Story by Stuart Owers
What an exciting sight to arrive at Hampton Downs for the first round of our brand new season and see 20 beautifully presented Porsches sitting menacingly in their garages. There is always so much potential in every car at the first round. Two of those cars will eventually go on to become individual championship winners and others will become class champions. But, the intriguing part will be the battle - stories and tales of trials and dramas that are yet to unfold.
The turnout of the Class E 944’s was particularly strong with nine entrants. Notable amongst those were Paul and Felix Fielding, a father and son team who brought along two identically painted 944s. It was going to be their first ever race and they were both, understandably, a little nervous. Another new entrant was Mat Burton who is new to our series, but no stranger to the racing scene. Also making a return in a 944 after a season or two away was Struan Robertson.
At the front of the field we had an entry from Scott Taylor. Scott was over from Australia to compete in the GT3 endurance race in his Mercedes SLS, but decided he would also bring along his 991 Cup car to run in our races.
All week the weather forecasters had been predicting a wet and cold weekend with a storm rolling up from the south and unfortunately they weren’t wrong.
Friday’s practice was indeed wet and cold and that was followed by a wet and cold Saturday morning.
There was a fortunate break in the weather just in time for our qualifying session and the track was largely dry by the time we rolled out. Michael Neville blasted out a great pole position time followed closely by Conal Dempsey. Many others were still getting used to the layout of the long InternationalTrack configuration so the times throughout the rest of the field were not as close as they usually are. Cam McCormack was the fastest of the Class C field and Neil Dewar had the best time in the Class E competitors, but was only just ahead of promising newcomer, Felix Fielding.
With blue skies above us for an hour or so all our cars sat in their garages ready for the first race with their dry tyres on. Just before the Porsches were called to the grid, it started to rain and then, hail. There was a mad scramble amongst the teams to fit wet tyres, but as they finished bolting them on, the sun came out again. What a dilemma. The track was obviously going to dry quickly but would still stay wet for the first few laps. With just a couple of minutes to go several teams decided to gamble on dry tyres and that resulted in more frantic crew activity to get them out on the grid in time.
The start was spectacular. It was hard to know where to look as positions changed rapidly back and forth throughout the field. The drivers who elected to run on wets had the initial advantage as many of the dry tyred drivers struggled for grip and had slides and spins.
It wasn’t long before Cam McCormack also fell victim to the slippery surface and found himself stuck in a sand trap waiting for a tow. This brought out the safety car and allowed the field to compose themselves again.
When the green flag came back out the track had dried enough for the dry tyres to have sufficient grip to slowly allow their drivers to get an advantage over the wet tyre runners.
At the front of the field Michael Neville had a mistake free run and streaked ahead to take the chequered flag with a huge 12 second advantage over the rest of the field. He was followed home by Brian McGovern and Scott Taylor. Conal Dempsey was forced to retire with a flat tyre after a touch from another competitor.
The Class C battle was won by Phil Jones,but he was lead home by Class D contestant Brent Greer, meaning Brent will get a good haul of championship points. Brent drove brilliantly and seemed to revel in the greasy conditions. It was fun to watch him power sliding his little air-cooled Carrera.
The big race of Class E 944’s was won, impressively, by newcomer Mat Burton followed by Neil Dewar and Peter Hardy.
Sunday’s weather was looking a lot brighter and was forecast to be dry all day which was a relief after Saturday’s drama filled event. Right from the start of the race we were treated to close battles throughout the classes. At the front Conal Dempsey and Michael Neville swapped positions and had us all on our feet as they engaged in hand to hand combat for the entire race. They eventually crossed the finish line side by side but with Conal in front by a tiny margin of .017 seconds to give him the win.
The next group across the finish line was the Class C with Cam McCormack taking line honours over Robert Dong and Phil Jones.
The Class E race was just as intriguing as the Neville/Dempsey battle. At the chequered flag Mat Burton had a very narrow victory over Neil Dewar followed by last season’s champion, Tony Houston.
Earlier, one of our newcomers, Paul Fielding, had an unexpected end to his race. Paul hadn’t noticed a chunky metal part fly off the car in front of him which then bounced under Paul’s car making an alarming banging and rattling sound. Fearing the worst, Paul pulled over and stopped, thinking something vital had fallen off his car. At the end of the race he was able to get the full picture and was bemused to find his car perfectly intact.
The third race start saw a lot of exciting position changing by the Class E field which started in a reverse grid format. It was clear that most drivers were getting a good understanding of the highly technical international section so the racing was getting tighter and closer.
Up at the front Michael Neville led into the first corner and then went on to post the fasted lap time, (just fractionally faster than Brian McGovern) Michael got straight onto the pace and managed to get an early gap in front of the hard charging Conal Dempsey which he held onto comfortably until the chequered flag.
Meanwhile the Class C contest of the 996 Cup cars was led by Cam McCormack. Cam posted an impressive fastest Class C lap and finished nearly 30 seconds ahead of his rivals. Behind him it was much closer with Phil Jones finishing hot on the heels of Robert Dong, less than a quarter of a second behind Robert at the flag.
The Class E race was won by Tony Houston who was followed home by Neil Dewar and Peter Hardy. The fastest Class E lap was set by Felix Fielding in 5th place who was, remarkably, nearly a second faster than his competitors.
Immediately after the final race, drivers who had accumulated the most points in the Motosport section of our dual championships were called up to the official podium by the event organisers to be presented with trophies. Michael Neville, Brian McGovern and Scott Taylor were presented with cups from Australian GT competitor Dom Storey and they all wasted no time afterwards soaking each other in champagne. Conal Dempsey, who featured prominently in our three races, was ineligible for points towards this championship because he runs in the open class.
With only a short time to prepare and re-group for the next round at Pukekohe it was a relief to see there had been very few contact incidents and none of the cars had any ongoing mechanical issues to deal with. The exception being Struan Robertson who had a miserable time all weekend battling with a variety of mechanical problems.
Roll on the Supercar round.