AUSF3: UTE: Sandown 500 preview

History Repeating - Italians Take On The World Again In Clarion Sandown 500 Endurance Race IN 1964, a little Alfa Romeo sedan driven by Dr Roberto Bussinello and Ralph Sach won the inaugural Sandown 500 touring car endurance race. Next Sunday, ...

AUSF3: UTE: Sandown 500 preview

History Repeating - Italians Take On The World Again In Clarion Sandown 500 Endurance Race

IN 1964, a little Alfa Romeo sedan driven by Dr Roberto Bussinello and Ralph Sach won the inaugural Sandown 500 touring car endurance race. Next Sunday, Italian cars again will challenge for the trophy that has become one of the most prestigious in Australian motorsport - and again they will be in a world-class field.

The Clarion Sandown 500 will see Lamborghini and Ferrari race Porsche from Germany, Viper and Corvette from the United States, Brabham-Honda from Japan and many other makes in the 34th running of the 500 kilometre classic.

An impressive line-up of Australia's top drivers will be in action, including past two-time winners John Bowe and Jim Richards, V8 Supercar identities Steven Johnson, Paul Morris, Cameron McConville and Craig Baird, three-time Australian Gold Star Champion Paul Stokell and Porsche stars Peter Fitzgerald and Tony Quinn.

The race will start at 12 midday on Sunday under the eye of Grand Marshal Peter Brock, the most successful driver in Sandown 500 history with nine wins - including seven in succession - to his credit.

Also making a nostalgic return to the Sandown sidelines will be that rare 1.6 litre Alfa Romeo Guilia Super Ti, which vanquished an international field including Mini Cooper, Volkswagen and Nissan works teams, a supercharged Studebaker driven by an Indy 500 winner and two Lotus Cortinas in the hands of relative unknowns Jackie Stewart and Allan Moffat.

The Clarion Sandown 500 and the Budweiser Top Gun Challenge for qualifying on Saturday will be the highlights of a major PROCAR Champ Series meeting featuring more than 80 cars and 100 drivers.

Other events will be rounds of the Megamantis.com Australian Nations Cup Championship, Century Batteries Australian GT Production Car Championship, Poolrite V8 BRute Muster, Australian Formula 3 Championship and Mitsubishi Mirage Series.

The Clarion Sandown 500 field of 40 cars from the Nations Cup and GTP series marks a return to the 500's origins as a test for showroom production-based models.

After a two-year absence from the calendar, the race also resumes its traditional role as curtainraiser to next month's annual Bathurst festival, at which the GTP cars will compete in a two-hour mini-enduro.

"This will be a cracking race," Sandown promoter Jon Davison said. "We have a big entry, fabulous drivers and perhaps the most exotic and diverse field or cars ever assembled for the 500.

"The Clarion Sandown 500 carries on a great Australian motorsport institution and I'm sure Melbourne fans will welcome the 500's return on Sunday in big numbers."

Due to Sandown's operation as a dual-purpose horse and motor racing facility, none of the cars and drivers has tested on the 3.1 km circuit and the odds on a possible race winner are wide open.

Leading contenders include -

Paul Stokell/Steven Johnson/Wayne Park - Lamborghini Diablo SVR
Jim Richards/Tony Quinn - Porsche GT3
John Bowe/Tom Waring - Ferrari 360 Challenge
Paul Morris/John Teulan - Ferrari 360 Challenge
Peter Fitzgerald/Geoff Morgan - Porsche GT3
D'arcy Russell/Darren Palmer - Chrysler Viper
Craig Baird/Steve Beards - Ferrari 360 Challenge
Neal Bates/Steve Webb - Porsche GT3

While the fastest competitors will come from the Nations Cup category for grand touring sports cars, experts agree GTP teams have a shot at the podium as well as several class trophies.

The GTP contingent will feature strong combinations such as Cameron McConville/Peter Floyd (Holden GTS), Wayne Boatwright/Scott Anderson (2001 Subaru WRX STi) and Peter Boylan/Trevor Sheumack/Wayne Nowlan in the first of BMW's latest weapon, the E46 M3 coupe.

Less powerful cars will be favored by a requirement for only three compulsory pit stops, compared with the faster cars' four.

Two-time Sandown champion Dick Johnson's 26-year-old son Steven is fired up for a strong performance in the Lamborghini after taking the Queensland 500 in his Falcon V8 Supercar three weekends ago.

"We have a good team and the Lamborghini is a fantastic machine. We will have to keep up the pace against the Porsches, Ferraris and Viper and look after the car and then just see what happens," Johnson said.

Jim Richards, with two Sandowns and six Bathurst 1000 trophies on his shelf, inevitably rates a chance, especially if Melbourne's fickle weather calls on his renowned wet-track skills. Car owner Tony Quinn is happy just to be sharing the drive with the New Zealand-born legend.

"I don't think there's any sure bet for the race, although you'd have to say the Lamborghini looks strong," Quinn said. "It will come down to the fastest car, the weather and good strategy, but for me, I'm just very happy to be teamed with a driver as talented as Jim."

John Bowe will lead the powerful Ferrari assault for the Prancing Horse Racing team.

PETER BROCK TO BE CLARION SANDOWN 500 GRAND MARSHAL

NINE-time winner Peter Brock will be Grand Marshal at next Sunday's Clarion Sandown 500.

The touring car legend's role will include flagging-off the 40-car field on its way to the grid just before the 12 midday start and waving the chequered flag for the winner after 161 laps of Sandown International Motor Raceway.

Brock is the most successful driver in the history of the event which began in 1964, winning in 1973, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81 and 84.

"The Sandown 500 has a great history as one of Australia's premiere touring car races and the name Brock is synonymous with that history," Sandown promoter Jon Davison said.

"It's an enormous honor to Sandown, to the event organisers PROCAR Australia and to all the competitors that Peter has agreed to this important ceremonial role.

"Peter Brock is an all-time Australian motorsport star and his presence will greatly add to the occasion for his many fans."

Brock also will be at Sandown to watch his son James, who will be among the Holden drivers in round four of the Poolrite V8 BRute Muster series.

The Clarion Sandown 500 - At a Glance

* Clarion Sandown 500, 14-16 September 2001

* Sandown International Motor Raceway, Princes Highway, Springvale, Vic.

* Race starts 12 midday Sunday; duration 500 kms or 161 laps

* Final qualifying 3.10 pm Saturday - Budweiser Top Gun Challenge for fastest 10

* Eligible cars - Nations Cup (grand touring cars), GTP (showroom sedans & coupes)

* Rules - Compulsory pit stops including wheel change, driver change and refuel (Nations Cup & GTP class A, 4 stops; GTP classes B, C, D, 3 stops). Max. 12 tyres.

* Support races Saturday & Sunday, (Rd 6) Megamantis.com Australian Nations Cup Championship, (Rd 6) Century Batteries GT Performance, (Rd 7) Century Batteries GT Production, (Rd 4) Poolrite V8 BRute Muster, Australian Formula 3 Championship, Toyo Mitsubishi Mirage Series

* Ticket prices - Friday free; Saturday adults $20; Sunday adults $30, children 5-15 $10, ute drivers free when accompanied by paying adult; free paddock entry every day

* Further information - Sandown International Motor Raceway (phone 03 9853 7266)

-ProcarAu-

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