Auckland Champs title #8.
Saturday March 8th has us at Waikaraka for the Auckland Modified Champs. As has been the case for a few seasons now, the event was a supporting one to the main event of the Teams Nationals. This always guarantees us a meeting in front of a huge crowd.
This year we were up against it with car numbers. Stratford guys normally support the title but this year they had to stay at home due to the date clashing with their 50th Anniversary celebrations. Auckland numbers are also suffering this season with 64a parking up for the season, 6a and 105a out due to mechanical issues, 25a and 21a out due to injuries and 92a, 97a and 9a choosing not to run for personal reasons. No class (especially mods) can afford to lose 8 cars from their normal field and expect to still front with great numbers. The Auckland guys who did front were 11a, 17a, 19a, 36a and 78a. We were joined by 2nz Mike Gourley and 18r PJ Fergusson. This gave us a field of 7.
The upside to the above is it shows what the potential numbers could be running out of Waikaraka next season. If the 8 missing guys all front next year as expected then we have a normal field of 13-14 cars. I know of at least 2 others who also plan to run next season as well and these guys could take us to 16 cars. With the champs being held at home next season, this is likely to happen. Anyway, back to the nights racing.
The track was packed hard so was therefore extremely slick! Seems to be a normal occurrence now so we are getting plenty of practice on this type of race track (too much for my liking if I am being honest). The saving grace was that the track was smooth and rut free. Format was 2 heat races for points (marbledraw and reverse), top 4 pole shuffle and then fastest off the front for a 15 lap winner take all title race. Things didn’t start well for us when we drew grid 5 for heat 1. Bad enough getting an inside start but made worse when your two main opposition for the title both get prime outside grids! Scotty was to leave from grid 4 and Mike from grid 6. At the start Mike made sure we couldn’t get out from being boxed in and both he and Scotty got the hole shot that you expect from the outside starting position. Coming out of turn 1 we were in catch up mode straight away. This was race one on the program and the track was already toast! The track offered absolutely nothing out wide due to the marbles out there so the entire race became a battle of the poleline with all passes having to be made down low. As the laps counted down we were making no inroads at all and Scotty enjoyed a healthy lead. The racing gods did us a solid when the 17a and 2nz cars came together briefly which opened up a gap big enough for Foxy to squeeze past them both and into 2nd. When there he found himself in clear air and started to chase down Scotty but the laps run out and we had to settle for 2nd. Scotty won with Foxy 2nd and Mike 3rd.
Back in the pits we went about the normal changes one would make and Foxy noticed that the left rear birdcage had completely collapsed. How he finished the race in heat 1 is anyone’s guess so we were left thanking the race gods for the 2nd time of the night! The birdcage was toast so we had to replace it with our old 2nd hand one which is slightly bent. We knew this would likely cause us a few issues but adjusted things as much as we could to avoid the torsion arms binding up too much. This meant we had to move the diff over a little and run it slightly out of square. We seemed to get away with it for the rest of the night.
Heat 2 and our starting position wasn’t much better than our first! Once again we were boxed in on the poleline on grid 3 with 2nz on grid 2 and Scotty on grid 4! Once again we had no choice but to let these guys both go and try to chase them down. By the time we were able to get into 3rd Mike had cleared out to a huge lead and Scotty was holding down 2nd. Foxy was all over Scotty like a rash but Scotty is one smart cookie and he shut the race down by sticking to the poleline like glue. He knew there was no way around him on the highline so he drove a smart race. While Scotty and Foxy had a low speed game of cat and mouse going, Mike was extending his lead lap after lap having no cares in the world due to no pressure. Mike easily won the race and Scotty held out Foxy to come home 2nd.
