Getting your motor running

Motorsport
Getting your motor running
New Zealand V8 racing gained a new hero as Eddie Bell won the first round of the BNT championship at Pukekohe’s Fujitsu 200 meeting. The 35-year-old Christchurch driver had only one season’s experience in the top class but he won the round with finishes of second and first in the scratch races and sixth in the reverse-grid finale, driving the Independent Fisheries Falcon.
In his first V8 season, with Andrew Porter’s team, Bell had finished seventh in the championship – an excellent result, as these are difficult cars to drive and require some different techniques from most other categories. It had taken Bell a long time to get into V8s, as he is one of those drivers who has more talent than money. “In 1999 I gave up karts and I was going to go into touring cars next year, but then I realised it took a lot of money,” he said. “It’s amazing. I came here with a plan just to improve on last year and run in the top six.” While working his way up to the V8s Bell had won titles in Pro 7 (Mazda RX7s) and Mini Challenge, building up a group of sponsors who would help him reach for the top.
The revised format for this season saw two qualifying sessions leading up to a top-10 shootout on the Saturday, with each driver getting just one flying lap to determine the order at the front of the grid. Former champion John McIntyre was fastest in the Castrol Edge Falcon but Bell was a close second and ahead of top drivers Andy Booth (Big Ben Commodore), Craig Baird (United Video Falcon), Tim Edgell (Chesters Falcon), Paul Manuell (Orix Commodore) and defending champion Kayne Scott (Fujitsu Falcon). Perennial contender Angus Fogg missed qualifying because he had put his LG Falcon into the wall after he lost control coming over the hill in the test session, badly bending the front of the car.
McIntyre led all the way to win race one but Bell pressed him hard, finishing less than a second behind. The winner admitted that Bell had forced him to go harder than he really wanted to, as he was trying to conserve his tyres. Bell was comfortably clear of Booth in third, and then came Baird, Edgell and Scott. Edgell, 29, had a lot of bad luck last season but showed great pace when things were going well, and he has now definitely joined the top group of drivers. Scott said his car’s setup was not working.
There was consternation and controversy at the start of race two when officials ruled that McIntyre was too late leaving pit lane and kept him there till the rest of the field had started. So Bell started from pole, fended off early pressure from Booth and scored his first V8 victory. Booth took second followed by Edgell and Scott, while Baird had to stop because of a blown gearbox seal. Fogg, who had come in 10th in race one after starting from the back of the grid, made further progress to finish fifth.
Manuell started from the front of the reverse grid for race three after suffering mysterious fuel-system problems in the first two heats. He led nine laps but then Andrew Anderson passed him in the ITM Commodore – only to lose a golden chance of victory when a tyre delaminated and he had to stop for a new one. Fogg came through for the win, closely followed home by McIntyre and Baird. Bell, driving more cautiously than some of his rivals, took sixth, behind John Penny (Penny Homes Commodore). Booth and Edgell both lost time with spins, Edgell’s caused by contact from another car. Overall for the round Bell won ahead of McIntyre, Booth, Fogg and Edgell.
Porsche GT3s
Baird was competing in both the top classes, also defending his title in the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup (the Toyota Racing Series does not begin till January). Here he faced stiff competition from former A1GP driver Matt Halliday, who also has a lot of Porsche experience and this year finished as the top rookie in the Mobil Supercup series, which is run as support races at several of the Formula One meetings.
Halliday struck first, qualifying on pole and leading the first race, a 36-lap endurance event on the Saturday evening including a compulsory pit stop. But late in the race he made contact with a lapped car, got a puncture and to pit for a new tyre while Baird took the race win. Baird had race two to himself while Halliday suffered more misfortune – he started from the back of the grid, came through to fourth, but was penalised 25 seconds when officials judged that he had done an illegal practice start on the warm-up lap.
The final Porsche race started from a partially reversed grid and Halliday was soon in the lead, which he was able to hold till the finish this time. Former A1GP hero Jonny Reid, running as team-mate to Halliday with International Motorsport in Fisher & Paykel colours, took second despite pressure from Baird. Overall Baird won the round from

Triple X team-mate Daniel Gaunt, who has been racing a V8 Supercar in the Fujitsu (second division) series this year. Courtney Letica put in a fine performance to be third, while Reid’s fourth was a reasonable result considering it was really the first time he had seriously raced anything other than a single-seater. Baird was the busiest driver in the paddock. “It was a hard day,” he said. “I’ll tell you, five races in one day is pretty hard work.”
Formula Ford
These little single-seaters usually provide the most entertaining racing, because they run so close and there is plenty of passing. Each season sees a new crop of young guns going all-out to make a name for themselves, and talent-spotters keep a close eye on the Fords to work out which ones are the stars of the future.
This time it was Nick Cassidy, 15, who made a big impression – at his first Formula Ford championship meeting, he won all three races. That wasn’t a complete surprise, as the young Aucklander had won the 2008 SpeedSport Scholarship and finished second in the Formula First (Vee) championship last season. He had also contested some Formula Ford races at Manfeild over the winter, but still this was a top result. Cassidy showed speed, maturity and a good grasp of strategy as he came through three hectic races unscathed and in front at the end each time, though positions at the front were changing constantly as drivers were able to slipstream one another on the two fast straights. “Going on to the back straight you have to think about your corner entry and how far you want to be behind the car in front so you can get a good tow down the straight,” Cassidy explained. The more experienced Damon Leitch finished second for the round, and Matthew Penrose third.
Production/Minis
For this season the Production Racing Series was amalgamated with the Mini Challenge, while the Suzuki Swifts migrated from the PRS to form their own championship. Eight PRS cars and eight Minis fronted at Pukekohe, with the Minis starting each race well ahead of the PRS bunch.
Grant Aitken was the clear winner in PRS, winning both the scratch races and coming second in the reverse-grid finale in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. The experienced Aitken – former organiser of the Race to the Sky hillclimb, incidentally – reaped the benefit of taking a more scientific approach to car preparation. His team had done some serious testing of different suspension setups and they made their decisions based on lap times, not on the driver’s “seat of the pants” feelings as they had previously. As a result the car was significantly faster than it had been in the past.
Aitken’s only real challenge came from former champion Simon Sceats, who scored a second and a third but had to stop in race two when the exhaust came loose on his Subaru Impreza WRX. John Rongen (Evo 10) was second overall and Scott McKelvie (Evo 9) third.
Rookie Ryan Bailey came out top in the Minis, ahead of Mark Maddren and former Toyota Racing Series front-runner Matthew Hamilton. Bailey won two races, after good dices with Maddren, while Maddren claimed the reverse-grid final heat.

 

 

 

 

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