... and the winning numbers for this years lottery are ......
Well another NZ Champs has come and gone and although we didn't feature on the podium, once again with feeling! we actually came out of the meeting pleased with our overall performance.
Thursday had us at the track for a practice session and, as we hadn't run at the track this year, we made full use of this generous offer from the club. To be honest we were pretty close with the setup we had and after 3 or 4 runs we put the car away feeling that it had been a useful exercise. 14 other cars who took the opportunity did likewise I would imagine.
Of the 27 cars entered officially, 25 cars actually fronted for the qualifying night. We drew the 2nd group (blue group) along with a fair few of the pre race favorites.
Cars in our group were 1nz Tama Arapere, 4s Mark Dixon, 5s Roger Furness, 6a Brian Jesen, 11a Jamie Fox, 12s Jason Kalin, 17c Nigel Nevin, 21a Garry Parker, 29e Glen Leech, 41a Hayden Scheffer, 67s Richard Pierce and 121s Stuart Rose.
What the field lacked in numbers, it made up for with quality. Top 9 were to qualify directly to the finals with the rest to the repercharge.
Foxy did his normal trick drawing grid 12 (from a 12 car field!) for heat 1. This was made to look a lot worse when you consider that on grids 9, 10 and 11 were 4s, 1nz and 29e! All the bigger guns off the back!
Foxy made reasonable progress and came home in 6th place, passing some quality cars along the way and finishing in front of both the 4s and 29e machines. Tama retired with engine problems.
Heat 2 had us leaving from grid 6 and a conservative approach, knowing we were leaving from grid 1 in the final heat, saw us home in 4th without to much effort.
As expected Foxy won the 3rd heat pretty easy off the front and when the points for the group were tallied up we had finished 1st equal on 31 points with the 4s machine of Mark Dixon. A pretty comfortable night for us and the car was proving to be one of the quicker cars on the track going by the lap times so we went home happy. Only a few guys from both groups turned laps lower than 15 seconds and we were one of them
Looking at the point's breakdown from the qualifying night I think it would be fair to say that our group was the hardest to qualify from with at least 23 points needs to get through. Red group had qualifiers with 20 points.
Talking to the drivers and crews after qualifying everyone was under the same opinion. The title would be decided by who had the most luck not necessarily by who was the quickest come finals time.
Qualifiers from blue group were 11a (31 points), 4s (31), 29e (28), 21a (27), 6a (27), 41a (25), 67s (24), 121s (24) and 17c (23).
Qualifiers from red group were 2nz (33 points), 84c (30), 16gm (28), 18r (27), 11s (27), 3nz (25), 55s (22), 10s (20) and 19a (20)
Night 2 started with the repercharge. 5 cars took the start with 36a, 64a, 5w, 1nz and 97h all trying to make the top 2. 64a took the win from 1nz putting both into the last 20.
Heat 1 finals night. 20 laps, Foxy repeated his effort from night 1 and drew dead last, grid 20. We have now drawn a rear start in the last 3 NZ title events and every time it has backfired on us.
The plan was to be as cautious as possible at the start but take advantage of opportunities should they arise. To be honest we expected carnage in this heat and wanted Foxy to hold back for the first part of the race and make sure he avoided damage. We thought the car was good enough to move up a few places once things settled down and, with the track conditions being what they were, a handful of passes from your rear start may be enough on the night.
As the race wore on it became obvious that he could wait no longer and when there was a restart after the roll over of 11s, Merv Julian, Foxy went on the attack passing a few guys. The last part of the race he was pressuring Tash in the 84c machine but couldn't get through.
I think it amazed everyone that the carnage expectation did not eventuate in this race. 18 of the 20 cars finished and although Foxy passed a few cars, none were easy. At race end Foxy had moved up to 14th (a gain of 6 places) which sounds terrible until you consider that he was the biggest mover in the race! Tama in the 1nz machine won from grid 2. Jacko in the 2nz machine moved up 3 places from 7 to 4, 29e went from 11 to 8th (gain of 3), 19a up 4 places and the 4s and 67s machines up 5 places.
The team realised after this race that the title was now out of our hands. If one of the next 2 heats resulted in significant loss of numbers then we had no show.
Heat 2 had us leaving from grid 10. 19 cars started this heat with the 12s machine of Jason Kalin being the only casualty from heat 1. Foxy got held up at the start which allowed both the 1nz machine of Tama through and the 41a machine of Hayden. Exiting turn 2 for the first time Foxy was back to 12th;
Foxy fought is way back past Tama and also passed the 17c machine of Nigel Nevin on lap 1. Entering turn 3 for the 2nd time Foxy got under the 41a car but mid turn the two slightly touched with Hayden's front left making contact with our right rear. We are not sure how but it slashed a 3 inch hole in the sidewall and our race was over with Foxy running about 8th at the time.
