The 2016 944 Challenge yet again ran down to the wire in the last race, however there were three drivers who showed their strength through the year, sharing 80% of the podium results and 18 of the 20 race wins this season.
Here is a brief summary on the seasons results, driver-by-driver. Congratulations to the series winners!
1st – Cameron Beller #55
Prevailing to take the 944 Series Title overall was Cameron Beller. After finishing runner-up to Adam Mills last year after a DNF in the final race for the season after a collision between the two ended his 2015 championship hopes. Beller was able to secure the 2016 season title with 2 round wins, 8 race wins, including 5 in a row at Sandown Raceway, 5 second places and 3 thirds from the 20 races.
While a poor result at Winton with a DNF and a 17th place finish with mechanical dramas put him on the back foot, he was able to drop this worst round to top the pointscore at the end of the year.
2nd – Vince Misuraca #15
Taking second outright for the series was Vince Misuraca, after a spin in the final race prevented him from taking the title, but his speed along with his consistency and reliability helped him take out the Vic State Title comfortably after Beller’s nightmare round at Winton made it a one horse race.
Vince took out 3 round wins, with 6 race wins, 6 second places and 4 thirds. In fact, Vinces’ worst race of the season was in the rainy Race 2 at Phillip Island in May, and he still finished 6th – his only non top 5 finish of the season!
3rd – Chris Lewis-Williams #37
Third outright for the season was Chris Lewis-Williams, the former series champ lost out on a chance to challenge for the State Series title when he was forced to miss the first Sandown event, but was also a model of consistency which kept him in the hunt for the title up to the last race. 1 Round win when he dominated the September Winton round and 4 race wins for the season was accompanied by 12 other podium finishes – in fact the only race that he started and didn’t finish on the podium, was Race 3 at Phillip Island in May, after recovering to 7th position after a spin while challenging for the lead of the race!
4th – Tony Westaway #50
Tony Westaway was fourth after a strong 2016 with highlights of two third place race finishes in the 2nd race at each of the Sandown events, and this helped him finish 3rd outright at the first Sandown round, despite a first corner spin in the last race! Tony backed this up with 8 top-5 finishes and 18 top-10s in the 20 races through the year.
5th – Michael Westaway #45
Michael Westaway started 2016 super strongly with a pair of 4th place finishes in the first two races at Winton, which he repeated two more times at Sandown and Winton later in the season. This helped him to record two outright fourth position results at the two rounds at the Winton long circuit, but he was unable to get himself onto the podium. 7 top 5’s, and 18 top 10s was enough to earn him 5th outright for the year, and was only four points behind Tony Westaway in 4th position.
6th – Brad Winter #22
Brads 2016 season improved as it went on as he came to grips with 944 racing, a 6th place in Race 1 of the season at Winton was not bettered until the 9th race of the season at Sandown – though this was then his best result of the year with a measured 3rd position finish. This turned his season around however, as he was not lower than 6th position in the remaining 8 races of the year, and he finished 6th outright in points with 7 top 5 race finishes, and was 4th outright in the last 3 rounds he competed in, a great springboard to a strong 2017 season.
7th – Mark Taubitz #74
2016 didn’t start out to plan for Mark, as a broken gearbox during the practice session for Round 1 at Winton meant he was starting with zero points after Round 1. He was fortunately able to finish every race after that, with the exception of Race 3 at Sandown when he was unable to refire the car after a touch with another car while defending 5th position on the penultimate lap of the race. A 4th place at Sandown was the highlight, with 7 top 5s and 15 top 10s from the 17 races he started, but fell a few points behind Winter in the outright series pointscore.
8th – Pedr James #98
Pedr’s 2017 season was another consistent showing, with a best round at Sandown in May, at which he was 7th outright with his best race finish of 6th in the final race of that weekend. Pedr finished every race that he started, and only missed the first race at Sandown in July after blowing an engine in qualifying – however he changed the engine overnight and was back for Sundays action which helped him to 8th outright, with 13 top 10s from 19 races along the way.
