based series regulars Phil Crompton, Shane Bradford and Colin Smith were looking to shine on home ground. Half the field were hoping for home ground advantage, with 9 cars and drivers based in the sunshine state. MARC Cars had three of their Focus V8s entered for local drivers Jason Busk, Geoff Taunton and Lisa Montgomerie. They also had a new MARC 2 V8 Mustang entered for Adam Hargreaves. The remaining local drivers in the field were Ashley Bright in an ex-V8 Supercar Commodore.
Reigning Champion Birol Cetin and Steven Lacey had both brought their quick yellow Chev Camaro V8s up from NSW but they were outnumbered by fast Mexicans. Steven Tamasi in the Calibra, Thomas Randle, Michael Robinson (Monaro) and Shane Woodman (BMW/Chev) had all made the long trip north from chilly Victoria. It was especially pleasing to see Cetin & Woodman back in action, after both cars were heavily damaged at the previous round.
Practice: Friday practice was run over two half-hour sessions and Shane Bradford had a big scare and a lucky escape in FP1 when the right front upright failed on the Trans Am Camaro as he turned into the tight, slow Turn 6 hairpin. The failure caused a harmless spin, but Shane was glad it didn't happen on a fast, left hand corner, where the consequences didn't bear thinking about. Both front uprights were of the same design and the same age and had presumably done the same miles, so the Aston Air team wisely decided to replace both. This was a big job and put the car out of action for the rest of the day. It wasn't until early in the evening before the car was repaired and ready to go again.
Major disappointment on Friday for John Gourlay and his team when the transaxle in the back of the magnificent Audi had a major failure, this unfortunately put one of the most popular cars in the field, out for the entire weekend.
Qualifying: Saturday's programme started with the sports sedans first on track for a 20 minute qualifying session. Everyone was conservative for the first couple of laps on cold tyres and then the times tumbled rapidly until six minutes into the session when the red flag came out.
Steven Tamasi in the Domain Prestige Homes Calibra heard a strange noise coming from the 6-litre Chevy V8 engine as he powered through the fast, sweeping Turn 1, so he quickly shut down and coasted to a halt on the grass verge beside the track. The recovery crew were dispatched to retrieve the stricken machine as the rest of the field waited in pit lane. When the car was returned to the garage, the team found one cracked header and one broken header. This was repaired with the generous assistance of Dean Randle's team, but with such a tight turnaround between the two sessions, it couldn't be done in time for Q2.
The battle for pole position was intense with Tony Ricciardello and Thomas Randle trading fastest laps. Ricciardello was quickest in Q1 with 1:07.3, but Randle upped the ante in Q2, the only runner to use sticker tyres in the second session, snaring pole with 1:07.1
Shane Bradford was very happy with his run in Q1, smashing half a second off his PB and snaring third on the grid with 1:09.8; Shane was so happy with that effort, he saw no reason to go out in the second session. Phil Crompton was hot on his heels with 1:09.9 in the Datafin Engine Dyno Mustang. Phil went out in the second session looking for two-tenths, but only found two-hundredths, remaining on the outside of the second row of the grid.
Shane Woodman's Landell Signs BMW rounded out the top 5 with an impressive 1:10.1, ahead of Michael Robinson's 1:10.4 in the Bell Real Estate Monaro, easily his best time at QR. Adam Hargraves was impressive in the MARC 2 V8 with 1:11.1, good enough for seventh on the grid. Birol Cetin was eighth fastest with 1:11.5, on his first visit to this circuit. Tamasi only managed three laps at the start of the day, but his 1:11.8 was good enough for ninth on the grid. Geoff Taunton did well to put a MARC Focus V8 in the top 10 with 1:11.9
Steven Lacey just missed out on a top 10 Grid spot with 1:11.9 in the Real Dairy Camaro, clear of Colin Smith's MR Automotive Monaro. Colin survived a spin in Turn 2, that got the attention of a close following Phil Crompton, but “Roary the Monaro” wasn't on the pace after that. Jason Busk was next, then Ashley Bright's LS Chev powered ex Derek Van Zelm V8 Supercar and finally Lisa Montgomerie rounded out the field in the remaining MARC Focus.
Race 1: The first of three races for the weekend was run on Saturday afternoon, over 15 laps of the 3.1km National circuit. Rolling thunder is the perfect way to describe the start of a Skye Sands National Sports Sedan race and Ricciardello got the best of Randle in the run to the first corner and an excellent start from Bradford in the Camaro had a tight three car bunch out of Turn 1 and a small gap back to Crompton, who made the worst start of the top 10 runners. Randle sailed past Ricciardello down the back straight and both of them easily drew clear of Bradford.
Tamasi had a great run on the first lap, making four places to be in the top 5 at the end of the first tour. The youngster then quickly picked off Crompton and Bradford to be in the top 3 after just three laps. A lap later Crompton took advantage of Bradford after the Camaro driver left a gap down the inside at Turn 3.
The first retirement of the race came on lap 6 when Birol Cetin's wing collapsed, forcing the reigning champion to park the Camaro in pit lane. On the same lap Lacey disposed of Woodman to move into sixth place.
