Saturday, Sep 21 03:50pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Néstor Girolami wins on TCR Australia debut at Sandown

World Touring Car Cup regular Néstor Girolami has dominated Race 1 of the carsales TCR Australia Series at Sandown Raceway.


Heavy showers soaked the circuit just an hour before the race got underway, but by the time the lights went out there were only a few damp spots to speak about.


On pole was Girolami of Argentina for Wall Racing. Alongside him saw Andre Heimgartner, giving the front row a truly international flavour.


After was what a strong qualifying performance for Kelly Racing, the Kiwi was slow away and intermediately fell down the order. Both Will Brown and John Martin blew by Heimgartner to trail Girolami into the first turn.


As the cars approached Turn 2 there was contact between Jason Bright and Jordan Cox. Heimgartner got into Cox too, which baulked him and by Turn 5 was down towards the back end of the top 10.


At the end of Lap 1 the race leader Girolami in his Honda Civic Type R came under pressure from Brown. Honda ace Martin wasn’t too far behind either and there was soon a three-way battle for the lead.  


Early hard charger Brown in his Hyundai i30 N sought to go around the outside of Girolami at Turn 1, but the young Australian went wide and fell into the clutches of Martin. That gave Girolami a reprieve who built a margin that he never gave back.


A strong run on approach to Dandenong Road allowed Martin to make a move on Brown and take second place away. That made it a Honda one-two with several car lengths between them.


Further afield, Jordan Cox in the Alfa Romeo Giuliette Veloce got the better of Jason Bright while Garth Tander managed to usurp James Moffat.


Come Lap 5 it was Girolami who led Martin, Brown, Cox and Bright. Tander was sixth, Moffat seventh, Tony D’Alberto eighth, Heimgartner ninth and Byrce Fullwood the last of the top 10 runners.


There was drama for Heimgartner on his sixth lap when he slowed out of Turn 3. He returned to the pit lane and was forced to retire with mechanical issues.


By Lap 9 Jordan Cox managed to make his way past Brown for third. However, his time spent in the top two was short lived. Cox got loose into Turn 1 a lap later and Brown blew by.


All while that was happening, touring car veteran Garth Tander in an Audi RS 3 LMS caught the lead pack in what had become a four-way battle.


Back up to third having past Cox, Brown sent it down the inside of Martin into Turn 1 on Lap 12 and streaked away. Cox was clearly quick and pushed to get his way past Martin too. The final stanza of the race saw Girolami and Brown edge away while Martin fought to keep his place on the podium.


Cox finally got the place on Lap 17 when Martin lost the rear into Turn 1. That opened the door up for Tander who took fourth place at Turn 2, but Martin slid his car into Turn 4 to get back in front. Side-by-side the racing veterans went, Martin fought hard but it was Tander who eventually prevailed.


Ultimately, Girolami couldn’t be caught. Brown brought the gap down to 2.2 seconds to claim second while Cox claimed the final place on the podium in third.


Tander and Martin completed the top five while Liam McAdam pushed through for sixth. James Moffat was seventh, Dylan O’Keeffe only eighth, Aaron Cameron ninth and Nathan Morco tenth.