Title contenders chasing speed as ‘free for all’ declared

It’s advantage Hyundai after Bailey Sweeny topped both TCR Australia Series practice sessions at the Bathurst International on Friday.

In changeable conditions, the HMO Customer Racing driver led the first practice on a 2:13.670s in his Hyundai i30 N hatchback.

As expected, Peugeot were at the pointy end. Garry Rogers Motorsport driver Dylan O’Keeffe led the charge initially, only 0.771s away from Sweeny all told.

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Josh Buchan in his all-new Hyundai i30 N sedan was third with another Peugeot 308, that of Jordan Cox, in fourth and just under three tenths away.

Championship leader Tony D’Alberto was only ninth in the first practice, ending up 0.923s off the pace in his Honda Civic Type R.

D’Alberto holds a 48-point lead over Cox. A total of 212 points are available at the SpeedSeries season finale.

Will Brown was nowhere to be seen in the first outing. He suffered technical issues with his Audi RS 3 LMS that confined him to the pits.

The second session wasn’t much better, still last, although able to complete six laps.

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Zac Soutar, who sits fourth equal on points with Buchan, struggled. He wound up 14th and 18th in the 19-car field across the two sessions.

In the second practice, Sweeny improved his benchmark to a 2:12.956s.

On the second time of asking, Aaron Cameron was next best in another Garry Rogers Motorsport-run Peugeot.

Jay Hanson improved between sessions from sixth to third for Melbourne Performance Center in his second-generation Audi RS3 LMS.

HMO Customer Racing teammates Josh Buchan and Nathan Morcom completed the top five.

Again, it was a tough session for D’Alberto who was 1.5s off the pace. However, easing his anxiety was primary title combatant Cox, who was 0.8s away from the lead.

Speaking with Wide World of Sports after Friday’s two sessions, Sweeny was optimistic about his chances heading into Saturday despite no clear indication of how the weather will play.

“We were lucky we had two dry sessions and the car is pretty good in the dry,” said Sweeny.

“Up the front in both of them. Hopefully we’ll keep that going for the rest of the weekend.

“Definitely, coming off our weekend here earlier in the year and the pace we’ve had today, we’re hoping for a dry weekend.

“We’ve been able to have the pace in the dry, so fingers crossed for that.

“We showed good pace in the wet at Sandown too, but it’s just the uncertainty and all the rest of the drama.”

Sweeny isn’t in mathematical contention for the title, though his teammate Buchan is in with a shot.

Asked whether there might be any team orders, he replied, “free for all.”

“Obviously we’re not really in the championship, but if we can get a few positions for ourselves and get a bit further inside the top 10 that would be nice,” he added.

“I think we’ve pretty much racked up the rookie of the year, so that’s also a nice little caveat.”

The TCR Australia Series will be part of a blockbuster card across November 11-13, which will be shown live and ad-free on Stan Sport from 8am on Saturday and Sunday.

The Nine Network will also offer live free-to-air coverage on Saturday afternoon from 3pm on 9Gem.

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