A strong 23 entries for Round 1 of the 2017 944 Challenge was reduced to 22 by the time Qualifying commenced on Saturday morning, with the withdrawal of Andrew Jackman after a mishap during Friday’s practice session ruling him out for the weekend.
As the field circulated and posted their first flying laps, Robert Lange appeared at the top of the sheets with a 1:26.0909, ahead of Vince Misuraca with a 1:26.4783, and Chris Lewis-Williams with a 1:26.5184. There was a gap following the first trio as the rest of the field found space on the track to run their fast laps, with Beller recording a 1:27.7005 on his first lap ahead of Winter, 5th fastest with a 1:28.2495.
Sixth fastest after lap 1 was Dick Howe a 1:28.4384, though unfortunately this was Dick’s only flying lap as the car came to a halt on the side of the track. Seventh on his first flying lap was Ross Millar, recording a quick 1:28.9619, just ahead of Mark Taubitz’s 1:29.1900, and Pedr James and Paul Crocitti rounding out the top ten with 1:29.2464 & 1:29.2944 laps respectively.
Eleventh was Paul Greer with a 1:29.5582, just ahead of Jim Gallagher on a 1:29.6927 lap, with Marius Catrina, Tony Westaway and Peter Doherty next in line with laps of 1:30.5021, 1:31.4160 & 1:31.8077.
Ken Rowland was sixteenth after his first lap with 1:32.4991 just ahead of Jim Mitchell with 1:32.5877, Michael Westaway on 1:32.6962, Keith Marriner with 1:32.9450 and Rob Holding twentieth with a 1:33.1980. Ben Raphael was next on 1:37.0013 just ahead of John Vainoras’ 1:37.6546.
Lange was the first man into the 25’s the following lap with a 1:25.3717, with Lewis-Williams up to second with a 1:26.1946, with Beller closing the gap to the top 3 with a 1:26.5571.
Taubitz moved up to fifth with a 1:27.0876, ahead of Winter who went quicker with a 1:27.6375. Crocitti moved up to seventh with a 1:27.9272 just ahead of Tony Westaway on 1:28.0569. Howe was pushed back to ninth with James now tenth, going half a second quicker to record a 1:28.7095.
Gallagher moved to eleventh fastest with a 1:28.7656, pushing Millar back to twelfth ahead of Rowland moving to thirteenth with a 1:29.4898 with Greer back to fourteenth.
Doherty dipped under the 1 minute 30’s with a 1:29.9426, with Catrina back to sixteenth on a 1:30.3625. Holding moved up to seventeenth with a 1:30.5376 in front of Michael Westaway on a 1:30.8304. This would be the end of Michael’s session however, as a suspension failure the following lap put him out early without being able to set a time representative of his speed.
Mitchell ran a 1:31.3925 to move to nineteenth, ahead of Marriner, going slightly quicker with a 1:32.8597, Raphael with 1:33.2589 and Vainoras recording a 1:35.4340.
Lange continued to lower the benchmark at the front, now dropping to a 1:25.0261 on his third lap, as Beller moved up to second fastest with a 1:25.5414. Misuraca also moved into the 25’s with a 1:25.6227 to remain third fastest, as did Mark Taubitz, moving into fourth with a 1:25.9916, displacing Chris Lewis-Williams back to fifth fastest.
Winter lowered his fastest time to 1:27.2565, though was a second behind fifth fastest Lewis-Williams at this stage. Crocitti shaved another tenth of a second from his fastest time with a 1:27.8558, while Jim Gallagher jumped up to eighth with a 1:27.9673. Tony Westaway also scraped half a tenth of a second from his time with a 1:28.0006, as Rowland moved up to tenth with a 1:28.1301 which displaced Howe back to eleventh fastest.
Catrina moved up to twelfth with a 1:28.6240, half a tenth faster than Millar in thirteenth with a 1:28.6776, pushing James to fourteenth ahead of Greer who gained a quarter of a second with a 1:29.2920.
Sixteenth was now Doherty who went half a second quicker with a 1:29.4206 ahead of Holding who was right behind now with a 1:29.4861. Marriner lowered his fastest time by over 1.5 seconds with a 1:31.1881 to move to nineteenth behind Westaway, and just ahead of Mitchell with a 1:31.2375 and Raphael who found another second to lower his delta time to 1:32.1691.
