Chester clean sweeps Round 3 as Branson impresses on debut

Photos: Priceless Images / Riccardo B

Friday Practice

The Victorian contingent of MG Racers headed north, most arriving Thursday afternoon in readiness for a full day of practice on Friday.

There was a list a mile long of vehicle changes and new drivers, former V8 Ute racer Gary Baxter who would pilot Adrian Akhursts MG ZS BTCC car while Akhurst himself returned in the ZT V8 he campaigned during 2017.  Ian Branson was debuting, the long time karting competitor was trying his hand at circuit racing while Glen Coutinho was in an MG F instead of the usual TR6 Triumph.  David Baigent debuted his MG Midget and Jac Cousin from Canberra debuted in the category in his Jaguar E Type V12 Coupe.  Alister Ondarchie made a late change into an MG TF Cup car and a list a mile long of NSW MG Group S competitors also joined the class including Nick and Andrew Sebesfi, Bob Rowntree, Sam Girgis, Geoff Pike, Warren Hotz and more.

An all star line up set out on a sunny circuit, early pace setters Vince Gucciardo (C GT V8) and Philip Chester (B GT V8) were quickly below the 1:50 bracket.  Gary Baxter driving the ex BTCC MG ZS and Adrian Akhurst in the ZT V8 were followed by Simon Elliott (Lotus Elan) in the top 5.   The ZT V8 stopped on circuit at turn 1 after issues with the bonnet latches while early in the second session Rodney Gibb (TF Cup) collected the wall between turn 4 and turn 5 which ended his weekend early on.  The concrete wall braking the front suspension and with no spare front end suspension component Gibb called it.  The session wasn’t restarted, the final practice session saw Sean Herlihy in his MG F come to a halt with gear linkage issues, while Glen Coutinho ended up backing his F into the wall which ended his weekend as well.


Only one change prior to qualifying, Gary Baxter and Adrian Akhurst swapping ZT and ZS, Baxter stepping into the ZT V8.  38 entries was down to 37 starters for Qualifying with Gibb withdrawn now. It was a short session with a chance for 5-6 laps at bet to execute a good time, There was only two people vying for outright pole, Gucciardo and Chester, Gucciardo early on in the session got the top step before the Chester pipped him in the final moments, a 1:44.3 for Chester against a 1:44.8 for Gucciardo.  Gary Baxter impressed immediately in the ZT V8 and went third quickest with a 1:49.6 while Paul Vernall went fourth quickest with a 1:50.6 in his ZR.

The top 10 would be rounded out by Simon Elliott (Lotus Elan 26R), Andrew Sebesfi (Midget), Chris Gidney (ZR), Geoff Pike (MG B), Nick Sebsfi (Midget) and David Anderson (MG B).  Ed Ferguson in his TR7 V8 was fastest Invited British V8 while Sean Herlihy (MGF) and Ian Branson (MGF) qualified 22nd and 23rd outright but 1st and 2nd in Modern 1.  Adrian Akhurst was unable to qualify with an issue with the ZS touring car dropping to 3 cylinders early on.

Vince Gucciardo leads the field in race 1 from Chester, Vernall and Baxter

Race 1

Saturday afternoon’s race saw Gucciardo get the jump, but it only lasted a lap before Chester got into the lead, the two battled for the 8 lap race and although Chester got the fastest lap the two separated by no more than a second the whole way.  Chester taking the opening race by less than a second to Gucciardo.

