By Stu Owers
Our April Hampton Downs race meeting was another unique one-day, Porsche only event. Previously, we’ve held these days at Taupo and the Taupo track staff organise everything for us. This time, there was a huge amount of work that we had to do prior to the day even dawning. Chris Barendregt spearheaded a massive effort and put in a lot of hours to pull this together, but he was helped enormously by Steff Chambers, Terry Riding, Michelle Neville and many others. Because of the style of the event we had a lot of interest from the Pirelli Porsche drivers and received 19 entries for the day.
The Porsche Club were also running a track-day for road cars to fit in-between the racing and this was also very well subscribed with 20 cars. Everything was looking under control until we arrived on Saturday and saw the heavy rain clouds rolling in. This was about the only thing we had no control over at all and it had quite an influence on the day.
Even though there was only light rain early in the morning, there was no doubt that wet tyres had to be fitted for the qualifying session. We had a brand new driver rolling out in his recently prepared Boxster, Stephen Stokes, from Wellington. Not only was it his first race, it was also going to be his first time racing a Porsche, his first time at Hampton Downs and his first time racing in the rain. He’s a brave man. We also had Guy Heaysman re-joining us, also in a Boxster, for his first race at Hampton Downs.
Early on in the session there were a lot of tentative laps because of the wet track. One driver who seemed quite at home in the conditions, despite not being able to do much racing with us this season was Brent Greer. He set an early benchmark in his 997 Cup car and left the others behind in his spray.
But, it wasn’t long before Connor Adam got the feel of his car and established a faster time at the top of the time sheets. Connor had never driven his 997 Cup car in the rain, and to make things even more challenging, he was the only car on the grid without ABS braking. Kris Bostock was impressive in his 991 Cup car and constantly chipped away at the benchmark time set by Connor and, eventually, he closed to just half a second behind him for second place on the grid.
Brent Greer had trouble improving and had to settle for third with Robert Dong and Struan Robertson taking a more conservative approach and filling the next two positions. Next was Steff Chambers in her 996 Cup car and then following her was Marin Vujich in his 944 who was clearly fastest of all the 944s and Boxsters. The battle of the Boxster boys was won by Tony Houston, followed closely by Scott Bradley.
There were some very nervous looking drivers just prior to the first race as the rain started to get steadier. The dry weather tyres could be safely stashed away and a softer suspension set-up was the requirement for the rest of the day. It was impressive seeing all the Porsches in the pit-lane prior to being let out on the track. They stretched almost down the entire length of pit-lane, something we haven’t seen for a while. When the lights went out for the start there was a real mixing up of positions.
Connor Adam got a great start but Kris Bostock was only slowly easing away with too much wheel-spin. Steff Chambers got a beautiful start and she passed Robert Dong to slot in behind Brent Greer and Struan Robertson. Matt Burton got the jump on Marin Vujich from the start line. Neil Dewar also got a great jump and it was very close between the three 944s for the first lap. The Boxsters were impressive as always and I held my breath as they looked like they were attempting to go through the slippery first corner five wide. Somehow, they all made it out the other side with the fast-starting Noel Simpson leading the way.
Connor Adam established a commanding lead at the front right from the start and gradually increased this to an impressive 10 second lead over Kris Bostock at the finish. Behind them were, Brent Greer, Struan Robertson, Robert Dong and Dave Allison in his 996 Cup Car. Steff Chambers had a big slippery moment and finished 13th behind some of the 944s and Boxsters. Marin Vujich managed to get past Matt Burton to win the 944 battle, with Neil Dewar third. The Boxsters showed their wonderful handling balance by mixing it up and beating some of the 944s. Noel Simpson won their race, followed by Tony Houston and Scott Bradley.
The rain was even heavier prior to the start of this race and the Clerk of the course, Deb Day, decided to delay it slightly to let the worst of the rain pass through. Eventually it eased up from torrential to just steady rain and our Porsches rolled out for our 18 lap race onto a wet shiny track.
At lights out Connor Adam got another great start and lead into the first downhill corner. Kris Bostock was suffering from too much wheel-spin again and couldn’t capitalise on his front row position. While he was fish tailing away he had the frustrating experience of watching most of the Cup cars overtake him before the first corner. Rob Dong had an even worse start. He appeared to stall and was overtaken by half the field before he got up to speed. This time Marin Vujich got the best start of the 944s and he made sure he protected the inside line from Matt Burton going into turn one.
