GMS drivers shine at Phillip Island Classic
While the Phillip Island Classic saw the triumphant return of Gibson Motorsport to the race-track with a trio of Group A Skylines, the weekend was as much about the drivers as it was the team and cars behind them.
When Jim Richards, having recently acquired his ATCC-Championship winning 1990 HR31 Nissan Skyline, was unable to make the Classic, it was Fred Gibson himself who came up with the idea of contacting Richards’ then-team mate, Mark Skaife, to drive the car in the category for ‘Heritage Touring Cars’.
Skaife, a five-time ATCC winner and six-time Bathurst 1000 winner, won his first touring car title with GMS in 1987, when he won the2.0-litre Championship aboard a Nissan Gazelle. “Having known both Fred and Jim for so long, it was a privilege to run the car for them this weekend,” Skaife explained, shortly after his rousing back of the grid drive to second place in the Sunday finale.
“It’s wonderful to work amongst familiar, friendly faces. This team was essentially the Triple Eight of the 1980s and 1990s and that level of professionalism and talent is still there today.”
Of the historic racing festival itself, Skaife was impressed. “The level of knowledge and passion for these cars is amazing. The atmosphere is more relaxed than you find in the V8 Supercar paddock!”
Asked whether the HR31 feels the same as he remembered, Skaife quickly nodded agreement. “Definitely. It was always a nicely balanced car that looked after its tyres well. After that last race (in which he finished second to Terry Lawlor’s Sierra RS 500 but the width of a Winfield!) I also now remember why the Sierras were so hard to beat…we had them on handling but they are rockets in a straight line!”
Young star Luke Ellery was also in the GMS stable for the weekend, driving Carolyn Kruger’s DR30 Group A Nissan Skyline. A CAMS Rising Star in 2009, Ellery’s background has followed traditional lines, with karting and local Formula Ford before moving to the USF2000 series- an American Champ Car feeder category- where he was victorious at Sebring, 2011 and led in his debut at Indianapolis.
“Through my international program I was fortunate to have Carolyn Kruger and her company Melbourne IT Solutions come on-board as a sponsor. From there the relationship has grown and I have been fortunate to drive Carolyn’s DR30 at several historic Group A/C events.”
“Luke has been great for us,” said Kruger. “Not only does he showcase the car at these events, but he has also mentored my driving so I can enjoy the capabilities of the car too.”
On working with GMS, Ellery is humbled by the experience. “To have Fred Gibson ring up and ask me to race a GMS car is an incredible feeling.”
After some previous issues with reliability, Carolyn entrusted GMS with a full engine rebuild before the Phillip Island event and the result was a reliable weekend which saw Ellery on the podium in Race 1, second to Mark Skaife. “This is the first weekend where we have had no issues with the car, and that enabled us to concentrate on developing its setup,” explained Ellery.
The Phillip Island Classic also saw the debut of Robert Marshall in his recently acquired HR31 Group A Nissan Skyline. Refreshed and managed by GMS, the Skyline offered Robert a new experience when compared to his other mount, a Group N Ford Falcon XY GT. “It’s a credit to the team that the car is so good to drive…it’s just up to me to keep it on the road!” he joked after an early spin on Sunday’s Race 3.
“Both Mark and Luke have been very helpful this weekend,” he continued, and a lap time improvement of over 4.5 seconds through the course of the event showed his improved confidence. “Watching these guys work is a lesson in itself. Me? I’m just happy that the car has four wheels and tyres!
“Compared to the big Falcon, the Skyline’s braking and handling both amazing. I’m looking forward to competing with the Skyline throughout the year.”
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