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Story by Stuart Owers

The Hampton Downs commentator, Clint Brown, was talking about March madness from the moment we sat down to watch the first qualifying session on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, his intuition proved eerily correct as our Pirelli Porsche Series had a tumultuous weekend.

Qualifying was the exception however and it went smoothly. Brian McGovern (#11) thrilled us with a stunning 1.05.2 lap time in almost the final moments of the session. That sensational lap put him on pole position with the other series title contender Paul Kelly (#90) beside him with a fast 1.05.7. Also qualifying in the rarefied atmosphere of the 1.05’s was Tim James (#333). Hotly pursuing them from behind in the 1.06 second bracket were open class contender Conal Dempsey (#25) and class B runner Kevin Etches (#63).

They were followed by a tight bunch of class C contenders led by Robert Dong, (#888) and followed by new series entrant Cam McCormack (#722) then long time campaigner Phil Jones (#999) and Brent Greer, (#72). We then had our biggest turnout for the E class (often referred to as the 944 class), led by the returning Neil Dewar (#8) with a fast time that rattled the cage of club championship leader Tony Houston (#356) in second place. He, in turn, was followed by another returning driver, Peter Hardy (#23) then Adrian Redding (#34) and Steff Chambers (#42). Putting in a highly competitive and promising qualifying performance in this class was newcomer Paul Miller (#115). Long time campaigner and supporter of the series, Dave Allison (#48) had made the lengthy trip up from the Kapiti Coast to be the sole Class D contender in his distinctive supercharged 968.

With such a great mixture of fast and close times we were set to be in for an exciting and highly entertaining first race.

Race one

As we watched the Porsches line up on the starting grid there was some discussion about the pros and cons of starting on the left or right side of the track. The pole position (right side) was thought to be the less used and slipperier side of the tarmac. So, we were holding our breath as the revs rose to a roar and the red start lights were triggered. As the lights went out the concerns about the pole side being slippery were quickly shattered as Brian McGovern got the best launch he had all season. But, Paul Kelly closely and evenly matched that great start and we got up on our toes to watch the two cars lead the ferocious pack side by side into the first corner. Brian prevailed and held both his nerve and the pole position through turn one and headed towards turn two with Paul Kelly tightly behind him and the rest of the field sorting themselves out without incident. Behind the front pair were Kevin Etches and Tim James who were closely matching each other.

While still on the first lap Brian slightly over estimated the grip available from his cold tyres and ran wide through a corner which allowed the hotly chasing Paul Kelly to seize the opportunity and slip past into first place. That set up a thrilling spectacle as Brian weaved and ducked behind Paul looking for an opportunity to regain his first place. With a slightly better run out of the long sweeper that leads onto the main straight Brian positioned himself beside Paul and out braked him into turn one.

Right through the field other battles were taking place and it was hard to know which one to focus on. Cam McCormack had managed to get in front of Robert Dong and led the class C pack. Further back Peter Hardy had put the class D car of Dave Allison between himself and the rest of the Class E field to give himself a buffer back to Neil Dewar.

At the front the battle went on between Brian and Paul Kelly with Brian leading as they started to catch and lap the class E cars. Sadly, this is where our hopes for an incident free season were burst. A driver being lapped wasn’t watching their mirrors and turned straight into the side of the Brian’s rapidly overtaking car launching it spectacularly into the air and forcing Brian to be almost a passenger as the car spun violently into the sand trap at the side of the track.

The rest of the field slowed for the incident and then resumed their contest for two more laps. At the chequered flag Paul Kelly held first place and was followed home by Kevin Etches and Tim James.

Class C was won by the talented newcomer Cam McCormack and Peter Hardy was delighted with his well deserved win to secure the E class battle.

Race two

Even though Brian McGovern had to be towed back to the pits after the race one disaster, thanks to a massive effort from fellow driver Brent Greer and Dwayne and Brian’s crew, Max and Aidan he still managed to line up on pole position again beside Paul Kelly to contest Sunday’s race two.

Another exciting and thunderous start saw the grid roaring off, this time with the more familiar sight off Paul Kelly leading the pack into the first corner, followed intently by Brian McGovern. Looking back to the grid we could see the lonely and stranded car of Kevin Etches as he attempted to restart it after an uncharacteristic stall.

