Harri Jones, Sam Shahin and David Grieg are the Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge Champions for 2019
As the Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge teams lined up on the sun-soaked Bend Motorsport Park for the last time in the 2019 season, just three races remained and all three titles were still up for grabs.
At the sharp end of the Pro field, it was again an age-old battle between Sonic Motor Racing (Aaron Love and Max Vidau) and McElrea Racing (Harri Jones and Ryan Suhle).
Sonic has dominated the Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge’s top class in recent years with champions such as Simon Fallon and Jordan Love among that list. An outright Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge victory had always alluded McElrea Racing by contrast and the Queensland team were hoping that Jones could get the job done at The Bend.
With only a 92 point margin between Love and Jones, the Helimod backed driver, needed to just stay clear of trouble and show that finish among the leading Michelin Juniors in each race to win the overall title.
But it wasn’t going to be easy as Love and Vidau jumped passed pole-sitter Ryan Suhle into turn 1, with Jones opting to follow behind his teammate in fourth.
Further back disaster struck The Bend Motorsport Park owner Sam Shahin when his clutch pedal stuck off the line. The TAG Heuer Pro-Am series leader must have seen his fairy tale finish to his championship slipping away, but managed to get his HTFU Porsche 911 GT3 Cup started and pulled away just before the recovery vehicle looked to remove him. Shahin was now almost 15sec behind the last car in the field though, setting the stage for a mammoth recovery drive from far behind the entire field.
TAG Heuer Pro-Am Pole sitter Brett Boulton meanwhile had pulled out a strong lead at the front of the class, while Andrew Goldie again found himself embroiled in a massive fight with David Greig in Class B. Goldie would depart the track on lap 5 though, handing Greig the advantage and the class lead to the finish line.
The high level of competition and raw pace shown by the Michelin Juniors at the front of the field this year, was again shown in the Friday qualifying when the pole time of Suhle would have put him fifth in recent Porsche PAYCE Carrera Cup field. An incredible performance when you consider the GT3 Cup Challenge Cars cater for the previous-gen 2 Porsche 911 Cup cars that last raced in the premier class three years ago.
Love and Vidau soon proved to be the fastest on the track in Race 1, with South Australian overtaking his Sonic Racing teammate on lap 4. Vidau would also set a new lap record of 1:51:4875 in the process. Love fought him to the last corner and crossed the line only a tenth behind Vidau, with Suhle, Jones and Christian Pancione completing the all Michelin Junior top 5.
It was Vidau’s ninth win of the season, in what has been an impressive year despite the sporadic mechanical issues he suffered at crucial stages of the season.
Boulton was followed home by Ross McGregor and Michael Loccisano in the Pro-Am battle, with Sam Shahin recovering incredibly to ninth overall and fourth in class. Heading into Race 2, Shahin’s Buick Motorworks team did an amazing job to replace slave cylinder between sessions and by the end of lap one, he had already repaid them, passing both McGregor and Boulton for the TAG Heuer Pro-Am lead.
At the front end, Harri Jones put all the Porsche’s 460hp to good use off the line, but opted to stay well clear following the front trio of Vidau, Love and Suhle through turn one.
The first five cars were covered by less than a second as the race progressed before Vidau ran wide and understeered off on lap 5. He would recover to third behind Suhle and eventual race winner Love.
Jones would finish fourth, giving him a 62 point buffer into the overall standings. With only 60 pints on offer Jones was now the outright Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge champion for 2019, handing McElrea Racing their first outright trophy.
Shahin would finish just behind the Pro leaders in sixth, clinching TAG Heuer Pro-Am title at his home track from Brett Boulton. Andrew Goldie did what he could to take the Class B, but the ever consistent David Greig’s second place ensured he would take the Class B title.
With all three championships wrapped up, teams lined up for the final race of the season. Although the track temperatures had risen to 37 degrees, 11 degrees warmer than Race 2 at midday, the racing remained fierce and Sam Shahin now found himself dicing amongst the leading Juniors at the front of the field.
By the end of the shortened 8 lap race, Aaron Love took the final race win and with it the round victory followed by Max Vidau. Ryan Suhle would take his third podium of the weekend and occupy the last step of the podium.
Brett Boulton’s consistency saw him take the round win in TAG Heuer Pro-Am ahead of round (and series) winner Shahin, while Graham Williams put in one of his best performances of the year to finish the round and year in third.