9th – Jason Miller #3
Jason Miller got off to a strong start in 2016 944 Challenge with a 4th in the final race of Round 1, to finish the round in 5th, before he broke through for his first win in the final race at Phillip Island, which also netted him the round win.
Two second place finishes in the next two races at Sandown and a fourth overall had him sitting third in points, however Miller then was forced to miss the next round due to conflicting work commitments. He returned for the next round at Winton, although work again meant he missed qualifying and only arrived at the track with literally minutes to spare and just managed to get into the car in time to start Race 1 from pitlane. Despite this, he moved up to finish 3rd by the end of the last race and was 6th for the weekend, but that would be the last race he would make for the year.
9th in the season standings do not reflect the speed shown by Miller during the year, but the difficulty in being able to attend the races meant the car was put up for sale, and will be in the hands of its new owner for 2017.
10th – Jim Gallagher #13
Jim Gallagher started his season with a 6th outright for the weekend at Winton with a 7th and 2 8th place finishes, before finishing 7th outright for the weekend the next round at Phillip Island with a career best 4th place finish in the final race, despite being spun around in the first race and finishing 14th.
He was forced to miss the first race at Sandown, but was up to 6th in the last race before a spin dropped him back to 13th. 8th outright for the next Sandown round kept him sitting in a good position in the points, but zero points after missing the next two events dropped him down the order.
9th outright for the final round kept him in the top ten in the standings and only two points behind Miller, and recorded 11 top 10s from the 15 races he started.
11th – Ken Rowland #4
After damaging his car at Phillip Island during practice for Round 2 in 2015, Ken Rowland undertook a rebuild and rolled out a new car for the same round in 2016. Ken came to grips with the car over this round and the next at Sandown but missed the second Sandown round before returning for Round 5 at Winton.
There was a huge improvement in speed and Ken finished 7 of the last 8 races of the season in the top 10, including a career best 5th place qualifying result and 4th place finish in the last race of the year at Winton in a fantastic show of speed, enough to earn him 6th for the round and move up to 11th outright in the points for the season.
12th – Marius Catrina #12
The highlight for the year for Marius Catrina would undoubtedly be his race win in the non-points race, the Dennis O’keefe cup held after the final race for the 944 Challenge at Winton in December after managing to hold out Jim Gallagher, and then Tony Westaway for the race win.
Winton proved to be the place for Marius’ best results, with the first round netting him his best points race result for the year with a 9th in the first race, and 10th for the round outright.
13th – Ben Raphael #29
Ben Raphael made his debut with the 944 Challenge at Phillip Island, and went about improving his speed in the car during the course of the year. After missing the third round of the series at Sandown, Ben managed to make the trek over from WA for the remaining rounds of the season, and finished with his strongest weekend with an 11th place outright for the round at the December Winton round.
14th – John Goddard #27
Johns first appearance for 2016 was at the Sandown round in May where he got his best race result for the season in the final race with a 4th place finish, and 6th outright for the weekend. John then scored a second top 5 in the final race at the following round at Sandown. The #27 car was entered for the last 5 rounds of the season, although John relinquished the drivers seat for the September Winton round to Lee Partridge who made a cameo appearance.
John in fact uniquely finished a race in each position from 4th through to 10th during the races he 8 completed through the season, along with a 12th place finish, with 2 DNF’s and a Did not start at the last race in Winton after sustaining too much damage during Race 2 to make the grid for the final.
15th – Dick Howe #8
Racing veteran Dick Howe had a season to forget in 2016 – it started off on the wrong foot with a shudder/vibration that he could not get rid of hampering him at Winton and he pulled out of the event as the car was undriveable, it was fixed for the second round at Phillip Island and he started the weekend well with a 7th place finish in Race 1, before a misfire reared its head on Sunday and brought two DNFS. The two Sandown events returned mixed results, though some reliability and good speed was shown, running in the top 5 at times, but an 8th place race finish was the highlight for each round.
