The third and final Race of the 944 Challenge event at the Shannons Nationals was run as a reverse grid handicap race, again over 9 laps on Sunday afternoon, with the grid and handicaps set by the fastest laps set during Saturdays first race.
Thus it was Jim Mitchell who would start from pole position, with Peter Doherty alongside him on the front row. The second row would consist of Manny Mezzasalma with Keith Marriner for company next to him in grid spot four.
There would be a 15 second delay before the second group would commence, with Dick Howe, Michael Westaway and Mark Taubitz in that group, with a five second gap before the next group would head off, with that group containing Pedr James, Paul Crocitti and Tony Westaway. There would then be a further 15 second gap before the final group of Rob Holding, Chris Lewis-Williams and Cameron Beller rounding out the final group.
Jim Mitchell took the lead off the start from Doherty, Mezzasalma and Marriner, though Doherty would make his way past Mitchell into the lead into turn three with Mitchell slotting into second position.
Howe, Michael Westaway and Taubitz were all ducking and weaving for the first half of the lap as all three wanted to be at the head of the pack before Westaway took the lead of the group from Howe & Taubitz. A heavily patched up car of Crocitti took the lead of group 3 from James and Tony Westaway, while Lewis-Williams again got a great start to take the lead in the final group from Beller and Holding.
The first position change was on lap 3 when Tony Westaway moved ahead of James for ninth position. Beller was desperately trying to find a way past Lewis-Williams, with Lewis-Williams defending just as fiercely – both drivers knowing that the higher placed of the two would likely take home the silverware for the weekend.
At the end of lap 5 and Doherty led Mitchell by a second, with Mezzasalma and Marriner both within a further second behind him. The gap to the next group was only a further four seconds, with Howe and Taubitz all within a second of the Orange Westbon car. Crocitti was a further three seconds away, though there was another five seconds between Crocitti and Tony Westaway. James was another two seconds behind with Lewis-Williams and Beller now right on James’ tail.
The groups started to condense as the race went on between the groups, though Howe was wide on the exit of Turn 4 on lap 6, and spun off to the infield and the back of the pack. Lewis-Williams and Beller both also overtook James at Penrite corner him on lap 6, now into ninth and tenth positions respectively.
As lap 7 began, Taubitz moved past Michael Westaway the into turn 1, with Michael then slowing and retiring later in the lap with mechanical gremlins. Beller was still looking every which-way to get past Lewis-Williams, but couldn’t find a clean way to make a pass. As this group caught the slowing Michael Westaway at Penrite corner, dramas befell James who looped around, with Holding moving up to tenth position as a result, and Howe up to eleventh position, James back to twelfth. Lewis-Williams got a great run out of turn 10 and pulled alongside Tony Westaway with Beller in his slipstream, the paid moving past as Tony succumbed to the two faster cars – moving them up to seventh and eighth spot.
Up front meanwhile, and Taubitz had caught the back of the leading group – and made the pass on Marriner for fourth position in the final corner. Crocitti moved past Marriner also under brakes for turn 3 on the second last lap. Taubitz could see Doherty stretching the gap up front, and was keen to get past Mezzasalma and Mitchell to set after the leading 944 – though a small touch from Taubitz after poking his nose to the inside going into turn 9 sent the car of Mezzasalma into a slow spin – dropping him back down to eleventh position.
The most dramatic moment occurred a few corners later – as Marriner had a spin in turn 11 while sitting behind Crocitti, with the #64 PAS car stationary in the track as the pair of Lewis-Williams and Beller rounded to corner. Beller went to the left, and Lewis-WIlliams to the right – though it was Lewis-Williams who made contact with the right front of his car against Marriners – breaking his front suspension and putting him out of the race – and contention for the Dennis O’Keefe Cup immediately. CLW parked the car on the grass between the circuit and pit entry and walked to safety – a cruel blow as he looked poised to take home the prize for the weekend.
Up front and Taubitz was back onto the tail of Mitchell, and made hi move for the position on the exit of turn four, with Crocitti following him through into third position. Noone was catching Doherty up front however, as Peter crossed the line to take his first race victory by 2 seconds from Taubitz. A very popular result for the series veteran, which also earnt him third outright for the weekend – a great reward for a weekend of smart driving where he kept out of trouble without a mark on the car, and ran the consistent times and didn’t put a foot wrong when it mattered.
Second was a good result for Taubitz after his bad luck in Race 2, with the other driver who suffered poor fate in Race 2, Paul Crocitti – also taking home a well earnt podium result – his first in the 944 Challenge series – after showing great speed all weekend, only one second behind Taubitz at the end.
Holding onto fourth position was Mitchell – just – with Cameron Beller closing in and the pair crossing the line side-by-side Mitchell getting the nod by only one hundredth of a second at the line! Beller would take solace in the fact that his fifth position finish was enough for him to take home the Dennis O’Keefe Cup courtesy of aPorschapart for the weekend.
Sixth position went to Tony Westaway, three second adrift of Beller, with Holding just behind him after showing very impressive speed all weekend – a second position for the weekend a great reward for the weekends efforts. Eighth was Dick Howe after his mid race spin, with Mezzasalma ninth and James tenth after they also had spins in the latter part of the race. Marriner was the final finisher a further twenty seconds back after his late race drama – with Chris Lewis Williams and Michael Westaway the two DNF’s for the round.
So the Shannons Nationals event was run and won – a huge thanks to CAMS, the Shannons Nationals series, Winton Raceway and the Benalla Auto Club for inviting us to be part of this great event. We can’t wait to come back for future events!
Next though, would be the final round of the Vic State Race Series on the final weekend of September, and Jamie Westaway will be back behind the wheel to try to protect his points lead from Cameron Beller – who will be looking to repeat his Phillip Island clean sweep from earlier in the year as he attempts to snatch back the title from Jamie’s grasp. Head down to Phillip Island on September 29/30 to watch all the action!