With championship finishes of fourth, third and second in the last three seasons, Shane Smollen finally climbed to the top step of the podium by winning the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge title on the streets of Surfers Paradise.
The Sydney driver clinched his maiden Porsche title with a third place round result in the eighth and final round of the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia season to beat home defending champion Stephen Grove and a fast-finishing Tony Bates to the prestigious ‘race within a race’ title.
Smollen took the championship by just 66 points – little more than one race victory – over Grove after a year-long arm wrestle between the semi-professional pair.
Bates won the Gold Coast round, his third in a row this season, but it was the ever-consistent Smollen who did exactly what he needed to do to win the title.
After finishing fourth overall in 2012, third in 2013 and second last year, a title victory was the only result possible in the eyes of Smollen this season.
“By finishing fourth, third and second in the last three years – there was really only one way to go,” said Smollen.
“We really needed this win and we worked hard for it. We didn’t have a DNF all year and the team gave me a faultless car every single time.
“I had that piece of mind knowing that everything was going to be right and it was all up to me. We had great pace and some really strong consistency. I’m really happy.”
Bates’ third TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge round win in succession ensured he locked away third place in the standings, heading into the off season full of confidence after a fast yet unlucky season.
The Victorian driver won six of the last eight races and backed up his round one victory at the Clipsal 500 Adelaide with wins at Sandown, Bathurst and the Gold Coast.
“I made that statement (about winning the final three rounds) going into Sandown!” Bates grinned.
“We’ve changed a few things with our driving and I wish it was the start of the season three rounds ago. We’ve bookended the season again by winning at Clipsal and then at the Gold Coast.
“We won the most rounds and races – but you can’t have ‘letters’ – DNFs or DNSs probably, ultimately really hurt us.”
A podium finish for James Bergmuller ensued he was another driver who ended the year stronger than he started it.
The Melbourne racer started the year carrying some off-season injuries but bounced back in the second half of the year with a series of strong results.
“I’m very happy about that. It gives you confidence for next year,” he explained.
“The boys have worked hard all year and I went and did stupid things like getting hurt! It makes it hard, but this is great and we’re very, very happy.
“I didn’t make any mistakes this weekend: Practice was great and gave us plenty of confidence.
“Qualifying wasn’t brilliant but we kept our tyres and didn’t do anything silly. We had no damage and I just kept on banking points and did what we needed to do.”
Defending TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge winner Stephen Grove finished second in his title defence, a consistent season having him in the top three 17 times from the 22 races contested this year.
With Bates third, Ash Samadi finished fourth overall and Bergmuller fifth. Marc Cini, Adrian Mastronado and Scott Taylor completed the order of the eight drivers who contested every round of the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge this year.
Sunday to decide Carrera Cup champions
Young sports car sensation Matt Campbell continues his Porsche Carrera Cup Australia crusade with a stunning victory in the opening race on the streets of Surfers Paradise, while Shane Smollen moved one step closer to the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge title with class victory.
Starting third on the grid, Campbell quickly moved into second, passing series points leader Nick Foster off the start line. The 20-year-old then claimed the lead on lap two from pole-sitter David Russell before extending his margin at the front, ultimately crossing the chequered flag 2.6secs ahead of Russell and Foster.
The impressive result was Campbell’s second straight race win after taking victory in the final Bathurst race, and his eighth top two result in nine races.
“I was able to get a good start and pass Foster by turn one and, fortunately for me, Russell made a small mistake and I was able to squeeze by. I then pulled a gap and held that until the finish,” said Campbell.
“I know I have good pace and I didn’t get the result I was looking for in qualifying; I made a bit of a mistake, but it’s great to get that race win and hopefully continue this pace into tomorrow.”
Russell placed second with Foster placing third, extending his points lead to 47.5 points – a margin helped by the 35 second post-race penalty handed to Steven Richards for kerb hopping, relegating the reigning champion to 12th in the results.
While Foster extended his points lead, the title hopeful still wanted more from his opening race.
“I had a pretty average start, which wasn’t ideal; I was hoping to get away cleanly and race a little bit at the front because, to be honest, we’ve got a car that’s very much capable of winning,” said Foster.
“I was pretty reserved in that race and my pace was still relatively quick. It was another nice, placid run and the front three guys ran away with that race. I did what I needed to do. We have two more races tomorrow which will hopefully be similar to today.”
Michael Almond placed fourth in a brilliant season high result from Craig Baird, Richard Muscat, Duvashen Padayachee, Shae Davies and Nick McBride in ninth.
Tenth place went to Smollen, who claimed the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge race victory and took one step closer to the class title.
Tony Bates placed second in class from James Bergmuller, Marc Cini, Scott Taylor and Ash Samadi, while Grove, who sits second in the Challenge standings, spun in the closing laps and placed seventh in class.
Smollen therefore enters the last day of the Carrera Cup championship with a 78 point lead in the TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge standings.
“It’s a good result in a really mixed race. I don’t know what happened to Tony but he seemed to slow down momentarily, which allowed me to pass. My objective was to run a safe race but the window opened twice so I was happy to take the win. I was very lucky to avoid contact with Stephen and very unfortunate for him to have that lose at the first chicane,” said Smollen.
“That result certainly builds my buffer and places a lot more emphasis on race two compared to race three. I still need to finish races; I can’t afford to lose 120 points, for example, over the next two races. I’ve just got to take it corner by corner, race by race.”
Just two races remain in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia season, the first of which will be held at 8:45am on Sunday followed by the final race of the season at 11:10am.
Race 1 Results
1. #7 Matt Campbell (Professional Class) Phase 8 – 15 laps, 18:28.8
2. #10 David Russell (Professional Class) Finance Ezi – 15 laps, 18:31.4
3. #777 Nick Foster (Professional Class) Bob Jane T-Marts – 15 laps, 18:33.0
4. #26 Michael Almond (Professional Class) Copyworld – 15 laps, 18:41.6
5. #8 Craig Baird (Professional Class) Porsche Centre Melbourne – 15 laps, 18:42.2
6. #22 Richard Muscat (Professional Class) Wilson Security/PAYCE – 15 laps, 18:44.3
7. #45 Duvashen Padayachee (Professional Class) Darrell Lea STIX – 15 laps, 18:44.6
8. #88 Shae Davies (Professional Class) Davbridge Constructions – 15 laps, 18:52.6
9. #77 Nick McBride (Professional Class) Bob Jane T-Marts – 15 laps, 18:55.4
10. #56 Shane Smollen (Carrera Challenge) McGrath Estate Agents – 15 laps, 19:05.7
11. #24 Tony Bates (TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge) AFS/Fleetguard – 15 laps, 19:11.1
12. #1 Steven Richards (Professional Class) Laser Plumbing & Electrical – 15 laps, 19:14.7
13. #13 James Bergmuller (Carrera Challenge) MotorOne Car Care – 15 laps, 19:16.0
14. #9 Marc Cini (TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge) Hallmarc – 15 laps, 19:16.7
15. #65 Fraser Ross (TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge) Porsche Centre Brighton – 15 laps, 19:27.5
16. #222 Scott Taylor (TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge) Scott Taylor Motorsport – 15 laps, 19:29.6
17. #6 Ash Samadi (TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge) Apartment Hotel – 15 laps, 19:52.4
18. #4 Stephen Grove (TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge) Grove Group – 14 laps, 18:34.9
19. #39 Adrian Mastronardo (TAG Heuer Carrera Challenge) Veritas – 14 laps, 18:48.5
20. #25 John Martin (Professional Class) Copyworld – 13 laps, 19:23.8