The second and final retirement came on lap 9 when Ricciardello's Alfa started smoking heavily down the straight. The smoke was so bad, the track fire crew came to check it out in pit lane! Sadly, the diagnosis was terminal and the most famous Sport Sedan in the country, was out for the weekend.
Bradford had a moment on the next lap and dropped three places; only one of which he was able to regain, after Robinson fell off three laps later. By this stage Randle was so far in front of anyone else, the only passing was when he lapped the slower cars. The talented youngster going on to win the race by 27 seconds, from the hard charging Tamasi. Crompton was very pleased with a podium finish, ahead of Lacey and Woodman, who rounded out the top 5. Post-race Randle was disqualified after he was deemed to be in breach of the control tyres rule so Tamasi was awarded the win from Crompton and Lacey in third.
Race 2: Sunday morning was cool & foggy when we arrived at the circuit, but the sun was out and it was already warming up when the Sports Sedans came out to play. After a dominant performance in yesterday's race, Thomas Randle was sent to the back of the grid by the officials for Race 2 after using tyres other than those allocated and marked for the meeting. This put Tamasi on pole and elevated Crompton to a front row start. This time Crompton made a much better start and hung on to second place for the first lap, ahead of Lacey, Bradford and Woodman. Randle was dynamite in the early stages of the race, scything through half the field to be in seventh place as they exited the second corner and then up to fifth place by the end of the first lap.
Robinson & Taunton tangled at Turn 6 on the first lap, causing Taunton to spin. The contact forced the guard of the Focus on to a tyre and Taunton did another slow lap, before retiring to pit lane. Cetin spun by himself at the same corner, one lap later and dropped all the way down to last place.
Randle then passed Bradford, Lacey and Crompton on the second lap and now only Tamasi was ahead. It took Randle another four laps to catch Tamasi and take the lead. Meanwhile, Crompton in 3rd had edged away from his pursuers, but it was a battle royale for fourth place. Lacey, Bradford, Woodman & Robinson were nose to tail, lap after lap, with Hargraves chasing them hard, trying to join in on this epic battle.
Woodman got past Bradford on lap 5, but the freight train rolled on until lap 9 when Robinson got down the inside of Bradford at Turn 1 and stayed there until they exited turn 2, Bradford moved ahead down the back straight and then Robinson got under him again at Turn 3. Again, Bradford regained the position on the straight. A lap later Robinson pulled the same move at Turn 3, with the same outcome, until they got to Turn 4 when the Camaro stalled in the braking area. By the time Bradford got it sorted, he had run wide of the corner and allowed Robinson and Hargraves through. The Aston Air team adjusted the idle speed after the race, to prevent a recurrence.
After twelve hard and fast laps, Randle was a clear winner with Tamasi second and Crompton a distant third. Woodman took fourth place from Lacey on lap 9 and hung on until the finish. Lacey lost another place on the penultimate lap when he was relegated to sixth by Robinson. Hargraves held out Bradford for seventh. Smith was next & Busk rounded out the top 10 and was the last car to finish on the lead lap.
Randle's fastest lap was a 1:07.3, breaking Jack Perkins' lap record by two-tenths.
Race 3: Randle had pole for the final race, but it was Tamasi who won the start, leading the field into the first turn, ahead of Randle, Woodman, Crompton, Lacey & Bradford. Hargraves spun at the Turn 3 hairpin on lap 1 and dropped to last place.
As the lead pair moved away from their pursuers, Randle kept the pressure on, glued to Tamasi's rear bumper. On lap five Tamasi pinched a left front brake going into turn 4 and it sent him just wide enough for Randle to dive underneath and grab the race lead; a lead he then built at roughly a second a lap for the rest of the race.
Meanwhile it was a very tight battle for third place with five cars running single file in close order until Robinson ran wide at Turn 3, losing ground, but no position. Crompton had an exciting moment when he tried to pounce on Woodman, who had run wide exiting Turn 4, but the Mustang got into a “tankslapper” out of Turn 5, allowing the BMW driver to retain his position.
At the close it was Randle a clear winner, followed by Tamasi, who was well clear of the tight finishing Woodman, Crompton, Lacey & Bradford. Robinson was on his own in seventh spot, well clear of a duelling Smith & Busk. Hargraves recovered to finish in tenth place and last car to be lapped.
Woodman's third place finish in the final race, was his first top 3 result in a National race, but it also gave him enough points to be third overall for the Round, granting him his first appearance on the podium, after three years of trying. Crompton's fast and consistent run meant he was a very surprised and very pleased, second overall for the Round. Tamasi was very happy to be standing on the top step of the podium at the end of a weekend that had started poorly and had the young Victorian wondering if this might be his bogey track. Next year, he shall probably be looking forward to winter in Qld with a smile.
The final Round of the 2018 Skye Sands Sports Sedan Series will be run at the fast and spectacular Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit during the Island Magic weekend on November 24 – 25. Visit sportssedansnational.com.au and National Sports Sedans Facebook page for further updates and information.
Words - David Paterson