The penultimate round of the 2021 Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia 86 Series may have been won by Zach Bates, but a pair of Mount Gambier teenagers stole the show under stormy skies at Sydney Motorsport Park.
In the third and final race of a chaotic weekend of racing alongside the Repco Supercars Championship, Limestone Coast drivers Jobe Stewart and Kai Allen shared the podium after navigating a wet weekend in Sydney.
It was the second visit to the podium in as many events for Allen, while it was a significant breakthrough for Stewart.
The 16-year-old’s previous best finish in his short racing career was ninth at Bathurst last year and in his first event in nine months and away from the Mount Panorama circuit he exceeded all expectations to finish third, directly behind Allen.
Stewart said it was surreal getting the trophy in his hands after an “exhausting” weekend.
“It has probably just sunk in,” he said.
“To do it in what I guess you could call my first year of racing in the series is probably pretty early, so I am super stocked.”
The top three appeared a long way into the distance at the start of the weekend where the best Stewart could manage was 12th after some setup and tyre pressure issues.
Sporting a striking new silver livery after changing camps in the mid-season break, Allen was looking comfortable in position six.
But things all came together for the Blue Lake battlers in qualifying.
Allen survived a hairy moment at the exit of the super-fast turn 1, planting his Norwell Motorplex/Boost Mobile machine in third position, one spot ahead of Stewart.
It meant the pair shared the second row of the grid and Stewart was stunned.
“Even though I had never been to the track before I was feeling pretty confident in the car, but went backwards,” he said.
“After practice dad (Marcus) and Anthony (Contarino) gave the 86 a bit of a tune up and the car was awesome.
“I was very satisfied with the lap and suddenly thought a podium was not far away.”
Despite the unlimited potential from starting from the front row, the opening laps did not quite go to plan for the youngsters.
It was a start to forget for Allen, who crawled off the line and dropped back to 14th before the first heavy braking zone.
The young gun racing with the support of former Holden Racing Team and Big Kev pilot Paul Morris, eventually fixed the problem and crossed the line 12th.
Allen’s misfortune was Stewart’s gain as the latter seized on the final step of the podium and was determined not to let it go.
However, breathing down his neck was more than 100 Supercars races and six Bathurst podium finishes of experience in Warren Luff, who dived down the inside at turn 2 and Stewart had no answer.
Stewart then found himself locked in a stunning four-car battle for fourth which included door-to-door racing around Corporate Hill.
Some impressive straight-line speed eventually helped the Mount Gambier drive take the chequered flag in sixth place, a result he took with open arms after the challenging 10 laps.
“It was a pretty crazy race,” Stewart said.
“All you could do when going three wide humping over the top of the hill was hang on.
“I was a bit disappointed to drop a few positions, but it was still a great result for my first race at SMP.”
After a well-deserved nights rest, the heavens opened on Sunday and Eastern Creek lived up to its name with puddles of water covering the track.
Once racing eventually got under way after a safety car start Stewart fell to ninth, while Allen crept into the top 10 and behind his fellow Mount Gambier driver’s bumper.
As chaos unfolded all over the track the youngsters kept on the black stuff and found themselves dueling for fifth place.
The pair swapped spots multiple times around the sweeping left-handers until Stewart prevailed.
He said battling with his Mount Gambier mate felt just like the go-karting days.
“It was really cool to race side by side with Kai after growing up through my whole motorsport career alongside him,” Stewart said.
“We went side by side through turns 3 and 4 and I just stayed ahead for the rest of the last lap.”
The third and final race of the weekend also started under the lights of the safety car and at the restart Allen made his move around the outside of Stewart at turn 2 to snag third.
Another incident paused the race momentarily before racing resumed where Stewart made the pass of the weekend.
The #30 driver saw an opening on the outside of turn 4 and despite Lachlan Gibbons’ best efforts to force him off, Stewart hung tough on the paint to claim the inside line for the following left-hander.
The 16-year-old made the move stick on the exit of turn 5 which proved critical as a heavy crash brought the race to an early finish shortly after with Allen and Stewart finishing second and third respectively behind Bates.
Stewart had never raced in the wet before and said the ordeal was an eye opener.
“It was pretty hard because it was my first ever wet race and you could not see a thing with the spray blocking the windscreen,” he said.
“Going through turn 1 I was just trying to go off other drivers brake lights because you could not see your usual braking markers.”
The achievement speaks volumes of the Limestone Coast pair’s talent to not only keep the car on the road, but outrace the almost the entire field in the same conditions Supercars deemed were too dangerous later the same afternoon.