Round three of RaceDepartment's Virtual Stock Car Championship took place at Queensland Raceway last Saturday, and whilst there may have been a familiar face at the top step of the podium, the outcomes from this race could define the championship as we hit the season's halfway mark. Qualifying Queensland Raceway poses somewhat of a dilemma for drivers as they must deal with mostly slow speed corners and long straights followed by heavy braking events. Couple this with vast expanses of dirt runoff and 34 cars all jostling for the same piece of tarmac and you have Queensland Raceway in a nutshell: A place where patience and smoothness is rewarded while over-driving will give you a trip to the barriers. Despite the risks posed by the circuit, it was the familiar pairing of Erhan Jajovski and Matheus Machado who occupied the front row of the grid for Talking Door Racing, with Jajovski taking pole from Machado by just 0.06 seconds with a 1:09.11. Chris Stacey had his best qualifying effort of the season to put his car in third place ahead of Shaun Allan and Jamie Pyatt. Further down the grid, Nick Milton also enjoyed his best qualifying of the season by claiming 25th place with a 1:11.1, just 0.02 seconds ahead of Tobi Kederer. And in a strategic move to try and capitalise on potential early race dramas, David Armstrong elected not to set a lap time, thus starting from the back of the grid. The competitiveness of the field was yet again on display as the top 16 drivers were all separated by one second. Race The lights went out and the top three made good launches. Mike Bell appeared to make the best start of the field as he was able to advance between Tony Binelli and Niranjan Kumar who both started on the row ahead of him. All drivers would make it cleanly through the fast and sweeping turns one and two. Unfortunately for Alex Schmurtz, it came undone at turn three as he had a half spin right in front of Shawn Jacobs who had no where to go and made contact with his rear. Luckily for the Speedy Might driver, Jacobs was able to continue on relatively unimpeded. Up the front and into turn four, Chris Stacey had a scary moment that very nearly saw him lose third place to Shaun Allan, but was able to keep it on track and maintain position as the pair when side-by-side into the final corner. Unfortunately for the aforementioned Jacobs, a debris-induced puncture caused him to run into the gravel at turn four and subsequently limp back to the pits for new tyres. Lap three and the #40 Copenhagen Apex car of Davy Vandevenne was on an absolute charge. Starting sixth, he gained three positions in three laps to put him in podium contention by showing strong pace with aggressive but clean maneuvers. Stacey battled Vandevenne hard as the pair traded places on several occasions, however Vandevenne was too quick and managed to ultimately hold on to third place. It take's two to tango: Davy Vandevenne (right) and Chris Stacey fought incredibly hard for the final podium place. Up the front and the two Talking Door cars of Jajovski and Machado were gapping the chasing pack with clean, battle-free laps. However in a terrible stroke of bad luck on lap seven, Jajovski who was beginning to pull away from his younger team mate suffered a connection issue, forcing him to retire from the race. After a brilliant first lap, Mike Bell of Smile Power Racing was making steady progress in fourth place when on lap nine he took too much of the apex kerb at turn two, destabilising the car and looping him around into the gravel, pushing him down 11 spots into 15th place. The mid-pack battle was beginning to heat up as a sizeable train of cars all jostled for position. Unfortunately for Oli McGown, contact with Fred Locklear at turn two sent him off into the barriers, sustaining heavy damage and relegating him to 31st position. Lap 11 and the battle for second place was raging on as Stacey had a better exit from turn two combined with a little boost to make the pass on Vandevenne successful into turn three. However, Vandevenne played it smart and compromised his entry to T3 to maximise his corner exit speed. This allowed him to make a great move up the inside at turn four to retake the position. On the 12th trip around the Queensland circuit, turn two would claim yet another victim. This time it was Davy Vandevenne who ran too wide on the exit, sending him into a spin and rejoining in sixth place. In a display of good car control, Vandevenne was able to avoid any solid objects and keep the spin going long enough to end up facing the right way to rejoin the track safely, minimising his lost time. Contrasting fortunes: Hinss (foreground) made up many places after a poor qualifying while Vandevenne will be cursing his luck. In the lead, Machado was holding a comfortable gap of six seconds to Stacey in second, however a mistake at turn four meant that he would lose much of that time, allowing the Australian to catch up to just 1.5 seconds. Unfazed, Machado kept his rhythm going and massaged the lead back to a three second gap before the pitstops. A wide variety of strategies took place with some drivers electing to fit all four tyres, some just two, and some chose not to change rubber at all. Jamie Pyatt of APIA Racing and Thomas Hinss of Copenhagen Apex were the last of the front runners to pit on lap 34 meaning that they inherited the lead for one lap as Machado and Stacey emerged behind them. Despite pitting on the same lap, Machado and Stacey took polar opposite strategies, with the Brazilian taking four fresh sets of rubber, while Stacey did not change tyres at all. This saved the Australian a significant amount of time and emerged from the pits having only lost one place to the yet-to-pit Hinss, but crucially ahead