Klark QuinnOne car stopped, the other was far from perfect, and race officials gave a new meaning to ‘creative penalties’ last weekend at Eastern Creek – but through it all, VIP Petfoods retained its lead in the Australian GT Championship.

Klark Quinn salvaged sixth and fourth placings from the two races, despite handling and braking problems with his Mosler MT900 GT3.

His second race was punctuated by a controversial drive-through penalty that arguably cost him at least one position in the results.

Tony Quinn’s race meeting ended 10 laps into the first race, when the Aston Martin had differential problems for the second time in a week.

The only consolation was that he was leading when it happened.

The VIP Petfoods team approached round three of the GT Championship with less lofty expectations than usual.

Tony Quinn’s Aston Martin DBRS9 was sporting a differential generously loaned by fellow Aston Martin driver Ben Eggleston, after the one that failed at Winton the previous weekend proved to be irreparably damaged.

Ben wasn’t competing at Eastern Creek because his car’s transmission had also suffered terminal damage at Winton.

Although his diff had a cracked casing, he was happy to let Tony have a chance to race.

The unit held up throughout Friday practice and Saturday’s qualifying session, and even though Tony was fourth fastest he ended up on pole position!

The three drivers ahead of him – Kevin Weeks (Lamborghini Gallardo), Greg Crick (Dodge Viper) and David Wall (Porsche 997 Cup) – were given rear-grid penalties for lapping faster than the benchmark time nominated by the GT Championship organisers.

“Maybe I was lucky to be the closest to the target lap time without going below it, but everyone knew what it was before they went onto the track,” Tony said.

Klark qualified the Mosler two positions and 0.095 seconds away from Tony’s Aston Martin.

He wasn’t confident of taking the fight up to the German machine, though.

“My car feels nervous on tight corners – anything more than 90 degrees – and under brakes,” he said.

Race 1
Unlike the previous GT Championship rounds this year, Eastern Creek had two hour-long races instead of a half-hour sprint on the Saturday.

Tony Quinn took advantage of his pole position to take the lead from the rolling start in the first mini-enduro, then steadily opened up a gap over Mark Eddy and Klark Quinn.

But the borrowed differential gave out on lap 10, and the Aston Martin rolled to a halt.

Tony was philosophical about his premature retirement from the race.

“The odds that the diff would last the full distance were never high, but I gave it a shot,” he said.

Meanwhile, Klark had his hands full with a pack of cars swarming behind the nervous Mosler.

One by one they snuck past the seven-litre supercar, although Klark’s usual strategy of making his compulsory 60-second pit stop as late as possible gave him the lead for a short time.

Inevitably he dropped back through the field when he pitted, and at the chequered flag the VIP Petfoods car was seventh, which became sixth after Peter Hackett’s second-placed Mercedes SLS was disqualified for being underweight.

Race 2
As at Winton, Tony’s Saturday DNF left Klark to hold the VIP Petfoods banner solo on Sunday.

There was confusion at the start. Light rain had begun to fall during the parade lap, and Mark Eddy, who occupied the second row alone following the scratching of Kevin Weeks’ Lamborghini, slid off the slippery track.

Klark Quinn and fellow third row starter Dean Grant (Porsche 997 Cup) used common sense and closed the gap to race one winner Greg Crick and second placegetter David Wall on the front row.

The race officials took a dim view of this, but instead of punishing both drivers equally they gave Klark a pitlane drive-through penalty and allowed Dean to continue racing.

As a result, Klark, who had been in fourth place after Peter Hackett’s Mercedes blasted by, was in sixth place by the time he had served his penalty.

Incensed, he set the fastest lap of the race as a ‘dry line’ appeared around the circuit.

The VIP Petfoods Mosler inherited the lead temporarily as Klark left his pit stop until late in the race, but then the rain returned and he was unable to advance higher than fifth by the chequered flag.

The race might have finished but drama hadn’t. On reflection, the officials added 30 seconds to Dean Grant’s (and his co-driver Daniel Gaunt’s) total time.

Although the penalty dropped the Porsche from second to third in the Championship class, it left Klark 7.5 seconds in arrears.

Given that he probably would have been ahead of Daniel Gaunt during the latter stages of the race, it’s arguable that he might have been able to hold off the fast-closing Porsche until the finish.

Klark was understandably aggrieved after the race, but – like Tony Quinn after his questionable penalty at Winton – he decided not to protest the results in the interests of maintaining harmony within the championship.

“Of course I’m disappointed to be penalised for moving up behind the front row cars for the start,” he said.

“Drivers do it in rolling starts everywhere, because it’s impossible to judge where the missing cars would have been.

“If Dean and I were given penalties, then logically the rest of the field should be too because they followed us!

“Then there’s the matter of why I had to do a drive-through and Dean didn’t.

“Either we both should have had to do it, or neither of us. Even if a wrong decision is made, it should be applied equally to everyone involved.”

With three of the seven rounds of the GT Championship completed, Klark still leads but with his margin over second-placed Mark Eddy reduced by four points (see pointscore, below).

“I hope that if I don’t win this year’s championship it isn’t by a few points, because I’d automatically think back to what happened in this race,” Klark said.