We were feeling pretty gutted but by race end we realised that even if Foxy had survived this incident and been able to move his way up into the top 3 in this race, it still would not have been enough as only 11 cars finished this heat and the guys who had been at the rear, and survived the carnage, had been awarded a lot of free points.
I am not sure if it is true or not but the talk in the pits was that Jacko in the 2nz machine moved from a grid 17 start to finish 4th but had only actually passed 3 cars on the track. All the other places gained were a result of the carnage. Bunter in the 67s machine finished 2nd to last on the track in 10 spot from his grid 20 start meaning that he too got a massive points advantage from this heat. This is just an indication of how difficult passing was, and how even the field was.
Paul Blakeley in the 3nz machine deserves a mention for his performance in this heat as he was the only one able to make clean outside passes on some top cars including the 4s, 19a and 84c machines. Had a fair few drivers scratching their heads on how he was able to pull it off in this race, including himself!
Heat 3 and a grid 1 start. We thought about passing on this race as we were out of contention but after a brief discussion we decided that it would not be fair to the other drivers if we sat in the pits and this resulted in guys getting free points…. anyway we had a point to prove!
Going into this race there was no way anyone was going to stop Jacko from taking the title. He enjoyed a 1 point lead over the 29e machine of Glen Leech but was starting from grid 8 where as Glen was leaving from grid 19. Willy was back in 3rd but also had a rear start. The best placed to push their way on to the podium was the 67s machine of Bunter and he was leaving outside us from grid 2.
Foxy was never going to let Bunter win the start and, after a drag race down the main straight, Foxy jumped to the lead. The race was green for a handful of laps and Foxy was extending his lead on every lap. Just as he was going to come into lapping traffic we had our first of many yellows and the field closed back up. Restart after restart ensued for the entire race and every time Foxy just pulled away from the pack.
By race end only 8 cars were mobile, again rewarding the guys from the back a heap of free points. I must admit to not really paying attention to the rest but I am pretty sure Jacko went from grid 8 to finish 3rd without actually passing a car! Bunter held on for 2nd to make the podium in 3rd place and Glen in the 29c machine came home in 6th with a stuffed clutch to cement the 2nz spot. Foxy set the fastest lap times of the night in this heat and was the only car on night 2 to turn a lap in under 15 seconds.
My assessment of the likely outcome of this meeting, prior to going, proved to be bang on. This event was decided not by a dominating display by any one driver but by luck of the draw. In this case you were better to be lucky than good.
Taking nothing away from Jacko, Glen and Bunter at all, all 3 were on the pace over the weekend as were a number of others, including ourselves, but lady luck was shining on them. I am rapt for Jacko as he is a mate and there is no doubt that he has done the hard yards over the years. No one can say he is any less deserving from running under the 1nz number than anyone else running at the meeting so in this instance he was both lucky and good!!
I have read with interest some comments on discussion boards and tend to agree with some of the comments and disagree with some others. The 3 race format for a NZ title is not ideal; this is compounded when the track conditions provided are not conducive to good open racing. This was the case at Stratford, we all knew what it was going to be like going down and it was the same for everyone so there can be no complaints. The guys at the club did a great job and looked after us all very well, we appreciate the help they gave us, especially Errol (Piggy) Hughes who arranged workshop facilities for us, good on you mate.
As a spectacle for the crowd? Well… I think it was average. The dust made viewing very difficult and made conditions very hard, not only for the public to see what was going on but also the drivers themselves!
There have been calls to change the format for the title to a 1 race affair a lot like what is used with the sprintcars. Unlike devilracer666 on Macgors website I think a lot of drivers may actually prefer this option to the current 3 race format. I think this option would allow the cream to come to the top more often than the current format, sure there will still be an element of luck associated but to be honest no matter what format is used, luck will always play a part.
The trick is to pick a format where more times than not the fastest, or best, competitor wins and I think you get this result more often running under the time trial / 1 race final format than the current, luck of the draw, 3 race format currently used.
The ideal is a 4-5 meeting series to determine the title spread over different tracks. The financial commitment that would be required by the drivers to run this format makes this idea highly unlikely to win support and who could really blame them.
As for Team Fox? Unlike last year we went away happy with our performance. We are still on a learning curve with the new car but the performances at the weekend were promising. We had a car good enough to win and Foxy drove well but things didn't go our way. We will continue to fine tune the package and put ourselves in the best possible position to win events, the rest is out of our hands but we have no doubts that the results will come.
This week we have a break before we contest the Dirt Cup in Auckland on the 14th Feb. Both the new 1nz and 3nz have confirmed they will be fronting so I feel a bit of payback may be in order result wise! Being a 5 time winner of the Dirt cup has a good ring to it!
See ya at the track