By Stuart Owers
The spectators all held their breath as 23 Porsches stormed oﬀ the start line for the first race of the season at Taupo. Amongst the drivers were five complete novices who had never started a race in their lives. But let’s wind this back a bit and start at the beginning of the story.
The Taupo event should have been round number three for our Pirelli Porsche Championship, but of course Covid got in the way. The Taupo event had been arranged and booked for a while but after all the confirmations the track changed ownership which threw a few obstacles in our path. Chris Barendregt became our chief negotiator and after a huge number of phone calls, emails, and support from our main Club Committee he managed to put our race meeting back on the calendar. Full credit goes to Chris here for his determination. Most other mere mortals would have given up and abandoned the Round.
So, after a lot of hard work from Chris, 24 racing Porsches arrived at the track on Friday 14th January for a practice day which was held in conjunction with the Rennsport Group and the Porsche Club members who were holding a two-day track day event with us. The practice day was invaluable to the novice racing drivers and also a chance for the experienced drivers to shake oﬀ the rust after such a long break away from competitive driving. The only incident of the day was a broken drive shaft for the unfortunate Jim McKernan which meant he was destined to watch the next day’s racing from the side-lines while his 944 sat on the trailer.
Of the 24 competitors booked for the weekend, 16 of the Porsches were Boxsters. This new Class has really taken oﬀ.
Robert Dong and Struan Robertson were duelling for the outright pole position time in their 997 Cup cars and it was Struan who put in the fastest laps early on. However, Robert dialled himself in and eventually produced a time that Struan had no answer for.
Daniel Angus was having his first competitive outing in his 996 Cup car and he put in a very creditable time that was close to the 997s. Beside Daniel on the second row of the grid was Brent Greer who had brought along his freshly rebuilt 1986 911 Carrera and was driving it with his usual flair and verve. This is a beautiful car and now runs a 3.6 litre 964 engine. Brent’s 911 was the only air-cooled car in the field.
The 944 Class pole position was taken by Matt Burton who put in an excellent time to deny the spot to Marin Vujcich and Neil Dewar.
The 16 strong contingent of Boxsters had a full 15-minute qualifying session all to themselves and this produced some close lap times. At the end of the session it was Noel Simpson who snagged the fastest Boxster time and the honour of the Boxster pole position. He was closely followed by last year’s Boxster Champion, Scott Bradley, then Tony Houston in 3rd, with Chris Barendregt in 4th.
As the lights went out we watched a lot of well thought out plans go straight out the window. Rob Dong was very slow oﬀ the line while the other 911s scorched away. Struan Roberstson led the field into turn one. Particularly impressive was Brent Greer’s start in his lightweight Carerra.
Behind the rear engined cars Marin Vujcich was having a bad start to the season. He inadvertently tried to ace the start while in 3rd gear. His 944 stalled and by the time he restarted it most of the field had streaked past him.
The Boxster pole sitter, Noel Simpson, didn’t manage to hold his advantage at the start and quickly found himself battling for 3rd in the class. There were groups of Boxsters racing intensely all through the race and they put on an exciting display. Tony Houston seized the Class lead early and was hounded by Scott Bradley, Noel Simpson and Chris Taylor.
At the front we watched Rob Dong pressuring Struan for a way past, which he eventually found. Struan’s older tyres were going oﬀ and this allowed the well driven 996 of Daniel to get past him also. In the 944 class Matt Burton had a comfortable lead out in front and was able to watch Marin and Neil Dewar fighting for second and third behind him.
The Boxsters were great to watch. There were constant position changes all through their 16-car field. As one or two of the newer drivers commented afterwards, it’s not easy to pass another car that has the identical performance. At the chequered flag, Tony Houston’s white car took the Class win, with Scott Bradley second, Noel Simpson third and Chris Taylor 4th.
This was another 10-lap race for the Pirelli Porsches. The start was less eventful for everyone but no less intense. The Boxsters were three wide in the first few corners with nobody wanting to give up a corner advantage. Once again there were lots of position changes and a couple of wobbly and dusty moments as ambitious cornering expectations were not quite matched by the grip the tyres had on the tarmac. Tony Houston fell back early in the race leaving Scott Bradley, Noel Simpson, Chris Taylor and a newcomer to the series, Rhys Warren, fighting over the lead positions.
The 911s of Rob Dong and Struan Robertson put on an incredible display. Rob narrowly won the start and led for most of the race but Struan challenged repeatedly under brakes. He was constantly in Rob’s mirrors and they stay locked together for the entire 10 laps. Despite multiple challenges Struan couldn’t find a way past even though he posted the fastest lap of the race. At the chequered flag there was still only a tenth of a second separating the two cars.
Behind the 911s we were treated to a 944 duel between Marin Vujcich and Matthew Burton. Matt held the upper hand for most of the race but Marin was breathing relentlessly down his neck.
Near the end of the race, a tiny slip up from Matt allowed Marin the opportunity to sneak past and take the race win.
After an entertaining race- long battle between the Boxsters, with lots of side-by-side action, and some more dust clouds, Scott Bradley was delighted to grab a win with a healthy margin over Noel Simpson, Chris Taylor, Rhys Warren and Chris Barendregt.
This was our 30-minute race and the drivers were all looking forward to it. The fastest cars have a compulsory timed pitstop to complete during the race. The Cup cars of Rob and Struan had a two-minute wait in the pits, Daniel Angus had about a minute and a half, Brent had around one minute and the 944s had to stop for 24 seconds. The Boxsters only had to do a pit drive through. The formula is designed to have a close finish and adjusts for the diﬀerent lap time capabilities of the various classes.
It seemed all the drivers had a diﬀerent strategy as to when they would come into the pits for their stop or drive through. Many gambled on a safety car being deployed that could have meant a big advantage if they dived into the pits while the rest of the cars were slowed down. However, the safety car stayed safely out of sight so it wasn’t a factor in the results.
Part way through the race it looked like the overall win was going to go to either Rob Dong, Struan Robertson or Daniel Angus. However, a timing misunderstanding during the compulsory pit stop for Struan saw his car sitting for longer than it should have and his chance of a win vanished. So, we were treated to the spectacle of Robert Dong trying to catch the well driven 996 of Daniel Angus.
With one lap to go the gap closed to a few hundred metres but the clock ticked over to the 30-minute mark and Daniel took the chequered flag for the win.
The secret of winning these races is to do consistent laps as close as possible to your qualifying pace. This is exactly what Daniel did and he had a well-deserved win.
The Class points still matter of course and Matt Burton claimed the 944 victory, while Tony Houston took the chequered flag first for the Boxsters, followed by Scott Bradley, Noel Simpson, Chris Taylor and Chris Barendregt.
Our congratulations and full respect go to our new Boxster drivers who all did exceptionally well. To Rhys Warren, Regan Scoullar, Grant Biggar, Symon Thurlow, Nick Cutfield, Kelly McEwan, and Steven Huipeng Fang, a special welcome to you all.
We also had some returning and experienced drivers trying out the Boxsters. Welcome back to David Mackrell, Guy Heaysman, Stephen Stokes and Steﬀ Chambers.
The start of the new season was also an opportunity to welcome back all our sponsors and financial supporters. Special thanks go tour series sponsor Pirelli Tyres, and our other important sponsors Kensway, Rapid Dry Towels, Porsche Oﬃcial Centres and Continental Cars Tyre Centre. Without their support and your support of them, our series wouldn’t be possible.