The opening round of the 2021 Brisbane Collision Centre Queensland Touring Car Championship had a little bit of everything, and certainly didn’t disappoint, as the teams and drivers reconvened, for the first points paying event in over five months.
All eyes were on the sky upon arrival at Lakeside Park, but thankfully the rain held off until after the three-race program had been wrapped up, meaning a fast, dry start to the new campaign, but it wasn’t without drama, as several drivers encountered mechanical gremlins throughout the course of the day.
As we detailed in our event preview, the three groups received a small tweak during the off-season, with the Groups A, B and C replacing A1, A2, and B.
The latter also underwent some fine tuning in regards to breakout times, with the new fastest time allowed, for a Class C competitor, at Lakeside Park now reduced to 61 seconds – it was 62 last season.
With this being a one-day meeting, and a compressed three-race program, qualifying had never been as important.
Chris Brown topped the timesheets in the first qualifying session, which featured entries in groups A and B. The commodore pilot edged out Saxon Moyes and the defending champion Matthew Haak, while Cameron Haak and Stuart Walker rounded out the top five.
Brown’s time came late in the session, after Moyes set the early benchmark. The difference between the two was just 0.0549.
In Group B, the Torana of Michael Woodcroft was four-tenths clear of Warwick Douglas, while Gary Anger, Rob Droder and Simon Winters followed closely behind.
In Group C – once again the group with the highest number of entries – series debutant Murray Reilly shot to the top of the leaderboard, with a 1:01.6868, to pip Scott Kelly and Andrew Knight, while Mark Hyde – in his new Ford Escort – and Paul Bonaccorso rounded out the top five, in the thirteen-car field.
One casualty out of qualifying was the BMW of Leon Kemp, who pulled up lame mid-way through the Group A/B session, and the car was brought back on the recovery truck. Sadly, the mechanical problem was terminal, and he played no further part in this round of the championship.
Also missing from the grid for Race 1 was Les Hanifin, who found an oil leak in his Commodore after qualifying, and opted not to risk the car, and parked up for the day.
Race 1 of the new season saw Chris Brown make a cracking start, while Saxon Moyes went nowhere, and was absolutely swamped, dropping three places, as both Haak boys and Stuart Walker found their way by.
The race continued along smoothly until lap 6, when Chris Brown struck trouble, dropped down to sixth position, and pulled into early retirement on the next lap.
Brown later revealed that the car ran out of fuel, after it blew an O-ring out from one of the injectors.
His demise saw Matthew Haak inherit the lead, and stay there, to pick up where he left off in October, and start his championship defence with a win in the opening race of the new season, ahead of Stuart Walker.
Saxon Moyes fought back, after a disappointing start, to pass Cameron Haak in the closing stages of the race, to secure third, ahead of the #11, while Robert Bellinger rounded out the top five.
In the Group B season opener, Michael Woodcroft was too good for the competition, just as he was in Qualifying. The Torana came home one-second clear of Rob Droder, while Warwick Douglas rounded out the podium, in a rather uneventful opening to the 2021 campaign.
Group C started with fireworks, as Scott Kelly ranged up the outside of Murray Reilly, to take the lead away from the debutant, on the exit of the karousel.
It was an interesting contest, between the nimble BMW, which had the advantage around the back of the circuit, and the Holden that had the legs and grunt from the exit of the eastern loop, all the way around to the karousel.
Reilly responded on lap four, but his time at the front was up by the end of lap 8, as Kelly used his ability to brake much later than Reilly to his advantage, to take the lead back.
Reilly then slipped to third, as he slowed coming out of the last corner, on the back of misinterpreting a call from race control. His mistake allowed Andrew Knight to climb into second position.
Kelly went on to win the race, Knight was destined for second, but as pipped at the post by Reilly, who used the power of the V8 to blast past the Team Schnitzel BMW in the final metres of the race.
Further back, Ettore Visolo was fourth, and Paul Bonaccorso was fifth, but it was disappointment for Mark Hyde, as an electrical problem put pay to his race, and in a further blow, the Escort would miss Race 2 as well.
As a result of the attrition rate through the opening round of races, category management, along with event organisers, opted to combine the grid for the rest of the program, and in good news, it resulted in an increase in the number of laps that each race would be contested over.
Race 2 was extended to twelve laps, while the final race of the day would now be held over fifteen laps, taking the total number of racing laps to 37 – still well short of the 48 racing laps the category had this time last year, but a small win nevertheless.
All eyes were on Chris Brown at the start of race 2, to see how far, how quickly he could charge through the pack, and he didn’t disappoint – bolting from 14th to 10th on the opening lap, and getting as high as fourth before mechanical dramas brought his charge to a premature end, not just for that race, but for the round. Brown’s team tried to get the car back on the grid for race three, but ran out of time to do so.
At the front, Stuart Walker got the jump on Matthew Haak, to lead into the first corner, and despite Haak taking several glances, in an attempt to try and find a way by his opponent, Walker was able to keep him at bay, to square the ledger, and record his first win of the season.
