Race 2 of the 944 Challenge event at the Shannons Nationals was run as a reverse grid event over 9 laps on Sunday morning. As a result of Race 1’s finishing order, Tony Westaway lined up on the pole position, with Keith Marriner lining up alongside him on the front row with Manny Mezzasalma and Jim Mitchell lining up on the second row. Peter Doherty and Pedr James would share row 3, with Dick Howe and Michael Westaway on the fourth row. Row 5 would be made up of Mark Taubitz and Paul Crocitti, with the race 1 podium finishers Rob Holding, Chris Lewis-Williams and Cameron Beller rounding out the grid.
Jim Mitchell got his customary drag-car-like start off the line to split the front row starters and then dived to the inside of Tony Westaway to lead into Turn 1. Keith Marriner slotted into third position with Mezzasalma fourth, and Doherty and James side by side through the first corner complex. Getting a fantastic start was Chris Lewis-Williams, who took the outside line to follow Doherty and was in seventh position already, with Dick Howe on his outside on the run to turn 3. Crocitti also got a good start down the outside and was next, with Holding also moving up a few spots. The biggest losers off the start were Michael Westaway who got an ordinary getaway, and Mark Taubitz who was boxed in behind him – Cameron Beller also suffered stuck behind those who were slower away, though was able to take the inside run on Taubitz and then out-run Michael Westaway under brakes for turn 3 to move to eleventh position.
Tony Westaway ranged up alongside Mitchell and took the lead under brakes into turn 3 with James pulling ahead of Doherty and into fifth position, with Howe also making the pass around the outside of turn three as Doherty was deciding discretion was the better part of valour, and chose to let the faster cars through then press on. Crocitti and Holding were side by side through turn 3, before Holding followed Lewis-Williams through with a pass around Doherty at turn 4, while Taubitz also followed Beller through and made the pass on the inside of Michael Westaway.
Thus on the run to the sweeper for the first time it was Tony Westaway from Mitchell, Marriner, Mezzasalma, James, Howe, Lewis-Williams, Holding, Doherty, Crocitti, Beller, Taubitz and Michael Westaway. Marriner had a look on the inside of Mitchell under brakes for Penrite corner but backed out of the move, while Lewis WIlliams was scything through the field, taking the long way around Penrite corner to pass Howe, then translated that to an inside move on James around the gumtree, and then again around the outside at turn 9, this time on Mezzasalma – putting him in an incredible fourth position!
Crocitti made a move to the inside of Doherty into Penrite but had to go around the outside of gumtree to complete the pass. Beller tucked in behind Doherty but Taubitz moved to the outside and passed Beller around gumtree which put him on the inside of Doherty for turn 9, putting him up to tenth position on Crocittis bumper, with Beller then following Taubitz through underneath Doherty.
Holding moved alongside Howe on the run to turn ten, with Howe running wide and allowing Crocitti to range up alongside on the run down the back straight. Taubitz was slightly baulked and Beller moved alongside and retook the position into brakes for turn 11.
At the end of lap 1 and Tony Westaway was extending his lead from Mitchell and Marriner, now with Lewis-Williams for company. A small gap to Mezzasalma who had James and Holding behind him, with Howe and Crocitti side by side through the final corner, and Crocitti put his left side tires into the dirt allowing Howe to move ahead. This baulked Beller slightly, and Taubitz took advantage to pull back alongside down the main straight on the far right of the track, three wise with Beller and Crocitti.
Lewis-Williams moved past Marriner under brakes for turn 1 and was up to third, while James did the same thing to Mezzasalma to move into fifth.
Beller could see there was trouble brewing and backed out of the three-wide situation – as Crocitti, seeing this moved across to take the racing line for turn 1 – unbeknownst to him though, Taubitz was in his blind spot of the far right of the track – and slight contact was the result. Crocitti did a masterful job to keep the car on track and not spin off, as his right rear wheel contacted Taubitz on the left front, sending Taubitz off into the grass. The impact broke the steering on Taubitz’s car, and he limped slowly around the pits.