Brian clung onto Paul’s bumper for a lap and then decided he could pass by taking the tighter inside line through the partially blind turn one. The two cars ran side by side all the way down towards the apex but the Kelly car hadn’t allowed quite enough room on the inside and the two touched sending both Porsches into a spin. Fortunately neither car hit any immovable scenery, so they both regathered, faced back in the right direction, then took off in pursuit of the pack.

Conal Dempsey joined the grid for the Sunday races and he was quick to capitalise on this calamity and took over the lead. The interest in the race then focused on how much ground McGovern and Kelly could regain while we also watched Kevin Etches setting scorching lap times while recovering form his slow start.

Further back Robert Dong took the lead of class C and was desperately holding off Cam McCormack who was doing a great job of filling Robert’s mirrors. The two cars eventually crossed the finish line less than a second apart.

Meanwhile, Neil Dewar was making a fantastic job of leading the reverse grid race for class E, but the experienced Tony Houston hounded him closely, cutting Neil’s lead to another thrilling finish of less than a second at the chequered flag.

On the penultimate lap we were shocked to see the TV cameras picking up the sight of Brian McGovern’s car sitting on the side of the track after sustaining damage to both the front and rear. Apparently Brian had spun coming out of the hairpin and came into contact with the unforgiving concrete wall.

The overall win went to Conal Dempsey, followed by Tim James and the hard charging Kevin Etches. Paul Kelly retained some valuable championship points by finishing fourth.

Dave Allison’s class D race came to an early end with a stub axle failure.

Race three

A depleted field of just 14 cars gridded up to wait for the start of race three. Brian’s car was unable to be repaired in time so the front row pole position sat sadly and poignantly vacant.

Paul Kelly made his usual excellent and ice calm job of coordinating clutch and accelerator to lead the howling pack into the first corner followed very closely by Kevin Etches whose car snaked impressively sideways when he launched off the line from the second row.

Behind him were Conal Dempsey and Tim James followed by a fast starting Robert Dong.

Within a lap Kevin’s Class B car had made a brilliant and daring pass on Paul Kelly and he then put his head down to try and repeat the sensationally fast lap times he recorded during the second race. Conal decided he could sniff an opportunity while Paul was clearly playing a cautious points gathering role so he also started to work out how to get past the Kelly machine.

Robert Dong’s excellent start had put him in front of Cam McCormack and he now had to try and work out how to keep the rapid McCormack 996 behind him.

Meanwhile the colourful class E field had their traditional reverse grid start and were putting on a crowd-pleasing display led early on by Neil Dewar.

Up at the front the three cars of Etches, Kelly and Demspey kept us on our feet and we held our breath as Conal finally slipped past Paul. He then he started setting his sights on Kevin. It seemed inevitable that the horsepower advantage enjoyed by Conal would eventually get the better of Kevin and that’s exactly what happened. But Kevin put up a huge fight, lap after lap, and certainly didn’t relinquish the lead softly. Conal was made to work for every inch of ground he needed to get past.

Meanwhile back in the closely fought class E, Neil Dewar was prevailing at the front, with Adrian Redding having the drive of his season, eventually finishing second in class.

Our class E points leader, Tony Houston, drew the attention of the TV cameras by suffering a spectacular ball joint failure while under braking for the big sweeper. That failure put him on the sidelines and out of the race but he had at least completed enough laps to rescue some valuable class points from a bad situation.

Speedworks Rush Hour

The one hour endurance handicap race featured a good number of Porsches, – Simon Gilbertson, Paul Miller, Adrian Redding, Robert Dong, Phil Jones and Tim James plus Rush Hour points leader Brian McGovern.

At the end of the hour Simon Gilbertson crossed the line in fourth with Brian McGovern in seventh. The seventh place finish was enough for Brian to be declared the Rush Hour Series champion. Congratulations to Brian and his team for representing us so well in that tough series.

Driver of the Round

The award for the best driving effort at the previous Manfeild round was presented to Robert Dong. Robert thrilled us all with his close battles with Tim James throughout all three races.