Despite the best efforts of title rival Peter Hackett who went on to claim a second race win and the Sandown round victory in the Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes-AMG, Audi’s Geoff Emery emerged as the 2019 Australian GT Champion, the popular Victorian claiming his third consecutive title at the venue at which he and team-mate Garth Tander recorded Audi’s maiden endurance title in late September.
To cap off a stellar year in the category, Emery stormed through the field in damp conditions to snatch the final race win from Hackett who was well on track to continue his domination of the Melbourne circuit, Liam Talbot claiming yet another podium finish in the Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini to close out a strong 2019 season.
Race two also settled the title honours in the AGT Trophy Series, Dale Paterson taking the title in the crowd-pleasing Camaro GT3, whilst another Melbourne local - Nick Karnaros, grabbed the inaugural Trofeo Challenge title despite playing second fiddle in the round to Ryan Millier, with David Crampton emerging as the GT4 round winner in the #50 KTM X-Bow, in the process moving to second in the overall season points.
With the sun shining after early rain, the teams all opted for slick tyres for the start of the second race, which featured an all Mercedes-AMG front row - Peter Hackett leading the field off the rolling start down to turn one, Mark Griffith managing to hold back a charging Fraser Ross as they ran down to turn two.
Ross was clearly looking to get through to the front early, pulling alongside Liam Talbot on the run through the opening sequence of corners, before backing out of a risky move at turn four, the McLaren though ultimately through at turn 11 to be third, which quickly became second after Griffith ran wide onto the kerb on the exit of turn 13, spinning to the inside of the circuit and down to rear of field.
In an effort to avoid the spinning Mercedes, Geoff Emery hesitated enough on the run onto the main straight to allow Joseph Ensabella through to fourth, whilst behind him, Emery was forced to defend from Ryan Millier, Nick Karnaros, Dale Paterson and David Greig.
Ross closed quickly on race leader Peter Hackett, but in shades of the Endurance Championship final in September, he just couldn’t effect a pass, the drive the Mercedes-AMG had off the final corner and turn four just giving Hackett the edge to hold Ross out on the long run down the two main straights.
Caught up behind Ensabella in the leadup to the compulsory pit stop window opening, Geoff Emery was the first to stop, the team electing to give him some clean air to pick up the pace, although to anyone that was listening across the weekend, Emery was quick to point out that completing the penultimate race of the season was his only goal, a successful conclusion to the race - in any position - would see him crowned the 2019 champion.
Peter Hackett was the next of the contenders to stop, leaving Fraser Ross clear to eke out an advantage before stopping to hand over to co-driver Ryan Simpson, the McLaren 720S charging to a succession of fastest laps before stopping ahead of the close of the pit stop window.
Pitting from the lead with a good opportunity to rejoin ahead of Hackett despite a longer CTPS time, the 59Racing team suffered another issue - in race one, it was a failure of the door latch that delayed them - this time an issue inside the cockpit that saw Simpson rejoin just ahead of Liam Talbot, but eight seconds back from race leader Hackett.
Simpson was through quickly on Talbot, but despite pushing hard, Hackett was matching his lap times, the Mercedes driver crossing the line 4.6-seconds clear of the McLaren to keep his winning streak alive, but despite continuing his almost perfect weekend, Geoff Emery’s fifth placed finish was enough to hand him his third consecutive title.
Liam Talbot continued his strong run in the Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini with third, ahead of Joseph Ensabella who again came under fire from Emery over the closing laps, Emery prompted to push by the charging Mark Griffith who was turning his best ever laps of the Sandown circuit as he recovered from his opening lap spin.
Ryan Millier claimed his second Trofeo Challenge race win over Nick Karnaros who sealed the title with another impressive drive in the Earth Electrical Porsche, with the returning David Grieg third in class in the Daikin Porsche Type 991 Cup Car.
Sadly for Dale Paterson, his weekend came to an end towards the closing stages, the newly crowned Trophy Series champion crossing the line with a bad miss in the engine, traced to the #7 cylinder, forcing the Dale Paterson Motorsports team to retire the Reiter Engineering built machine ahead of the final race to ensure no further damage.
Dean Koutsoumidis added a second GT4 race win on his return to the M-Motorsport KTM X-Bow, whilst team-mate David Crampton amassed enough points with second in class to seal second in the 2019 title race behind Justin McMillan and Glen Wood.
With the outright championship decided in race two, the final race of the season was expected to see plenty of action at the front of the field, but as teams prepared to journey out on track, news came that the potent 59Racing McLaren would also be a scratching, Fraser Ross explaining that there had been an issue with the fire-bomb in the car, which couldn’t be resolved ahead of the final race, forcing the team to put the car back into the transporter.
The retirements didn’t end there, Dean Koutsoumidis the next one in trouble, the damp circuit mixed with the immediate onset of the turbo as he exited pit lane to start weaving and building temperature into the control Pirelli slicks seeing him in the barriers on the main straight, damage to the steering forcing a recovery team onto the circuit to extract the #48 KTM ahead of the race start.
