Phillip Island Blockbuster for TCR
The Australian TCR Championship would leave the picturesque Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit with plenty of storylines. An overseas contender, a fresh car debut, a first-time winner and plenty of great racing to boot.
Tom Oliphant, two-time race winner in the British Touring Car Championship and British GT driver has joined this year's TCR grid, driving for Ash Seward Motorsport in a unique Lynk & Co Touring Car. Oliphant's participation would be a sneak peek for when the TCR World Tour comes to Australia to race at Sydney Motorsport Park and Bathurst in the first two weekends of November.
A brand-new car would take to the track in the form of the Cupra touring car, Cupra being a stand-alone Volkswagen group manufacturer that spawned from the high-performance division of the Spanish car company known as SEAT. The new contender would be driven by Michael Clemente for Carl Cox Motorsport.
After the first-round of 2023's championship, Bailey Sweeney would lead thanks to two victories at Symmons Plain's. Not too far behind though was reigning champion Tony D'Alberto, and Peugeot drivers Aaron Cameron and Jordan Cox.
The GRM Valvoline Peugeots are always ones to watch, with Kody Garland paired with Aaron Cameron, who was pulling double duty racing both S5000's and TCR's.
Despite a spin at turn 6, D'Alberto would be the fastest in Practice 1, but only by three hundredths of a second ahead of Zac Soutar in the Audi RS3 LMS. Will Brown in the other Audi would not set a time in first practice thanks to electrical gremlins and would be the start of a bad weekend for the 2019 champion.
Tony D'Alberto would continue with his fast pace in Practice 2 with a fastest time of 1:37.336, closely followed by championship leader Bailey Sweeney and Lachlan Mineef, as the troubles continued for Will Brown and his Audi team.
Tony D'Alberto wouldn't be able to continue his perfect form qualifying third with Zac Soutar pipping him by three thousandths. Josh Buchan in the very cool Hyundai i30N Sedan would take pole position, dipping into the 1 minute 36 second lap times. Will Brown would continue to have awful luck, with his steering going pear shaped into Miller corner, sending him off to the escape road but luckily after completing a lap time good enough for seventh.
Before both afternoon races for only the TCR's, the front straight was open for ten minutes, allowing fans to walk among the starting grid as teams and drivers made their final preparations ahead of the warm-up lap and the race. Certainly, a very cool initiative by the Speed Series, something that I hope continues on for future rounds.
D'Alberto would jump up to second in the first corner as there was plenty of bumping and grinding behind. Will Brown's weekend woes would continue, with an upright failure taking him out of the race. It would be Lachlan Mineef in his Audi that would put on a show as he fought his way from ninth all the way up to second. Aaron Cameron would finish third thanks to Tony D'Alberto's front right tyre cutting down to the rim, causing him to DNF.
However, no one was catching Josh Buchan, who held the lead into turn 1 and stayed there, picking up his first race win of the season and Hyundai's third.
For the second race of the weekend, the top ten finishers would have a reversed starting grid, meaning rookie Brad Harris would start on pole, with Jordan Cox alongside. Jordan Cox would take the lead off the line with Michael Clemente taking third and then second on his way to hunt down the FWD master Jordan Cox, as Ben Bargwanna moved up from fifth to third.
Michael Clemente would close in on Jordan Cox and almost make the overtake but Cox would hold him off. The suspense in the Carl Cox Motorsport pits was intense. It looked like Jordan Cox would win as he held a 0.4 second lead for multiple laps. However, with time running out, Clemente would make one more attempt, and on the final lap at turn 2, would go down the inside of Cox, taking the lead as his team erupted in the pits.
In its debut weekend, Michael Clemente would take the Cupra to both the car and his first win in the TCR championship, much to the delight of the team and extending family.
The grid would be set for the final race of the weekend with Josh Buchan again starting on pole, with Michael Clemente alongside, and Ben Bargwanna starting third.
Josh Buchan would again pull away from the field, as a train formed behind Clemente and the two Audi's of Mineef and Soutar fought side by side. Clemente however would pull away late in the race, taking second ahead of the Peugeots of Bargwanna and Cox that had been hassling him in the first half.
Buchan would again win with a green flag to chequred victory, followed by a popular second from Michael Clemente and Ben Bargwanna third.
Heading to Winton Motor Raceway, Bailey Sweeney still leads the championship as Jordan Cox has jumped to second and only trailing by 12 points. Aaron Cameron is only a single point behind Cox in third, and after a stellar weekend, Josh Buchan is now in fourth. Anything can happen at Winton, and when it does, there will certainly be more movement in the standings.
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