GMS: Back on-track at the Phillip Island Classic
The Phillip Island Classic saw the official return of Gibson Motorsport (GMS) to Australia’s popular historic racing scene, with three entries in the competitive Heritage Touring Car category.
The earliest of these was Carolyn Kruger’s 1986 Group A Nissan Skyline DR30, driven by young gun Luke Ellery. The DR30 was joined by Robert Marshall in his newly-acquired Group A Nissan Skyline HR31, victorious at the 1989 Winton ATCC round, driven by George Fury. Rounding out the GMS team at Phillip Island was touring car legend Mark Skaife, piloting the Nissan Skyline HR31 which assisted Jim Richards on his way to the 1990 Australian Touring Car Championship. Richards, who had recently purchased the Skyline, had another engagement but was happy to hand the keys over to his former team-mate.
With the impressive three-car GMS facility offering a welcoming atmosphere, the GMS engineers were able to prepare the cars for the Island circuit with a minimum of fuss. “Our goal is simple,” explained Paul Beranger, Gibson Motorsport’s Business Development Manager. “Put on a show, and bring three cars home.” Here’s how they fared:
Car: #30 Nissan Skyline DR30 Group A
Entrant: Carolyn Kruger/Melbourne IT Solutions
Driver: Luke Ellery
“This is the car’s first event since an engine rebuild by Pete West and the engineers at GMS,” explained car owner Carolyn Kruger at the start of proceedings.
The DR30 Skyline with its rebuilt, 350bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine ran superbly throughout the weekend, enabling the team to work on setup changes to gain further performance. After qualifying sixth on Friday with a time of 1 minute, 46.86 seconds Luke Ellery piloted the Nissan to a fine fifth overall and fourth in the Group A class for over 3.0-litre cars in the six-lap Race 1 on the Saturday, improving his lap-time to 1 minute 44.8 during the course of the race.
He fared even better in the afternoon, finishing overall runner-up to Mark Skaife in the day’s second six-lapper.
With Skaife predisposed on Sunday morning, Ellery led the field from the front on Sunday morning’s six-lapper, finishing third in class and fourth outright. The main event, an eight-lap feature race on Sunday afternoon, Ellery and the DR30 again finished fourth overall and in class, behind much newer machinery.
“It’s been a privilege to drive Carolyn’s car this weekend. We had strong pace all weekend, but also vital reliability which allowed us to develop the setup for future races with the GMS crew,” explained Ellery. “To mix it with the Sierra RS500s and the Skyline GT-R of Rod Markland, and to actually lead the field in Race 3, made it a weekend to remember.”
Car: #3 Nissan Skyline HR31 Group A
Entrant: Rob Marshall/Gibson Motorsport
Driver: Robert Marshall
The Phillip Island Classic was Robert Marshall’s first event in the Skyline HR31, and it’s fair to say he had an action-packed weekend. After a shakedown at Calder, Marshall arrived at the Island full of admiration for the car and its level of preparation. “It’s a lovely thing to drive, and everything works as it should,” he explained.
As familiarity grew, so the Number 3 car’s lap-times came down, from a 1 minute 51.7 in Friday morning’s first qualifying to an afternoon lap of 1 minute 48.7- an improvement of three seconds which netted 11th place on the grid.
Saturday provided a challenge, Marshall finishing ninth in class in Race 1 before a spin on lap three of Race 2 resulted in a DNF. “The car’s still great, I’ve just got to keep it on the road!” he exclaimed.
Sunday morning saw another spin at the hairpin, however Marshall managed to set his fastest lap of the weekend with a 1 minute 47.2 on his way to eighth in class. The feature race on Sunday afternoon gave the Marshall Skyline its best result of the weekend, with fifth in class and seventh outright.
Car: #2 Nissan Skyline HR31 Group A
Entrant: Jim Richards/Gibson Motorsport
Driver: Mark Skaife
“When Fred (Gibson) called to ask if I could drive Jimmy’s car at Phillip Island, I leapt at the opportunity.” So said Mark Skaife after driving back through the field in Sunday’s feature race, where he finished second to Terry Lawlor’s Ford Sierra RS500 by only three-hundredths of a second.
“I remember now why those Sierras are so hard to beat,” he laughed. “They are so quick in a straight line!”
Rewind to Friday qualifying, where Skaife put the Number 2 HR31 on pole position with a 1 minute, 40.6 lap-time; some two seconds faster than Carey McMahon in another Nissan Skyline HR31.
Skaife promptly won both races on Saturday with the 400-plus bhp GMS Nissan Skyline, before a prior commitment saw him miss Sunday morning’s six-lap race. As per the rules, Skaife had to start at the rear of the grid for the finale.
For eight laps the crowds were enthralled as the five-time ATCC champion and six-time Bathurst winner burst through the 30-car field, recording fastest category lap-time for the weekend with a 1 minute, 40.2 second circuit.
Skaife dived into the last corner, drawing alongside Lawlor’s Sierra which just held off the Number 2 Skyline.
After a weekend of fraught racing on-track, Gibson Motorsport was pleased with the reliability and speed of the squad, and now looks forward to continuing its historic racing program over the coming years.
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