From Lachaln Mansell:
The 2012 Kumho Tyres Wakefield 300 will go down in history as not just the best Wakefield 300 to date, but possibly one of the best races to ever be held at the Goulburn circuit.
When you have drivers of two completely different types of cars banging doors at 200 kilometres an hour, in appalling weather conditions, all while negotiating much slower traffic, you know that you are watching something special. Indeed, it is the skill of high-speed traffic management that has become a hallmark of some of the world’s most prestigious endurance races, like the Nurburgring and Le Mans 24 Hour.
There were stories everywhere you looked in the Wakefield 300. At the beginning of the race, it looked like the Craig and Adam Burgess Nissan GTR was going to take some beating, until it developed a left-rear control arm failure after 22 laps. Amazingly, the problem occurred in exactly the same place as the gearbox problem that eliminated the car from last year’s event, and Craig Burgess parked the car in the same position, just beyond the pit exit. It was a cruel reminder that speed alone is not enough to win the Wakefield 300.
After that, we were treated to a fascinating battle as David Raddatz and Shane Otten repeatedly swapped positions. Raddatz’s Mazda MX5 was better under brakes and through the corners, but Otten’s V8 RX7 was faster in a straight line. On a couple of occasions, Raddatz briefly took the lead at Turn 10, only for Otten to overtake him on the main straight.
Not far behind the leading duo, Dylan Thomas (Mitsubishi Evo VIII) maintained a sensible and consistent pace, while Nathan Jess (Future Racer) and Michael Shaw (Mitsubishi Evo VIII) also stayed well within the top-five, lapping quickly enough to keep the leaders in sight, but not overdriving and risking silly mistakes.
Back in the pack, there were thrills, spills and safety-cars as drivers found (and in many cases exceeded) the limits of adhesion. Turn 2 proved to be a particularly popular spot to go off the track, with a number of cars becoming beached in the gravel and necessitating safety-car interventions while they were retrieved.
The biggest crash happened just before the half-way mark, when the Geoff Bowles / Jim West and Simon Mitchell / Kim Boyd BMW E30s simultaneously speared into the Armco at Turn 1, prompting a lengthy safety-car intervention.
Strategy proved to be critical in the outcome of the race. Nathan Jess was the first of the front-runners to pit, coming in under Safety Car on Lap 48 to hand the car over to Matthew Thompson. Michael Shaw was in under the next Safety Car period on Lap 58, with Jake Shelley slotting into the driver’s seat.
Conversely, Shane Otten, David Raddatz and Dylan Thomas all stayed out until Lap 87, leaving it until the last minute to hand their respective cars over to Stephen Anslow, Nick Cancian and Dave Thomas. Amazingly, with 40 laps to run and all pit stops complete, all five contenders were still on the lead lap, setting up an amazing grandstand finish.
At the restart, Shelly took the early lead from Thompson. Cancian restarted the race in fifth position but quickly disposed of both Anslow and Thomas, and overtook Thompson a short while later.
With 30 laps to go, it looked like a battle between Cancian and Shelley for the race win and the two youngsters were not leaving anything behind in their quest for a Wakefield 300 victory. Several times, Cancian looked down the inside of Shelley at Turn 10 and each time, Shelley aggressively shut the door.
After a few laps, Cancian became impatient and gave Shelley a few taps. Cancian’s intimidation forced Shelley into a mistake at Turn 2 and Cancian was through to the lead, as Matthew Thompson beached the Future Racer.
It was an unfortunate incident for Thompson and Jess, who had been up the pointy end all weekend after clutch problems in practice, but the recovery process put them two laps down and out of podium contention.
No sooner than Cancian took the lead than the news came through that he and David Raddatz were going to be penalised 90 seconds for overtaking under yellow flag conditions. All of a sudden, Shelley and Shaw were back in the box seat and they cruised home to take an epic Kumho Tyres Wakefield 300 victory.
For Shelley, it was a meteoric rise to prominence after he made his circuit racing debut at last year’s Wakefield 300, while Shaw demonstrated that as well as being super quick in West and Radical sports cars, he can drive a tin-top as well.
The Thomas father-and-son combination came home a well-deserved second, while Raddatz and Cancian still scored a podium finish despite their penalty.
Stephen Anslow and Shane Otten were fourth. The team made the decision for the faster of the two drivers, Otten, to start the race, but his advantage was neutralised by the numerous safety car periods and Anslow simply did not have the pace to contend for victory in the final stint.
Michael Hall and Chris Gough finished an outstanding fifth outright (and first in Division 4), in a Mazda MX5 powered by a stock standard engine. The wet weather worked to their advantage, but their driving prowess elevated the car to a position that exceeded even their expectations.
Jess and Thompson were back in sixth, ahead of Henry Draper and Linda Devlin who solved their Mini’s mechanical woes and picked up the Division 3 win.
Steven Head and Nick Martinenko were eighth in their MX5, ahead of the Torana A9X of Alan Moses and Gareth Stokes. Daniel Kapetanovic and David Krusza made a fine circuit racing debut to round out the top-10.
The winners of Division 5 (11th outright) were Declan and Phil Kirkham in their Ford Fiesta XR4, while Division 6 honours went the way of Mark Morsillo and Elliot Wright, who brought their Triumph TR7 home in 16th place outright.
Notable non-finishers included the Martin / Lachlan Higgins and David Atkin / Tom Browell BMWs and Adam Ronke and Warren Sheehan. The Higgins team made the mistake of qualifying on slick tyres and started the race from the back of the grid. An off-track excursion while trying to make up positions was a further setback, and the car retired on Lap 69.
David Atkin and Tom Browell struggled with setup in the wet weather qualifying session but were making steady progress in the race before the throttle cable broke.
Meanwhile, Ronke and Sheehan’s Nissan Skyline R33 didn’t make the start due to electrical problems, so they slotted into Amin and Matthew Chahda’s AU Falcon which lasted just two laps before it was parked with a clutch failure. It was not a good day for the Chahdas, with their BA Falcon future tourer also retiring with a broken gearbox.
Overall, the 2012 Kumho Tyres Wakefield 300 was an epic race and the telecast on SBS Speedweek and Fox Sports Inside Speed will be compulsory viewing for anyone even slightly interested in motorsport.