Despite menacing clouds overhead, a fast-paced Saturday morning qualifying session in the RYCO 24.7 V8 Utes championship saw the fast times set in practice the day earlier lowered even further. The 2020 champion Paul Manuell asserted his authority with a 1.52.408 lap time to set pole, while Matt Spratt was just a heartbeat back in second. Peter Ward continued his impressive form to claim 3rd, but from there the waters got a little muddied.
Infringements by Simon Ussher and Shane Dias saw them slip grid positions, the stewards ruling that both had slipped a wheel over the blend line coming into straight. That moved Paul Fougere up to 4th ahead of Stu Monteith in 5th. Simon Ussher was 6th; from there it was Greg Kroef, Shane Dias followed by Phil Ross. Things were looking even worse for David ‘Shaggy’ Lowe who seized his engine and ending his weekend and his chances for points.
So with the jockeying of positions on the grid, the stage was set for an action-packed first lap in Race 1 that afternoon. The previous Toyota 86 race had seen wipers on – and numerous offs – as rain began to fall mid- race. Fortunately the V8 gods were smiling as 3.30 rolled around and the clouds rolled away leaving a dry track. Then as the RYCO 24.7 V8 Utes race got underway, late braking by Matt Spratt into turn 1 saw him right behind the tailpipes of Paul Manuell, setting the scene for a classic Holden vs Ford duel. In the drag race down the main straight, Peter Ward was sitting comfortably in 3rd, but the gap back to the rest of the field was growing. Then into the final turn of lap 1, Matt Spratt found his way around Paul Manuell to claim the lead.
It was further back in the field that the drama was unfolding. For lap 2, Peter Ward had a stranglehold on 3rd position but Simon Ussher had other ideas about his starting position, slipping ahead of Stu Monteith and Paul Fougere to snatch 4th, with Shane Dias not far behind. In laps 3 and 4, barely a car length separated Spratt from Manuel, but further back battles were becoming up close and personal. Phil Ross clipped Greg Kroef making a dent in his left front quarter but no impression on his race position.
Whiles the V8 Utes have a category-controlled power output, you wouldn’t know it as the front runners were stretching their lead, leaving the midfield in their wake. Come the final lap, puffs of tyre smoke from the Diggabits Holden were clear smoke signals of the intensity of the battle for first place, as Paul Manuell was trying everything to find a way ahead. But Matt Spratt held his lead – and his nerve – all the way to the final turn and across the finish line to claim a crucial Race 1 win.
Back in the pits, the camaraderie of the V8 category showed its true character, as Phil Ross and Gregg Kroef licked their wounds and laughed off their mid race altercation. Meanwhile the stage is set for an intense reverse-grid Race 2 tomorrow, the event being anything but a Sunday drive.