In the end the race was started behind the Safety Car with the clock winding down from 40-minutes as the Koutsoumidis car was recovered, but once underway it was Hackett who again stormed away to a strong early lead from Liam Talbot, whilst behind them Geoff Emery - now crowned champion - was in no mood to spend more time behind Joe Ensabella, the Audi charging through at Dandenong Road corner to start hunting down the leaders.
Mark Griffith too took advantage of the move to take fourth whilst Ryan Millier and Nick Karnaros applied maximum pressure to the tail of Ensabella’s Aaron Laboratories Porsche.
Eight minutes into the race, light rain started to fall prompting teams to take a gamble about whether it would stop or intensify. Geoff Emery’s experienced engineer Eric Pender was the first to make a call, bringing Emery in to change to wet weather tyres as both Hackett and Talbot continued to circulate, although now - more than five seconds off their best lap times with the rain continuing to intensify.
Mark Griffith and David Crampton were next in - alongside Emery, all three were outside the compulsory pit stop window meaning they would be back for a second stop to satisfy the AGT race regulations.
Despite enjoying superior grip over his rivals who were still on slicks, Emery charged down pit road but soon discovered how slippery things were after losing the tail of the Audi as he went for the power on the exit of turn one. He was just able to recover on the exit, but was forced across the circuit onto the grass, collecting some advertising signage boards as he rejoined.
Talbot was on a charge in the Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini, ultimately working his way onto the tail of Hackett then through on the fast back straight, Hackett initially driving a protective line forcing the Lamborghini wide before Talbot ultimately drew alongside, Hackett conceding the lead just prior to the pit stop window opening.
By that stage Emery was charging, the Audi as much as six seconds a lap faster than race leader Hackett, the three-time champion taking over the lead as the two leaders hit pit lane for their stop, both of them losing time as they changed to wet tyres, but both dropping the car onto the rattle gun air lines after the stop, delaying their exit, but once underway Talbot had lost his advantage to Hackett, exiting pit lane third right under Hackett’s rear wing.
As the close of the pit window got closer, Emery, Griffith and Crampton returned to pit lane to effect their compulsory stops, Emery rejoining on circuit behind the lapped Mark Griffith as up front Liam Talbot inherited the lead after Peter Hackett was wrong-footed by lapped traffic at Dandenong Road corner, Talbot taking advantage to pass all three cars in the one move..
By that stage Emery was almost 30-seconds back on the leaders with 10-minutes to go, but he was circulating three to four seconds a lap faster than Talbot and Hackett at the front of the field.
Sadly Talbot’s lead was short-lived, a drive through penalty for a pit stop infringement dropping him back down the order allowing Hackett to break clear, although his advantage was just ten seconds over Emery with five minutes to go, the Audi closing onto Hackett’s tail with just three laps to go - the #1 entry through at turn 11, Hackett clearly unable to do anything about it.
In the end, Emery claimed the win by more than three seconds, with Talbot claiming his third podium result of the weekend, the trio collecting the outright podium for the weekend, Hackett deservedly the round winner to cap off his season.
Mark Griffith claimed fourth to narrowly miss a place on the outright podium, with Ryan Millier fifth, the Trofeo team lamenting a slow stop with a wheel nut issue stalling Millier’s progress.
Nick Karnaros managed to get the better of long-time friend Joseph Ensabella in the battle of the Porsches to be sixth, with David Greig eighth and David Crampton ninth - his result also handing him top honours for the round in GT4.
Sandown saw the conclusion of the 2019 Australian GT season, the only remaining event coming at the end of November (28-29) at Mount Panorama, where the Pirelli AGT SuperSprint will provide three hours and 40-minutes of test time on a circuit that will feature strongly on the 2020 Australian GT program.
Keep up to date with Australian GT via the various social media platforms, and keep an eye on the TV Guides on Fox Sports Australia (Channel 506) for a highlight program from the Sandown season final.
What the drivers had to say;
1. 1. Geoff Emery (Valvoline Audi R8 LMS GT3)
“I was praying for rain all weekend, and to be let of the leash for the last race without having to think about the championship and throw everything at it was great, I had a ball. In the end we were fastest in both the dry and the wet, the car was perfect.”
2. 63. Peter Hackett (Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3)
“It was looking good for a trifecta of wins, but the rain caught us out, in the end Geoff’s strategy to pit early and go for wets was the right choice. We waited because the way the last couple of days had been it could have gone either way. We held on after the stop but just couldn’t hold him out, my tyres were done. We had a fantastic season, I can’t thank Eggleston Motorsport enough for their effort. We showed over the final rounds that we had the pace to win, we just need to put the whole season together and I’m sure we can make it happen in 2020!”
3. 129. Liam Talbot (Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3)
“I have to thank the Trofeo Motorsport team for giving me a great car again, it has been a real pleasure driving the Huracan across the year. I was hoping we might have had earlier rain because I knew we had good speed in the wet, but I just ran out of laps to catch Pete [Hackett] after that drive through, but all up, I couldn’t be happier.”
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