By Stuart Owers
I always look forward to the annual Pirelli Porsche Series migration to Manfeild. The wide-open spaces of the Manawatu seem relaxed and gracious and that’s also the exact attitude of our meeting hosts, the Manawatu Car Club. The atmosphere is very much like an old-style country race meeting.
The officials all seem to have a good perspective on the racing and they know all the drivers are there to enjoy themselves. The track itself is fabulous. In my opinion it’s the best design in the country. The layout is a formula of medium length straights followed by tight banked corners which means there are plenty of passing opportunities.
The spectator viewing is another “best”. You can see the whole track and are close enough to appreciate how fast the cars are really going. This meeting was another where Chris Barendregt had organised to have all three of our races on one day.
It’s taken a huge amount of time and effort by Chris to get various meeting hosts to accommodate us in this way, but the format seems to have wide approval from our drivers. Another bonus of this meeting is that we usually have a couple of additional guest drivers because of the track’s proximity to Wellington. We were fortunate to be joined this time by Tony Patmore in his modified Carrera and Anthony Lyons who brought along his 996 Cup Car for its annual outing.
Our Porsche drivers are always keen to jump in their cars for qualifying and are usually pacing around counting down the minutes until they can get out on the track. We were all allocated garage space in the large equestrian centre which is spacious and a great spot to be in if it rains. But there’s no speaker system out there connecting us to the officials which means the crews must keep a close watch on when they are due to head over to the dummy grid.
Unbeknown to us, the meeting was running about 20 minutes early. When our qualifying session started there was only a handful of cars out there, headed by the extra keen Noel Simpson. Once everyone else realised it had started there was a frantic scramble and a blur of helmets going on and harnesses being done up. Some drivers lost up to five minutes but, despite that, as the chequered flag flew on the final lap most drivers had nailed their best time.
Robert Dong claimed the pole position again and he was joined on the front row by Daniel Angus in his striking looking orange, white and black 996. The next row was filled by Anthony Lyons and Tony Patmore and the third row by Jim McKernan and Brent Greer making the first three rows a lockout by Wellington based drivers.
Home track knowledge should never be undervalued. For the 944s, Marin Vujcich claimed the top spot from Matthew Burton and Neil Dewar. Matthew spent about half the session parked out on the track with a broken clutch, which fortunately he managed to repair before the first race. The hotly contested first grid spot for the Boxsters was claimed by Noel Simpson over Tony Houston. Then the order was, Chris Taylor, Kelly McEwan, Chris Barendregt, Nick Cutfield, Stephen Huipeng-Fang, Regan Scoular, Stephen Stokes, Grant Biggar and Richard Norris.
We had a couple of drivers who couldn’t join us for the qualifying session, so we saw Simon Thurlow and Guy Heaysman starting from the back of the grid along with a new series entrant Mark McCaughan in his Boxster. As the lights went out it was a pretty even start between Robert Dong and Daniel Angus, but our attention was quickly drawn to Brent Greer’s Carrera that appeared to have problems after he got it rolling. We discovered later that it was a gearbox selector problem which meant he couldn’t pluck second gear.
Brent kept going until the race finish but struggled to match his usual pace without that vital gear. As has become customary, we had to try and have eyes all over the track so we could watch what was happening with the different Class contests. We were enjoying the close competition between the 944s of Matt Burton and Marin Vujcich until Matt decided on a bit of demon extra late braking going into a corner which resulted in him not staying firmly attached to the tarmac and a rather dramatic exit of the track. This left Marin to claim the 944 Class win, with Neil Dewar in second. The first lap for the Boxsters was incredibly entertaining. Some drivers weren’t content with providing the wonderful spectacle of cars being three-wide across the track and decided to up that to four -wide.
Amazingly, everyone came out of the first lap without a mark on their cars which showed great skill and awareness. In the end it was Noel Simpson who staked out a good margin for the win over Chris Taylor, followed by Tony Houston, Kelly McEwan and Nick Cutfield. At the front of the field Robert Dong crossed under the chequered flag for another win followed by Daniel Angus, Anthony Lyons, Jim McKernan and Ton Patmore.
