Cassells, Semway and Nissan win captivating Willowbank 300.

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A 300km race with only twelve cars didn’t seem like a great recipe, but it was.

The fifth edition of the Willowbank 300 delivered the great drama and racing we’ve come to expect from the event in the past, along with the closest ever finish, and two new winners, as Jason Cassells and Ken Semway secured theirs and Nissan’s first win in the Willowbank 300, but not without some drama along the way.

In total, six different manufacturers were represented, and following qualifying, they were split into five different divisions. For the first time in this event, there were no cars in either Division 3 or 6.

Several cars struck trouble in Saturday practice, leaving only nine cars taking to the track for provisional qualifying – I say provisional, because all nine cars would secure a spot in, what turned out to be, the Top Nine Shootout.

For the three cars that failed to qualify, their grid positions were determined by their fastest times from the earlier practice sessions.

Provisional pole position was claimed by the Ford Mustang of Graham Woodward and Scott Simpson, who would later secure it, with the fastest time in the Top Nine Shootout.

Up until the Shootout, there were no cars in Division 1, potentially leaving us with a race in which all cars only had to complete one compulsory pit-stop, but that all changed with the final run of the Shootout, when Scott Simpson blasted to pole position in 1:20.4969 – over half-a-second faster than the provisional pole time the car set on Saturday afternoon, and a time that saw the car break into Division 1.

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While this race has been won from Division 1 in the past, it was highly unlikely that it would be in 2018, and with Simpson and Woodward now contesting that division, and thus being required to undertake a second 5-minute stop, the race for outright honours was flung wide open

Before the race even began, there was drama in pit-lane, where Cameron McLean and Scott McLennan’s Mitsubishi Mirage just didn’t want to fire.

The pair, and their team, continued to work on the car, as the rest of the field took the green flag, in a desperate bid to join the race, but after going many laps down, they eventually gave up any hope of contesting the race, and placed the car into retirement.

McLennan later confirmed that electrical dramas were to blame for the car not taking the start.

Off the start, the Ford Mustang, with Graham Woodward at the wheel, converted pole position into an early race lead.

It wasn’t long before their peace was disturbed, with Jason Simes charging through from eighth on the grid to challenge for the lead of the race.

The pair exchanged blows for a handful of laps before, finally, Simes cemented his position at the head of the race, but that was short lived, because, on Lap 13, the Simes/Walsh BMW M3 reported to pit-lane, and never returned to the race track.

The unscheduled pit-stop, which came before the pit-window had even opened, was the result of the car suffering a drive failure, and despite their best efforts, the crew were unable to fix that problem, forcing Simes and Walsh into an early retirement, which was greatly disappointing for the duo, given their start, and the pace and promised they showed in the opening laps.

The Cassells/Semway entry visited the lane before the pit-window opened as well. The team reported that they’d lost all of their telemetry data, which was making life difficult for Jayson Cassells, but he also had a seat belt come loose, which he decided, purely with safety in mind, to come in and have fixed. He was running second at the time of the stop, and resumed down in sixth position.

From there, the race settled into a rhythm. Cassells cruised back through the field, picking off Holdt on Lap 29, and Bruce Forsyth on Lap 32, to be running in fourth position, behind the Toyota 86 of Dylan Cothill and Trent Laves. Graham Woodward and Scott Simpson (Ford Mustang) continued to lead the race, ahead of Greg Quince and Geoff Fane (Nissan 370Z), but, with Woodward and Simpson having to stop twice, as per race regulations, they were fast slipping out of the equation for outright honours.

The battle for division seven was hotting up. Gabriel Gasperak and Nick McLeod – the youngest team on the grid – took the class lead, away from John Sheridan, on Lap 37. The youngsters were in a good position to claim class honours IF they maintained their speed, and had a smooth pit-stop, because they only had to make one stop, whereas the Sheridan/Faulkner/Ross entry would have to stop twice, due to running a three-driver team.

The Woodward/Simpson entry continued to lead the race, and was punching out consistent fast times, as they tried to build as big a lead as possible, before reporting to the lane for its second compulsory stop. While claiming the outright win was looking unlikely, they weren’t giving up without a tremendous fight.

