Murray Bridge Speedway - Ultimate Sprintcar Championship


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South Australian Mark Caruso is the latest Australian Sprintcar Champion after he claimed a popular win in the 2023 Australian Prosprints Championship at the Murray Machining and Sheds Murray Bridge Speedway on Saturday night. After falling back to third place early in 40 lap final Caruso drove a steady race to put himself into a position to win and with four laps remaining, he pounced on the race long leader Rusty Hickman to claim the biggest win of his Sprintcar career.

With five laps remaining it appeared that Hickman would be victorious but with five laps remaining Hickman jumped the cushion in turn four and that was all Caruso needed as he made the pass for the lead and in the process, he became the sixth South Australian to win the Australian 360 / Prosprints National crown.

“I really don’t know what to say. I’m speechless. We finally got there. When I saw Rusty jump the cushion I though luck is finally on my side and I was just there to take the opportunity. Those last three or four laps were probably the best laps I have ever driven. I just hit my marks, they were just perfect laps. I thought I had second covered no problem but I stayed close enough in case he made a mistake or if there was a chance to get past and sure enough he made a mistake. When I went past that line and saw the chequered flag I thought I finally got one. I think number 1 is going to look pretty good on this car” added Caruso on the podium as he fought back tears of joy.

Understandably Rusty Hickman was shattered on the podium as the runner-up as he struggled to even smile. “Man we had the car to beat and one small mistake cost me. I was running around at about 80% for the whole race just conserving car like it was a Sunday cruise. When that last caution came out I knew that they were now just behind me. If I made that mistake prior to the caution, it wouldn’t have mattered as I had a big lead. I feel I really that one slip” he added.

On the other hand third placed Calllum Williamson was delighted with the result after starting from position ten. “I’m pretty happy about this result after starting so deep in the A-Main. To get through a few cars and end up where we were is pretty good considering on the first night we got tangled up and didn’t get to finish. We just slowly made our way through the field, we ended up having a great dice with Lachy (McHugh) but I managed to get past him after that last restart. This is just a great result for this race team” added Williamson after the main event.

Williamson’s third placing made him the first driver since the introduction of the Australian 360ci / Prosprints Championship in 2004 to record a podium result in both Australian Championships (410ci / Prosprints) in the same season. The result at Murray Bridge mirrored his third placing at the Perth Motorplex in February.

Fourth place went the Lachlan McHugh making it four drivers from different states in the top four while Strathalbyn’s Daniel Pestka drove from position 15 to fifth, and he was also the first LS powered car across the line. The top 10 was completed by Keke Falland, Charles Hunter, Steven Caruso, Paul Soloman and Brenten Farrer. Lisa Walker, David Donegan and Steven Loader were the last drivers officially classified.

Throughout the 40-lap journey there were multiple stoppages with the first major caution occurring on lap 18 as Brendan Quinn, Chad Ely and Ben Morris were all involved in an accident in turn 2. At the time they were racing at the back end of the top 10 with all three drivers retiring. For Ely and the Perrett Racing Team it had been a long weekend as they pieced a new car together for the 2014 Champion overnight after destroying their primary car on night 1.

Ricky Maiolo was another of the leading contenders to bring out the caution as he slammed the wall in turn three on lap 20 while running in sixth but prior to the crash he had been running fourth for a majority of race. The final caution of the race came out for former National Champion Ryan Jones who hit the wall in turn four while he was involved in a titanic battle for the final podium spot with Callum Williamson and Lachlan McHugh. It was this caution that set up a final five lap sprint to the flag to decide the Australian Champion.

Earlier the night got underway with the final round of heats with a top four invert placing the highest drivers in the points chase from night 1 on the second row.

The opening heat of the night saw top point scorer Rusty Hickman charge around the outside groove to lead at the competition of lap one from position four. Hickman went on to win and secured the pole position for the 40-Lap Championship final.

Heat 2 of the night, and heat 8 overall, went the way of Victorian Charles Hunter while Lachlan McHugh claimed his second heat race of the weekend as he drove the Evans Family Motorsport #S77 into victory lane.

The B-Main comprised of 10 drivers battling it out for the final four spots available in the Championship A-main with the South Australian making up for what was a tough night 1 as he made it through along with Victorians David Donegan, Paul Soloman and Steven Loader. Dan Scott and Ben Micallef would be the reserves while the night ended in the last chance qualifier for Queenslanders Nick O’Keefe and Libby Ellis, Broken Hill’s Stacey Galliford and Northern Territorian Ricky Boston.

Photos: Savage Shots Photography

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