Sheridan and Whittington Share Spoils at Lakeside.
BPRO’s newest recruit wins opening round of season 2018.
The opening round of the 2018 Track Attack Australia Cup promised fireworks, and it delivered.
After a five-and-a-half month summer break, the hugely popular one-make series returned, bigger and better than ever, for a four-race program that saw Darren Whittington emerged victorious, after a thrilling weekend of competition, in which he and John Sheridan shared the spoils, with two wins apiece.
Right throughout the paddock, there were new cars, drivers, liveries and teams, as the fraternity presented their polished machines and fresh looks at the dawn of the new season.
Coming into the weekend, there was some doubt as to whether the defending champion, Cameron Wilson, would be on the grid, or not.
Just a week prior, Wilson was involved in a heavy crash in the final Excel Challenge race at Mount Panorama, supporting the Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour – an incident that sadly saw his car written off.
Upon returning to Queensland, the Phillips Wilson Racing squad went straight to work, in order to get their man on the grid, to begin his title defence.
Wilson arrived trackside, with a new car, ready to go racing, but he was at a disadvantage.
Given the tight turnaround, Wilson’s squad hadn’t yet been able to completely strip the car, leaving Wilson carrying an extra 30kg than usual – a problem that will be sorted in the lead up to the next round of the series, at Queensland Raceway, at the start of May, and we’ll see the impressive, predominately red, team livery on the car by then as well.
The track density at Lakeside, for the Excel Cup, is 28 cars, but there were 31 entered for the opening round of the season, leaving series organisers with the difficult task of finding a way to accommodate the increasing numbers.
The solution – a creative one – saw a promotion and relegation system come into play. Qualifying was split into two sessions, and from that, the top twenty-four cars qualified for the main race, leaving the remaining seven to contest the B-race.
After each round of racing, the top two cars from the B-race would be promoted to the main field, while the last two classified cars from the main race would be relegated to the B-race.
The prospect of relegation had everyone in the main field on their toes, because mechanical dramas, crashes, or costly errors that often see drivers slip back through the field could’ve ended up costing you TWICE – once in the race in question, and again in a B-race where minimum points would be on offer.
Qualifying, given the oversubscribed field, also carried extra significance, and it was Daniel Peasey who rose to the occasion, scoring pole position ahead of Scott Green and Tyrone Gautier, in what was a surprising top-three, and one that didn’t include any of the four Brett Parish Racing Organisation entries.
The best BPRO car was Darren Whittington in fourth – he was just ahead of Frank Mammarella, who rounded out the top five.
There was much hype and anticipation ahead of the first race of the 2018 season, and it lived up to the expectation. Daniel Peasey took the early lead, but the defending champion, Cam Wilson, was the big mover, going from fourth to second before the end of the opening lap.
The big loser on the opening lap was Tyrone Gautier, who had a massive lose on the approach to Hungry, sliding way out into the grass, and re-joining at the back of the field.
Gautier later admitted the incident was his own doing, as one of the rear wheels hit the dirt while he was trying to make a move on the race leader (Peasey).
With Gautier running second, the incident could’ve ended up being far worse than it was, but thankfully the entire field was able to avoid the spinning #95, and continue racing.
Scott Green grabbed second off Wilson on the second lap, but that glory was short lived, with Wilson restoring order on the very next lap.
On Lap 5, Wilson stole the lead away from Peasey, and by that time, BPRO’s newest recruit, Darren Whittington, was third, and charging hard – he had Green, Brett Parish and John Sheridan in hot pursuit, and not far behind them, also charging through the field, was Ben Wilcox.
Whittington’s good fortune came to an end on the very next lap, when he started rapidly losing positions – he dropped from 3rd to 8th in just two laps, and his team boss, Brett Parish, dropped from 6th to 12th in that same period of the race, which left Green, Sheridan and Wilcox to fight for that final spot on the podium.
The dramas continued for BPRO when Simon Winters came to a stop, triggered a clampdown, and was towed into retirement.
The clampdown was great news for John Sheridan, who got the best of the restart, and passed Scott Green, Daniel Peasey AND Cam Wilson in the space of a lap, to take the race lead with just two laps to go.
Sheridan held off all challenges in the final two laps, to hold on for the first race victory of the season, in the Track Attack Australia Cup.
Wilson was a comfortable second, ahead of Ben Wilcox, who was another beneficiary of the clampdown, with Daniel Peasey and Scott Green rounding out the top five.
Wilcox followed Sheridan through, off the restart, successfully getting by both Green and Peasey, but he was unable to catch Cam Wilson.