Thank god for pole shuffles! If the format had been different and simply been highest points off the front for the final we would have had to start from grid 3 again and likely spent the whole race trying to get under both Mike and Scotty who would have had the front row starts. The shuffle gave us an opportunity to get a front row start and we wanted to make sure we took the opportunity. Changes were made to the car and Foxy went out knowing he needed to win at least 2 of the shuffles to guarantee a front row start. He did one better in winning all 3 of the shuffles. First up he defeated Crumpy in the first shuffle, Foxy chose grid 2 as he normally does and won the start to put this one to bed early. Next up he went head to head with 2nz Mike Gourley and Mike chose grid 2 and pacesetter. Foxy got the jump at the start and the 2 went side by side into turn 1. Foxy knew he had track position and that Mike wouldn’t be able to live on the outside for long. This proved to the case and Mike eventually had to pull in behind Foxy and hope he got an opportunity to get under him. It didn’t happen with Foxy controlling the rest of the shuffle and moving through to the final one with Scotty. Runoffs / shuffles with Scotty are always fun. He never gives an inch and you need to be on top of your game to beat him. Scotty hit the wall off turn 2 before the shuffle even began such was the speed he entered the track! He chose the outside as expected and the two guys were banging wheels coming around turns 3 and 4 to start the race. Classic stuff from these 2! Foxy got the jump and was able to have his nose in front by the time they got into turn 1. Never one to die wondering, Scotty persevered on the outside hoping that he would be able to slingshot Foxy off turn 2. Unfortunately he was just a little too wide and he hit the marbles nearly spinning out. Race over. This meant we had the massive advantage of lane choice for the 15 lap final.
When Foxy came back in a decision had to made about where he wanted to start. We have always run off the rule that you never give up any advantage no matter what and starting from grid 2 is an advantage 99% of the time. Saturday was one of those times when the 1% came into the equation. A lot of debate about the merits of both starting positions ensued while Chris (man who writes up the starting grids) sat patiently waiting for our decision! In the end we went with Foxy’s gut-feel and chose grid 1. He was worried that if he chose grid 2 and didn’t win the start he could find himself back as far as 3rd coming off turn 2 as both Scotty and Mike (leaving from grid 3) could hang him out in the marbles. He though at least if he started on grid 1 he would have track position and at worse only be behind Scotty off turn 2. It is not often we turn down grid 2 but Saturday was one time we did. In the end it didn’t matter, Foxy got the better of the start and dominated the race. Once he hit the front he was able to control the race and with Mike slipping past Scotty through turns 1 and 2 on the first lap it looked like it was going to a 2 horse race. Scotty had a moment a few laps in and this bought on the yellows and put Scotty to the rear. On the restart Foxy established a comfortable lead over Mike and looked to have a tad more pace which for us was extremely pleasing given the track conditions were the slickest they have been for some time and Mikes known ability on this type of track. On about lap 10 Mikes cars came to sudden stop and he coasted to the infield ending his race (the cause later found to be a faulty wire from the mag so nothing serious), at the time he was about 8-10 car lengths behind Foxy. Foxy went on to win the race, and title, by over half a lap from a very happy Ray Chatfield in the 78a machine and Nathan Robertson in 17a. Well done to these two guys for getting on the podium.
We need to thank Trewren and the guys at BSL Racing for their help over the last few weeks. They have bent over backwards for us and worked tirelessly on fine tuning a Factory Kahne Racing shock package that best suits our car. The progress we have made since Christchurch is incredible and we feel we are back in the hunt on the slicker tracks that we have previously struggled on. As these types of tracks seem to now be the norm we needed to up skill in this area and we are happy with where we are now at. They are committed to continue to work with us to improve further and there are still gains to be had so thanks guys.
Next meeting for Team Fox is the NZGP at Rotorua on March 22nd. This will be challenging as always due to the tight track. 16 mods around here can make life interesting that is for sure! Passing points will be hard to come by. The week after we are back at Waikaraka to try and defend out North Island title. If we are lucky in doing so we will join Murray Gordge with 5 NI titles. Our plans after this meeting will be decided at a later date with no firm decision yet on if we run Easter weekend or not.