Returning to Winton caused more head scratching as the car, a faulty alternator and no spare meant he headed home on Saturday before qualifying, but returned on Sunday with everything ready to go – or so it seemed, as further issues caused him to miss Race 2 on Sunday morning. He finally made it on track for the last race, and moved through the field to 9th.
The worst was unfortunately yet to come, after qualifying 11th at Phillip Island Dick missed the start and dropped to the back, and when resuming at the back of the field to make his way back through, his car was unsighted and the slightest of contact at the wrong point sent him to the outside tyre wall approaching hayshed corner. The race was red flagged, and the heavily damaged car would not see the track again, and has since donated its heart and soul to Dick’s new ride which will debut in 2017. 5 top 10s from 11 starts will be the final statistics for Howe from 2016.
16th – Ross Millar #18
Returning to the track after sitting out the 2015 season was Ross Millar, the familiar Blue car a welcome sight back. Ross returned for the third round at Sandown, and netted a pair of 9th place finishes, which he replicated at the next Sandown round, earning 9th for the round in July when he matched that with an 11th place finish.
A spin into the Winton mud in Race 1 in September hindered his weekends results, and he was forced to miss the next round at Phillip Island. His fifth and final top 10 result for the season came in the last round at Winton in the second race, with 5 top 10s from 11 races his final results for the year.
17th – Andrew Jackman #20
Andrew Jackman joined the series for Round 4 at Sandown in the Poolmaster Bayside Porsche, and rounded out the event 12th overall. The following round at Winton Andrew earned an 11th place finish in race 1 before a spin in the final race meant a DNF.
A 10th in the following race at Phillip Island would be his best result to date in a good showing in his debut year, as he elected to miss the final round at Winton to begin preparation to solve understeer issues in the car for the 2017 season.
18th – Peter Doherty #53
Peter was forced to sit out the first half of the season and hit the track for the first time for the second Sandown round in July, where he netted a 12th place finish in a great first race after missing qualifying and starting from 20th position. Peter missed the Phillip Island round but returned for the final round at Winton and recorded a 13th and a 12th place finish in races 2 & 3 after DNF’ing in the first race.
19th – Ken Knight #88
Ken returned to the 944 Challange field at the second Round at Sandown for the first time since 2012. His weekend got off to a rough start with some engine issues in Friday practice and qualifying on Saturday morning, but he was able to solve them and complete all of the weekends races.
He also made the trek down from New South Wales for the Winton round in September, and had a pair 10th place finishes and a 10th place for the weekend overall in a solid result from his efforts.
20th – Robert Lange #6
Another driver who returned to the field for the first time since 2012 at Sandown was 4 time series champion Robert Lange. He showed he had lost none of his speed in qualifying, putting his car onto the front row of the grid in qualifying. He was running in second place early on in the first race before the car dropped speed and he dropped down the order, finishing in 10th. This was to be his only finish for the weekend, as some mechanical gremlins prevented him from crossing the line in either of Sundays races.
He returned to the track for the Phillip Island round, but was a bit further in the pack than he would have liked, qualifying in 8th position, and backed this up with a 7th and an 8th place finish from the weekends races.
21st – Ryan Woods #17
Ryan joined the series for Phillip Island in April, and immediately showed his competitiveness, qualifying in the top 10 and racing to 9th in his first race, battling hard with Brad Winter and Dick Howe in the first race. Race 2 was wet, and Ryan was able to capitalise on the advantages on the setup of his car, driving brilliantly to take a comfortable race win as the rest of the car struggled with the greasy track and could only watch as he moved from 9th to the lead and pulled away. Unfortunately, the final race netted a DNF for him.
Ryans only other entry for the year was at the following round at Sandown, but after struggling with a lack of horsepower down the straights at the Melbourne venue found himself with a 11th and 13th place finishes before again suffering a DNF in the final race, some car issues putting him out of the race, and the car didn’t return for the rest of the year.