Tyrone Gautier, after his stunt work on the opening lap, put in a great drive, to get back to 11th position in the end – a great drive that showed the sort of pace his ‘Lightning McQueen’ Excel had, which left confident of being able to work his way back to the front throughout the remaining three races.
Mick McCloud and Ben Smith were relegated to Group B, for Race 2, after failing to finish.
Speaking of Group B, their opening race was staged a short time after the main event, and was contested over fifteen laps.
It was a start-to-finish performance for Cliff Sedgley, claiming a win, of sorts (promotion to the main field for Race 2), after leading every lap, and holding off the competition behind him.
Second went to Jason Haren, with Darren Currie rounding out the podium.
The good news for Currie was, as a result of Dave Shinners not taking the start in the main race, he was also promoted to the main field for Race 2.
Holly Espray’s woes continued – she was classified a non-finisher after only completing six of the fifteen laps.
Mechanical issues forced her to miss the start, and unfortunately, once out there, it was too late for her to be able to contest the 75% required to be classified as a finisher.
Cliff Sedgley’s win in the B-race was the most popular of the weekend. Sedgley received a standing ovation from the paddock as he returned to pit-lane, and later took to social media to express his gratitude, saying the reception left him thinking that he’d won the Bathurst 1000.
Once the paddock calmed down from the excitement of Sedgley’s success, he was lining up, with the rest of the main contenders, for Race 2.
John Sheridan put in a clinical performance, showing everyone just how competitive he’ll be in 2018, leading from start-to-finish to take a narrow win over Ben Wilcox, who ran second to him for the entirety of that second race. All the action took place behind that front pair.
Darren Whittington led BPRO’s charge back through the field. The new recruit started 7th, and slowly moved his way up, to finish third, ahead of Daniel Peasey and Scott Green, who finished exactly where they did in the previous race.
Drama ensued in the closing stages, with Peasey trying desperately to get past Green. Green, trying to defend his position, moved across on Peasey, and the #37 was out of room.
With nowhere to go, Peasey collected the cones that reside on the inside of the main straight, where cars join the circuit from pit-lane.
Peasey would face the consequences of that incident later, but he was successful in snaring third position away from Scott Green in those final few laps.
Simon Winters stormed through, from the back of the field, to finish in seventh position – a successful end to a stressful afternoon for him.
It was quite the turnaround for him, as up until 30 minutes before the start of the race, he was of the belief that he wouldn’t be starting the second race of the day, as a result of the mechanical dramas that forced him into retirement in the opening race, but as Winters was playing guest commentator in the race won by Cliff Sedgley, the BPRO squad got the car firing, and it was all uphill from there.
The loser in that second race was, none other than the defending champion, Cam Wilson, who failed to finish.
He came to a stop on lap eleven, and he was unable to resume. It was the second setback of the week for the 2017 champ, and an early setback in that title defence.
As a result of sending the cones flying, Daniel Peasey’s weekend came to a premature conclusion, as he was sent packing – knocking over the cones is an automatic exclusion from a race meeting at Lakeside Park. Not having that opportunity to score points in the remaining two races served as an early setback in the title aspirations for the man who claimed victory in three races last season.
Peasey’s exclusion from the event was great news for Cam Wilson, who would’ve otherwise been relegated to the ‘B’ field for Race 3.
Just five cars took to the grid for the relegation race, which saw Ben Smith narrowly hold off Holly Espray for the win, and they were well clear of Harry Haggarty, who was the only other finisher, as Mick McCloud and Jeremy Butler were early retirements.
Sunday’s opening race set the tone for the rest of the day – it was fierce and wild. John Sheridan held the lead for the opening seven laps, but then the challengers pounced, and the pressure mounted.
Scott Green slipped from third to sixth between laps 2 and 4, and that’s where he stayed, as it fast became a race of five at the front of the field.
On Lap 8, Ben Wilcox took the lead away from Sheridan, who was left to fend off the chasing pack of Whittington, Winters and Frank Mammarella.
Cam Wilson fought his way, very quickly, through the field, to be fighting with Robert Buckley and Brett Parish for the minor placings at the bottom of the top ten.
Wilson wasted no time in moving by them, and then set his sights on Tyrone Gautier and Scott Green, who were fighting for sixth.
When Whittington got by Sheridan, the race was on, with just seven-tenths of a second splitting the top five at the completion of the twelfth lap.
Two laps from home, Whittington and Wilcox were side-by-side in a battle for the lead, and Sheridan and Winters were side-by-side in the battle for third.
