Reigning Australian GT champion Geoff Emery will lead a six strong Audi R8 entry into the season opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne next week, intent upon claiming a record-breaking three consecutive AGT championship titles, a feat never before achieved in the hotly contested category.
Audi will be represented in the outright championship, the Australian GT Trophy Series and in the emerging GT4 category where Victor Zagame will be looking to take the fight to the established teams off the back of title victories in 2018 for Emery in the Championship class, and Nick Kelly in Trophy Series.
Emery will be joined by long-time rival Tony Bates in the new evolution model of the series two Audi R8 LMS GT3. Emery will be in an all new #1 car that was brought into Australia for this year’s Bathurst 12 Hour where it was converted back to 2018-specification to comply with 12 Hour homologation rules, before being returned to 2019-spec ahead of its Australian Grand Prix debut.
The reigning champ drove the car for the first time on the streets of Adelaide just a week ago during the opening round of the Asian-based Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup, claiming the round two win on his way to top points for the event, with Bates also claiming a race win, although at that stage, he was still campaigning the 2018-spec car that he took to Australian GT victory at Sandown and Phillip Island last season.
Audi Sport customer racing Australia have since upgraded the #24 machine to 2019-spec for its Australian GT return, and Bates is keen to show that he has the pace to fight for a podium.
“I love street circuits, which is why I’ve been so successful at Adelaide over the past few years, I find they really reward my style of driving so I’m really keen to see what the new ‘EVO’ spec is like around Albert Park,” Bates admitted.
Outright Audi have had good success at Albert Park with three wins across the last three years at the AGP, something Geoff Emery is looking to build on.
“The Audi has always been good around the Grand Prix circuit, and I’ve only been outside the top five twice over the last three years (Emery has also placed on the podium twice since 2016) whilst Kelvin van der Linde took our car to victory twice in 2017 so I know we’ll be quick, but for me the focus is on that third title, so I’m looking for points, not trouble.”
The two long-time rivals though won’t be the only ones in contention for outright honours at the AGP, Australian GT rookie Lee Partridge will also line up in a generation two R8 LMS GT3, although it will remain in 2018-specification and run under the ‘Aussie Driver Search’ banner.
The Victorian-based driver – who interestingly works full-time for the Audi Sport customer racing Australia team – claimed support for his 2019 season by virtue of winning the semi-pro shootout in the 2018 edition of the popular driver search program.
12-months ago Jaie Robson put that exact same opportunity to good use at the Grand Prix, to claim two wins from the four starts he made across the Albert Park weekend, making his mark on the circuit and the category. Partridge has an 18-year record in other forms of motorsport, so is no stranger to competition, but he will be making his GT3 debut on the streets of Melbourne.
Whilst Emery and Bates are sure to put their recent Adelaide successes to good use at Albert Park against Partridge in the battle for outright honours, in Trophy Class reigning champion Nick Kelly will be hoping to continue his 2018 winning streak which saw the Sydney-based driver win all four AGP races, laying the foundations for his maiden AGT Trophy Series title.
He will clearly start favourite but he’ll be facing another Audi-based challenger looking to make an impression, just as he did during his Australian GT debut in Sydney late last year – Victorian teenager Ryan How.
How was a sensation in his maiden event claiming victory in two of the three Sydney Motorsport Park races, in the process finishing right amongst the outright cars to stun even the most seasoned campaigners.
This year How is in for a full season campaign and intent upon taking the Trophy Series title from Kelly and anyone else looking to challenge, and based on his 2018 rookie form, he will be one to watch.
With McLaren, KTM and Ginetta already confirmed as part of the Australian Grand Prix entry, Victor Zagame is looking to return to Australian GT and take the fight to his rivals in a car which is already starting to make its presence felt globally off the success of the mighty R8 GT3.
Zagame made a cameo appearance at Sandown last year during the third round of the season claiming a string of podiums, and he’s looking to continue that success at the Grand Prix on Audi’s GT4 debut at the Albert Park circuit.
The Australian Grand Prix event begins with two qualifying session on Thursday 14 March ahead of the first of four 25-minute races.
Rnd#1, 2019 CAMS Australian GT Championship
Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit, Melbourne (14-17 March)
SCHEDULE (times AEDT – GMT+11):
Thursday, 14 March, 2019
11:50am – Qualifying#1 (20-minutes)
3:40pm – Qualifying#1 (20-minutes)
6:25pm – Race#1 (25-minutes)
Friday, 15 March, 2019
10:15am – Race#2 (25-minutes)
Saturday, 16 March, 2019
9:55am – Race#3 (25-minutes)
Sunday, 17 March, 2019
11:40am – Race#4 (25-minutes)