22nd – Lee Partridge #27
The 2015 Rookie of the year winner managed to steal the keys to the Plaza Auto Sales 944 for the Winton weekend in September, and showed again that he hasn’t lost any of the speed that netted him 3rd in the series in 2015.
Lee was hoping to net the race win that eluded him last year, despite an outright round win at Phillip Island – but he wasn’t able to match the pace of Lewis-Williams and Misuraca, and came away with two 3rd places and a 7th to take home a 3rd place outright for his weekends efforts.
23rd – Keith Marriner #64
Another new driver to the 944 Challenge for 2016 was Keith Marriner. Keith debuted at the May Sandown round, and unfortunately missed the first race with some mechanical issues on the warm-up lap for the first race. He finished 14th in the weekends third race and repeated that result in the first race for the following round but a DNF with a gearbox issue put him out for the rest iof the weekend.
A pair of 16th place finishes at Winton in his first race weekend there were his results of record, before a testing weekend at Phillip Island in the last round of the State Series in his last outing for the year as he was forced to miss the final round at Winton.
24th – John Stanic #47
John Stanic put his racing on the back burner for 2016, and only ventured out once – at the April/May round at Phillip Island. He also showed no loss of speed, as he qualified only just off of Pole Position, and finished with two 3rd places along with an 11th after a miraculous spin at Hayshed corner, to place 5th outright for the weekend.
25th – Paul Crocitti #16
Pauls season started well initially at Winton in the first round with a pair of 5th place finishes in the first two races, and was running strongly in the final before a blown engine meant a DNF – and he didn’t return to the track until the final round of the series, again at Winton.
He again started well and was running strong in 6th position early in the race before dropping a few spots after a mistake under brakes to finish 9th. He was running in the same spot when he had a spin exiting the fast left hand sweeper in the second race, and was hit as the car came back onto the track which put him out of the race, and the weekend.
26th – Greg Wood #19
Greg also returned his 944 to the track for the first time since 2014, entering the September Winton round and running strongly to record 9th and 12th place finishes before a DNF while running strongly again in the final.
Greg returned for the December final round at Winton and was again speedy, but suffered two DNF’s bookending a 12th place finish in Race 2.
27th – Graham Smith #99
Graham’s Winton weekend got off to a bad start with a DNF in Race 1 at Winton, but he recovered strongly to reconcile with a move through the field to 6th place in Race 2 before finishing Race 3 in 5th.
Following this round, Graham ventured down a different path joining the Toyota 86 series, and sold his car, which we look forward to seeing back on track in 2017.
28th – John Vainoras #32
After closely following the 944 series for most of 2016, John Vainoras took the plunge into 944 racing in time for the final round at Winton, and eased himself in with a reliable and sensible weekend, finishing all three races as well as the fourth ‘not for points’ race on for the weekend.
He completed the weekend with a 14th place position and a pair of 16th place finishes, good enough for 13th outright for the weekend in a promising and encouraging start to his racing career.
29th – Brent Rose #38
The Rose brothers only ventured their very quick 944 out once in 2016, with Brent entering the first of the two Sandown rounds. He qualified strongly in 4th place, though he struggled with a misfire after running up in second place early in the race and finished in 13th.
In race 2 he moved up to 8th position before his misfire again surfaced as he struggled to finish 12th. In the Race 3 final Rose got a demon start and was up to an amazing 3rd place on the first lap,which he held up until the gremlins once again returned a little over halfway through the race, which this time stopped the car from finishing, the finishing results in no way reflecting the speed onboard car #38.
30th – Paul Greer #14
Paul Greer entered the second of the two Sandown rounds after undertaking some upgrades to his car, but was experiencing a big problem with fuel surge which plagued him in qualifying, unable to set a time, and again in the first race, unable to run at a representative pace. He thus put the car on the trailer and would focus on rectifying his issues before returning to the track for 2017.