Max Twigg and Tony D’Alberto won a thrilling Highlands 501 in the WM Waste Management Mercedes-AMG GT3, capping off the 2017 CAMS Australian Endurance Championship in style.
Twigg and D’Alberto emerged as firm contenders early in the race before moving into the lead in the closing stages.
“We’re thrilled,” said Twigg after claiming his maiden Australian Endurance Championship victory.
“We had a win in the sprint series, we’ve had a win in the enduro series now; second last round, first this round!”
“The car had great pace through the stint,” added D’Alberto.
“Max did an awesome job in his stint, and really set us up for the win.
“He put the car at the front, had good lap times, you can’t ask for anything more – I’m really happy.”
They headed home Highlands professional driver Andrew Waite and Tony Quinn in the Darrell Lea McLaren 650S GT3, who battled their way to a solid second place.
Rounding out the podium was Adrian Deitz and Cameron McConville, the Timken Zagame Autosport Lamborghini Huracan enjoying a strong race to end the season on a high.
The action-packed race saw the fate of the championship hang in the balance on multiple occasions, with incidents throughout making for an astounding 501-kilometre encounter.
The early stages saw Mike Whiddett lead after co-driver Shane van Gisbergen proved the fastest on foot in the iconic Le Mans start, holding the advantage before taking a splash of fuel under an early safety car on Lap 8.
It dropped the Darrell Lea McLaren to second behind Peter Hackett in the Autex Eggleston Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3, the pair having been locked in battle prior to taking service.
However, his race came to an early end after a backmarker made contact with the second-place runner, leaving Whiddett in the gravel at the penultimate corner with terminal damage.
From the restart, Hackett controlled the race before handing the car to Dom Storey on Lap 57 with a comfortable 20-second advantage over D’Alberto, who’d taken over from Twigg on the previous lap.
A solid early stint from Tim Miles saw the Valvoline Jamec Pem Racing Audi in strong contention, Jaxon Evans emerging in second place after the compulsory pit stops were completed.
Evans, Storey and D’Alberto then traded fastest laps before a mistake saw the Audi brush the wall entering the Southern Loop.
It proved a championship defining moment, ultimately ending the race for the Miles/Evans combination.
The battle for the race lead then heated up as D’Alberto and Storey ran nose to tail at near lap-record pace, only for a steering issue forcing Storey to slow with six laps remaining.
Swift work from the Eggleston Motorsport crew saw Storey re-join sixth, a result which proved enough to win the 2017 CAMS Australian Endurance Championship (separate release to follow).
Running an alternate strategy, a brilliant stint from Dylan O’Keeffe laid the foundations for the BMW Team SRM M6 GT3, leading for a time before their strategy saw them drop two laps behind the leaders.
The race, however, came back to them, with Steve Richards running fourth once the compulsory pit stops had completed.
An electrical problem forced the car into pit lane on Lap 91, and though the team managed to get it back on track the car was soon a retirement after a promising performance.
Liam Talbot and John Martin were early retirements after contact on the opening lap left the Mega Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R with damaged steering, ending their championship hopes.
Victory for Twigg and D’Alberto was their first in the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship, while second for the #7 Darrell Lea entry meant a Quinn has finished on the podium at every Highlands 101 or 501.
Third place for the Detiz/McConville marked the duos best result together, and both Deitz’s and the Lamborghini Huracan’s first Australian GT podium.
The Highlands 501 rounded out the 2017 CAMS Australian Endurance Championship, with title winners Storey and Hackett set to receive their trophies at a presentation in Melbourne at the end of the month.
MEDIA: Australian GT (Mat Coch)