Ahead of the first round of the Australian GT Championship, Nathan Antunes enjoyed some element of surprise with only those in the know suggesting the young Sydney-based driving instructor would challenge the established teams. By the close of the opening event in Adelaide though, Antunes showed he was not just a challenger, but a potential real title threat having claimed two wins and a third from three starts.
Coming into round two of the championship though Antunes knew that he would be a ‘marked man’ after his Clipsal performance with a number of teams employing some serious driving talent for the 101-lap, three hour endurance race around the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in an effort to counter the Audi driver’s challenge.
Unfortunately though, despite Antunes and car-owner Rod Salmon setting an impressive pace through official practice, fate intervened with an intermittent electrical issue putting paid to any chance the team had of challenging for the podium.
“I’m terribly disappointed for Rod [Salmon] and the whole Skwirk/Beechwood team,” Antunes admitted post-race. “We had a great run through practice, and both Rod and crew-chief Rik Kemp had been overseas competing so both were sharp. We were working to a program which would have seen us as contenders, but an electrical issue effectively ruled us out of contention, and dropped us two laps down early in the race.”
Low Res Salmon 1 AGT PIThe issue started during qualifying with Antunes affected by an issue which dropped the car into ‘limp’ mode, an electrical fail-safe system that protects the engine in case of pending problems by dropping the revs back to an effective crawl to allow the car to return to the pits safely. Sadly for the Skwirk/Beechwood Audi team, there was no visible problem that should cause the issue, apart from a significant drop in power.
“It happened to me a couple of times during qualifying, but I managed to reset the systems and continue,” Antunes explained. “In the end though I only got one real flying lap as a result so couldn’t improve on 11th place. Rod put in a superb time and was unaffected by the same issue, setting the fifth fastest time – just seven tenths off pole and faster than former V8 Supercar driver Steve Johnson – so we were pumped for the race.
“The team did a complete systems check overnight and felt that they’d uncovered the problem, so we were all set to go for the race and had worked on a full program which – incidents notwithstanding – should have seen us on the podium.
“Rod started the race, and almost immediately the problem reappeared, so he hit the pits to see if we could sort something given there was still three hours ahead, but by the time we rejoined we were almost last in the 35 car field, and two laps down.
“Rod had clearly learnt a lot during his time with the Audi Sport customer racing Team at the Nurburgring because his pace was fantastic, so we didn’t lose a thing over the remainder of the race, and ultimately climbed to 11th at the flag, so some points, but ultimately not what we were hoping for.”
“It was disappointing not to be able to challenge the leaders,” Salmon added, “..because we certainly had the pace to run with them.

”I was sitting comfortably in the second pack after the two leaders broke away, and 200 metres or so clear of the next car which I think was Tony Quinn, when the car just went into limp mode coming out of Siberia.
“I moved to the inside of the circuit heading towards the Hayshed, and started resetting the systems, whilst around me cars speared off in every direction, Jan Jinadasa admitting later that he didn’t know how he hadn’t hit me.
“After that though we were pretty right, and we were able to work our way through to 11th and some valuable championship points. Nathan finished the race running with the leaders, so clearly we had pace, and I set my own personal best laps around Phillip Island by about two seconds, so we were definitely on target, but it’s difficult from two laps down in a field of that quality.”
Ultimately the race was won by Audi Sport customer racing Australia team-mates Christopher Mies and Greg Crick, Antunes showing over the closing stages of the race, that his pace was every bit as good as the young German star who just a week prior had won the iconic Nuburgring 24-Hour race, suggesting that they could well have been contenders.
“We were both happy with our pace at the end of the race, but it was a tough weekend to come away with 11th when we’d both driven to plan and were quick enough to be on the podium – but that as they say is motorsport, you have to take the good with the not so good..”
For Antunes his next opportunity to challenge the points leaders will come on the streets of Townsville in early July, a circuit where the Skwirk/Beechwood Audi driver enjoyed some success 12-months ago taking three wins from three starts in the Trophy Class with Salmon alongside. For 2015 though he will be hoping to emulate his street circuit success from Adelaide where he won two of the three races outright.
2015 Australian GT Championship (points after round two of six)*

GT Championship Class

1. Christopher Mies/Greg Crick (232-points), 2. Tony Quinn (223), 3. Nathan Antunes (183), 4. Max Twigg/Geoff Emery (158), 5. Jono Lester (157), 6. Klark Quinn (149), 7. James Koundouris/Marcus Marshall (121), 8. Garth Tander (119), 9. Michael Hovey (111), 10. Tony Walls (103)
* The points are provisional pending official confirmation by CAMS.
2015 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli

Rnd#1 – 26 February-1 March, Clipsal 500, Adelaide, SA*
Rnd#2 – 22-24 May, Phillip Island, Victoria**
Rnd#3 – 10-12 July, Townsville, Queensland*
Rnd#4 – 21-23 August, Sydney Motorsport Park, NSW*
Rnd#5 – 11-13 September, Sandown 500, Melbourne, Victoria*
Rnd#6 – 13-15 November, Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell, NZ
(* with V8 Supercars, ** with the Shannons Nationals)
Ben Potter

Pit Babes: Monaco Grand PrixThe Magic of the Mountain Lives on with MOTUL
Leave a reply