Photo: TCR Australia

Bailey Sweeny dominates TCR Australia opener as poleman Brown misses race

HMO Customer Racing’s Bailey Sweeney dominated TCR Australia Race 1 at Symmons Plains Raceway, which had drama before it even began.

Will Brown had gone fastest in qualifying, but a driveshaft issue in his second-generation Audi RS 3 LMS that reared its head during Q2 prevented him from making the start of Saturday’s race and fellow Audi driver Zac Soutar was also unable to race due to a similar issue that had already stopped him from taking part in Q2.

That meant Sweeney lined up alone at the front of the grid, as second-fastest qualifier Josh Buchan had been put to the back due to a turbo boost irregularity, and he maximised the opportunity to hold the lead through lap one and then pull away from the rest of the field.

“Awesome start to the year. mega race,” said Sweeney after taking victory by 7.6491 seconds and getting the extra point for fastest lap, adding “it took the pressure off” that Brown was not present on the grid “so I actually got one of my best starts”.

Aaron Cameron tried passing Sweeney on lap one around the outside of Turn 2, the first braking zone of the lap, but his ambitious move instead led to him going off and falling down to fifth. “It was not in the game plan this year” to make moves like that according to Cameron, who was “pretty disappointed in myself for doing that”.

Reigning champion Tony D’Alberto then slotted into second place and took an “unexpected” podium finish having been “really struggling” with his car during the practice sessions.

Behind him was a trio of Peugeot 308 TCRs, with Kody Garland leading Ben Bargwana and Cameron. They spent lap after lap running in formation, but never got close enough to each other to attempt any passing moves and so Garland held on for his first series podium.

For two thirds of the race there was a queue of four Peugeots, with the Garry Rogers Motorsport-run car of Jordan Cox at the tail of the group, but late on his battle with the Hyundai-driving Buchan for sixth heated up and it meant a gap emerged to the cars ahead.

Buchan made a move down the inside of the hairpin on lap 21 of 30, allowing him to get alongside Cox all the way down the following straight and then giving him the inside line for the penultimate corner.

It was there that he got through for sixth, but then Cox did the exact same move back on Buchan two laps later to reclaim his position. Buchan stuck himself to the rear of Cox on lap 25 but thereon never had enough space on the inside going into the hairpin to safely attempt a move.

At the very end the pair also came under pressure from series debutant Tom Oliphant, the former British Touring Car Championship racer driving a Ashley Seward Motorsport-run Alfa Romeo Guilietta Veloce TRS in his first TCR Australia race.

The second and third races of the weekend take place on Sunday.