of Machado. However, despite emerging from the pitlane with a 25 second deficit to Stacey, Machado's fresh tyres allowed him to impose a serious pace advantage by lapping up to two seconds per lap quicker than Stacey. Unfortunately for Davy Vandevenne, the bad luck he's experienced this season continued to plague him as he was comfortably running in fourth place on lap 49 when he struck a piece of debris on the exit of turn five resulting in a front right puncture. With no grip in the braking zone for the final corner, Vandevenne skidded off into the gravel, eventually hitting the barrier and ending his race with terminal damage. Further back and some distinct 'battle packs' were forming as similarly paced cars were fighting it out. With Vandevenne retiring, a six way fight for fourth place was taking place between Tony Binelli, Thomas Hinss, Tobias Roehner, Brodie Steen, Jamie Pyatt and Shaun Allan. After starting 15th, Thomas Hinss was arguably the star of the race as he made up 11 positions to ultimately challenge Tony Binelli for the first of the non-podium getters. Hinss made the move stick on Lap 57 with some assistance from Binelli and a dose of push-to-pass. Binelli, not wanting to take unnecessary risk, conceded the position to consolidate a fifth place finish. In the lead, Stacey was suffering with heavily worn tyres as a rampant Machado reeled him in at an alarming rate. With just four minutes remaining in the race, Stacey could almost reach out and grab his first ever win, however the pace of Machado was too much. With more grip and more speed, Machado moved back into the lead of the race with relative ease. Down to the wire: Machado (left) overcame the gap to Stacey after the pitstops to retake the lead and ultimately the win. Final Result After 63 grueling laps, the chequered flag fell on Round three of the championship. Matheus Machado won in dramatic fashion and extends his lead in the championship. Chris Stacey brought home his first podium of the season, while Michael Stead enjoyed a good race to finish third. Podium Interviews Matheus Machado | Talking Door Racing - 1st Place Q. Congratulations on taking the win around a tough track, Matheus! I'm sure your teammates have seen better days, but for your own championship hopes, this surely has got to be a massive boost? A. "Thanks! Bad luck can happen to both sides, so it is nice to have some cushion on the championship lead. Best thing is that now I depend only on my results to take it all, but keeping these cars going fast around a racetrack is a challenge by itself!" Q2. After the pitstops, were you ever concerned that you might run out of time trying to chase Stacey down, especially on such a short track where being able to get through lapped traffic is so important? A. "I became especially worried when Stacey started to set some good lap times on worn tires, so if anything went wrong it would have been tough. But traffic was pretty nice and the minor issues I had didn't cost me much time, so I just needed to keep the car on track while going fast, if I had a small excursion off track or a spin it would have been a different story." Chris Stacey | Trident Motorsports - 2nd Place Q. Congratulations on your first podium of the season Chris! You took a bold call on strategy today and it nearly paid dividends. Take us through your race. A. "Yeah it was a very tough race throughout. Going into the race I was planning on not changing tyres just to try and gain a heap of time in the stops, but in those first 10 laps or so when I was fighting hard with Davy, I was worried I was damaging my tyres too much and might not be able to make the strategy work, so I backed off for a bit and waited for him to make a mistake. He's a pretty handy driver so I wasn't confident of it, but to my surprise it actually happened. "Then I was amazed that Erhan was out, so all of a sudden I found myself in second place, so I figured, 'Hey! What have I got to lose?'. Matheus was quicker and only had a few seconds on me, so I took the gamble. The pace was awful when I came out. Worn tyres and a full tank is pretty difficult. I decided not to fight Matheus when he finally did catch me mainly because I really needed a good result, so I settled for second. I would have loved the win, but second will do just fine!" Michael Stead | Independent - 3rd Place Q. Well done on taking third place Michael, your first podium of the season! It looked like you were in a fairly tight battle with Davy for much of the race before he suffered a puncture. Talk us through your race. A. "Thanks! I started further back than I would have liked but it's funny how far luck will take you. I just tried to stay smooth and consistent and as others had their issues I managed to work my way forward. Jamie was the big threat behind me for the first half of the race, but without his boost he couldn't get close enough to pass. After an overly long pit-stop I had to work forward again and this time it was Davy that I had to be weary of as he closed up the gap between us. Unfortunately circumstances beyond his control took him out of the race for the podium. Overall I'm just happy I was able to get to the end without an accident or significant mistake for the first time this season." Championship Standings As we leave Queensland and reach the halfway point of the season, the drivers turn their attention to the upcoming race at Oulton Park. For the drivers Championship, the pace advantage Machado holds over everyone bar Jajovski, means he more-or-less has one hand on the championship trophy. But it's not over until it's over, and simracing is a wildly unpredictable business. Anything can - and will - happen. Stay tuned for all the wash up from Outlon Park in two weeks time!