Saturday morning saw 19 Porsche 944s line up for qualifying for Round 2 of the 944 Challenge for 2017.
Fast man out of the gate was Chris Lewis-Williams, the only man to go under 1 minute 50 on the first flying lap with a 1:49.9033 to be fastest, ahead of Robert Lange with a 1:50.4577 to be second quickest ahead of Vince Misuraca (1:51.0712) Brad Winter (1:52.3091) and Cameron Beller (1:52.4138)
The Westaways were the next in line, Tony (1:53.1991) ahead of Michael (1:53.3738) with Mark Taubitz in 8th on a 1:53.7024 from Jim Gallagher’s 1:54.7074 and Pedr James with 1:54.9972 to be tenth after the first lap.
Dick Howe was next after recording a 1:55.2048 ahead of Ken Rowland’s 1:55.5212 with Rob Holding next in his first Phillip Island qualifying on a 1:56.9835, in front of Marius Catrina in fourteenth with a 1:57.2321.
Lyndon Watson was fifteenth in his first 944 qualifying session with a 2:00.2051, and was followed by Ben Raphael (2:01.0337) Peter Doherty (2:02.3976) and John Vainoras eighteenth quickest with a 2:10.6052 as he started his first Phillip Island race weekend.
Pulling off on his out lap was Jim Mitchell, after a troublesome Friday practice which resulted in some open heart surgery on the 944 powerplant, the car came to a halt exiting Siberia on his out lap. Fortunately for Jim, a badly connected lead was the culprit and he would be running again quickly, though not able to record a time and would start from the rear of the grid.
Lewis-Williams went quicker on the next lap to 1:49.0684 as Beller moved into second quickest with a 1:49.6944 ahead of Lange who was now on a 1:49.9996. Winter lowered his time to a 1:50.5218 to remain fourth fastest ahead of Misuraca now down to fifth after improving by four thousandths of a second with a 1:51.0670
Tony Westaway remained sixth as he improved his time to a 1:51.4462 with Taubitz moving to seventh with a 1:51.5493. Howe was up to eighth with a 1:51.8722, now ahead of Rowland on 1:52.3412 and Michael Westaway slipping to tenth with a 1:52.6548.
James was now eleventh with a 1:53.3447 ahead of Gallagher on 1:53.4732, and Watson moving up to thirteenth after recording a 1:55.7648. Holding was back one spot with a 1:55.9126 ahead of Doherty who moved to fifteenth with a 1:56.4544.
Raphael moved ahead of Catrina to be sixteenth with a 1:57.0490, as Vainoras lowered his time to a 2:09.2111
On his third flying lap Lewis-Williams lowered the benchmark lap time as he set a 1:48.8533, with Lange (1:49.7793), Winter (1:49.8601) and Misuraca (1:49.9415) all lowering their times but not changing position.
Tony Westaway moved in the 50’s with a 1:50.5639, as Ken Rowland found two tenths of a second with a 1:52.1571 though remained eight quickest. Pedr James also stayed eleventh despite improving with a 1:52.6750. Catrina moved up to thirteenth after recording a 1:55.1004 ahead of Doherty who was up to fourteenth with a 1:55.1098 and Holding fifteenth with a 1:55.3987, dropping Watson back to sixteenth.
Ben Raphael recorded what would be his fastest lap of the session with a 1:56.3637 which would leave him seventeenth fastest, with Vainoras dropping his time a further two seconds with a 2:07.1130.
Tony Westaway improved his time, albeit by a couple of thousandths of a second in sixth position, as Howe moved to seventh with a 1:50.9864. James moved up to eighth position with a 1:51.1658 ahead of Michael Westaway who was now ninth with a 1:51.4764, dropping Taubitz to tenth and Rowland to eleventh.
Gallagher improved his time in twelfth position to a 1:52.8406, as Doherty set his fastest lap of the session – a 1:54.4256 to move into fourteenth quickest.
Ken Rowland improved his time to a 1:51.5919 on the following lap, with Jim Gallagher also improving to a 1:52.6088 with what would be his fastest time of the session to consolidate twelfth position. Rob Holding moved back up to fourteenth after running a 1:54.4718 as Vainoras also improved by .4 of a second to a 2:06.7614.
On Lap 7 Michael Westaway improved his time and position to elevate to seventh with a 1:50.8728 which would be his fastest time for the session, as Ken Rowland also improved slightly with a 1:51.5789, also his fastest time for the session to lock in eleventh on the grid in front of Gallagher and Holding, who also locked down thirteenth on the grid with his fastest time of 1:53.8313.
Watson improved his time and moved up to fifteenth fastest behind Doherty with a 1:55.0037, as Vainoras dropped his PB by almost a second with a 2:05.8007
At the pointy end, Beller was making his attempt to snatch the provisional pole time, falling just short with a 1:48.9024 -less than half a tenth behind Lewis-Williams, as Misuraca leapt two spots up to third with a 1:49.4082.
Pedr James improved further with his fastest time of the session, a 1:51.0557, as Watson and Catrina both recorded their fastest times to lock in fourteenth and fifteenth on the grid, a 1:54.0486 and 1:54.3647 respectively pushing Doherty back to sixteenth position. Vainoras meanwhile sliced 2.5 seconds from his best time to date with a 2:03.2798.
Misuraca improved again, but only by one hundredth of a second to finish with a :149.3968, unable to improve further as the session neared its completion, as Winter moved up to join him on the second row with a 1:49.7113, pushing Lange back to fifth position with his fastest time for the session, as Vainoras also recorded his best time with a 2:02.9044.
Drivers were making a last ditch attempt to improve on their times on the final lap, with Beller improving on his time on the previous lap, but was still just off Lewis-Williams time which was able to earn him Pole Position, with Bellers 1:48.8638 only one hundredth of a second away from pole.
Tony Westaway improved on his final lap, but remained sixth fastest to share the third row of the grid with Robert Lange after he recorded a 1:50.3269 on his final tour, with Dick Howe moving up one spot to seventh fastest with a 1:50.6190 ahead of Michael Westaway, who was pushed back to eighth as a result.
Mark Taubitz also lowered his best time of the session on his final lap, but a 1:51.2922 not enough to get him ahead of James, with whom he would be sharing row 5 of the grid.
The skies looked threatening for Race 1, who would strike first blood in the first Island race for the year?