Sadly, for the division four entry of Nathan Townsend and Troy Adams, their race came undone while they were completing their compulsory pit-stop. With the driver swap complete, Adams was ready to resume, but, despite having a revving engine, the car didn’t want to cooperate, leaving the Division Four competitors stranded, and leaving their crew totally unsure as to what the issue was

Eventually, the Falcon did return to the circuit, and take the chequered flag, but having lost so many laps, with that issue, in pit-lane, they failed to complete 75% race distance, and were listed as non-finishers in the race results.

As Woodward and Simpson completed their second compulsory stop, Ken Semway took the outright lead of the race, ahead of the Toyota 86 of Trent Laves.

As the pit-window closed, Ken Semway (#7), Michael James (#146), Nick McLeod (#195) and Dan Ross (#5) were all given penalties for completing their stop in UNDER five minutes.

With Semway in the lane, the Toyota 86 of Trent Laves took the outright lead of the Willowbank 300, with just 15 laps to go, but, there was a sting in the tail still to come.

Moments after the Toyota took the lead, we had our first, and ONLY, clampdown of the 2018 Willowbank 300, as the Division 7 Hyundai of Nick McLeod, who, along with Gabriel Gasperak, had run so well all day, sadly found itself bogged in the sandtrap at turn 3, which ended any chance of a fairy-tale division win for the youngest combo in the field.

The #195 was able to resume, but would finish 15 laps down (7 laps down on the Division 7 winning car of John Sheridan, Dan Ross and Jayden Faulkner), in ninth position – the last of the classified finishers.

The closing stages of the 300 held everyones’ attention, as Ken Semway continued to chase down Trent Laves, but it soon became clear that he’d left his run just a fraction too late, leaving Cothill and Laves breathing sighs of relief that the race wasn’t a lap longer than the scheduled 96.

Neither Nissan or Toyota had previously won a Willowbank 300, and as the chequered flag fell, it was the Division 4 entry of Dylan Cothill and Trent Laves claiming a 1.6 second victory in their Toyota 86, ahead of Cassells and Semway.

A little further down the road, Michael James and Bruce Forsyth rounded out the podium, and secured the win in Division 5. The BMW was just 18 seconds ahead of the Mustang in the race for that final spot on the podium. Woodward and Simpson were fourth, and the best of division 1.

With that, we saw four different divisions and four different manufacturers represented in the top four, while Chris Holdt and Phil Weeks rounded out the top five, in their BMW.

Division 7 was won by John Sheridan, Dan Ross and Jayden Faulkner, who came home in seventh position outright.

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Post-Race, the drama continued off the track, as Jayson Cassells and Ken Semway argued their case with senior officials of the meeting, as they believed that they shouldn’t have been penalised over the duration of their pit-stop.

They were right to challenge the decision, as there was a misinterpretation of the regulations regarding the compulsory pit-stop window.

The minimum time for a compulsory pit-stop in the Willowbank 300 is FIVE MINUTES, but no car has to be stationary for the whole 300 seconds, as the window includes the transit time from pit-entry to pit-exit.

With that in mind, officials overturned the penalty handed out to Cassells and Semway, which saw them awarded the victory, ahead of Dylan Cothill and Trent Laves, thus handing Nissan its first win in the Willowbank 300.

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For the fourth consecutive year, the pole curse struck again, and a car from Division 2 has walked away with outright honours, after two hours and twenty-seven minutes of racing – it was the third-fastest 300 on record, behind 2015 and 2014, and only 33 seconds faster than Karl Begg and Glenn Trigger’s winning time from 2017.

The Queensland Endurance Championship concludes with the third running of the Lakeside 300 on September 30.

2018 Willowbank 300 | Queensland Raceway | April 20-22
Race Distance: 96 Laps | 299.52km

Pos

Div

Drivers

Car

Race Time

1st

2

Jayson Cassells/Ken Semway

Nissan 180X

2:27:54.2231

2nd

4

Dylan Cothill/Trent Laves

Toyota 86

+0.2018

3rd

5

Bruce Forsyth/Michael James

BMW E46

+1 Lap

4th

1

Graham Woodward/Scott Simpson

Ford Mustang

+1 Lap

7th

7

John Sheridan/Dan Ross/Jayden Faulkner

Hyundai Excel

+8 Laps