Earlier in the month Chris Alajajian and Paul Stokell jetted over to Madrid to represent Australia in the Spanish MINI Challenge. The racing took place at the Jarama circuit and there was a three race format; two sprint races on the Saturday and a 50 minute race on Sunday. The results were encouraging, but ultimately disappointing.
Current Australian MINI Challenge series leader Chris Alajajian managed an impressive fourth place in the first race. In the second race Stokell qualified sixth and despite a good start his car suffered minor damage, including a punctured tyre, after being hit from behind. Time in the pits replacing the tyre was costly and he lost a lap on the leaders and finished in 19th place.
The guys had shown they had the pace to mix it with the front runners, so maybe the Sunday race, which included a compulsory driver change, would bring better luck. Sadly this wasn’t the case.
Stokell started the race from 11th on the grid and was making good progress until he was t-boned by a “kamikaze” move from one of the younger competitors in the field. Worse was to come when Stokell received a black flag costing Team Australia valuable time. Things didn’t improve when the team’s scheduled driver change had to be delayed due a Safety Car period. This left Alajajian with just a few laps of racing and in the end Team Australia came home in 11th place.
Regardless of the misfortune during the racing Ted Toleman, MINI Challenge Australia Category Manager, felt the experience was a positive one and hopes there is more overseas action to come, “Despite mixed results both Paul and Chris did a fantastic job representing Australia in the Spanish version of MINI Challenge racing.
“The assistance and help given to our drivers by MINI Challenge Spain personnel was superb and we thank them for supporting the guys on this great opportunity. The experience gained by both drivers in the left-hand-drive R56 and on a world renowned racetrack is truly invaluable and I look forward to further events overseas.”
MINI Challenge Australia action returns at the Townsville 400 on 9â€“11 July.
Mixed Bag From Madrid As â€œTeam Australiaâ€ Return Downunder
Paul Stokell and Chris Alajajian return to Australia tomorrow with mixed emotions after experiencing their first taste of European MINI Challenge racing over the weekend in Madrid as a prize for finishing 1-2 in last yearâ€™s Australian series.
Alajajian took Aussie-contingent honours finishing fourth in his race, while it was not all smiles for team-mate Stokell who was plagued by racing incidents to finish 19th after qualifying sixth for his race on Saturday.
After a sharp start off the grid Stokell was hit hard from behind at turn 1 resulting in a rear puncture and bent wheel alignment. The â€œTeam Australiaâ€ driver pitted to change the damaged tyre but lost a lap in the process and was classified 19th for the race.
This saw Alajajian step up to the plate Sunday morning starting from P8 and the current Hertz MINI Challenge â€“ delivered by Pizza Capers Series Leader did not disappoint, racing through the field to finish fourth, holding off three charging drivers nipping at his heals.
The big test came Sunday afternoon as the â€œTeam Australiaâ€ pair geared-up for the 50 minute endurance race with one driver change.
Stokell began proceedings from 11th on the grid and was off to a fantastic start progressing through the pack until disaster struck on lap 2. Last yearâ€™s champion was T-boned by an ambitious young Spaniard and, too his amazement was, was handed a Black Flag drive-through penalty by track officials, which he reluctantly served.
The DecoRug driver pushed on only to luck out again when the safety car was deployed – as a result of a large accident – on the exact lap â€œTeam Australiaâ€ had scheduled their mandatory pit stop/driver change. Under the rules Stokell could not pit for his driver change with the safety car on-track.
After several laps under safety car Stokell was finally away and, at the restart, pulled in for a perfect driver change with Alajajian but this left the young Sydney-based driver with just a few laps left to race. â€œThe Chrisâ€ did a good job to pull back a couple of positions as the pair finished 11th overall for the dual-driver race.
Despite the long haul, unlucky incidents and lack of testing and car set-up time at the Jarama circuit both Stokell and Alajajian proved to the Europeans that Australia can mix it with the best of them. After finishing fourth in Race 2 Alajajian was still complaining of understeer and a lack of confidence in the set-up of the car, suggesting the former A1GP driver had a lot left in the tank given more time in the left-hand-drive MINI R56 Challenge car.
â€œTeam Australiaâ€ was serviced by Spanish team Drivex and overseen by Rex Keen â€“ Stokellâ€™s former Sherrin Motorsport Cup Car race engineer who flew down from the UK to be part of the experience. Both drivers enjoyed their time immensely and take back to Australia invaluable, international racing experience for their efforts in the Australian MINI Challenge series.
MINI Challenge â€œTeam Australiaâ€ Driver Paul Stokell said:
â€œI had a good start in Race 1 but was punted from the rear â€˜hardâ€™ at turn 1 resulting in a cut tyre and bent wheel alignment as well as some frontal damage from being pushed into the car in front. This was disappointing but â€œThe Chrisâ€ had a fantastic Race 2 which put us 11th on the grid for the big 50 minute race. I started the â€œrolling startâ€ and quickly made some progress despite a few bumps and grinds! On lap two a young Spaniard pulled a kamikaze move and ploughed into my driverâ€™s side door but we managed to press on. To my amazement the next lap I received a Black Flag drive through penalty! Not happy but reluctantly served the penalty. Two massive crashes within two laps brought out the safety car on the exact lap we had scheduled our pit stop driver change. Under the rules I couldnâ€™t pit under the safety car so many laps were spent behind while we lost a lap to the leaders. Finally I was permitted to overtake and catch up the lap. At the restart a quick stop to change driver went perfectly but left Chris with only a few laps of the race! The team – Drivex, MINI Spain and the MINI Challenge organisers were all very friendly and helpful and while weâ€™re disappointed in the result it was a great prize and a great experience which both Chris and I have learnt a lot from.â€
MINI Challenge â€“ Australia Category Manager Ted Toleman said:
â€œDespite mixed results both Paul and Chris did a fantastic job representing Australia in the Spanish version of MINI Challenge racing. The assistance and help given to our drivers by MINI Challenge Spain personnel was superb and we thank them for supporting the guys on this great opportunity. The experience gained by both drivers in the left-hand-drive R56 and on a world renowned racetrack is truly invaluable and I look forward to further events overseas.â€