Misuraca improved on his fastest time the next lap. and moves back ahead of Beller into second as a result with a 1:25.5157. Winter improved his time to a 1:27.0822, ahead of Paul Greer who ran a fantastic 1:27.3565 to put himself seventh before pulling off track for the remainder of the session. Crocitti improved slightly again to a 1:27.7370 ahead of Rowland and Tony Westaway, both into the 27’s with 1:27.8658 & 1:27.9227 times respectively.
Catrina again improved, this time by a couple of tenths of a second to a 1:28.3952, as Rob Holding also got into the 28’s with a 1:28.9700, which would be his fastest time for the session. Jim Mitchell also improved with a 1:30.8843 moving him back ahead of Marriner in nineteenth, as Vainoras also improved with a 1:34.6911.
The next lap around and Robert Lange cemented his position at the top of the timesheets as he improved by another half a second with a blistering 1:24.5600 lap, and then decided he either wasn’t going to, or needed to improve on that and parked the #6 944 for the remainder of the session. Chris Lewis-Williams also moved into the 25’s, and jumped ahead of Taubitz with a 1:25.9625 lap.
Tony Westaway moved up to seventh position as he shaved three quarters of a second from his previous best with a 1:27.2669. Crocitti also improved slightly again with a 1:26.6979 as Gallagher also improved again to move up to tenth, back ahead of Rowland with a 1:27.7361.
James improved by over half a second to move to twelfth fastest with a 1:28.0928, as Doherty also improved his time, but not his position with a 1:29.3126, which he would be unable to improve on, and Mitchell who improved by a tenth of a second, which was enough to put him ahead of Michael Westaway’s in the order.
Tony Westaway dropped into the 26’s the following lap with a 1:26.9253 to move him ahead of Winter into sixth position, as Catrina also improved by a chunk with a 1:27.7112, his fastest time for the session to move him up to eleventh ahead of Gallagher and James. Marriner got himself into the sub 1 minute 30 bracket with a 1:29.3496 to move him up to eighteenth, ahead of Raphael who also improved with a 1:30.2838 – both would be the fastest laps of the session for this pair.
Misuraca slightly lowered his marker with a 1:25.4515, while Westaway improved by another four tenths of a second the next lap around with a 1:26.5247, and Rowland who found half a second to move up to eighth with a 1:27.2920. Millar improved his time, but not his position with a 1:28.5253 to end his session, while Mitchell also found another small gain with a 1:30.6978 lap.
Lewis-Williams made a small gain of less than a tenth with a 1:25.8818, as did Rowland who ran his fastest lap of 1:27.1703 – neither driver improving their position with these times however.
Misuraca and Beller both ran quicker the next lap, with Misuraca holding the second fastest time with a 1:25.3553 keeping Beller’s 1:25.4375 behind him. Crocitti set his fastest time of the session and moved up to ninth ahead of Greer with a 1:27.3222, as Gallagher moved up to eleventh when he ran his fastest time of 1:27.4962 to move ahead of Catrina. John Vainoras also improved by over a second on his best time to date with a 1:33.6845.
With Lange in the pits, the remaining cars at the top of the times were doing all they could to move up, and it was Beller who was able to nab the second spot on the front row with a 1:25.1816. Misuraca and Lewis-Williams set their fastest laps to secure the second row with 1:25.3123 and 1:25.5480 laps.
Winter managed to sneak into the 26’s also, but wasn’t able to improve on his seventh position and would line up there alongside Rowland, behind Taubitz and Tony Westaway on the second row.
Crocitti and Paul Greer would round out the top 10, with Pedr James moving up two spots when he found six tenths of a second with a 1:27.4233, and would start alongside Gallagher.
Catrina would wind up thirteenth, alongside Howe whose only time was good enough to place him in fourteenth, just ahead of Millar and Rob Holding, a great performance in his debut qualifying session.
Row 9 would be Doherty and Marriner, with Raphael and Mitchell on Row 10 behind them, Mitchell finding another tenth of a second on his last lap with a 1:30.5372
The final row would be Michael Westaway after his mechanical mishap, and next to him would be John Vainoras, who also improved and found a further three tenths on his last lap with a 1:33.3915
Race 1 would be held at 2pm under warm sunny skies – who would take the win for Race 1 of 2017?