We take a look back at all the racing action from the the official launch and Round 1 of the Shannons Insurance NTESERIES.
Forty-three drivers from across Australia and New Zealand took to the track virtually to battle it out at the official launch and round one of the Shannons Insurance NTESERIES.
Round one of the annual five round series kicked off on home soil at the world renown Phillip Island Raceway in Victoria.
Drivers rolled out for their first qualifying session of the series in their under-powered front wheel drive TCR cars aiming to set their best qualifying time and to secure their spot on the grid for race one. With the dominant car of choice being the Audi, Nathan Norman in his Honda Type R out shown the Audi’s claiming the first pole position of the series and for himself in this series. Norman set a convincing pole lap time of 1.37.428.
Closely followed by Norman, was Damon Mulqueen in a Hyundai TCR car setting a qualifying lap time of 1.37.569 and Callan Gear with a time of 1.37.639 in his Audi LMS. To put it into perspective with just how close the qualifying times were on Sunday, the top 18 cars all qualified within one second of each other.
With the race one grid order set, it was time to go racing for race one.
As the lights went out, Norman got the early jump and led the huge field of forty three cars into the high speed turn one at Phillip Island. With such a large field of cars huddling into turn one and two, we were fortunate enough to see most cars make it relatively cleanly through the first lap.
Unfortunately lap two saw Jack Widdas make an unfortunate racing mistake into turn one making contact with Callan Gear. The incident sent them both well off track at turn one with some damage. Gear and Widdas re-joined the track, but had dropped through the field as a result of the incident.
As drivers settled into the racing groove and dusted off the first-round nerves, the battles were fierce throughout the field. Given the similarities in pace across the three TCR cars, there were battles left right and centre. At times, there were six cars nose to tail fighting it out for fifth place.
Even with the close racing in the TCR race, the racing remaining green for the entire race and drivers could race on without the interference of a Safety Car.
Congratulations to Nathan Norman for his convincing win and first win of the NTESERIES. Newcomer and our “across the ditch” buddy, Mulqueen brought home his Hyundai TCR car in second place, with Justin Mclean rounding out the podium in his Audi LMS.
With the Race 1 now run and won, it was time for drivers to find themselves in a more familiar space, but with the challenge of having to relearn how to drive the overpowered real wheel V8 Supercar after a TCR race.
Qualifying was a challenge in itself with drivers having to find their own piece of track to set their flying laps. Some drivers opting to do fuel runs and stop for tires only to try and take advantage of the weight reduction.
Familiar faces returned to the top of the timing sheets with Jack Widdas topping the qually times with a lap time of 1.29.212 and incredibly close behind was Blake Worboys with a time of 1.29.287. Showing his ability to mix it up between classes, Damon Mulqueen rounded out the top three in the supercar session as well with a time of 1.29.539.
Race 2 started off like many real-life Supercar races and had its fair share of first lap incidents while drivers fought for their piece of track. Blake Worboys made an uncharacteristic racing mistake making contact with Callan Gear into turn 2, sending him wide off the track. He was able to re-join the track with minimal damage but had once again filtered down the standings. Having had an incident in both races, it was probably a round Gear would like to forget.
With cars stranded either side of turn one and two, the Shannons Insurance Safety Car was deployed by Race Control.
After a couple of laps under safety car and many taking the opportunity to pit for repairs, the racing resumed. A clean restart this time with most cars learning from lap one and opting to head into turn one single file.
As the race continued, drivers started to look for strategy options with a mandatory pit stop required for fuel and tires. Some of the mid pack drivers took the opportunity to take a slightly earlier stop to clear themselves of traffic in an aim to achieve the undercut.
Meanwhile, just about the entire top 10 all opted to pit on lap 13 for their mandatory pit stop. This created a battle of who had calculated their refuelling amounts the best and who managed their entry and exit of pit lane. With the racing as close as it was, every second counted.
Lap 15 saw the deployment of the Shannons Insurance Safety Car for the competition caution. The safety car bunched the field up and set us up for an exciting finish to race two of the opening round.
With Widdas having a perfect restart after the safety car session, he positioned himself with a comfortable gap back to second place, Guy Leach who also optimised his restart putting a gap on third place driver, Josh Drage.
With the top three drivers optimising their restarts and only five laps remaining once the safety car peeled off, the podium remained unchanged with Widdas crossing the line in first place and returning to victory for the 2022 series. Leach crossed the line in second after a clean and consistent race, while Drage, who missed a gear through the final sector had Nathan Norman right on his bumper bar as they crossed the line and received the chequered flag.
After Round 1 of the series, Nathan Norman currently leads the 2022 Shannons Insurance NTESERIES Championship on 270 points, with defending champion, Guy Leach in second with 240 points and Blake Worboys and Justin Mclean in equal third on 231 points.
Round two of the championship will return on Sunday 13 March at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Full live stream coverage from 6pm NT Time on the NTESERIES Facebook and website, www.nteseries.com.au.