Daniel Angus also got an excellent start and he followed the other two 944s for the first lap. Once again, Noel Simpson had really figured out how to launch his Boxster in the greasy conditions and he was the first Boxster through turn one followed by several black Boxsters with stripes painted down the middle. (Unfortunately, there’s a bunch of Boxsters with very similar coloured paint schemes so I can’t tell you who was who.) But, it was close and intense, as always.
At the front of the field, Connor Adam was putting on a master-class of wet weather driving. Behind him, Kris Bostock was charging through trying to get through to the front. He was aided in his attempt by a few of the Cup cars having sideways moments and he eventually carved his way through to second place overall. Struan Robertson also capitalised on a mistake from Brent Greer and he finished third outright. Marin Vujich was impressive again in his 944 and won that contest ahead of Matt Burton and Neil Dewar, but splitting the two front 944s was Noel Simpson with a very impressive drive to win the Boxster class convincingly. Behind him were Scott Bradley and Tony Houston for second and third.
Race threeThe heavy rain had set in and we were all looking out at the streaming track while waiting for the call-up to the starting grid. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any more difficult, the power for the entire track facilities went out.
There were now no starting lights, timing systems, camera coverage for the track officials to keep an eye out for incidents and the warning lights (similar to the flag signals) were no longer working. The Clerk of the course, Deb Day, delayed the start while we all hoped the power would come back on. It looked like we may not get our much anticipated, 30 minute endurance race.
We waited for some time with no power restoration apparent, but, to the credit of Deb Day, she decided to go ahead with our race anyway. A small army of volunteers were drafted upstairs to do a manual lap count and the course workers were all briefed on how the race would be run with flags only. It was a brave move considering how reliant modern racing is on electronic timing and cameras for monitoring every situation. So after a quick driver’s briefing all the cars filed out onto the track. The Cup cars had little white pieces of tape on their windscreens with a compulsory pit-stop time written on them.
The fastest cars had to stop for nearly three minutes, while the Boxster and 944s had either a pit lane “drive-through” or a “stop-go”. As Marin Vujich positioned himself into his grid position we noticed the lights of his car flicking on and off as he tried to restart after it suddenly shut off. With no life apparent after several attempts, the Marshalls had to run over and attempt the long push down the grid to get the car out of the way while all the other competitors sat idling in their starting positions. What else could possibly challenge the seemingly unflappable Deb Day? Eventually the New Zealand flag was waved and the race was underway.
The start was a little hair raising. Kris Bostock decided he had been using too many revs off the start line so he dropped them lower for this launch. Unfortunately, the car gripped severely and the engine stalled. We all held our breath again as the entire field of cars weaved and dodged around the immobile car. Kris got the car re-fired to join the race in dead last place. Within a lap Deb Day had another drama to deal with. Noel Simpson’s Boxster had lodged itself in a sand trap and couldn’t drive itself out. Despite operating blindly, (no cameras) the Safety Car, - ironically, a Porsche driven by Racing Ray Williams, was sent out and the field lined up behind him.
We commented that it wasn’t the first time that Porsche champion Ray Williams had lead a field of Porsches around from the front. Most of the field decided to take their compulsory pit-stop while the Safety Car was out, creating some lap counting challenges for the timing team. After a few laps, the safety car pulled into the pits and the race resumed. It wasn’t long before Brent Greer’s Cup car overshot turn one and lodged itself into the sand, sparking Ray Williams into action again in his safety car. Fortunately for the frantic team in the control tower, the power had come back on and all the systems had re-booted.
With all the pit-stop activity done the front cars had to unwind their deficit to the 944s and Boxsters. It looked like we were going to get a strong challenge from Kris Bostock to Connor Adam, but a slight error from Kris saw that challenge fade away. Robert Dong was also having some sideways moments and he too suffered position losses as he had to recover from cornering situations that required more grip than his tyres had available.
At the end of 30 minutes, the first three across the line were, Connor Adam, Struan Robertson and Robert Dong. Neil Dewar not only won the 944 class but finished in a brilliant fifth position behind the Cup Car of Steff Chambers. Behind Neil in his class was Matt Burton, then Daniel Angus.
Another highly commendable finisher was Scott Bradley, who finished seventh overall and first in the Boxster class. He led home Chris Taylor and Chris Barendregt.
Our next round in Taupo will be a similar format of longer races including the 30 minute race with compulsory pit stops. This will also be our final round and we’ll be presenting trophies to the class winners and overall champions.
As has become traditional, we presented the driver of the round trophy during the lunch break at Hampton Downs. This was for the previous round at Pukekohe. This time it went to Robert Dong. His stunning lap times there and close race finishes were definitely worthy of acknowledgment.