Stewart Burns has won the inaugural Australian Formula 1000 championship at Barbagallo Raceway, winning the opening race and finishing on the podium in the next two.
Daniel Gate was the clear winner in two races while championship hopeful Ben Riley struggled for pace all day.
Riley, who entered the final meeting one point behind Burns, took pole position in heavy rain, setting a lap 0.2619s quicker than Gate in second place.
Burns was 13 seconds slower than the pole time after struggling with a clutch slip issue.
Drivers later complained about poor visibility in the rain.
Jez Hammond failed to set a qualifying time, while 2014 regular Bruce Allen was forced to sit out every session without wet tyres.
The cars took to the track for the opening race in rain that series Treasurer Tim Riley later said was the worst he’d seen at Barbagallo Raceway.
Jez Hammond stopped at Turn 6 of the formation lap and start was delayed he was pushed off the track.
As the lights went out, Riley led the three-car field off the line and through Turn 1 while Burns took second place from Gate.
Riley pushed ahead comfortably on the first lap, leading Burns by nearly 2.5s at the line.
He continued to stretch his lead and was three seconds quicker than the chasing pair on lap two.
Three laps later the pendulum swung to Burns and Gate, who closed in on the leader by more than two seconds and one-and-a-half seconds respectively.
Burns pulled away from Gate and moved onto challenging Riley, who quickly fell into his sights.
But a move from Burns wasn’t necessary to take the lead, as Riley slid off the track that lap at the final corner and into the gravel.
The mistake would end his race and put Burns on course for his first F1000 victory.
With Riley out Burns continued ease away from Gate, who went off the next lap at Turn 4 and lost six seconds to the leader.
He crossed the line nearly ten seconds ahead of Gate, extending his championship lead to 26 points with 50 left available in the season.
After the race, Riley blamed himself for his accident.
“I pushed a little bit too hard . . . and went straight into the gravel, which did a bit of damage to the car,” he said.
Hammond again joined Riley, Gate and Burns for the formation lap for Race 2 but was forced to abort the formation lap and enter the pits as the cars came to the grid.
As the lights went out Burns got off the line quickly and jumped from third to first to lead Gate and Riley through the first corner.
Hammond returned to the track after the cars had made it through the first corners.
Burns lead at the end of lap one, with Gate following closely and Riley behind.
A move up the inside at Turn 4 on lap two gave Gate the race lead, who went on to set a lap time more than five seconds quicker than Burns on the next tour.
On the same lap Hammond, who was circulating well behind the main pack, nearly copied Riley’s accident from Race 1, but was able to keep the car on track.
Burns spun at the final corner on lap three after accelerating too heavily in the damp conditions.
This gave Riley a chance at second place.
The two would race to the first corner, with Riley going deep around the outside and emerging ahead at the exit.
They continued to race closely until lap seven.
Riley was able to hold off Burns’ attacks until the final corner on the penultimate lap when a move won him back second place.
With the action taking place behind, Gate continued to extend his lead in front.
He crossed the line more than nine seconds ahead of Burns to record his first Australian Formula 1000 Championship victory.
Riley finished third.
With 25 points available in the final race and a 28 point lead for Burns, he had scored enough to secure the 2014 championship with a race to spare.
Five cars took to the track for the start of Race 3, with Jez Hammond again joining the regular three drivers and Tony Rova making it to the grid for the final race of the year.
By this point the rain had eased for the final race and the track was drying.
With five cars on the grid, Gate lead into Turn 1 after the lights went out.
Burns, Hammond and Riley completed the top four through the first corner, with Rova a distant fifth early on.
Riley re-took third place from Hammond later in the first lap.
Burns stayed close to the race leader through the first laps but began to fall back from lap four, which allowed Riley a chance at taking second place.
Despite running deep at the final corner on lap five, Riley continued to catch the new champion.
The battle between the pair wasn’t as closely fought as in the previous race and Riley took second place at the first corner on lap seven.
Gate crossed the line more than five seconds ahead of Riley, who held off a final-lap comeback from Burns.
Hammond finished fourth, with Rova crossing the line two laps down.
Post-race Burns said he wasn’t certain where he would finish in any of the three races.
“Ben ended up in the sand one race, I could easily have been there and we would’ve been the other way around,” he said.
“Conditions were very changeable and even right to the last race there we were guessing.
“I would’ve preferred it had been dry so we could battle it out in more usual conditions, but it’s good to have the championship and to win our first race.”
Riley, who won the season’s first six races, said he was disappointed to miss out on the championship.
“To be honest [I’m] really disappointed, we came here hoping we could pull ahead in the championship but Stewart raced really well today – I couldn’t compete with him in the wet,” he said.
“We just didn’t have the pace today.
“[The] season was great to begin with. I had an awesome start, the car was getting faster and faster. Unfortunately the last two race meetings had a few dramas . . . which put us behind in the championship and unfortunately today we didn’t quite have the speed.
“Well done Stewart Burns, inaugural champion for the F1000s. Great racing, the last race was a corker.”
FINAL CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
- Stewart Burns – 232 points
- Ben Riley – 206 points
- Daniel Gate – 124 points
- Bruce Allen – 107 points
- Leanne Tander – 70 points
- Adam Proctor – 65 points
- Jez Hammond – 34 points
- Tony Rova – 16 points