THE CONTENDERS: Nathan Herne
THE VHT S5000 Australian Drivers’ Championship will go down to the wire at Sydney Motorsport Park on May 1-2, with Australia’s Champion Driver to be awarded the Gold Star for the 59th time.
While three drivers – Joey Mawson, Tim Macrow and Thomas Randle – are the three most realistic options to lift the title, the unpredictable nature of this year’s four-round series means there are actually six drivers still in contention.
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As we count down to the final round, here’s a rundown of the six drivers vying to become ‘Australia’s Champion Driver’ and claim the Gold Star award next weekend, instantly joining a list of Australian motor racing legends in the process.
When most people reflect on Nathan Herne’s impressive debut S5000 season they’re most likely to think of his spectacular aerobatics at Phillip Island.
After a stunning start, Herne’s Team Valvoline GRM entry made contact with Thomas Randle’s car in front and was launched into the air before landing heavily.
However, the 18-year-old has had a thoroughly impressive rookie season in wings-and-slicks racing and while the Phillip Island crash will be the most replayed moment of the year – and probably hurt his title chances – there’s been much more to his season than just that one spectacular moment.
Herne qualified fourth in Tasmania for the season opener and though he failed to finish the first heat, he rebounded strongly in the second to finish third and stake his claim as the ‘rookie’ to beat this year.
He backed that up with a canny third in the feature race, avoiding the chaos when Golding and Mawson clashed in front of him at the hairpin not far from home to pick up two spots and a trophy.
Fourth again on the grid at Phillip Island, finishes of third and fourth in the two heats, respectively, were solid and put him in a good position to contend in the feature before the aforementioned crash ended his chances.
Sandown, however, was an impressive return just a week later.
Despite qualifying fourth again (he is the only driver to qualify in the same position for the three rounds contested so far) he charged to second in heat one and held fourth in heat two, putting himself in a strong position for the main race where he finished an impressive second.
It was a fuss-free drive from the teenager who proved he belonged at the front of the competitive Gold Star field.
Despite the fact he is one of only a few drivers to not win a race in S5000s inaugural season, Herne’s impressive performances have been one of the best storylines this year.
They’re made even more impressive by the fact he has routinely jumped straight into his Rogers AF01/V8 chassis directly after racing at the front of the competitive National TransAm series pack moments before aboard his Valvoline-backed Dodge.
That versatility is true to many previous Gold Star heroes who have raced ‘wings and slicks’ cars alongside existing tin-top endeavours and succeeded in both.
Though he remains a long shot for the title, some 89 points behind leader Mawson, Herne’s raw speed will have him convinced that if he can’t win the title overall, stealing a podium position from one of those drivers in the top three will absolutely be a gettable result when the series rolls into Sydney this week.
NATHAN HERNE (TEAM VALVOLINE GRM)
POINTS: 216 (4th)
WINS: 0 (best 2rd)
TOP 3: 5
POLES: 0 (Best 4th)
FRONT ROW: 0 (Best 4th)