By Stuart Owers
Once again, our Pirelli Porsche stars were rubbing shoulders with the Formula One hopefuls in the Toyota Racing Series, this time down in the sweltering heat at Manfeild. It was the track’s premier race weekend as they were hosting the NZ Grand Prix. Steff Chambers arrived there with the points lead in the Porsche Motorsport category and Marin Vujcich looked like he had a strong grip on the Pirelli Porsche Club Championship. Most drivers arrived on the Friday to do a couple of short practice sessions, but it was also a good time to start organising the important social side of the weekend, the vital Friday and Saturday night get-togethers.
Our regular racers were joined by a few drivers we haven’t seen for a while. Matt Burton was debuting his newly built and beautifully presented 944S2. Keith Miller was back for this round in his 997 GT3 Cup car and Andrew Whittaker was doing a one-off weekend with us in his beautiful GT2 RS Clubsport.
Fortunately, our Porsche qualifying session was set for an early time slot on Saturday morning. It was still relatively cool when our cars rolled out, meaning that some drivers set times they couldn’t get close to again in the high temperatures during the actual races. Brian McGovern set an early benchmark with a very fast 1.08 which left Sean Kirkpatrick and Andrew Whittaker competing with each other for second place in the 1.09 bracket. In the end, Sean took the other front row spot, just one hundredth of second faster than Andrew. Steff Chambers was the quickest of the two 996 Cup cars competing, edging out Mike Wilkin.
In Class E, Marin Vujcich was the fastest of the four cars but was disqualified after not seeing a warning flag. This left Matt Burton with the Class E pole position alongside Jim McKernan in second place.
Brian McGovern proved that a broken leg and his custom lightweight leg brace was no impediment to his racing and got one of the best starts he’s had all season. Arriving at the first corner he was clearly ahead, but behind him Sean Kirkpatrick and Andrew Whittaker were side by side. Behind them were another pair of side-by-side Porsches, Robert Dong and Struan Robertson. Matt Burton got the best start of the 944s and led the pack into turn one. Following him, Jim McKernan and Marin Vujcich started what looked like it was going to be a race- long tussle.
Out in the front it didn’t take long for Andrew to use the superior power of his GT2 to pass Brian down the back straight, and he established a lead that couldn’t be overcome.
In the midst of this action, the TV cameras were drawn to the contest between Mike Wilkin in his 996 Cup Car and Chris Barendregt in his road registered Cayman. We were denied seeing much more of this promising duel because Chris started to ease back with mechanical issues.
Our eyes were all drawn to an exciting contest between the Class E 944s. Unfortunately, Marin’s fuel pump decided to call it quits on lap five and all he could do was ease slowly over, coming to a stop on the side of the track. This left Matt Burton to go on to claim a Class win for his brand-new car. He was followed across the line by Jim McKernan and a rapidly improving Daniel Angus.
At the chequered flag it was Andrew Whittaker taking the overall honours ahead of Brian with Sean Kirkpatrick in third place. Steff won the 996 duel and Matt Burton took the 944 victory.
Another great start at the front from Brian saw him hold out Andrew and Sean at the first corner. Andrew stalked Brian for about four exciting laps but, as expected, Andrew used the straight-line power advantage to eventually ease past Brian’s car.This time, Brian hung on closer to the back of the GT2 and kept in touch. At one stage it looked like Brian might have been able to get enough of a run out of some of the corners to challenge Andrew, but in the end the silver GT2 took the chequered flag about two seconds ahead, with Sean Kirkpatrick a little further back. Robert Dong and Struan Robertson were having fun in their closely matched Cup cars and they swapped positions several times. They finished in very tight formation, with Robert narrowly taking fourth position over Struan in fifth.
Despite the action up-front, the most exciting racing to watch was further back in the field. The three 944s of Vujcich, Burton and McKernan were relentless with their attempted overtakes on each other. Right behind them was Daniel Angus who had the best seat in the house for all the action. With the cars of McKernan and Vujcich both painted black we had to look carefully each lap to see who was in front at the time. At the chequered flag Marin Vujcich chose the right time to be slightly ahead of Matthew Burton, with Jim McKernan tightly behind those two.
It was disappointing to see Mike Wilkin pulling over to the side of the track. He had half-shaft issues which would put him out for the remainder of the weekend.
There was plenty of discussion prior to the race as to how we were going to organise the grid for this next round. Both Struan and Rob Dong had clutch issues. Struan’s car was the worst, so he elected to start from pit lane. On the start line, Andrew Whittaker had improved his grid position by bettering his qualifying time, so he was beside Brian McGovern on the front row. This moved Sean Kirkpatrick back to the second row alongside Rob Dong. After the dust and smoke cleared from another action-packed start it was Andrew out in front again. Struan had to wait for the entire field to stream past him before he was allowed to take off from the end of pit row. Despite this setback, he put in a great effort to move his way through half the field and finish behind Robert Dong.
At the front, Brian was more determined this time to hang onto Andrew’s GT2 and they both crossed under the chequered flag less than half a second apart.
The Class E cars were again providing the entertainment. After much shuffling of positions, with pass after re-pass, it was Marin Vujcich who claimed the win, followed tightly by Jim McKernan, Matt Burton and Daniel Angus. It was a great display of car awareness and close racing and the big crowd thoroughly enjoyed it.
Driver of the Day
We had a very worthy winner of the driver of the round award from our previous event at Hampton Downs. It was presented to Daniel Angus who was a complete racing novice when he joined us at the start of the season. He improved his lap times dramatically at Hampton Downs and impressed everyone with his enthusiasm for all aspects of Porsche racing. It’s a pleasure having him as part of our band of drivers and exciting to watch him pick up pace and speed as he learns. Congratulations Daniel.
Our next round will be at Taupo on March 28th, 29th. The points for both of our big trophies look to be in contention right up until the final round. Robert Dong left the Manfeild circuit on Sunday night with a narrow one point lead in the Motorsport championship and Jim McKernan also has a small points margin at the top of the Club Championship.