With weather suitable only for ducks on Friday causing havoc, the 13 car entry field was down to only 9 cars that could front up for qualifying for Round 3 of the 2018 944 Challenge at Winton Motor Raceway.
Dick Howe, Tim Petrusic, Pedr James and Jim Gallagher all would not take any part in the weekend’s racing, the latter three all out after making contact with the unforgiving concrete walls exiting the treacherous slippery surface out of Turn 2.
The 944 field were first up on track on Saturday morning, with the track still wet from overnight rains, though the rain held off, which allowed for some competitive times toward the end of the session.
Cameron Beller was the most daring on his first flying lap, and ran a time 5 seconds faster than the next closest lap, his 1:39.4810 was a huge distance ahead of second fastest Lyndon Watson who ran a 1:44.4680. Jamie Westaway was third quickest with a 1:44.9126 with Mark Taubitz fourth with a 1:46.2488. Michael Westaway was a little further behind in fifth with a 1:49.7221 ahead of the returning Codey West sixth with a 1:49.9751, just ahead of Andrew Jackman in seventh with a 1:49.9805. Keith Marriner was next with a 1:53.5259, with Jim Mitchell rounding out the runners with a 1:53.9574.
Beller lowered his time on the second lap with a 1:37.4997 as the track started to get some temperature in it, with the remainder of the field starting to shrink the gap to they flying #1. Jamie Westaway moved into second position with a 1:41.8091, with Watson dropping to third with a 1:42.9497. Codey West moved up to fourth position with a 1:45.9631 with Taubitz dropping back to fifth after having a spin in the sweeper as he pushed the limits of the track grip, but found his way back onto the circuit to resume without any further incident.
Andrew Jackman moved to sixth with a 1:46.4752 ahead of Michael Westaway’s 1:47.2640. Mitchell moved to eighth with a 1:50.2064 with Marriner back to ninth with a 1:51.1749
Beller lowered his benchmark by a further two tenths of a second on his third lap with a 1:37.2090, while Jamie Westaway closed the gap significantly with a 1:38.4531. Watson recorded a 1:41.7479 to just remain ahead of Taubitz who moved back to fourth with a 1:41.8044, with West back to fifth with a 1:43.2724. Michael Westaway moved back to sixth with a 1:44.4286 while Jackman recorded a 1:45.6592 back in seventh, ahead of Mitchell who recorded a 1:46.6299 with Marriner running a 1:50.5012 in ninth.
Westaway closed the gap to Beller to less than a second on his fourth lap with a 1:38.1080, while Watson, Taubitz and West all improved but remained in the same positions, though much closer now as Watson’s 1:41.2286 headed Taubitz’s 1:41.5453 and West closing the margin with a 1:41.9005. Michael Westaway also closed the gap right up with a 1:42.0189, with Jackman remaining seventh with a 1:44.9665, while Marriner dipped under the 1:50’s with a 1:49.9320.
Beller was pushing the limits also in his attempt to find more speed and also had a spin at the sweeper, also rejoining with no issues but chose to pit to re-pressurise his tyres, while Jamie Westaway closed the gap to less than two tenths of a second with a 1:37.3751 time.
The battle for third continued to be closely fought as Watson lowered his time with a 1:40.3904, with West up to fourth with a 1:40.7111 ahead of Taubitz who slipped back to fifth with a 1:40.8304. Michael Westaway was just behind with a 1:41.6511, while Jim Mitchell moved up to seventh with a 1:44.6800, displacing Jackman to eighth.
West moved himself up to third position next time around as he was the next to dip under the 1:40 second bracket with a 1:39.8744, while Watson pitted and Michael Westaway moved right behind Taubitz with a 1:40.9368. Jackman moved back to seventh with a 1:43.4583, just ahead of Mitchell who ran a 1:43.5357 in what would be his best lap, unable to better that over his next few laps. Marriner was slowly lowering his times as he ran a 1:49.5644, still in nith position.
Jamie Westaway moved into the top spot on the next lap as he moved ahead of Beller with a 1:37.0214, while Taubitz moved up to third with a 1:38.9372. West improved further with a 1:39.4774, with Michael Westaway improving slightly with a 1:40.8179. Marriner began to find some more pace as he ran a 1:46.0306 though remained in ninth.
Beller was quick to respond and recorded his fastest lap with 1 :36.4019 to reclaim the provisional pole position with a time he wouldn’t improve on in his remaining two laps. West moved himself just ahead of Taubitz on his next lap with a 1:38.9155 in his best time for the session, with Watson running a 1:39.5185 in fifth position with Michael Westaway running a 1:40.0012 still in sixth. Jackman improved slightly with a 1:43.2450 to strengthen his hold on seventh spot.
Jamie Westaway improved again running a 1:36.6834 to close to within a quarter of a second to Beller, with Watson improving his time with a 1:39.0628 in his fastest lap for the session, just behind West & Taubitz. Marriner meanwhile found another half a second to run a 1:45.5603. West & Taubitz meanwhile were running line astern and both on track for fast laps when they both slipped off the circuit on the penultimate corner, with both choosing to enter pit lane.
The chequered flag flew soon after, and Jamie Westaways final lap was a further improvement, though not enough to best Beller, his 1:36.5686 falling just short of a maiden Pole Position which went to Beller yet again, with West and Taubitz rounding out the second row. Michael Westaway improved on his final lap, though his 1:39.2337 wasn’t enough to bounce Watson out of fifth position, and he would remain in sixth.
Jackman ran his fastest lap on the final circuit with a 1:43.0228, with Keith Marriner pushing his way ahead of Jim Mitchell on his last lap with a two second improvement, a 1:43.2997 moving him to eighth position.
The upcoming weather forecast was looking bleak, so setups and tyre pressures for the first nine lap race of the weekend would be crucial!