Story by Stuart Owers
There must be a law of the universe that says that race tracks should always have extreme weather conditions when a big meeting is on. I had been in Christchurch before Christmas and experienced their 31 degree heat and saw the effects on the farms of a combination of no rain and big temperatures. Arriving this time at Ruapuna for the Friday practice sessions was a complete contrast. There was mud and puddles everywhere and a temperature hovering arounda chilly 13 degrees. The drivers were all experiencing a slippery track that was made even more slippery after the Super Trucks had been out spraying massive clouds of black diesel particles all over the wet surface.
The Pirelli Porsche marquee was an impressive sight, even amongst the mud and slush. There were no partition panels in the massively long tent so if you stood at one end you could be treated to the sight of a long display of big rear wings spreading side by side for 19 cars.
The South Island Porsche Series drivers were making the most of the chance to race at a national meeting near home and turned out with 11 beautifully presented 911s, including two 964s belonging to Chris Fleury (Green 964 #964) and Wayne Graves (Red 964 #91).
Before Saturday morning’s qualifying session most of the drivers and crew were popping in and out of the marquee anxiously looking up at the sky in order to make a decision about putting on slicks or wet tyres. Eventually, a light drizzle meant everybody rolled out on wets. It was an intriguing battle for grid positions as the track gradually dried and the times kept swapping and dropping. At the end of the session the front row was going to be the same as Taupo, with Paul Kelly (#90) on pole, alongside Brian McGovern (#11).
Everybody at the track, including the spectators, marshalls and especially the drivers were delighted to see the sun come out and start drying the track. That slicks versus wets anxiety could now be forgotten. When the starting lights went out we saw Paul Kelly rocketing away while Brian McGovern got his car off slowly, allowing the GT3s behind him to swoop past. This may have been a bad situation for Brian but it’s a commentator’s dream as we watched a big group of front runners jostling and challenging for a podium spot.
Initially Paul Kelly looked very comfortable out in front with a lengthy lead. Despite the racing battles going on throughout the rest of the field the TV cameras were drawn to the sight of Brian dramatically reeling in Paul and setting the fastest laps of the race. At the chequered flag the two cars were crossing the finish line almost side by side with the official time difference being a tiny .077 seconds in Paul Kelly’s favour. Further back we also saw a great class E battle between Tony Houston (#356) and Steff Chambers (#42) in their 944s. Steff was spurred on by being within half a second of Tony’s best lap times, despite Tony winning the battle.
Wayne Graves got the bragging rights over Chris Fleury’s similar 964 by taking the Class D win.
After all the excitement there was a great atmosphere at the post race bbq, generously hosted by the South Island group, and many race stories were retold from different perspectives.
The grid positions had been thoroughly rehashed by some faster times being set as drivers chased each other hard and bettered their times during the first race. We now had Brian McGovern on pole sitting beside Ben Byers (GT3 #256) who had impressive pace in race one. Paul Kelly was now third on the grid beside Hayden Knighton in fourth (GT# #89).
Another commentator’s wish was about to be granted as Brian McGovern still couldn’t get the right jandal precision and provoked some impressive looking wheel spin at the start which let several cars, including Paul Kelly’s, beat him to the first corner.
This set up an intriguing battle as we watched Brian work his way back up into second place. This time though Paul had stretched his lead a little more comfortably and Brian couldn’t get as close to him as he had done in race one.
Back through the field we saw Wayne Graves coasting to a halt with a mysterious electrical fault allowing Chris Fleury through to claim a class win. It was also emotionally moving to see Steff Chambers claim a victory over Tony Houston in Class E. Remarkably, Steff had improved her lap times from racing last season at Ruapuna, by 10 seconds. She was elated by her win and it was delightful to see her so excited afterwards.
Brian McGovern was judged to have rolled forward prior to the start, so the official results saw Paul Kelly as the overall winner, followed by Hayden Knighton and then Ben Byers in third (GT3 #256).
Once again the grid was reconfigured to reflect the fastest lap times of the weekend so Brian McGovern lined up on the pole position with Ben Byers beside him. On the second row were Paul Kelly and Hayden Knighton, followed by Sean Kirkpatrick (GT3 #78) and Anthony Leighs (GT3 #23).
Those of us relegated to watching from the sidelines were imagining the tensely poised and quivering jandal inside Brian’s pole position car as the starting lights lit up. Would he get a reasonable start this time? No, he didn’t.
After an over-jandaled tyre smoking start from Brian we were set for another great battle.
This time the field were tightly bunched for most of the first few laps. It was an impressive sight. The drivers were all getting greater speed out of their cars and understanding them better. In the cases of Ashton Wood, (996 GT3 #996 ), Anthony Leighs and Ben Byers their cars were new to them but their learning curves were impressive and it made for a tight third race. Eventually the outright podium places were; Paul Kelly, Brian McGovern and Hayden Knighton.
At the post race prize giving, class trophies for the weekend’s winning results were handed out to, Paul Kelly, Brian McGovern, Peter Van Eekelen, (996 GT3 #189) Wayne Graves, Tony Houston and Sean Kirkpatrick.
The Driver of the Round trophy, awarded for the previous round in Taupo, was presented to Tony Houston. Tony won all three of his class E Taupo races, but two of them were part of a reverse grid race, as per class E rules where he started from last place on the grid. Congratulations to all our deserving trophy winners.
It was an impressive field of Porsches at Ruapuna with added colour and competition due to the great turnout of South Island Series cars. Huge thanks go to all these drivers and Club members for their warm hospitality.
Next stop Invercargill.