Close racing and a few dramas welcomed in the competition year, with the Just Cars racers rarin’ to go.
Report by Chris Ralph. Pics by Phil Wisewould www.philwisewould.zenfolio.com
Slipping and sliding around a greased-up Sandown in qualifying for their first foray into 2021, it sure didn’t seem like high summer for the Just Cars drivers. Many of the big cars couldn’t buy traction on the slime. Revs rose, cars twitched on the straight, more than one entrant sat like sitting ducks facing oncoming traffic, especially at the treacherous Turn 2.
A topsy turvy result saw the fired-up Chris Stern in the ex-Andrew Whiteside Trans Am 302 Mustang on pole, but alongside him was his young cousin Harry Draper (a great day for Geelong!) in the Datsun 1600 carrying car number 1, signifying his 2019 Club Champ status. Third was ‘Hollywood’ – Andy Clempson in the 351 ’69 Mustang Fastback – fourth was Scott Slater returning after four years in the genuine Torana GTR-XU1 formerly raced by his late father Graham. Rob van Stokrom had the BMW 2002 in front of Michael Miceli’s Fastback and John Mann’s Camaro. A mixed bag right through the grid – Lap 1, Turn 1 would be interesting indeed. But for Darren Fortuyn in the HQ and Roddy Evans in the Chev Nova it was the end of their weekend.
Race 1 – Life in the fast Lane
Nary a fleck of paint was exchanged as the monster V8s engulfed the cheeky smaller cars before Turn 1 and it was the screaming 302 Mustang of Chris Stern that led them around for the first time with the charging Andy Clempson’s 351 Mustang in hot pursuit. Miceli, Mann and the much-improved Andy Lane in the black 351 were breathing down his neck. But Miceli retired with clutch problems while Lane misjudged the T2 braking and clipped the Clempson car into a spin. Dismayed, he led to the flag from the halfway point from John Mann. Many apologies Andy to Andy post-race, no hard feelings, but two weeks later a 30-second penalty was applied, demoting him to sixth and promoting John Mann to the win…
Meanwhile, Chris Stern’s off-pole energy saw him jump the start as the screaming Mustang tore off down the track and he was shown the 5-second penalty flag as a brake shudder caused him drop back. ‘Hollywood’ recovered fourth ahead of Dominic Leo in the ex-Stern/Bugelly/Stephen/Bailey ’68 Trans Am Mustang (yep, one of the first Group N Mustangs built, back in the late 90s). Scott Slater’s sweet-sounding XU-1 was next ahead of Harry Draper’s Datsun and the battling 289 Group Nb Mustangs of Pete Meuleman and Darren Jones, just two tenths apart.
Race 2 – Hostilities resume Sunday morning
Andrew Lane’s immaculate black Fastback got the jump on Mann’s Camaro, while Stern’s Trans Am made a perfect start from third, grabbing second from Mann to latch on to Lane and stay there to the end, finishing less than two tenths behind at the flag. Only another .3 seconds in arrears was a fast-finishing Andrew Clempson heading John Mann, Dom Leo and Miceli, who had started with Alan McKelvie’s ’68 Mustang from rear of grid, the latter finishing .4 second behind Slater’s Torana and ahead of the rapid Datsun 1600 of Harry Draper.
Pete Meuleman had won the Nb Mustang battle with Darren Jones, split by David Crabtree, the open wheeler driver getting used to racing a touring car – the ex-Lawrie Nelson Capri. Rob van Stokrom headed Justin Brown in the BMW stoush and behind them Conner McLeod in the now famous ‘Sexy Lexy’, the pink Torana XU-1 recently returned its original owner, his mum, after being stolen in 1992. With an engine and suspension untouched from the 90s it did very well all weekend.
Race 3 – Bit of conSternation about noise
For the faithful, Chris Stern’s howling Trans Am 302 was music to the ears. It was sounding way too good – and too loud for the man with the noise meter. The system had not been altered from the previous unpinged owner but had tripped the meter in qualy. The same measures that had fixed another car were applied but it still wasn’t legal, then came Race 3 and the drama continued…
Back to the start. Stern screamed away with Andrew Lane’s Fastback hot on his heels, posting faster lap times but not able to pass. On lap four he nabs him but Stern hangs on. By lap seven of the ten Lane runs out of brakes at T1 and Stern regains the lead with Andy Clempson’s Fastback glued to his tail. After five years of bad luck this is Chris’s big chance and he tigers away with only two laps to go.
Oh no. Another noise flag is shown to him on the penultimate lap but he finishes the job, earning frowns from the stewards and a 30-second fine, demoting him to sixth and handing the win to Clempson, ahead of Mann, Miceli, Dom Leo and Alan McKelvie. Behind him, battle-buddy Lane had recovered brakes and seventh, ahead of Slater, Draper and the ever-improving Pete Meuleman. Rob van Stokrom and Justin Brown’s BMWs led home ‘Sexy Lexy’ with Simon Browning’s Cortina and Ben Dahlstrom’s Valiant only a second apart at the flag.
It was a great opener for what promises to be a strong year for the Just Cars Historic Touring Cars. The Phillip Island Classic (now run) was only two weeks away, the Bathurst support races four weeks from that and the big meeting at The Bend in early May. Bring it on!