Hay, Haak and Giorgio Victorious in Wet-Dry Season Opener
After nearly five months off-track, the teams and drivers of the Racer Industries Queensland Touring Car Championship returned to Queensland Raceway on the final weekend of March, for the opening round of the new season.
With the Lakeside Tribute – the traditional season opener – abandoned, the season commenced a fortnight later than planned, with the first of (now) three visits to Queensland Raceway in 2019.
With the rescheduling came two separate issues for the paddock – some competitors were unable to make the new date, and there was now just days separating the opening two rounds of the season, with the second round of the season being held at Morgan Park the very next weekend.
With this being a rescheduled Lakeside event, the weekend was contested on shorter configurations of Queensland Raceway, with both the ‘Clubman’ and ‘Sprint’ circuits in use.
Qualifying, over fifteen minutes, was conducted on the ‘Clubman’ Circuit, and for Brett Kennedy, it was as though he’d never left – picking up exactly where he left off at the end of 2017 – claiming pole position by a staggering 2.37 seconds over Chris Sharples and Matthew Haak, who was the fastest of the ‘A2’ contingent. It wasn’t an ideal start to the season for Steve Hay, who could only manage 18th. Second fastest in Class A2 was Matthew Swarbrooke, just ahead of Leonard Meiers.
In Class B, Andrew Knight may have traded his Datsun for a BMW, but he’d lost none of his speed – claiming pole position, ahead of Mark Hyde, by 0.8927. John Phoenix was third, ahead of Shannon Cane and Nick Linton.
Rain arrived prior to Race 1 of the new season, ensuring the field would contest its first wet race since September. When the 10-lap affair got underway, it was one-way traffic for Brett Kennedy, who annihilated the competition, and cruised to a 6-second victory in the end, ahead of Chris Sharples and Matthew Haak - who claimed Class A2 honours. Steve Hay remained third in Class A1, but moved his way through the field, to finish 7th outright, after starting 18th.
For Matthew Haak, the hard work that he, and the team at Hano’s Car Care, had put in during the off-season was rewarded with that class victory – he finished 7.5 seconds clear of Bayley Hall, while Leonard Meiers was third. In a race where it became clear that Class A2 would be highly competitive in 2019, the two men who dominated the division in 2018 were well back – Gary Anger was a distant fourth, ahead of Stuart Walker, who was later penalised thirty seconds, for a start infringement, which saw him drop down to eighth in class, and eleventh outright – the last car home on the lead lap.
In Class B, Andrew Knight took the most commanding win of that opening race – finishing twenty-two seconds clear of John Swarbrooke, who just edged out Les Hanifin.
Race 2, due to be held on Saturday afternoon, was pushed back to Sunday morning, due to the wet weather, and the subsequent track conditions.
On Sunday morning, the same race, originally due to be run on the Sprint Circuit, was moved to the Clubman Circuit, due to standing water in the “crossover” section of the Queensland Raceway layout.
Brett Kennedy assumed the early lead, but Steve Hay charged through from eighth, to snatch that away, from the 2017 champion, on lap 4. From there, despite Kennedy’s best efforts, Hay was unable to be caught, and he cruised to a 4.2 second victory in the end, ahead of Kennedy and Sharples, who pushed Kennedy all the way.
Behind them, fourth outright went to Matthew Haak, who just got the better of Michael Woodcroft in the battle for Class A2 honours, while Gary Anger rounded out the class podium, edging out Stuart Walker by mere inches.
In Class B, the competition had no answer to the horsepower of Les Hanifin’s Commodore, as the #34 stormed to a 6second win, over Mark Hyde and Mark Giorgio.
Leonard Meiers and Nick Linton were the only retirements in that 12-lap race.
It was a quick turnaround for teams and drivers, before they returned to the circuit for race three – also on the Clubman Circuit.
With competitors second-fastest qualifying times determining the grid for race 3, Brett Kennedy was back at the head of the field, but he didn’t remain there for very long.
On the opening lap, Kennedy came unstuck in ‘the dipper’, which saw him drop to the tail of the field, as the rest of the pack successfully took evasive action.
With Steve Hay coming through from the tail of the field as well, Chris Sharples was left to assume the lead of the race, ahead of Matthew Haak and Matthew Swarbrooke.
Hay wasted no time in working his way through the field, finding his way into second position by the end of lap five, by which point, Sharples had a comfortable advantage at the head of the field.
Hay closed to within three seconds of the Monaro, but ran out of time, as Sharples made it three different winners in as many races, in Class A1, and scored his first win of the season.
Steve Hay and Matthew Haak rounded out the outright podium, as Haak continued his unbeaten run in Class A2.
Just 2.2 seconds split the top three in Class A2, as Haak was again pushed all the way by Michael Woodcroft, while Matthew Swarbrooke scored his best result of the weekend, coming home in fifth.
In Class B, no shortage of drama, as ‘breakouts’ once again became a talking point. Shannon Cane was the first across the finish line, but was later relegated to last, for breaking out on multiple occasions. Category management has taken a zero-tolerance approach to Class B this year – one warning only, and then penalties apply. While the result was unfortunate for Cane, signs were overall positive for the young lady, as the team was starting to see their hard work and perseverance pay off, with the #911 Holden showing impressive speed. Les Hanifin inherited victory, over Mark Hyde and Mark Giorgio.
Post-race, Brett Kennedy was handed a 30-second penalty, but that had no bearing on the results or championship points, as he remained third in Class A1. Garry Jones was also handed a 30-second penalty, but this for a safety infringement, after he removed his helmet on the cool-down lap.
For Race 4, racing switched from the ‘Clubman’ to the ‘Sprint’ circuit for the first time this weekend, for a 15-lap affair. Michael Woodcroft and Bayley Hall were forced to start at the rear of the field, following car-to-car contact in Race 2, earlier that day.
Steve Hay took the early lead, in the race that would decide the outcome of the round. Sharples and Kennedy followed in close pursuit.
Hay gradually pulled clear of his A1 rivals, to secure his second win of the weekend, by 4.4 seconds, ahead of Chris Sharples, who held second for the duration, while Brett Kennedy rounded out the podium.
While the A1 race was rather uneventful, there was no shortage of excitement in the other two classes.
Matthew Haak made it four wins from four starts in Class A2, ahead of Stuart Walker, who just held off the hardcharging BMW of Matthew Swarbrooke. Lance Jurgeleit was next home, ahead of Gary Anger.
Class B racing – as has come to be expected – provided plenty of entertainment. Shannon Cane and Les Hanifin had a terrific scrap for the race win – eventually won by Hanifin – but neither driver retained their finishing position. So hard fought was this battle, that both drivers broke out, on multiple occasions, and were therefore relegated to the bottom of the finishing order.
Behind them, Mark Giorgio inherited the win, after originally holding off John Phoenix, to take the last spot on the podium. John Swarbrooke was third, after narrowly edging out Andrew Knight, while Noel Davis rounded out the top five.
All twenty-two starters finished the race – a positive end to the opening weekend of racing for 2019.
Victory in the final race saw Steve Hay snatch round honours away from Chris Sharples – the results depended on the outcome of that final race, with just eight points separating them in the end. Brett Kennedy was third on points, in a tight contest – just fifteen points split the three of them after four races.
In Class A2, Matthew Haak’s clean-sweep saw him finish well ahead of Michael Woodcroft, who edged out Stuart Walker for second. Walker claimed the final spot on the podium, on countback, over Matthew Swarbrooke.
Class B was determined on countback, and was great news for Ford fans, as Mark Giorgio pipped Les Hanifin – who will rue his breakout penalty in the final race – while John Swarbrooke rounded out the podium.