Motor Racing Commentator
joined 22 Jun 04
Posted - 11 Apr 2007 : 19:22:53
As the first hit-out for Commodore Cup in 2007, the support races at the WPS Bathurst International Motorsport Festival provided a form-guide for the 2007 Empire Trade Exchange Commodore Cup Championship, which kicks off at Oran Park in two weeks.
Marcus Zukanovic’s return to Commodore Cup yielded yet another round victory for the dominant 2006 champion. However, Zukanovic’s commitment to the V8 Supercar Development Series means he won’t be a championship contender in 2007. Instead, the mantle of early championship favourite goes to Geoff Emery, thanks to his outstanding charge through the field in the opening race. Emery also broke the previous lap record by over four seconds.
Ashley Cooper’s early pace indicates he is definitely a championship contender after a difficult 2006. Cooper also did the V8 utes series last year, and the feeling in pit-lane is that his Commodore Cup campaign was compromised because of this.
Other championship contenders include Brett Holdsworth and Michael Graham. Christian D’Agostin still hasn’t committed to the whole series, but based on his form at Bathurst, he will be a contender for individual round wins at the events he does contest.
TAG Motorsport faces some hard work in the next fortnight to repair Tony Bates’s car for Oran Park, after his altercation with Nick Parker in the second race of the weekend. Parker unfortunately appears sidelined for the season due to a lack of funding to repair his Commodore.
The Commodore Cup race-cars hit the circuit for their first outing in 2007. Christian D’Agostin immediately established himself as one of the championship favourites, consistently punching out times two seconds quicker than anyone else could manage. Ashley Cooper and Jason Domachenz were also very quick, while V8 Supercar driver Paul Morris ended the session in fifth despite only completing two laps.
Most other teams were concentrating on not damaging their machinery, and ran installation laps to ensure their equipment was working properly.
Drivers experiencing problems in the session were Geoff Emery (blown engine) and Steven Ling (electrical problems). Defending champion Marcus Zukanovic didn’t even turn a single lap due to his engine failing to start.
The session was red-flagged after 15 of the scheduled 20 minutes when Phil Brock, brother of Bathurst legend Peter, hit the wall at McPhillamy Park after posting the fourth-quickest time.
D’Agostin continued his impressive pace, jumping to the top of the timesheets early in the session. However, Ashley Cooper mounted a challenge on his second flying lap, and briefly assumed first position, before D’Agostin reasserted himself.
Four-time Commodore Cup champion Geoff Emery had a distributor problem and only completed one lap, qualifying in 25th position.
Domaschenz qualified third from Michael Graham and Brett Holdsworth, while Paul Morris crashed at Skyline after slipping on oil dropped by Chris Stevenson, who blew an engine. As a result, the session was red-flagged.
With the opening round of the championship to be held at Oran Park in just two weeks, all the teams were conscious of the implications of severely damaging their cars at this event. However, that didn’t stop the first corner being filled with action. While both D’Agostin and Cooper got through without incident, Brett Holdsworth missed the brake pedal and nailed Michael Graham, who slipped off to the outside of the track and dropped to last. Back in the pack, Allan Hill locked his rear brakes trying to avoid the incident and spun off the circuit.
Up the front, D’Agostin and Cooper battled ferociously for the lead, with Zukanovic joining in after profiting from the demise of Graham and Holdsworth. Geoff Emery had a cracker opening lap, moving from 25th to seventh.
Zukanovic made a brilliant move at the start of lap two to overtake both D’Agostin and Cooper in Hell corner. The three cars continued their battle, and Jason Domaschenz in fourth simply didn’t have the pace to keep up. Brett Holdsworth was deemed at fault for the opening-lap incident, and received a drive-through penalty.
The battle raged at the front for the remainder of the race, although Zukanovic gained the upper hand and built a buffer over the last two laps. He took victory from D’Agostin and Cooper. Geoff Emery smashed the lap record on his way to fourth, Domaschenz was steady in fifth and Michael Graham made a great comeback from the opening-lap incident to finish sixth. Tony Bates and Nick Parker made contact in the final corner, Nick sliding sideways on the grass and only just missing the wall. Bates finished seventh, Parker came home eighth, Jeff Watters cruised to ninth and Holdsworth recovered from his drive-through to round out the top ten.
Non-finishers were Andrew Parker, who retired with illness, and Daniel Russo, who experienced carburettor problems.
D’Agostin made a lightning start and beat Marcus Zukanovic into the first corner, with Emery similarly beating Cooper off the line and moving up to third. At Forrest Elbow, Tony Bates ran wide into the wall and ricocheted into the path of Nick Parker, who nailed Bates in the passenger’s door. The safety-car was deployed and both cars were badly damaged enough to be out for the weekend.
“I saw Nick behind me, braked early and turned in early to defend my line,” Tony said. “Unfortunately, I clipped the wall, which wasn’t too bad, but then I got cleaned up by Nick. It wasn’t necessarily his fault, but it’s a very disappointing way to end the weekend.”
Parker’s explanation was similarly diplomatic. “I had nowhere to go, Tony bounced straight into my path,” he said.
The race restarted on lap five, and Zukanovic out-braked D’Agostin into the Chase to take the lead. Emery and Cooper both took advantage of D’Agostin’s loss of momentum to relegate him to fourth in Murray’s corner. Brett Holdsworth retired from the race when his car jammed in third gear. Denis Pana pulled into the pits with a loose rear bumper, and after rejoining the race, was forced to make a second pit-stop when his bonnet flew up on con-rod straight due to a loose bonnet pin.
Cooper set the fastest lap of the race, but ultimately settled for third behind Zukanovic and Emery. D’Agostin, Domaschenz, Graham, Andrew McInnes, Watters, Ben Bancroft and Adam Lloyd completed the top-ten.
Emery got a good start and beat Zukanovic into the first corner, and set about recording good lap times to establish a strong lead. D’Agostin and Cooper settled into third and fourth, while Graham and Domaschenz battled for fifth. Graham passed Domaschenz, but Domaschenz had superior straight-line speed and soon re-captured the position, despite some sideways moments at Skyline. “We need more ponies,” Graham said after the race.
On the final lap, Matt Chick selected fourth-gear instead of second at Hell Corner and understeered into the gravel trap. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise great weekend for the talented 17-year-old from Darwin.
Emery won the race from Zukanovic, who settled for second and took the overall round win. D’Agostin resisted pressure from Ashley Cooper to finish third, with Domaschenz and Graham finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Brett Holdsworth stormed from 24th to seventh, and McInnes, Phil Brock and Andrew Parker completed the prestigious top-ten. Apart from Matt Chick, the other non-finisher was Jeff Watters, who experienced an oil-plug failure.