The grid from the previous race was added to by Steff Chambers 996 Cup car that had missed qualifying but was going to start at the back of the grid in the hands of Cam McCormack. The front row start from Robert Dong and Daniel Angus was uneventful and Robert decided to put a good gap on the field early on. Brent Greer had solved his gear selection issues so was back to his usual fast starts. Further back we saw another excellent race between the evenly matched 944s of Matt Burton and Marin Vujcich, with Matt holding on in front for another win. On the fifth lap we saw Chris Taylor attempting a super-fast entry into the Dunlop sweeper which didn’t quite go as he had imagined.
His Boxster decided not to cooperate with the ambitious plan. It wilfully disobeyed Chris’s frantic orders and ran off into the sand trap and lodged itself axle deep while facing the outside wall. The race officials judged that Chris wasn’t in any more danger than usual out there so, thankfully, the pace car was kept on its leash in the pits. Quite humorously though, it meant poor Chris was left parked facing away from all the approaching race traffic and had to stay in his car for five laps, staring at the wall like a child in the naughty corner.
Near the end of the race it looked like Tony Houston was going to take the win for the Boxster Class, until the last corner on the very last lap. A minor touch in the sweeper between him and Noel Simpson saw a dramatic spin from both cars which allowed Steven Huipeng-Fang to seize the opportunity to sweep through and grab the win. It was Steven’s first win of the series and a remarkable achievement in his novice season. Noel Simpson recovered brilliantly to get back on the track to still claim second place, but by only 1/100th of a second over Kelly McEwan. It was also Kelly’s best finish so far.
Chris Barendregt finished in fourth in front of Tony Houston and Grant Biggar. The sixth place for Grant was also his best finish so far for his rookie season. At the front, the Cup cars were led home by Rob Dong followed by Cam McCormack who had charged all the way through to second place after starting at the very back of the field. Daniel Angus was third.
Our final race of the day was organised to be a 25 minute mini endure, similar to our regular thirty-minute races but without the normal pit stop formula. It was decided that the semi blind pit exit at Manfeild would be too dangerous if we had all the cars swooping back onto the track there. As our cars lined up on the front row of the starting grid it looked a little different this time.
Steff Chambers was now on the first row of the grid behind the wheel of her modified 996 Cup Car. As the lights went out Steff got a great start and managed to out drag Robert Dong into the first corner. Her spot at the front of the race wouldn’t last long as Robert managed to get past on the first lap. Steff did hold that position though and finished the race in second place. Daniel Angus came home third to keep his position at the top of the endurance points table. The 944 tussle between Matt Burton, Marin Vujcich and Neil Dewar continued unabated. Matt lead the class for a good number of laps until the pressure from Marin finally paid off and he managed to slip past to take the class win.
The Boxster boys took their responsibility to entertain us seriously.
After the usual three wide racing for the first few laps, we saw Stephen Stokes dive into the pits with what he had assumed was a puncture. After a quick check from his crew, it turned out the problem was rubber pickup on the tyres so he went straight back out again. Any driver who’s had that issue knows that rubber pickup is a very disconcerting feeling.
Soon after that we noticed Chris Barendregt slowing down after coming out of the hairpin. He had a clutch problem but quickly realised he could disrupt the whole race if he stopped on the side of the track, so he thoughtfully pulled as far off on to the grass as he could. The race officials decided he was out of harm’s way so the race continued.
After two seasons of Boxster racing this is probably the first time one of our cars has had to retire with mechanical issues. That’s a fantastic testimony to how well built these cars are.
Meanwhile the intense racing continued. Noel Simpson eventually grabbed the win and the honour of the fastest Boxster lap. Behind him was Tony Houston, Chris Taylor, Kelly McEwan, and Steven Huipeng-Fang.
We took the opportunity to have a prize giving between practice sessions on the Friday. The Driver of the Round for our previous Pukekohe round was presented to Noel Simpson for his domination of the Boxster Class there. He managed three wins from three races. That’s quite a feat in such an intensely contested Class. Jim McKernan was the recipient of the award for his success at Hampton Downs in his newly acquired 996 Cup car.
The car is a big step up from his 944 and Jim took to driving it with enthusiasm and he’s had some great results. We also presented the round winner trophies for previous races. The is a new innovation from our driver and sponsor Daniel Angus on behalf of his sponsoring company Kensway.
Big thanks to Daniel for his generosity.