Lewis-Williams continued his onslaught, and passed Mitchell for second position into turn three, while Beller made his way past Crocitti, and Michael Westaway passed Doherty. Holding was trying to find a way around Mezzasalma, which allowed Howe to sneak inside on the run to turn 9, escorting Holding wide. This allowed Beller to move inside and overtake the pair of them, moving him to seventh position, while Holding sliopped back behind Howe, Crocitti and Michael Westaway to eleventh position.
Up front, and Lewis-Williams put himself into the lead with a pass on Tony Westaway on the run to turn 10 – a very impressive two laps from the three time series champion. Beller pulled past Mezzasalma under brakes for turn 10 also, while Howe followed him through, as did Crocitti. Michael Westaway was the next one to make the pass on the run to turn 11, with Holding also finally getting past to move back to tenth position.
So at the end of lap 2 it was now Lewis-Williams opening up a gap from Tony Westaway, Mitchell, Marriner, James and Beller, with Howe, Crocitti, Michael Westaway, Holding, Mezzasalma and Doherty rounding out the field.
Beller moved into the top 5 when he passed James into turn 3, and quickly ranged up to the tail of Marriner who was still staring at the tail of Mitchell. Holding managed to find a way around Michael Westaway to go back to ninth position, while Beller then passed Marriner under brakes for turn 10, and did the same to Mitchell one corner later.
Doherty made a move past Mezzasalma under brakes for turn 1, while he battle for fourth was now heating up as James, Howe and Crocitti closed up to Mitchell and Marriner, though into turn three Howe exited the battle when his car spun to the inside of the circuit. Crocitti was right behind and went to the dirt on the outside of the circuit.
Beller continued his charge forward and passed Tony Westaway under brakes for turn 10 and began his chase of Lewis-Williams. Behind him, there was dramas as Marriner looked to challenge Mitchell for position, with Mitchell spinning under brakes, with Crocitti being unsighted running into the back of Marriner, which caused some significant damage to the front of the Gasgep machine. James was the biggest benefactor as he moved past both of them into fourth position, with Holding also taking advantage and into fifth. Michael Westaway moved up to sixth, ahead of Doherty, and Mezzasalma, and the wounded Marriner. Mitchell re-joined to tenth with Howe next after recovering from his spin, with Crocitti pitting to have a flailing front guard attended to. Marriner was severely off the pace after the contact and circulated slowly to finish the race, dropping behind Mitchell and Howe on the next lap.
At the end of lap 5 it was now Lewis-Williams from Beller, Tony Westaway, James, Holding, Michael Westaway, Doherty, Mezzasalma, Mitchell, Howe, Marriner and Crocitti with Taubitz still in pit lane.
Beller was closing on Lewis-Williams as the gap was now 3.3 seconds, while Holding was harassing James for fourth position, ultimately making the pass under brakes for Penrite corner on lap 6. The main action was now at the head of the field, with Beller breaking the lap record on consecutive laps on laps 6 & 7 in his pursuit of CLW. By the end of lap the pair were separated by less than half a second, with Tony Westaway a further seconds back in third, with a further 5 seconds hack to Holding in fourth. James and Michael Westaway weren’t too far adrift, with a large gap back to Doherty, a couple seconds ahead of Mezzasalma in eighth position. Mitchell was a further few seconds back, with a 9 second gap back to Howe who was also nursing an ailing car, and the wounded Marriner, and the battle scarred Crocitti. Taubitz meanwhile ventured back out onto the circuit on the penultimate lap to slowly complete the final lap and take the chequered flag.
Try as he might, Beller was unable to find a way past Lewis-Williams and crossed the line .2 of a second behind, with a huge 16 second gap back to Tony Westaway, with Holding only a second behind him at the end in fourth. James and Michael Westaway were close together a further fixe seconds back at the finish, with Doherty, Mezzasalma, Mitchell and Howe rounding out the top ten. Marriner and Crocitti were both a lap down, with Taubitz 6 laps down.
So it was a win apiece, and a second apiece between Lewis-Williams and Beller in the quest for the Dennis O’Keefe Cup on offer this weekend. The higher of the two finishers in the final race would likely take the Cup – though if problems befell them from making their way through the pack in the final handicap race, could one of the other competitors swoop in to steal the prize?