Robert Bellinger failed to finish that second race, due to the battery going flat. With Gary Lange out of business after Race 1, they were able to borrow his battery, to ensure that Bellinger would be back on the grid for race 3.
In Group B, Michael Woodcroft’s dominance ended on lap 8, when he retired from the race, with a gearbox failure, which put him out for the rest of the meeting. A seal let go, smoke started to leak out of the exhaust pipe, and he had no choice but to bring the car to the pits, and park it.
Woodcroft’s demise benefited Rob Droder, who eventually came through to claim the race win, ahead of Warwick Douglas, and Peter Bray, who was more than 20 seconds down the road.
Leonard Meiers and Simon Winters also encountered some mechanical issues during that race. For Winters, it was a radiator, which put him out for the rest of the day, while Meiers wasn’t quite too sure what his problem was, stating that he gets to a certain point in the race, and the car stops making noise… their best guess is that it was a heat issue, so he was praying for cooler temperatures, even rain, for the final one of the day, because the intention was the grid up, and see how it goes.
In Class C, it was a BMW 1-2, with Scott Kelly leading home Andrew Knight, while Paul Bonaccorso got the Falcon onto the podium. Murray Reilly was fourth, and Ettore Vosolo rounded out the top five.
Further back, only one incident worth noting, and it was for Dean Wort in the Group C BMW E46. Mid-way through the race, he slid off the circuit, coming through the final corner, and became stuck in the grass and slush, which saw the race neutralised, while he was retrieved.
He was able to resume, and did take the chequered flag, but was not classified, as he’d failed to complete 75% of the eventual race distance – originally scheduled for 12 laps, the race was extended to 15 after the clampdown period.
Nick Linton had good pace in his commodore, but failed to finish the race. Speaking after the race, he confirmed there was nothing wrong with the car, but he thought he saw flashing red lights, not solid reds, during the clampdown, and brought his car back to the pit area.
In the final race of the day, the start proved critical for Stuart Walker, who converted pole position into an early race lead, ahead of Haak and Moyes.
Saxon Moyes stuck with the Holden duo early on, but dropped out of the race at the mid-way point, due to an overheating problem, which was disappointing, as it deprived onlooking spectators of a cracking three-way scrap at the head of the field, but it was also a frustrating way for his day to finish as well.
With the BMW out of business, the fight between the Holden pair continued on, with Haak edging closer to Walker, but struggling to find a way through.
In the end, Walker held on for the win, but luck was on his side, as Haak was within striking distance at the beginning of the last lap, and had it not been for lapped traffic, he may have been in a position to attempt an overtake at the karousel, but it wasn’t to be, as Walker took the inside line, to navigate his way around the slower car, which blocked Haak’s opportunity, as you can’t go three-wide through the kink in these big machines.
So, Walker claimed his second win of the day, which gave him round honours, ahead of Haak, while Cameron Haak rounded out the podium, both in the race and the round.
Robert Bellinger charged home to finish fourth, after starting well down the order, while John Swarbrooke was the fifth Group A car home, down in seventh position.
In Group B, in what was a case of last men standing – only three Group B drivers started the final race of the day – Rob Droder doubled up, to secure the opening round of the season, with Peter Bray not far behind, and Gary Anger a distant third.
As far as the round was concerned, two from three was good enough for Rob Droder to claim top honours, ahead of Peter Bray and Warwick Douglas.
Group C was hard fought, and rather entertaining over fifteen laps. Mark Hyde finally got the Escort back on track, and was rewarded with a race win – a consolation prize on what was otherwise a frustrating day.
Second went to Scott Kelly – meaning no driver was able to claim a cleansweep – and third went to Andrew Knight.
As far as the round was concerned, Scott Kelly claimed top honours, ahead of Andrew Knight and Murray Reilly.
Pot luck pole awards were won by Matthew Devitt (Group C), Peter Bray (Group B) and Cameron Haak (Group A).
Hard charger awards were given to Ettore Vosolo (Group C), Rob Droder (Group B) and Saxon Moyes (Group A).
Championship Points | After Round 1 of 6
So in the end, six different race winners, across the three groups, on the opening day of school for 2021, which bodes well for a competitive season ahead.
Teams and Drivers were preparing for a non-championship outing at Morgan Park Raceway in Warwick, as part of the Australian Motor Racing Series (AMRS) event, on April 17 and 18, but the recent Greater Brisbane COVID lockdown has seen the event postponed.
The next event will now be staged at Queensland Raceway, in what will be the first day-night meeting of the year, on Saturday, May 22.
The 2021 Queensland Touring Car Championship is proudly sponsored by: Brisbane Collision Centre, Brisbane Motor Works, Uniglide Friction Reducing Concentrate, Hully’s Automotive, Tyre Busters Kunda Park, Hano’s Car Care, Vitesse Developments, Fifotos Motorsport Media, Andrew Knight Electrical Contracting, Western Suburbs Mechanical, Hyqual Australia, and Prestige Stripes and Signs.