The fast, brutal and beautiful Phillip Island Circuit would hold host to Australia's GT World Challenge third round of 2023. The series would hold two 1-hour endurance races during the weekend, that despite the name and intentions, felt more like two, hour long sprint races.
Like other GT championships around the world, Australia's GT World Challenge consisted of multiple classes based on driver experience and car type. After the first two rounds at the Bathurst 6 Hour and Perth Supersprint, it was the pairing of Liam Talbot and Max Hofer in the Audi Customer Racing R8 LMS EVO that lead the Pro-Am championship. Reigning champion Yassir Shahin, now piloting a Porsche 911 GT3R and paired with Garnet Patterson was trailing in second, with Geoff Emery in third in another Audi.
In the Am championship, the developing Brad Schumacher lead followed by Matt Stoupas and Paul Stokell in the KFC Audi R8. The duo of Michael Sheargold and Garth Warren were further behind in points, but still held onto third place.
Two drivers would compete under the GT Trophy class, Renee Gracie in her return to motorsport, who came to Phillip Island tied for first with Marcos Flack, and Paul Luchitti, who had yet to put any points up on the board.
In addition, two MARC cars would be invited to compete among the GT cars. Darren Curie would race the MARC II Mustang, whilst Geoff Tauntum would compete in the brand-new MARC GT. Tauntum's GT was made entirely in Australia and is powered by a reliable 6.2 litre Chevrolet LS.
Max Hofer would be paired with Geoff Emery at Phillip Island, and the duo would show their speed, posting the fastest time in Practice 1, only three hundredths faster than Liam Talbot and Fraser Ross, with the Mercedes AMG GT3 of Justin McMillan and Glen Wood a further three hundredths down the road.
In the final practice on Friday, the aforementioned Justin McMillan and Glen Wood would go quickest in the colder afternoon session, ahead of Emery and Hofer almost half a second behind, and the Shahin Patterson pairing in third.
Qualifying would be split into two sessions, one for each race and to give teams with two drivers assigned to one car both an opportunity to set a lap time. Liam Talbot would grab the Race 1 pole, half a second ahead of the familiar cars of Yassir Shahin and Geoff Emery.
The promising young Jayden Ojeda would be on pole for Race 2 after setting the fastest lap of the weekend in the category, a 1:27.454, ahead of Garnet Patterson and Dylan O'Keefe in the final session before Race 1.
Yassir Shahin would take the lead around the outside of pole sitter Talbot on the opening lap, as the two ran away from the rest of the field.
Andrew Heitz in the Lamborghini Huracan succumbed to gearbox issues after his pitstop, taking him out of competition entirely for the rest of the weekend. Both Ash Samadi and Andrew Faucet would have large off-track adventures, and subsequently would not finish the race.
Timed and compulsory pitstops would either be fast paced or feel like a lifetime. Teams with two drivers would rush to complete their driver change, changing seat inserts and attaching HANS devices and buckling up their drivers into the cockpit, whilst single driver teams would wait for the time to tick down, as cars on track raced by and brakes cooled.
The post-race celebration photos would be premature as the winning no.1 Porsche was handed a five-second time penalty as Yassir Shahin was found to have not maintained the correct speed under the safety car, dropping Shahin and Patterson to fourth. Ross Poulakis and Jayden Ojeda would be relegated to first, a Mercedes AMG's first win of the season, with Stephen and Brenton Grove claiming second after brilliantly coming through the field from starting 21st. Geoff Emery and Max Hofer would be put on the final place of the podium due to the penalty given to EMA Motorsport.
Jayden Ojeda would lead the bunched-up field to the green flag for their rolling start, but Garnet Patterson would give us a repeat of Race 1, taking the lead around the outside of turn 1 and although pulled away in the first laps, Ojeda would reclaim the lead after an aggressive pass into Miller corner.
After the pitstops, both Shahin and Talbot found themselves battling for position, with contact being made and damage occurring to Shahin's 911 as a result due to divebombing the Audi at Miller corner, giving Shahin another five-second penalty.
Geoff Emery and Max Hofer were able to storm to the Race 2 victory, with Liam Talbot and Fraser Ross being upgraded to second after the penalty given to Yassir Shahin and Garnet Patterson, which dropped them to third.
Interestingly, Max Hofer now leads the Pro-Am championship after being a co-driver for two different teams. Geoff Emery and Liam Talbot are a close second and third respectively. Brad Schumacher has extended his lead over the KFC Audi of Paul Stockell and Matt Stoupas, as Renee Gracie continues to lead the Trophy category.
The series now prepares for Round 4 during the final weekend of July as they will act as a support category for the Supercars Supersprint at Sydney Motorsport Park.
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