Two-time Australian GT Sports champion Mark Griffith came into the opening round of the 2016 Championship with a number of questions marks against his name. Entered for the first time in a current-specification FIA GT3 car, the laconic Queenslander was perhaps not expected to upstage the pre-season favourites, but if there’s one thing you can always expect from Griffith, he loves a challenge..
Griffith and Clipsal don’t enjoy the greatest of relationships, and that situation carried through to qualifying, Griffith pushing too hard in the opening session to make contact with the barriers on the exit of the first chicane, fortunately without significant damage.
“In the first qualifying session I rattled off a time good enough to be just outside the top ten and only a second off a third row start,” Griffith reflected. “In Q2 unfortunately I got caught out on the kerbs and some fluid on the circuit on the fast run through turn one and got fed into the kitty litter. We made repairs and I carried on, but I wasn’t able to improve my position.”
All of that though changed in race one, the Hog’s Breath Café supported driver working his way right through the pack up to the compulsory pit stop [CPS] window where he emerged from the pits in second position. From there the experienced GT campaigner held his ground and continued to punch out competitive laps, keeping some high profile drivers behind him.
As the laps wound down the pack bunched up with Griffith swamped by Tony Walls in the McLaren through turns five and six, but Griffith wasn’t giving up, fighting back to take a position back before former champion Klark Quinn fired through the following lap. The attacks kept coming but the Hog’s Breath Café/Griffith Corporation Mercedes held its ground, Griffith crossing the line in fourth position, just two seconds down on what would have been the AMG GT3s maiden race podium.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Griffith beamed post-race. “The car was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. I still have a lot to learn, and it’s certainly different to anything I’ve driven before, but it’s just an exceptional race car.”
Off the second row for the start of race two, the two-time GT Sports Champion was again in the mix holding station before an early Safety Car for an incident at turn nine. Off the restart he again ran with the leaders before contact after a big lunge by Elliot Barbour in the McLaren at turn four dropped the mighty ‘Hog’ back into the pack.
Sadly an off at turn 11 did little to help his situation. Griffith though regrouped and pressed on but during the course of his battles the water pump belt had become dislodged, the Queenslander spinning on his own fluids at turn 11, fortunately without significant damage, but in one of the most difficult parts of the circuit to rejoin the race, temperatures escalated and he was forced to retire.
“After the contact with Barbour I was a little rattled, but regrouped, however as a result of the contact we had a drama and I spun. The officials waved me forward to get into a position to flick-spin the car, but by that stage the conditions inside the cabin were so invasive that I had to get out, I’d sat there too long.”
Fortunately the damage was easily repairable and the experienced Erebus GT crew had the car ready to go again for the final race, Griffith charging through the pack from the back to be seventh by the chequered flag.
“That was good fun, I really enjoyed the final race and was able to stay out of trouble and just work my way forward. As it turns out, because I didn’t finish race two, I was given an increased CPS penalty as a result of finishing fourth in race one, so had to stop an additional 14-seconds. If you look at my overall race time and took off 14-seconds, I would have been fifth.. from the back of the field, so I’m pretty happy with that.”
For the Griffith Corporation Motorsport team, it’s a quick turnaround for the car ahead of the second round of the championship at Albert Park as part of the opening round of the Formula 1 World Championship season with four 25-minute races scheduled across the March 17-20 event.
“I’m looking forward to the Grand Prix, it’s going to be a great show, and the way things are set up with the CPS times added to the overall race time to declare the result, we’re right in the mix for another strong weekend.
Fortunately damage to the car from Clipsal is only superficial, so the car will go back to the Erebus factory in Melbourne for a tidy up, and we’ll be ready to go next Thursday for the opening session at Albert Park.”