The rest of the field were closer, Vernall slotted into third on the run to turn 1, Baxter in the ZT looked for a way down the inside but couldn’t make it stick.  The battle heated up as Baxter made a pass into the hairpin on lap 1, Vernall slotting into 4th behind while Elliott and Gidney rounded the top 6.  Noel Bryen in the Group T Bug Eye moved forward and picked off much of the lower top 10, he got by Vernall for 4th before spinning two corners later Infront of Vernall.  Elliott early on bridged a small gap to Gidney before Vernall went off at turn 2, Elliott moved into 4th, Vernall went off again at Turn 2 allowing Gidney by which is how the top 6 would finish. Andrew Sebesfi started 7th and dropped back early but recovered to 7th by the finish, father Nick Sebesfi moved from 10th to 8th while Geoff Pike moved from 11th to 9th in their Group S MG’s.  Keith Ondarchie in the Triumph Stag moved well up the field, after a poor qualifying where he started 36th, Ondarchie moved up to 22nd on the opening lap before picking cars off lap by lap, by mid race he was 15th and by the end of the 8 lap race Ondarchie found himself in 10th and where he had been hoping to be after qualifying.

Victorian Dave Anderson had been best of the Victorians in qualifying in 10th but found himself dropping to 14th by the end of the race, while Noel Bryen retired after his spin early on. Ed Ferguson, Tony Vollebregt and Warren Hotz finished 11th, 12th and 13th after a close battle with Anderson.  The four cars couldn’t be more different, a Midget, a B, a ZR and a TR7 V8 showing the quality of the battles throughout the field in MG Racing.

Paul Vernall impressed with two 3rd placings in the ZR

Darren Souter (MG B) had a new best qualifying result into 13th but in the race found himself swamped by people and dropped down behind Jac Cousin (E Type) in 19th early on, he found himself down in 20th behind Peter Mohacsi (Midget) by the end of the race.  Big mover Trevor Dunford (B GT V8) suffered a struggle for grip in qualifying and had to start 29th, but with a new set of tyres Dunford moved forward into 21st place by the end of the race behind Souter.

The battle for Modern 1 between Ian Branson (MGF) and Sean Herlihy (MGF) heated up, the pair battling hard for 22nd place until mid race when Herlihy tried a move into corporate hill and the two came together.  Branson dropping to 33rd while Herlihy continued, albeit slowly.  The pair finishing 32nd and 29th respectively.  While son Sean had his own issues father Mike (B Roadster) spun at turn 2, after qualifying 33rd he progressed to 30th before his spin, dropping to 33rd by the end of the race.  Greg White (B Roadster) started 30th but after a tough start he dropped to 33rd early on, progressing well over the remaining 7 laps to get into 28th by the end.

Jac Cousin’s beautiful Jaguar E Type Coupe was a stunning addition

Race 2

Sunday morning’s 10 lap race was the Peter Bennett Trophy in honour of Sydneysider Peter Bennett who had campaigned an MG in the 80’s and 90’s prior to building the B GT V8 now owned by Chester.  Bennett made a heartfelt speech during lunch to the MG Racers of how proud of he was of the series, how much he enjoyed seeing MG Racing in Sydney and how much it meant to him to have the race in his honour.  Gary Baxter didn’t make it out of the dummy grid leaving third place vacant on the start. Greg Smith in his B GT and Nick Sebesfi wouldn’t make the start either.

Progressive grids saw 34 cars start, once again Chester got the jump from Gucciardo, the two separated by no more than a second the whole race, Gucciardo tried but traffic once again hampered his attack.  Chester won by .5 of a second after 10 laps.  Chester thanking Bennett and handing his outright trophy to Peter to take home.

Vernall got a good jump from 6th to 3rd by  turn 1 and tacked onto the back of Gucciardo for the opening lap before the V8’s stretched their legs.  Elliott in the Lotus and Gidney in the ZR batteld for 4th, Elliott’s tyres went off and he had to let Gidney past for 4th while he settled for 5th.

After just a lap Bob Rowntree (B Roadster) came to a halt while Ed Ferguson (TR7 V8) would go no further either.  Up front Andrew Sebesfi (Midget) continued in 6th place.  Sean Herlihy had a gear linkage issue in his F while running 20th and came to a stop on lap 4 at the hairpin as Geoff St John-Cox in his TR7 V8 had a gearbox failure later in the same lap while he was up to 12th overall. The next lap Colin Dodds (MG Midget) and Alister Ondarchie (TF Cup) stopped as well.

