Busy couple of weeks for the team with back to back SNZ Championships to contest over consecutive weekends.
First cab of the rank was the NZGP event at Paradise Valley Rotorua. This title has proved to be elusive over the years for us with only the one victory to show for our efforts. I have lost count of how many times we have been on the podium though!
A smaller than ideal field of 13 cars fronted for the event with only 1 car waving the South Island flag. Thanks need to go out to Mike Gourley in the 2nz machine for committing to the event. The rest of the field was made up of 3 guys from Wellington (8w, 9w and 17w), 4 from Stratty (31s, 55s, 67s and 77s), 1 local (18r) and 4 from Auckland (11a, 19a, 36a and 78a). Format was 2 heat races for points and then highest points off the front for the 20 lap, winner take all title race.
Foxy drew grid 1 for heat 1 and that gave us grid 13 for heat 2. In an ideal world we would have won the race from grid 1 but a wet poleline at the start of the race caught us out and Blair in the 9w machine shot to the lead from grid 2. The first few laps were a struggle on a slippery track but by about lap 4 the car was a lot better and it didn’t take long to get back on Blair’s bumper. The rest of the race, for us, was to try and find a way past him to no avail. An indication of how hard this racetrack was to pass on is that the biggest mover in this race only gained 2 places from their starting position and this was at the start! It was going to be hard work!
Heat 2 and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Foxy got a reasonable start and was able to capitalize early on a few of the other guys mistakes. By the 2nd or 3rd lap Foxy had made his way up to about 8th on the track and importantly had past race 1 winner Blair McPhee. This optimism proved to be short-lived when Foxy dove to the outside through turns ¾ to try and make a pass and ended up in the marbles, by the time he was able to get some drive all the cars he had passed in the first few laps had passed him back and coming off the turn he was back in last again! The remaining 8 laps or so were a start stop affair with some of the guys losing their focus and making mistakes which allowed us to grab back places that in all honesty we would not have got if guys had remained patient. By race end we had moved our way into 6th which was a 7 point gain from where we started and proved to be just 1 short of what we needed to make sure of a front row start for the feature. We knew that it would be hard work winning this thing if you were not on the front row for the feature and this proved to be correct.
Highest points scorer after the 2 races was Scotty in the 19a car so he had lane choice for the final. He had me scratching my head when I found out he chose to leave from grid 1. I am not sure why he gave up the prime starting position of grid 2 but he did and I would bet that Bunter had a massive smile on his face when he was told he would be leaving from grid 2 as the guy with the 2nd most points. Foxy was to leave from 3 with the 31s car or Farron on 4, 55s on 5 and 2nz on 6. It was highly unlikely that the winner would come from any further back in the field than this,
Saturday March 29th and we were back at Waikaraka Park for the 2013/14 SNZ North Island title. Foxy went in as the current champion and attempting to win his 5th North Island title to tie the legendary Murray Gordge’s record of most wins in the event. Once again a field down on numbers fronted and once again the starters numbered 13. We were lucky to have the 2nz (and temporary Aucklander) Mike Gourley in attendance again and he was joined by the same 4 Stratty boys from the weekend before along with the 18r car and 7 locals (9a, 11a, 17a, 19a, 36a, 78a and 97a). Once again the format was 2 x heat races for points and then a winner take all final. This time though the final would be over 25 laps and not 20.
Foxy drew a very uninspiring grid 7 for heat 1 and this meant that we would start in exactly the same spot in heat 2 as well. Two inside starts stuck in the middle of the pack is not when you want to start from but sometimes that is the way it goes. Heat one had a front row consisting of Bunter and Scotty which seemed somewhat ironic given these two started the GP the week before in exactly the same positions. From the get go Bunter made no contest of this one when he shot away at the start and never looked like being caught. He looked real strong and actually was able to lap Mike in the 2nz machine in the 12 lap race. Scotty was unable to hold out a very fast Bryce McCall in the 9a machine who took 2nd followed by Scotty in 3rd and Foxy who was able to make his way up to 4th. Foxy set fastest lap in the mid 14 second bracket.
