Three rounds down, three rounds to go. We’re half-way through the second season of AMRS, and as expected the season has produces plenty of talking points. Commentator Lachlan Mansell delivers his take on the season so far.
In its inaugural 2018 season, the AMRS validated its place in the Australian motorsport landscape as a series that delivered the organisational professionalism and exposure of a national competition, but at an affordable price point.
The second season has been an evolution of the concept – no massive changes, but some subtle improvements aimed at enhancing the racing experience for competitors.
Once again, there have been some cracker races, amongst a range of existing and new categories, and plenty of headline-grabbing moments. Here are some of the highlights:
Several categories on the AMRS program have produced mixed results and a variety of winners, but the Australian Formula 3 Championship has been all about one driver – John Magro.
Behind the wheel of his R-Tek Motorsport Dallara F311, the Cairns mango farmer has been a fearsome force, winning all nine races so far and breaking the outright circuit records at both Winton and The Bend.
In the first two rounds at Winton and Morgan Park, Magro was made to work for his wins by the Gilmour Racing duo of Richard Peasey and Josh Buchan, but at The Bend he was in a class of his own, taking dominant victories in all three races.
The record for the most consecutive Australian F3 race victories was set by Ben Clucas with 12 wins way back in 2006; Magro would be at unbackable odds to draw level in the next round at Sydney Motorsport Park.
A tale of elation and heartbreak
Motorsport can often be an emotional rollercoaster, but there are few drivers who have experienced such extreme ups and downs in a season as Stephen McLaine.
McLaine’s campaign started on the highest of highs in the opening round. In more than two decades of racing against Ric Shaw, McLaine had never beaten the renowned rotary renegade in a straight fight. But that all changed at Winton, when McLaine went wheel-to-wheel with Shaw and came out on top, winning three of the weekend’s four races to emerge as the points leader.
Sadly, McLaine’s feeling of elation wouldn’t last. While he maintained his points lead with a quartet of consistent top-five finishes at Morgan Park, a debilitating illness forced him to withdraw mid-meeting at The Bend, after he had finished third and fourth in the two Saturday races.
McLaine was transported to Royal Adelaide Hospital for surgery, and announced via social media that the nature of injury and high risk of reoccurrence has brought his racing activities to a close – a sad ending to the career of one of the genuinely nice guys in the paddock.
The silver lining is McLaine’s son is expected to enter the category aboard his father’s car, and on a more positive note the final two rounds of the RX8 Cup are set to be absolutely thrilling, with Will Harris, Aaron Prosser, Terry Lewis, Nick Dunkley and Ben Silvestro well within title contention.
The rise of the young guns
Last year’s AMRS provided a platform for young guns like Aaron Seton and Hunter McElrea to demonstrate their talents, and this season has seen some standout junior racers showcasing their abilities in TA2 and Formula Ford.
Those who followed Formula Ford during the last couple of seasons were already familiar with the driving prowess of Nathan Herne, and the 16-year-old Lismore driver has made the progression to a high-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive V8 Dodge Challenger for an assault on this year’s TA2 series.
Herne impressively broke through for his maiden race win at Morgan Park, fending off concerted attacks from Seton, and he carried the momentum to Tailem Bend – he won the first three races and only missed out on a clean sweep because of a differential problem in Race 4.
The Australian Formula Ford Championship has always been a breeding ground for young talent, and The Bend round did not disappoint, with stars of the future like Angelo Mouzouris, Tom Sargent, Lachlan Mineeff and Callum Hedge staging some enthralling dices. Mineeff ultimately emerged victorious, with his team-mate Sargent making it a 1-2 finish for the CHE Racing Team.
An honourable mention must also go the way of a couple of rising female racers, including rapid teenager Courtney Prince (Formula Ford) and continually-improving apprentice mechanic Maisie Place (Mazda RX8 Cup).
Where there’s thunder
A new addition to the AMRS category has been the Thunder Sports Cup, which burst onto the scene with a field of more than 20 cars at Winton, before rocking up at The Bend with almost 30 entries. The key to the success of Thunder Sports is its diversity of machinery – it’s open to everything from virtually unmodified production cars all the way up to vehicles with quite substantial levels of modification.
The category has struck a chord with motorsport enthusiasts who enjoy tinkering with their pride and joy on weekends, and has attracted a particularly large contingent of racers from the Albury-Wodonga region, including title contenders Mark Tracey (BMW E36 V8) and Cory Gillett (Nissan Silvia V8). The Bend even drew a couple of Super2 racers, with Matt Chahda making an appearance in a Magna Future Tourer and Joel Heinrich racing his dad’s AU Falcon V8 Supercar.
At the other end of the scale but equally popular has been the GT-1 Australia Series. After growing steadily in its inaugural round last year, GT-1 has proven to be the ideal playground for amateur drivers with recently-superseded GT cars.
The Bend produced some thrilling racing, especially in Race 1 where Matt Stoupas (Audi R8) held out Sam Shahin (Lamborghini Gallardo) in a grandstand finish, brought about through the category’s unique handicap pit stop system.
The business end of the season
The second half of the AMRS encompasses a round at Sydney Motorsport Park in September, before venturing to the more technical confines of Wakefield Park in October and wrapping up back at Winton in November.
The title contests in a lot of AMRS categories are tight, with a number of championships set to come right down to the wire.
Work is also well underway on the 2020 AMRS calendar with some exciting announcements to come. But we’ll save those for another day…