The opening round of MG Racing Australia for 2020 kicked off at the always popular Sandown Park hosted by the MG Car Club. We welcome for the second straight year K&S Environmental as our sponsor and Cranbourne MG providing the course cars, a brand new 2020 MG HS and a MG ZS parked up in pit lane all weekend.
A 29 car field was set for the weekend, reigning champion Philip Chester with #1 once more, while Friday saw 3x new competitors sit their licence tests. MSCA stalwart Bruce Astbury has purchased Vince Gucciardo’s MG TF LE500 while Caelan Chester debuted in the ex Sean Herlihy MG F, and while he obtained his licence he didn’t participate in the weekend, Leigh Boughton has an MG B GT that he will campaign from round 2.
Qualifying was underway in some wet conditions, the light rain enough to make it tricky for all participants, the first serious time came from Rhys Howell who had stepped into the family owned MG ZR Judd and cracked out a 1:32.7 to go to the top of the timesheets, it wasn’t long before Vince Gucciardo took the top spot with a 1:30.33 in the MG C GT V8. The pair were well ahead of their competition as Ben Muller (B GT V8) initially sat third with a 1:37.1 before getting a clean lap to move into the 1:32’s and go second quickest. Reigning champion Philip Chester set a 1:34.9 to go fourth quickest and promptly parked the car in the garage in the difficult conditions, for the fast cars it was tough to find clean laps as everyone battled for traction. Robin Bailey (B GT V8) was a late comer to the session and his late run netted him a 1:33.9 to bump Chester to 5th, while Muller wouldn’t improve on his 1:32.1. Rhys Howell had a second run at a time and got down to a 1:30.5 as Gucciardo did another 1:30 the pair separted by 0.17 for pole, Howell on his final lap netting a 1:29.99 to go to the top by .4 of a second before Gucciardo’s final lap pulled him to a 1:28.1 to secure pole. The wet conditions allowed the smaller four cylinder cars to get in the mix, David Anderson the fastest four cylinder MG B with a 1:42.7, his nearest compatriot a 1:45.6 for Gary Bulmer in a similar MG B, Nahum Ayliffe was a surprise, the MG ZS 180 dropping behind Bulmer with John Stevenson in his MG TC ahead of the B’s of Henk Zwartaveen, Greg White, Darren Souter and Richard Vollebregt. Bruce Astbury was best rookie in 20th while Caelan Chester finished up 24th.
Race 1 was again tough conditions, it wasn’t wet but wasn’t dry, and a light drizzle pre race meant the greasiest of conditions. As the lights went out Rhys Howell sat there spinning his wheels while Gucciardo moved, Bailey rocketed from 4th to the lead as the field went past the grandstand but Gucciardo had the inside line for turn 1. Caelan Chester stalled putting her to the back of the field, as the field came out of turn 4 it was Gucciardo, Bailey, Holmes (ZR), Howell, Chester and Muller from Keith Ondarchie (Stag) and Anderson. The field completed the opening lap and Gucciardo had a lead on Bailey while Chester and Howell were a further three seconds behind from Holmes, Ondarchie, Anderson, Ayliffe, Stevenson and White.
The treacherous conditions saw Caelan Chester spin at turn 2 on her second lap, Astbury meanwhile was on the defence for a charging Peter Rose who moved up to 20th spot on the second lap as Greg White had a moment that saw him drop from 12th to 22nd and Jane Vollebregt and Simon Rogers in their MG B’s had a battle for 25th spot. Up front Muller pulled into pit lane with an issue shortly after passing Holmes for 5th and Michael Wood (B GT V8) went from 23rd on the opening lap to 18th by now and was using the V8 power to move back up the grid. Chester was under pressure from Howell, the big V8 struggling to put its traction down and coming out of the kink on the back straight the car cranked sideways on Chester, very light contact to the armco would see Chester on the sidelines. Howell now up to 3rd, Wood up to 15th and David Mottram found himself moving up the order now in 16th and making progress as Bulmer who was fighting hard for 7th went off ending his race, a lap later Peter Rose had an engine let go in his MG B. Tony and Richard Vollebregt starting moving up the order, tony had moved from 19th up to a respectable 10th while Richard had moved from 15th to 11th, with Bulmer and Rose they both found another couple of spots and when Tony Vollebregt got by Nahum Ayliffe late in the race he found himself in 7th. Mottram by now had moved further forward into 12th while out front Gucciardo had built a solid lead ahead of Bailey and Howell which is how the top 3 would finish the opening race for 2020.
Sunday brought beautiful Melbourne weather and crisp blue sky, the weather would play to those who struggled on Saturday. Philip Chester’s car now repaired and battle ready, Gary Bulmer likewise, however Peter Rose was now on the sidelines.
Again the V8 power came into its own as Bailey got the jump on Gucciardo from Howell, Ondarchie and Holmes as Philip Chester powered through the field, by the end of the opening lap Chester was 5th while Ben Muller playing a more conservative game moved into 15th at the end of lap 1. Michael Wood also using his V8 power and now running 7th ahead of Anderson, Tony and then Richard Vollebregt for the top 10. By the end of the second lap Chester was into 3rd ahead of Howell and Ondarchie, Muller up to 7th and Henk Zwartaveen had a strong start and was now 17th overall. The front running pace saw Gucciardo post a 1:18.4 and Chester a 1:17.7 in pursuit as Bailey’s car started showing lots of smoke on left hand corners, after two laps the meatball flag was shown which ended his challenge for the lead, the order now Gucciardo, Chester, Howell, Muller, Ondarchie. Caelan Chester came to a halt at turn 1 with a gear shift problem, Astbury and Stevenson battled for 18th place and Zwartaveen was now into 15th place as he got by Mottram.
As the race came to a close Gucciardo took his second win for the weekend from Philip Chester and Rhys Howell. Muller would come home 4th and Ondarchie the leading Invited British result in 5th. Michael Wood found his place back up behind Holmes in 7th while Tony Vollebregt, Barry Pritchett (TR6) and David Anderson rounded out the top 10.
The final race for the opening round and it was status quo as Gucciardo got away ahead of Chester, Muller, Bailey and Ondarchie the top 5 after the opening lap. On the second lap Howell got by Ondarchie while Chester took the lead and Bailey moved into 3rd, the very next lap Chester pulled into pit lane with a damage undertray on his front splitter, this left Gucciardo to defend Bailey while Muller and Howell locked into battle. Tony Vollebregt and Michael Wood also took it upon each other to battle for 7th place, in a fun battle that raged all day as the might of the V8 took on the 4 cylinder but power vs better stopping and handling MG ZR. Jim Dodd pulled off after running out of electricity as Gucciardo clearly full of confidence pushed out a 1:19.2 to set the fastest lap on lap 5 which ultimately turned into a 5 second win from Bailey, some 25 seconds back was Ben Muller who just held off Howell. Keith Ondarchie ran a lonely 6th place ahead of Holmes and Michael Wood held off for 7th place ahead of Tony Vollebregt and a recovering Gary Bulmer in 9th, Barry Pritchett rounding out the top 10.
The field have a small 5 week gap before we head to Winton Motor Raceway for Round 2 which is presented by Quality Hotel Wangaratta in conjunction with Cranbourne MG, Splatts Engineering and Wolfchester