Craillsy’s Preview: Phillip Island

Those that know me will be expecting this preview to kick off with a comment about Will Power’s victory in the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 last Sunday so, who am I to disappoint?

The first Aussie to win the ‘500’ was notable for so many reasons, with one of them being his grassroots background in Australia’s junior ranks.

Graduating from club-level racing, through the Formula ranks and ultimately to overseas competition… his story is one of persistence, commitment and giving it everything – including time on the sidelines with broken bones and major doubts that he would continue to have a drive.

Yet here he is – an Indy 500 winner, $2.5 million dollars richer and an ‘all time great’ status assured in the amazing US open-wheel history.

It’s the kind of story that should inspire everyone at Phillip Island and remind them why we do this thing.

From Steven Richards a four-time Bathurst champion, in the Laser Plumbing & Electrical BMW M6 to teenage sensation Cooper Murray in his Ash Seward Porsche 911 GT3 to Mitch Nielson in the Radicals – they can all look at Mr. Power and go, ‘Yes, you can achieve your motor sport goals, no matter how tough they are’.

Tough is the appropriate word too, because it sums up the weekend of racing we’ve got in store. And yes, that was a mediocre Segway… but you’ll need to deal with it.

Battling for co-headline status this weekend is the CAMS Australian GT Championship and the Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge Australia – but we’ll look at the Porsche’s first because it’s not every day that you have a major birthday.

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the series and it’s an easy argument to make that it’s never been better.

The series was founded at a turbulent time and it was impossible to know – on that cold and blustery day at Mallala a decade ago – where it would end up.

I remember that weekend well for the sense of sailing into the unknown with a product that had been unproven – yet was built on the bones of something actually proven to be successful, with that being one-make Porsche racing.

It has become a mixture of a place for both young driver development and an enjoyable place for pro-am drivers to improve their craft, race hard and have a great weekend away.

This weekend is going to be a difficult one to pick too, after what we’ve seen across the two rounds contested so far.

Cooper Murray and Max Vidau have been the two to beat on raw speed, however Simon Fallon’s stunning Sandown weekend showed that he’s a title contender. They all have two race wins to their names this year.

After a learning weekend in SA, Luis Leeds was also on the money and Chelsea Angelo was contending for the win before she crashed on Sunday morning. A return to the front at a circuit where she’s excelled in open-wheel racing will help make up for the tough Sandown weekend.

Australian GT will bring 35 cars to Phillip Island, split between their Championship and the Trophy Series.

The Phillip Island 101 will be a key moment in the championship, with 300 points up-for-grabs in what will be a gruelling encounter in conditions that could either be sunny, overcast or torrentially wet. Either of the three are likely, by the way. It is Phillip Island in June after all.

Picking a winner is tough, but here’s some contenders to keep an eye on. I think Geoff Emery and Garth Tander go into the race as favourites – the Audi R8 has always been a superb all-round package at the Island.

But Liam Talbot/John Martin (Porsche), Max Twigg/Tony D’Alberto (Mercedes AMG), Tony Bates/Daniel Gaunt (Audi), as well as the McLarens of Duvashen Padayachee/Shane van Gisbergen and Fraser Ross/Jaxon Evans are all likely to contend. As is the Mercedes of Peter Hackett and Jake Fouracre… and the BMW of Steve Richards/Mike Almond, oh and the Mercedes of Yasser Shahin/Luke Youlden and Scott Taylor/Craig Baird.

I’m going to stop there before listing most of the field – it’s quite the grid!

Formula 4 is on the program and it’s here where the Will Power connection becomes it’s strongest – because any one of these drivers could be an Indy 500 champion at some point in the future.

The races will be worth watching for that reason – as well as the fact Phillip Island is the best open-wheel racing circuit in the country.

It’s fast, flowing and lends itself to immense slipstreaming battles down the Gardner Straight. The best thing is watching from the pits, watching cars sometimes two or even three wide disappearing down towards pit straight hoping they all come out the other side with all four wheels attached.

There’s no place like Phillip Island for that kind of suspense and drama.

There’s some great young names in F4 this season and in BRM, AGI, Patrizi and Astuti some great teams running them, crafting the next chapter in great open-wheel talent from this country.

Phillip Island is suited to the Radical Australia Cup cars too. Through the high-speed stuff they are immense to watch, especially with someone like James Winslow on board. Their races, which are longer-distance and include stops, should be fun to watch.

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