Youngsters tackle Townsville streets

The streets of Townsville came alive last weekend for the annual Supercars round where Mount Gambier young guns Jobe Stewart and Kai Allen also hit the track in the support categories.

The pair experienced mixed fortunes under the sunny skies at the 2.86km Reid Park circuit.

Driving in the Super 2 and 3 development series below the main game, Allen continued to turn heads on board his Eggleston Motorsport Holden VE Commodore.

Back at the scene where his car racing career started with a podium in a Toyota 86 12 months ago, the 17-year-old showcased his skill once again by claiming a third successive round win in gutsy style to strengthen his championship lead.

Allen’s machine rolled out of the truck with hot pace, setting the fastest times in both practice sessions.

He was an untouchable figure, being half a second clear of his rivals and this helped him edge out rival Brad Vaughan to take pole position with a 1:15.16 in an exciting qualifying session.

The duel for pole set the scene for a grandstand battle between the pair in the opening race.

Allen got the jump off the line, but any momentum was stifled by an opening-lap safety car.

Once racing resumed, Vaughan made his move with a nice switch-back manoeuvre at turn 2, which was enough for the Ford driver to steal the lead seconds before the safety car returned for another incident.

The two interruptions meant a nine-lap sprint to the finish decided the opener and Allen hounded the bumper of his rival.

The Blue Lake driver showed his nose on the exit of turn 2, but could not find a way past after their thrilling fight for the Super3 lead was spoiled by some feisty Super2 cars.

Determined to make up for finishing second best in the opener, Allen pushed his Holden to the limit on Sunday and the risks paid off.

He set the Reid Park streets alight by becoming the only Super3 driver to dip below a 1:15.00 lap time.

No one could compete with Allen’s scorching pace, with Saturday’s winner Vaughan forced to settle for second being a distant eight tenths off pole.

Despite the crazy lap time, the job was far from complete as Allen had to steer his way through a crazy second and final race of the weekend.

The wheels were hardly given a chance to spin when the chaos started with two Super2 front runners tangling on the start line.

Fortunately for Allen, he was able to avoid the silliness and move up five positions to mix it with the some of the top drivers in the more competitive Super2 field, which was part of the same loaded grid.

But after another big shunt brought out the safety car once again, the Eggleston Motorsport driver had a big fight on his hands with Super3 rivals Vaughan and Blake Fardell breathing down his neck.

The sprint to the finish was nail-biting stuff, but Allen showed nerves of steel with his defending skills forcing Vaughan to make a costly mistake, spinning off the track at the fast turn 5.

Allen then had to get his elbows out to withstand Fardell, but stayed in front to secure an important round win and increase his championship lead up to 93 points.

Allen’s chassis was also driven to victory by Jamie Whincup at Townsville back in 2010 and the Blue Lake driver said it was nice to add to the car’s history in his first attempt handling the V8 beast at the Queensland circuit.

“It was my first-time driving a Supercar around the streets of Townsville, so it was good to get in the car and go racing,” he said.

“The team tuned the car up really well and it was a positive weekend.”

After missing the Townsville round last year, Stewart was keen to get stuck into the action and make an impact in his first appearance at the Queensland circuit.

But it turned out to be a character-building weekend for the Erebus Academy teenager.

It was all looking promising early with Stewart adapting to the free-flowing street circuit quickly and mixing it with the best in the practice sessions.

He had no trouble pushing the limits, brushing the wall at one point, but this did not stop him from throwing car into position three in qualifying.

After being just 0.06 seconds away from pole position, Stewart said he was extremely pleased with how he launched into the weekend.

“It was a tough track with the kerbs and walls close to you, but because it is such a short lap, it was much easier to learn,” he said.

“The hardest part was hitting the kerbs right through the two chicanes and missing the walls and grass.

“I was eighth in practice 1 which we were pretty happy with and knew we had a little bit left in the bag for qualifying.

“So to qualify third at a track I had never been at before was awesome.”

Buoyed from a strong qualifying performance, Stewart was eyeing a podium, but was a bit too eager on the grid with some wheel spin dropping him back in the pack.

But the Blue Lake teenager put his head down and made some daring moves to reclaim a strong fourth position in what was the highlight of the weekend.

“I was pleased with the race, but it could have been a lot better because I messed up the start,” he said.

“I had too much wheel-spin off the start which was just my mistake, so it was good to get some points from there.”

In the second race Stewart was looking set for an even better result.

Driving his #30 machine he gained one position on the opening lap to find himself on track for a podium result.

But his momentum was stalled by an early safety car which was sparked by a five-car pile up further down the pack.

When racing resumed Stewart looked racey and pulled off an impressively deep lunge down the inside of turn 2 to steal second.

But sadly the car could not handle the move and after making it stick, Stewart was reduced to a crawl and could do little else but limp back to the pits with a possible career-best finish dashed.

“I got an even better start and made a move for second at the restart,” he said.

“I put my foot on the clutch and straight away it just would not slide into gear.

“I then heard a bunch of metal-on-metal noises with stuff flying everywhere inside the engine.

“The clutch then stayed to the floor, so I knew it was a gearbox or clutch issue, so there was not much I could do which was just extremely disappointing.”

It was Stewart’s first mechanical retirement of his career which started all the way back in 2020 and could not have arrived at a worse time.

What could have been a fairytale turned into a story of what could have been.

After spending Saturday night repairing the car, Stewart was able to start Sunday’s final race, albeit from the back of the grid.

Despite managing to get his elbows out to make some cool passes and fight his way up to 25th in a safety car affected race, Stewart admitted it was a character-building weekend as his championship campaign took a massive hit.

The teenager said he hoped to learn from the experience to make sure he would be in an even better position to fight when both the Super3 and Toyota 86 championships return next month.

“It was definitely the toughest weekend I have had in racing so far,” he said.

“It was looking like it was going to be a very good weekend, but then we just got unlucky, which sucks.

“You have to have the bad weekends to have good ones. So I learnt a lot, especially racing at the back of the pack.

“It makes hungrier for wins an podiums and I will just have to come back stronger.”

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