Heat 2 and this time we had the 31s of Farron Lowry off the front and Mike in the 2nz leaving from row 2. The 3 guys who finished in front of us in the first race were all starting behind us and it was important that we made as many passes as possible to put cars in between us and them. From the start Farron shot away from the pack while Foxy starting to make moves through the field. The car was running strong and after making a nice pass on the 2nz to be running 2nd, Foxy gave chase to Farron and by race end had caught him up. Time ran out to make a pass for the lead so he had to settle for 2nd. Based on initial results Bunter had been able to make his way up to 5th and we thought that meant that both and he and Foxy would be tied on top points for starting positions for the final. I expected that a coin toss would be required to see who would have lane choice but once I told Foxy he was likely tied with Bunter he confirmed that the deciding factor would be who had set fastest lap. Knowing Foxy had been quicker in both the first two races; we knew that we would be able to have lane choice. In the end it didn’t matter as Bunter was relegated a few places for what I think was poleline indiscretions in the 2nd heat and this meant that Bryce in the 9a machine would actually line up next to us for the 25 lap final. Foxy chose to leave from grid 2. Row 2 had Bunter and Farron in 31s. Mike in the 2nz machine was down to leave from grid 6 and Scotty was further back in the pack.
The decision was made by the team to set the car up for the 2nd half of the race. We know from experience that these longer races are not won in the first part of the race but in the last part. No point being a rocketship for 10 laps an then drifting backwards! Having the benefit of being off the front meant we could hopefully maintain track position at the start with a car that would struggle a little but get stronger as the race went on. Two unsuccessful starts ensued with firstly Bryce and then Foxy both being deemed to jump the start. On the 3rd attempt we were underway and Bryce got the advantage into the first turn. While he built up a 5-6 car advantage at the front, Foxy was under all sorts of pressure from Bunter for 2nd. Luckily for us the car started to hook up as expected on about lap 4 or 5 and Foxy was able to start to put some air between him and Bunter and concentrate on closing the gap to the leader. By lap 8 or 9 Foxy had pulled Bryce in and was looking for a passing opportunity. This opportunity came pretty quickly when Bryce went in to hot into turn 3 and drifted wide allowing Foxy cleanly up the inside. Realizing he was in trouble Bryce tried to angle back down on to the poleline off 4 which was a bit naughty as he ended up drilling Foxy. We were very lucky that although the contact was hard we were able to continue on. We were a bit worried though that there may have been damage. Thankfully for us it didn’t slow Foxy down and he went from strength to strength. The car got better the longer the race went and without any stoppages, to close the field up, there no way anyone was going to get close and Foxy ended up winning by near on half a lap and claiming his 5th North Island title. Mike proved that he has a fantastic car in the longer races and came home a very creditable 2nd after 9a retired from the race a few laps after the contact with Foxy. Bunter held on for 3rd in a car that struggled the longer the race went.
After the season we have had we are really pleased with our turnaround in performance since our trip to Christchurch earlier in the season. We feel we now have a car good enough to compete with the best running around at the moment and that we have made fantastic leaps forward on the slicker track surfaces. Big thanks to Ian, Trewyn and the guys from BSL for assisting with a FK shock package that has been a big part of the turnaround. To our ever supportive sponsors Roger at CSL Containers and Brian at BDC Engineering we thank you for your help once again. We couldn’t do what we do without the immense help we get from these guys. These cars are not cheap to keep running at the pointy end of the field and these guys are always there to make sure we have what we need, when we need it. We look forward to a big year next season with the NZ title being contested at home and you guys in attendance.
We have made the decision to support Rotorua’s Easter meeting this season given that they will likely need the numbers to put on a good show. We will then run at the King of the Park meeting at Waikaraka the week after Easter. This means we have a couple of weeks off and then 2 weekends of racing late April to finish off our season.
Thanks for your support and see you in Vegas at Easter, don’t forget your winter woolies!