Stewart battles past Bathurst bruises

Young Limestone Coast racer Jobe Stewart left the iconic Mount Panorama with plenty to ponder after a character-building weekend in the opening round of the 2021 Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia 86 Series. Results of DNF, 20th and 14th may not make headlines, but Stewart displayed many encouraging signs across a dramatic weekend at the nation’s most historic and unforgiving circuit.

After a long four months between race meetings, Stewart was forced to wait even longer from jumping in his car after heavy fog cancelled the first practice session. Despite the delayed start, the 16-year-old showed good pace to record the eighth fastest time in the only practice session and said it was a good feeling hitting the ground running.

“It was great to get back in the car because I had not been to any tracks since Bathurst last year,” Stewart said. “Straight away everything came back to me from last year and I felt confident.” Unfortunately, Stewart could not replicate his speed in qualifying and only managed 16th after battling mixed conditions and a couple of scary moments across the top of the mountain.

Stewart had made a positive start in the first race on Saturday and was running in 15th position with one lap to go before disaster struck. “It was tough to pass, but we maintained position and things were going okay,” he said. “Brad Vaughan was in front of me on the outside going into the chase and he made contact with someone else which created an ABS failure, so coming into the last corner he had no brakes and went straight into me.

“It all happened pretty fast and it was a big shock, I did not expect the first hit and I thought ‘what is going on here’ and then before I knew it I was straight into the wall.” Stewart’s first major incident in a race meant he started at the rear of the grid for the second sprint on Sunday.

However, the setback only fuelled the youngster with more motivation and he charged through the 30-car field to finish 20th after six busy laps. The third and final six-lap heat was heavily interrupted by some “scary” incidents which Stewart was lucky to avoid.

After a final-lap sprint to the chequered flag, Stewart came home a respectable 14th. Gaining 16 positions in two safety car shortened race in a competitive field boasting names such as former Supercars stars Chris Pither and Warren Luff was a fine effort from the Erebus Academy driver, who took a lot out from his weekend.

“I learned even though it was not a great start to the racing, you need to stay calm and focused to move up as best as you can,” Stewart said. “Being so far at the back, I learned more about how the car handles when going for passes and how the car reacts to more speed or different lines where I passed people.”

Stewart and the rest of the Toyota 86 Series field has a two month break before the season resumes at Winton on Saturday, May 29.

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