Just as Whittington made his move on Wilcox, and put his nose in front, to lead the race, Sheridan and Winters came together, and speared off into the concrete wall.
Unfortunately for Whittington, that heavy incident saw the race cancelled, and declared, leaving him to settle for second, and Ben Wilcox claiming his first win in the Track Attack Australia Cup.
Because the results went off the last completed lap, Sheridan and Winters were able to retain positions three and four respectively, while Frank Mammarella came home in fifth.
Cam Wilson wasn’t able to get to Green or Gautier, who finished sixth and seventh, ahead of the #1, who had to settle for eighth, ahead of his former team-mates, Brett Parish and Robert Buckley.
Holly Espray, after a difficult start to the weekend, finally got to start an outright points race, and drove nicely through the field, to claim sixteenth.
Shortly after that third race, series officials stripped Wilcox of his maiden victory, and his points haul from all three races contested to that point of the weekend. Wilcox was found to not have been running the series’ control brake pads, as per the regulations. His exclusion handed Darren Whittington victory – his first of the day, and the first of the season for the Brett Parish Racing Organisation.
With Sheridan and Winters sidelined for the final race of the day, the pressure was off the competitors in the B-race, as all of them would be promoted to the main field, and only one fourth race would be run.
Dave Shinners finally got to contest a race, and he wasn’t out there to muck around – he wasted no time in getting to the front of that field, and went on to take the chequered flag first. Shinners’ joy was short-lived, as he was relegated to third for bump-drafting the car in front of him at the start of the race, meaning that Aaron Cameron was awarded the win, from Mick McCloud, and Shinners.
As they usually do, the Excel fraternity saved their best racing for the last race of the weekend. The all-in race was an absolute cracker.
Scheduled for fifteen laps, it was Frank Mammarella who led the field away in the opening stages, after getting the better of Darren Whittington at the start.
Whittington followed in close pursuit, as did Gautier, Wilson and Green.
It didn’t take long for the chopping and changing to begin. Wilson slipped by Gautier on Lap 3, and by Lap 7 he was leading the race, but not before Whittington took the lead of Frank Mammarella, and then lost it to Wilson, who passed Mammarella, for second, on lap six, and accounted for Whittington on the very next lap.
Gautier relegated Mammarella to fourth a short while later, to find himself back inside the top three, leading a four-car battle pack, that included Scott Green and Brett Parish, who were both in hot pursuit of Mammarella.
By that time, Wilson and Whittington were in a race of their own, having broken away from the rest of the battle group. Whittington got the lead back on lap 9, and he stayed there.
Wilson’s quest to get back in front was cut short, when the race was cancelled, and therefore declared, at the end of lap 14, due to a multi-car incident at turn 8.
An oil spill triggered pandemonium at the fast right-hander, that leads onto the main straight. Tyrone Gautier, Scott Green and Robert Buckley were the three cars who came unstuck on the oil, with the latter two making contact with the outside tyre wall – Buckley doing so, while taking evasive action, in order to avoid making contact with Gautier.
For the second race in succession, drivers involved in the race-ending incident were grateful for the rules of motorsport, which saw the results taken back to the last completed lap, which saw Gautier hold onto third, ahead of Mammarella, Parish and Green.
Whittington claimed his second win of the day, ahead of Cam Wilson, in what was a strong result for the new-look Phillips Wilson Racing team, with his team-mate, Holly Espray, coming home in seventh.
Whittington celebrated his success with a ‘shoey’, and he’ll be out to build on it, when the Track Attack Australia Excel Cup continues, with the second round of the 2018 series, which will be held at Queensland Raceway, on the opening weekend of May.
2018 Track Attack Australia Cup – Round 1.
Pole Position: Daniel Peasey (1:05.5805)
Race 1A: 1st John Sheridan, 2nd Cam Wilson, 3rd Daniel Peasey
Race 1B: 1st Cliff Sedgley
Race 2A: 1st John Sheridan, 2nd Darren Whittington, 3rd Daniel Peasey
Race 2B: 1st Ben Smith
Race 3A: 1st Darren Whittington, 2nd John Sheridan, 3rd Simon Winters
Race 3B: 1st Aaron Cameron
Race 4: 1st Darren Whittington, 2nd Cam Wilson, 3rd Tyrone Gautier
Fastest Lap: Daniel Natoli – 1:03.8950 (Race 4 – Lap 5)
Points After Round 1
1st Darren Whittington – 88
2nd John Sheridan – 73
3rd Frank Mammarella – 72
4th Scott Green - 70
5th Cam Wilson - 60