Commodore Cup: Geoff Emery Back with a bang in Commodore Cup
1/05/2007 at 12:09:21 PM:

Four-time Commodore Cup champion Geoff Emery returned to his home category with a bang, taking overall honours in the opening round of the Empire Trade Exchange Commodore Cup at Oran Park on the weekend. Emery qualified on pole position in his W.A. Freightlines-sponsored TAG Motorsport Commodore and then won two of the three races to win the round and take the early ascendancy in the championship.

Ashley Cooper also impressed, dominating the opening race before finishing third in the other two to take second place for the weekend and his first Commodore Cup podium finish since 2005.

The other podium finisher was Daniel Richert, who made a great debut with his new team Axent Racing. After finishing third in race one, the 26-year-old chased Emery all the way to the chequered flag in the last two races to end up just one point shy of Cooper in the championship.

Tony Bates and Michael Graham both had consistent weekends to be well inside the top five on the points table, Bates doing an outstanding job in his spare car to finish fourth overall.

Regular front-runners Brett Holdsworth and Geoff Fontaine both suffered mechanical problems throughout the weekend, the bumpy Oran Park circuit taking its toll on their machinery.

Several teams face some hard work to bring their cars back up to scratch ahead of the second round of the championship at Phillip Island in a fortnight.

Practice

Ashley Cooper immediately demonstrated his Bathurst pace was no fluke, jumping to the top of the timesheets ahead of Geoff Emery. The two Axent cars of Daniel Richert and Geoff Fontaine were third and fourth, and Michael Graham in fifth was happy with his engine’s improved performance.

Not so happy were Ben Bancroft, Denis Pana and Michael Fairlie, who only completed one lap each in the session due to a vibration (Bancroft), a blown power-steering hose (Pana) and a broken spark plug (Fairlie).

Qualifying

Two 20-minute qualifying sessions were held. The first qualifying session was held just after the Biodiesel Supertruck session, so the track was very greasy. As a result, most teams ran old tyres and focused on fine-tuning their cars for the second session. Emery topped the session by more than half a second from Cooper and Richert, but complained that his car felt “loose”. Ben Bancroft had more bad luck with a clutch failure, and Brett Holdsworth experienced brake problems, only completing three laps in the session.

In the second qualifying session, the majority of drivers improved their lap-times, but positions did not change significantly, with Emery retaining his top spot from Cooper and Richert, and Holdsworth improving to fourth. Denis Pana suffered a blown rocker-cover and retired from the session, which finished several minutes early when Allan Hill speared into the sand at the end of the main straightaway.

Overall, Emery took the bonus championship point for pole position. Cooper, Richert, Holdsworth, Graham and Fontaine made up the top six. Tony Bates did a great job to qualify seventh in his spare car (his regular ride still not repaired after the Bathurst shunt), Adam Lloyd was the best of the VH Commodores in eighth, Ross McGregor was very happy with ninth, and Ben Bancroft made the top 10 in his first complete session for the weekend.

Race 1

There was plenty of action before the race even started, because Denis Pana pulled into the pits at the end of the formation lap with a major exhaust fire under the bonnet of his MPS Security Commodore. The fire was extinguished, but Pana was unable to start the race.

Ashley Cooper made a great start and ran side-by-side with Emery into the first two corners, enabling him to position his car on the inside for turn three and take the lead. Richert then fired down the inside of Emery coming of the Yokohama Bridge, the two cars rubbing panels before Emery recaptured second spot in Suttons Corner.

On lap three, Ben Bancroft received a mechanical blag-flag for what the officials believed to be fluid leaking from the rear of his car. However, when Bancroft pulled into pit-lane, his team found nothing wrong and they sent him back onto the circuit, two laps down. After the race, he was understandably disappointed.

On lap four, Brett Holdsworth, who was running in position four, suffered a snapped Panhard bar, This resulted in a loose rear axle and Holdsworth lost positions to Graham, Bates and Fontaine before he entered pit-lane. Holdsworth rejoined towards the end of the race and slowly completed just enough laps to be classified as a finisher.

Out in front, Ashley Cooper established a four-second margin over Emery, who had more than enough to worry about as Daniel Richert attacked the back of his W.A. Freightlines Commodore. Cooper eased off slightly in the last two laps to take a comfortable victory over Emery and Richert.

“Our car wasn’t quite handling well enough,” Emery said after the race. “We’ll make some changes for the next race and see what happens.”

Michael Graham finished fourth ahead of Tony Bates and Geoff Fontaine, with Adam Lloyd, Ross McGregor, the returning Jason Harewood and Allan Hill rounding out the top 10. A special mention goes to Phillip Menzel, who completed his first ever motor-race in 13th position without incident.

Race 2

Cooper and Emery both made good starts, but Emery got forced wide in the first corner and almost lost a spot to Richert. Graham ran wide in turn three, allowing Bates and Fontaine to fire up the inside. Holdsworth made up five positions on the opening lap, before overtaking both McGregor and Lloyd on the second lap to move up to position seven.

On lap four, Geoff Fontaine hit the kerb on the exit of turn two, causing his Axent Commodore to jump into the air. When it hit the ground, a wire was knocked loose, killing the car’s electrics and causing it to grind to a halt on the exit of turn four. The safety car was deployed while Fontaine’s car was towed to safety. Once he was off the racetrack, he was able to reconnect the loose wire and get back underway, albeit two laps down.

Geoff Emery actually passed Cooper for the lead of the motor-race, but the passing manoeuvre was deemed to have been made after the safety car was deployed, so Emery was instructed to redress the move, allowing Cooper back in front just before the race restarted.

At the restart, Emery made a spectacular move around the outside of Cooper into the high-speed kink at the end of the straight to legitimately take the lead of the race. Adam Lloyd also got a great restart, passing both Graham and Holdsworth to run inside the top five. However, Lloyd’s great run came to a cruel end when he copped a puncture on lap seven, sending him into the gravel trap on the exit of the Dogleg.

Richert passed Cooper for second just before the safety car was deployed. Ultimately, the race finished under safety car conditions, with Emery winning from Richert, Cooper, Bates, a recovering Holdsworth, Graham, McGregor, Harewood and Hill. Ben Bancroft finally had some luck go his way and he came home in 10th. Non-finishers were Lloyd and Fontaine, who was still running at the chequered flag, but did not complete 75% race distance.

Race 3

With two winners from the first two races, the stage was set for a fantastic final race. Emery easily won the start, and set about trying to establish a margin over Richert. The 26-year-old Axent driver wasn’t going to let Emery get away though, sticking to the back of the TAG Motorsport Commodore. The pair pulled away from Ashley Cooper, who was unable to maintain his pace from the opening race. The other Axent Commodore was performing strongly as well, Fontaine easily passing multiple cars to move up to seventh.

Denis Pana’s car was fixed after a superb effort from the MPS Security team, so he was able to start the race. He set about trying to accumulate at least some points from what was otherwise a pretty ordinary weekend, but he was very proud of the team for turning around a smoking wreck and getting it back onto the track.

Over the last couple of laps, the battle really heated up at the front, Richert throwing everything he had at Emery as he tried to take a race win on debut with his new team. Emery had a little more straight-line speed, but Richert was very strong through the technical corners around the back of the circuit, particularly the Dogleg.

In the end, Richert didn’t quite have enough pace to pass Emery, but he still finished a fine second, ahead of Cooper, Holdsworth, Bates, Graham, Fontaine, Lloyd, McGregor and Harewood. Denis Pana spun in turn one on the final lap and finished 15th.

 
 
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