‘Speechless’ debut winner triumphs against the odds

In a chaotic close to the season, Tony D’Alberto just clung on to win the TCR Australia Series by a mere two points in the most frantic of finishes.

Despite coming into the SpeedSeries season finale with the points lead, D’Alberto knew he had an uphill battle in his Honda Civic Type R that was ill-suited to Mount Panorama.

Hot on his heel was Jordan Cox of Garry Rogers Motorsport in the speedy Peugeot 308 and Melbourne Performance Centre’s Will Brown in his Audi RS 3 LMS.

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The lead of the series chopped and changed throughout the final 50-minute affair at the Bathurst International as Brown rose from fifth on the grid to the lead of the race.

D’Alberto, meanwhile, found himself in jeopardy when he fell to a race-low 14th to put Brown in the effective lead of the series.

However, Brown’s hopes were dashed when fellow title combatant Cox encountered trouble and was forced to pit while his teammate Ben Bargwanna suffered a failure of his own, in the end allowing D’Alberto to finish 11th and take the title.

Such was the tight nature of the title race that D’Alberto wasn’t aware of his success until he returned to the pit lane.

“Absolutely speechless,” said the Wall Racing driver.

“We’ve worked so fricken hard and this weekend was ultra tough.

“We had our hands tied with this because this weekend and the boys just kept trying to pump me up right until the end there.

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“I didn’t even know we had it until we stopped in parc ferme. I could see Will grabbing the lead and then getting back to second, I thought ‘oh my god, how have we got to this point?’.

“It is pretty special. I found it very tough, this championship. It’s not a very natural driving style. My engineer has pushed me so hard. We’ve had a few tears along the way.

“I’m really thankful for the team behind me. They’ve just given it absolutely everything to try and get to this point. I’m really proud of this effort.”

Off the start, it was an even getaway from the front-row starters, Bailey Sweeny and Dylan O’Keeffe.

The pair went side-by-side up to Griffins Bend where O’Keeffe braked late, got into the dirty side of the circuit, and promptly nose-dived the wall.

Sweeny, who nearly followed him in, fell back to fourth allowing Aaron Cameron, Nathan Morcom and Brown to surge by.

Having made three places off the start, Brown came under pressure from Sweeny, allowing Cameron and Morcom to skip away.

By the fifth lap, D’Alberto had fallen to a dangerously low 13th.

At the head of the field, drama struck on lap six when Morcom got into the back of Cameron. Both cars copped damage, allowing Brown to close in.

Pass on the grass leaves commetators flabbergasted

Brown soon got by Morcom at Forests Elbow on lap six before making a ballsy pass on Cameron on the grass at the fastest point of the circuit.

Smoke soon began emanating from the front right corner of the Cox car, forcing him to pit.

As he fell back and Bargwanna stopped on lap 12, D’Alberto found himself back in the necessary 12th place.

A mistake by Brown at the chase handed a hard-charging Sweeny the lead, although he too would make a mistake and hand Brown the lead back on the last lap.

All told, Brown won the 19-lap affair over HMO Customer Racing drivers Sweeny and Josh Buchan. Further afield, D’Alberto was 11th – with it, securing his first TCR Australia Series.

Ironically, it was one of D’Alberto’s foes who he was egging on to pass Brown in the closing stages of the race.

The pair tangled at the penultimate Sandown round, which resulted in a penalty in between rounds.

“I could see up the straight after the safety car, I was egging Bailey Sweeny on to try and take the victory,” said D’Alberto.

“At Sandown, we weren’t friends, and then in that race I was barracking for him to take the win.

“I was trying everything I could to get in front of [Michael] Clemente, but I just didn’t have enough. I had to rely on a little bit of good luck.”

The 2023 TCR Australia Series gets underway with Race Tasmania at Symmons Plains on February 24-26.

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