Noel Bryen was coming back through the field and by mid race he was 11th, he picked his way into 7th by the end of the race behind Andrew Sebesfi.  Tucked behind was Keith Ondarchie (Stag), Vollebregt (ZR) and Hotz (Midget) who were the last to finish on the lead lap in 8th, 9th and 10th respectively.  Sam Girgis started 25th for the second race but made strong progress helped with some attrition, getting by Peter Rose (MG B) and Darren Souter (MG B) to move into 21st by mid race. Late in the race Girgis got by Trevor Dunford (B GT V8), Sue Tahir (TR6) and Barry Pritchett (TR6) he finished up 15th making up 10 spots in 10 laps. Another big mover Greg White (MG B) started 28th and moved his way into 20th by the end of the race ahead of Michael Herlihy.  Ian Branson recovered after a tough opening race in his MG F to finish 22nd behind Herlihy, David Vernall started 25th in his ZR and after a tough start he moved his way forward past Jim Dodd (ZR), David Baigent (Midget), Peter Rose (MG B) and Peter Dunn (MG B) and with the retirements he moved himself up to 23rd by the end of the second race and also setting a new personal best into a 1:59.
Adrian Akhurst made great progress in the ZS Touring Car until a lap and a half from the end he suffered clutch failure.

The trophy race taken out by Phil Chester with Gucciardo 2nd, Vernall 3rd overall in the ZR

Race 3

The final race for the weekend saw a few casualties missing, just 28 cars making it to the start of the finale, 8 laps and once more Chester got the jump from Gucciardo.  The run to turn 1 saw Vernall slot into 3rd from Elliott (Lotus), Bryen (Bug Eye), Vollebregt (ZR) and Gidney (ZR). Gary Baxter started rear of field and moved from 28th to 11th on the opening lap, by the end of the second lap he moved into the top 10 and the chase was on. Greg Smith meanwhile also started at the back and moved into 23rd after the opening lap, the B GT moving up to 19th as David Vernall also enjoyed a strong start into 20th by the second lap. The end of the second lap Greg White spun at the corner and got stuck in the gravel trap causing a safety car.  The safety car giving a few people a change to catch up.

Noel Bryen had an up and down weekend with a best finish of 5th in the final race in the Bug Eye Sprite

On the restart it was Chester, Gucciardo, Vernall, Elliott and Bryen as David Anderson was 10th and got by Volleregt for 9th on the restart, officials deeming the start was just a bit too good and applying a 5 second penalty post race. Baxter moved up into 6th on the restart and set himself sights on a podium place. Baxter got by Bryen on lap 7 and on lap 8 made the pass on Elliott for 4th, the gap to Vernall just two seconds on the final lap and Baxter pushing hard.  Baxter deemed to have used had all four wheels over the exit kerb for turn 5 and also given a 5 second post race penalty.  He wouldn’t get Vernall by the chequered flag crossing in 4th but pushed to 6th after the penalty behind Elliott and Bryen.

Keith Ondarchie crossed in 7th ahead of Gidney, Vollebregt and Anderson rounding out the top 10.
Gucciardo had applied the pressure on the restart to Chester and was looking very racey, Chester placing the car where he needed to in order to make it was wide as possible, Gucciardo unable to make a clear pass and having to settle for second as Chester took a clean sweep.

Peter Mohacsi (Midget) ran 11th from Tahir (TR6) and Jac Cousin (E Type) who were all separated by just two seconds while just behind Pritchett (TR6), Smith (B GT) and Alister Ondarchie (TF Cup) were battling together and lapping identically, Darren Souter watching closely in 17th.  Mike Herlihy (MG B), David Vernall (ZR), Peter Rose (MG B) and Sean Herlihy (MG F) were the next group and rounding out the top 20.  The field rounded out by Peter Dunn (MG B), David Baigent (MG Midget), James Dodd (ZR), Ian Branson (MG F) and a recovering Greg White (MG B) a lap down.

The field battle was exciting as MG B’s from Victoria and NSW battled it out