Sandown 500 Champions lead TCM ranks into Melbourne
By Touring Car Masters
The fifth round of the 2014 ENZED Touring Car Masters Series will return some of the most successful drivers in Sandown 500 history to the scene of their success in Melbourne this weekend.
The Rare Spares Sandown Cup TCM field will feature two former winners of the traditional Bathurst 'warm-up', plus several who have tasted front-running success at the track during their Australian Touring Car Championship careers.
Long-time TCM rivals John Bowe and Jim Richards return to head the field this weekend, with Bowe having won the Sandown 500 classic on three occasions and Richards twice.
Bowe won back-to-back Sandown classics in 1994 and 1995 when driving with Dick Johnson - the pair celebrating the 20th anniversary of their Sandown win this year.
Bowe also won the race again in 2001 when it was run for GT cars for a single year, teaming up with Tom Waring in a Ferrari to grab his third '500' victory.
Richards first won at Sandown in 1985, teaming up with a then-rookie co-driver Tony Longhurst in the iconic JPS BMW 635CSi, before winning again four years later with Mark Skaife in a Nissan Skyline HR31 GTS-R.
Both have had success in TCM competition at the suburban Melbourne venue circuit, however Richards has the upper hand, having won seven races and scored a remarkable 17 podium finishes from 21 TCM Sandown starts.
Richards is the only driver in this year's field to have started every TCM round at Sandown and the circuit is clearly a favourite - the reigning TCM champion having also scored three pole positions at the venue.
Remarkably, Richards has scored at least one race podium finish in each of TCM's seven visits to Sandown since 2007.
Bowe has won four TCM races at Sandown however only has pole position to his credit, scored in 2012.
Chevrolet Camaro driver Andrew Miedecke won the most recent round of the series in Sydney and is another to have fond memories of Sandown's high-speed 3.1km layout in his TCM career.
The Port Macquarie-based driver has four race wins to his credit at the venue - three of them coming during his clean sweep and round victory at the circuit twelve months ago driving the Whiteline Racing Chevrolet Camaro.
Miedecke finished fourth in the 1990 Sandown 500 driving a Mobil 1 Racing Ford Sierra - his best finish in the Sandown classic.
Tasmanian Greg Crick returned to TCM in style at Sydney in August, finishing third in the ProMaster class at Sydney Motorsport Park despite six months out of the hot seat.
Crick scored the first podium finish for a Chrysler product in TCM at Sandown in 2012 - his first year in the car - and backed that up with a second podium finish at the venue later that year.
Crick also has a strong record in the Sandown 500 - having finished second in the 1993 edition driving the iconic Ampol Max 3 Racing Commodore with owner/driver Bob Jones.
The Sandown layout - a driver's favourite - favours car with plenty of horsepower which means Ford fans will be pleased with their chances ahead of the weekend.
XB Falcon Hardtop drivers Keith Kassulke and Kim Jane are both expected to contend for victory this weekend and both have tasted some form of TCM success at the circuit in the past.
Kassulke scored pole position at the circuit last year, his record 1m15.55s lap still standing as the fastest recorded at Sandown in the series.
Jane, meanwhile, returns to the series this weekend having made his TCM debut at Sandown in 2011.
The V8 Ute racer and former NASCAR Champion filled in for Eddie Abelnica at the circuit three years ago and raced his way to the podium by the final race - and returns to the seat of the Melbourne's Cheapest Cars XB this weekend for the final three rounds of the series.
All three TCM classes remain wide open ahead of the final three ENZED TCM rounds this year with the ProSports class the closest following an unpredictable weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park recently.
Chris Stillwell and Sven Burchartz (sharing the No. 6 Ford Mustang this season) lead by just 43 points over William Vining, with the Porsche-driving Ford Performance Racing car-owner Rusty French a further 14 points further back in third.
Mark King (King Springs Camaro) leads Tony Karanfilovski by 113 points in ProAm while John Bowe heads Jim Richards by just 58 markers in the ProMasters category.
Following his win in Sydney, Andrew Miedecke sits third, 106 points from the title lead. The ENZED Touring Car Masters field will tackle three races as part of the Wilson Security Sandown 500 event this weekend, with race one on Saturdayto be broadcast around Australia on 7mate.