The 944 Challenge contingent had to wait until lunchtime on Saturday before venturing out on track for their qualifying session. After some overnight rain this meant that the track was almost dry, apart from a few damp spots here and there, notably at Dandenong Road corner, and the final corner onto the main straight.
Cameron Beller was on pole and clean swept Round 3 and was the favourite going into qualifying – although returnee Robert Lange was expected to challenge, along with Chris Lewis-Williams and Vince Misuraca.
Chris Lewis-Williams laid the first fast time down with a 1:27.0816 on his first flying lap, ahead of Beller with 1:27.7755, John Goddard third on a 1:28.3170, Vince Misuraca with a 1:28.7696 and Brad Winter 5th with a 1:29.6789 as the field sorted themselves out to find a spot on the track to run their laps. The order following the top 5 was Gallagher, Taubitz, Millar, Jackman, Lange, James, Catrina, Raphael Knight, Tony Westaway, Marriner, Howe, Michael Westaway and Greer – who wouldn’t complete more than an outlap with problems. The outlap was one more than Peter Doherty managed however, after discovering a large pool of oil under his car just before qualifying that should have been in the engine… He would miss qualifying but would be on the grid for Race 1.
Chris Lewis-Williams pushed the time down on his next lap with a 1:25.9648, with Misuraca moving to second fastest with his 1:27.1087. Lange leapt up to third fastest with a 1:27.3083 ahead of Beller on 1:27.5724 with Goddard down to 5th. Winter improved his time to 1:28.6363 ahead of Taubitz on a 1:29.0711, Howe up to 8th with a 1:29.6771, Catrina running his fastest lap of 1:19.7521 in 9th – before car #12 started losing power – a blown head gasket the culprit.
10th fastest was Gallagher with a 1:30.0043, ahead of Millar on 1:30.0575, James on 1:30.6384, Jackman with 1:30.7809, Raphael with 1:32.6205, with the Westaway brothers biding their time to run their fast laps, Michael Westaway on a 1:32.8734 ahead of Tony with a 1:32.9273, ahead of Knight on a 1:33.5462 as he pulled off the track with some small issues with his Porsche as a result of some late night work after Friday’s practice session, ahead of Marriner with a 1:34.1761 to be 18th fastest.
Beller moved himself up to the front row with a 1:26.1773 while Lewis Williams pitted, while both Misuraca and Lange went quicker, down to 1:26.3013 & 1:27.1593 respectively. Taubitz moved up to 5th with a 1:27.6256 with Goddard and Winter remaining 6th & 7th. Millar jumped up to 8th on a 1:29.3060, as James and Gallagher both moved into the 29’s with 1:29.7445 and 1:29.7705 to be 11th and 12th behind Howe and Catrina. Tony Westaway moved to 13th with 1:30.3405 ahead of Jackman now on 1:30.7388. Raphael was now 15th with 1:32.3066 ahead of Michael Westaway with 1:32.4077, with Marriner on 1:32.9212.
Beller jumped into Provisional pole the following lap with a 1:25.1825 lap as almost the entire field set their fastest lap as the drivers found the speed of the track getting better and better. Misuraca and Lange were extremely close in 3rd and 4th with 1:26.2298 & 1:26.2355, Goddard set a 1:26.7468 to move to 5th in what would be his best lap of the session, just ahead of Taubitz who ran a 1:26.7553. Gallagher vaulted up to 7th with a 1:27.8658 from Winter on a 1:28.1487, Tony Westaway finding his pace with a 1:28.1813 to go to 9th with Howe in 10th with a 1:28.4029.
11th was Millar with a 1:28.4493, Pedr James with 1:28.9844, Michael Westaway who moved to 13th with 1:29.6684 ahead of Catrina. Jackman dropped his marker to a 1:30.3109 as Marriner moved to 16th with a 1:32.2366 ahead of Raphael.
Beller went slightly faster the following lap to lower the provisional pole time to 1:25.0934, as both Lewis-Williams and Misuraca also went quicker, Chris on a 1:25.6421 and Vince with a 1:25.9432. Gallagher also improved his time by a couple hundredths of a second, and Michael Westaway moved ahead of Pedr James to be 12th as he recorded a 1:28.7253. Raphael and Marriner also went quicker, and swapped spots again as Ben ran a 1:31.1794 which would be his fastest lap for the session, with Keith running a 1:31.7746.
Robert Lange jumped into 3rd ahead of Misuraca on the next lap with a 1:25.6465 lap, as Tony Westaway also jumped into the top 5 with a 1:26.3852 pushing Goddard, Taubitz, Gallagher & Winter down a spot. Gallagher again shaved a tenth of a second off his time, down to 1:27.7369 as Howe also got into the 27 second bracket with a 1:127.9682. Westaway moved another spot up the grid ahead of Millar with a 1:28.4434, while Pedr James set his fastest time with a 1:28.6582 but then there was a big bang, and lots of smoke as car #98 exited the track at turn 1. The PKJ Rural Fencing team would go home to swap engines over to be back for Race 2 on Sunday.
Lange continued his move forward as he moved onto the front row the next lap with a 1:25.4419, pushing Lewis-Williams back to Row 2 with Misuraca. Tony Westaway set his fastest lap for the session with a 1:26.2589. Howe moved to 8th with his fastest time for the session also, a 1:27.1830 to leapfrog Gallagher. Michael Westaway continued lowering his times and moving forward on the grid, now into 10th with a 1:27.9721. Marriner moved into the sub 1:31 second category with a 1:30.9413 for his best lap of qualifying to be 16th ahead of Raphael, with Ben unable to improve his time to get back ahead.
Beller etched slightly closer to the 24’s with a 1:25.0437 on his 8th lap, as Vince also improved slightly to a 1:25.8291, as did Brad Winter with a 1:28.0480, and Ross Millar with a 1:28.2864, and Andrew Jackman who ran his best time in qualifying, just unable to get under 1:30 with a 1:30.0120
Robert Lange got himself to within a tenth of a second of Pole the next lap, a 1:25.1538 impressing the field, but he was not able to go quicker to get the #1 spot. Chris Lewis-Williams also ran what would be his fastest lap for qualifying with a 1:25.4857, just in front of Vince who improved with a 1:25.5715. Michael Westaway improved to 1:27.7769, as Ross Millar also shaved a couple hundredths from his best time.
Beller responded the next lap by lowering the mark another quarter of a second with a 1:24.7890, which would be his fastest time and would lock in consecutive pole positions for him at the Sandown circuit. Taubitz also improved his time to a 1:26.6025 to move back into 6th ahead of Goddard, while Brad Winter moved to 9th with his fastest lap of 1:27.1940. Michael Westaway stayed in 10th as he improved his time to 1:27.4474, with Ross Millar also running his fastest lap for the session to be 11th with a 1:27.5911. All three drivers moved around James Gallagher, despite him also lowering his fastest time to 1:27.6645
Vince Misuraca went slightly quicker on his next lap with a 1:25.5012, just unable to move past Chris for 3rd position, with his next two laps only a tenth slower, leaving Vince in 4th. Taubitz further lowered his best time to 1:26.2736 to be just behind Tony Westaway in 6th, but on his next and final lap dropped into the 25s with a 1:25.8067 to move into 5th spot on the grid. Michael Westaway also found a quarter of a second to elevate him two positions, up to 8th with a 1:27.1324 just clear of Howe & Winter, while Gallagher also improved on his last circuit to just sneak back ahead of Millar with a 1:27.5854.
So a very exciting qualifying session, but there was rain and hail on the way before Race 1 to make things a bit more exciting before Race 1!