GEOFF Emery has won the CAMS Australian GT Championship following a dramatic finale to the 2017 campaign at Sandown Raceway today.
It is Emery’s first Australian GT Championship, a victory made even more special for the Valvoline Jamec-Pem Racing ace after bouncing back from an injury that ruled him out for much of the 2016 campaign.
“From what happened last year to come back and do that this year is fantastic,” said Emery.
“There’s been a lot of tough times trying to come back and get back on the horse again, and a lot of physical challenges, a lot of mental challenges.
“There’s been so much going on in my life to get this all together in my life and to come back.”
Emery shared his car at selected rounds with factory Audi ace, South African Kelvin van der Linde.
“Obviously I’ve had some help from Kelvin along the way, but you’ve still got to drive the other half of it, so it’s fantastic; I’m wrapped.”
Emery entered the weekend with a 28-point deficit to Liam Talbot, but overhauled the Mega Racing Porsche in the penultimate race.
It marked the first time in 2017 that Emery had led the championship, the Audi driver bringing the advantage home in a nail-biting finale to claim the crown.
Four drivers entered the weekend in contention for the Championship, and was whittled down to just two as the weekend progressed: Max Twigg (WM Waste Management Mercedes-AMG GT3) and Ash Walsh (Supabarn Supermarkets Audi R8 LMS) seeing their chances slip away before the final race of the weekend.
It left Emery and Talbot as the only contenders left as the Australian GT Championship battle built to a crescendo in the final race of the season.
Emery won the opening race of the weekend to edge closer to Talbot in the points, before talking the Championship lead for the first time following Race 2.
The Audi driver claimed the opening race in difficult damp conditions, seeing off a late charge from Fraser Ross in the Total Opticoat McLaren 650S GT3.
Traffic late in the race halted Ross’ charge, while Talbot limited the damage to his championship advantage by securing third place.
The intense pressure of the Championship battle forced a mistake from Talbot early in Race 2, the Mega Racing driver spinning at Turn 1 and dropping to the back of the field.
“Naturally, I’m gutted to have gone so close to the Championship, but I believe we have plenty of positives to take from today and the season,” the MEGA Fuels Porsche driver said.
“We were up against it going into the final race after going around in race two, but the Walkinshaw GT3 team showed their experience at this level and had got me back into the frame and ready to go in the final race.
“The car, as ever, was MEGA and we did everything we possibly good to get through the field to give us the best possible track position once the pitstops played out – which we did and from there it was in the lap of the Gods.
The dramatic second race saw Ash Samadi off the road early in the Ah Apartments Audi R8 LMS, drawing the safety car before Talbot also left the road.
At the restart, Mark Griffith headed the race in the Hog’s Breath Café Mercedes-AMG GT3 before eventually succumbing to Ash Walsh.
That saw Walsh move into the race lead, though the win would fall to Tony Quinn in the Darrell Lea McLaren 650S GT3 after a post-race penalty was applied for infringements at the start and restart.
The final race of the season proved a thrilling tug of war affair between Emery and Talbot for the title, though it was Ross in the YNA Autosport McLaren 650S GT3 who claimed the victory in a commanding performance.
Steve Richards took an early lead as Walsh and Talbot made their charges forward, Race 2 winner Tony Quinn heading a four-car train in the midfield which included Emery.
The order was shuffled through the pit stop sequence enough to see Talbot the virtual Australian GT Champion, only for Emery to climb back to fifth at the flag.
With Talbot second behind Ross, and Duvashen Padayachee racing to third, it was enough to see Emery crowned 2017 CAMS Australian GT Champion.
Emery also claimed the overall round victory ahead of the impressive Fraser Ross, with Duvashen Padayachee and Ash Walsh third.
Australian GT now moves on to Round 3 of the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship, the Laser Plumbing & Electrical Hampton Downs 500, on October 27-29.