|Recently Fifteen year old Aucklander Andre Heimgartner won the 2010/2011 New Zealand Formula Ford championship title.
Andre joins the likes of Scott Dixon, Shane Van Gisbergen, and Fabian Coulthard who are previous Formula Ford champions who have gone on to international success. Organisers believe Andre to be the youngest driver to capture the title in its 40 year history.
In March Heimgartner arrived in Taupo for the final round in the lead having won more than half of the races to that point. A test session at the 3.3 kilometre circuit three weeks prior to the final round had been successful so it was disconcerting for Andre to find the Superlux Mygale was lacking balance when testing began on Thursday. Heimgartner could not get within a second of the times he had set earlier. The situation did not improve and into qualifying on Saturday morning Andre could only record the fifth best time - his worst qualifying position of the season.
Saturday afternoon’s opening race saw Andre climb to third position but he had to work hard to hold position. On the penultimate lap a shock mount broke and with the rear of the car dragging on the ground Andre nursed the car home to finish sixth.
The following morning Andre was back on track with the shock mount replaced. He took a conservative approach well aware a non-finish could give the championship away. He crossed the line in fourth place meaning just finishing the final race would claim the title for him.
However the nerves were on edge as the Motec dash display in the car failed on the grid as he awaited the start of the finale. Without the display Andre had no idea of the revs and no shift light to indicate when to change gear. He made a careful start and found the car was finally handling well. He began to catch the leading cars when suddenly the engine temperature light came on. Andre dropped back and conserved his engine, crossing the line fifth to become the New Zealand Formula Ford Champion.
“I am almost in a state of shock as for the last two years I have thought of little else,” he says. “A mind-blowing amount of work goes on behind the scenes to secure a Formula Ford championship and many people have helped me along the journey. Special thanks must go to John Crawford from Motorsport Solutions, my skilled mechanic Carl Bankier and race engineer Peter Cox. My engine builders Ian and Andy gave me the best engines in the field while my Dad never loses faith in me.”
“When Stefan (team mate Stefan Webling) won race one he made a thirty point gain leaving me with a seventy-nine point margin. The end of the world was now a possibility! “After replacing the shock mount for race two we had to rework the entire set up. I stayed out of trouble and finished fourth having collected valuable data and experience to fine tune the car. Stefan came second so the points erosion was minimal.”
“Not wanting to blow the engine I made a sedate start losing two places by turn one. The car was finally handling well and I started gaining on the lead group. I was changing gear using familiar track markers so as to be able to utilize the full rev range. As I reached the front cars my engine temperature light lit up. I decided to drop back to preserve my engine.”