Ash Walsh has claimed his first Australian GT race win in a thrilling opener at Albert Park for Round 2 of the 2017 CAMS Australian GT Championship.
Starting from second on the grid in the Supabarn Supermarkets Audi R8 LMS, Walsh moved into the lead at the first corner, taking the inside line as Kelvin van der Linde’s Valvoline Audi R8 LMS fended off the fast-starting David Russell-driven JBS Australia Lamborghini R-EX.
The leading trio then engaged in a near race-long battle with little to choose between them until the closing stages.
In the final minutes of the race Russell lost contact with the leading duo, leaving van der Linde to apply intense pressure on the race leader until the chequered flag.
Walsh though resisted, driving an inch perfect race to claim his first Australian GT race win, and the second in as many years at Albert Park for the Supabark Supermarkets squad.
“I had Kelvin in my mirrors the whole race, so I had a lot of pressure form behind,” Walsh said after the nail-biting 11-lap encounter.
“It was just a case of head down and bum up and try and make a gap to the guy behind, but Kelvin was doing a really good job.”
Victory for Walsh came in just his second weekend with the category, the Audi driver believing his background in open-wheelers has allowe dhim to hit the ground running.
“That’s helped a little bit with the learning curve,” Walsh admitted.
“It’s made adjusting to the aero-style of car a little bit easier for me because I understand how you need to drive the car, and the principles behind it.”
The enthralling race saw early contact for Ivan Capelli in the Pirelli/Trofeo Motorsport entry, which saw the Lamborghini Huracan shed much of the front right bodywork.
Despite the damage, the ex-Ferrari F1 driver was able to race the car home to finish 15th, one spot behind Tony Bates’ Moveitnet/AFS Mercedes-AMG GT3, the points leader heading into the weekend.
A captivating battle between Steve Richards of BMW Team SRM, Lewis Williamson in the Tekno Autosports car, and Cam McConville of Timken Zagame Motorsport for seventh place saw the three cars nose to tail for much of the race.
It was a battle that was in the final moments of the 25-minute racewhen Williamson found a way underneath Richards, seizing the inside line at Turn 3 while Richards held on to eighth, narrowly ahead of McConville.
Results from Race 1 carry forward onto the grid for Saturday’s Race 3, meaning Walsh will start from pole position ahead of van der Linde, Russell and Daniel Gaunt who raced the KFC Audi R8 LMS to fourth.
Tomorrow‘s race will see the second driver take to the Albert Park circuit for their first race of the weekend, following a separate qualifying session on Thursday afternoon.
Max Twigg ended that session fastest, claiming his first pole position since 2010 and ending Audi’s record run of consecutive Australian GT Championship pole positions at nine.
The second of the weekend’s four races is scheduled for 10:45 local time on Friday.