The first race for 2017 was eagerly anticipated, and with 22 cars lining up on the grid an exciting 10 laps was assured, with plenty of close dicing and changing of positions.
It was an even jump off the line from the front runners as they raced towards the first corner when the lights went out. Robert Lange was able to hold onto the lead through turn 1 with Cameron Beller slotting in behind. and keeping ahead of Vince Misuraca who maintained third position with Chris Lewis-Williams behind them.
Tony Westaway got a good jump and slotted into fifth with Brad Winter behind him with a couple of fast starting Pauls behind them, Paul Crocitti into seventh and Paul Greer into eighth.
Not getting a good start was Mark Taubitz, who dropped back to ninth from his fifth position start, with Ken Rowland behind alongside Dick Howe as they went through the first few corners. Pedr James was twelfth ahead of Jim Gallagher who recovered from a poor getaway to be thirteenth, with Ross Millar who also got a good start in fourteenth.
Peter Doherty was into fifteenth ahead of Marius Catrina who got a poor start and dropped to sixteenth. They were followed by Mitchell, Holding, Westaway, Marriner, Raphael and Vainoras.
The top 4 runners pulled a slight gap on the next pack of 5 cars, while there was a scrap over tenth position between Howe & Rowland, which Howe was able to win as they exited turn 4 for the run up the back straight. This caused Rowland to drop behind James & Gallagher with a compromised run down the back straight and just held Millar at bay as they reached the esses at the end of the back straight. Meanwhile, Michael Westaway managed to move himself into seventeenth by the end of the lap, passing Mitchell and Holding.
Across the line for the first time the order was Lange, Beller, Misuraca, Lewis-Williams, T Westaway, Winter, Crocitti, Greer, Taubitz and Howe as the top 10. Under brakes into turn 1, Winter pulled alongside Westaway and took the fifth position, while Taubitz got a run alongside Greer and also finalised the move under brakes into turn 1, and took the eighth position.
The race was shaken up when on the exit of turn 4 Robert Lange climbed over the kerb on the exit and his car spun around back across the track. The cars behind took evasive action, however Beller was hit in the right side door as Langes car looped around, although Beller was able to continue on in the lead. No such luck for Lange however, who dropped back to last place before he was back up to speed.
On lap 3 Taubitz made another position under brakes into turn 1, passing Crocitti to move into what was now 6th position after Lange’s spin, meanwhile Paul Greer unfortunately retired from eighth position immediately after. Lange meanwhile moved up to twentieth position by the end of the lap as he passed Vainoras.
The battle amongst the top 3 was fierce with Beller holding onto the lead, while the following cars of Winter, Westaway, Taubitz & Crocitti found some space between them, while Howe started catching them all – his new car running very well around the Sandown venue, and he caught and passed Crocitti down the back straight on lap 4.
A little further back in the pack, Catrina passed Doherty to move into the 13th position, while Lange moved past Raphael, and then Marriner as he continued his recovery drive, and then passed Holding and Mitchell the lap later, with Holding also passing Mitchell on that lap.
Michael Westaway also moved past Doherty on lap 6, while Holding slipped back two positions to 19th, back behind Mitchell as well as Marriner. The following lap, Howe moved past Taubitz under brakes into turn 1 and set off after Westaway.
Up front, and Misuraca made his move, passing Beller into turn 1 to take the race lead, with Beller relegated back to second ahead of Lewis-Williams. Michael Westaway and Lange were also moving further forward with Westaway passing Catrina for thirteenth, with Lange moving past Catrina as well as Doherty to move into fourteenth position.
It all turned to tears for Westaway the following lap however, as he spun off under brakes for Dandenong Road corner into the gravel trap, with him unable to extract the car to finish the race. This moved Lange up to thirteenth, with Catrina and Doherty behind him.
The battle for the lead was close, but neither of the drivers were able to make a change for position and Misuraca would win the first race for 2017, narrowly ahead of Beller and Lewis-Williams. Winter was in fourth, with Howe finishing fifth after catching Westaway and making a pass under brakes into turn 1 for the last time.
Tony Westaway narrowly held onto sixth position with Taubitz hot on his heels at the end, with a gap back to an exciting tussle for eighth between Crocitti, James and Gallagher, all three crossing the finish line within 0.8 of a second.
Eleventh was Ken Rowland, just ahead of Ross Millar and the recovering Robert Lange in thirteenth, with a small gap back to Catrina and Doherty.
Sixteenth in his first race in the 944 challenge was Jim Mitchell, with Marriner and Holding crossing the line less than half a second off his rear bumper, with Raphael just behind them in nineteenth, with John Vainoras being the final finisher.
Two DNF’s were Michael Westaway who was in the gravel, and Paul Greer who was using the weekend as a test session to try to solve the gremlins in his car.
Race 2 was to be held at 9:50 Sunday morning, could Vince repeat his Round 1 performance of 2016 and make it a hat trick?