Story by Stuart Owers
Saturday morning; as I stood inside the long Porsche marquee watching the rain pouring down and forming into big puddles I couldn’t help reflecting on how comfortable it was now in these conditions compared to the earlier days of the Porsche Racing Series. In the past we would have been standing on wet grass, huddling under umbrellas or some flimsy “ezy-up”, constantly rearranging sheets of plastic to try and keep our gear dry. Racing in the rain may still be just as treacherous and unpredictable but the drivers and crews now enjoy vastly more civilised conditions outside their cars.
As our cars formed up on the dummy grid during a particularly heavy downpour I overheard race officials discussing either suspending or cancelling qualifying altogether because of the level of surface water on the track. It was a marginal call but after a delay the Porsches were eventually released for their 15minute qualifying session.
An important strategy for drivers in wet conditions is to get on with the job quickly and put in a fast lap time early on. It’s common for any wet session to be red flagged or cut short because of stranded cars parked in the sand traps. Clearly Michael Neville went out with a plan to do exactly that. One of his first few laps was about two seconds quicker than anyone else. David Mackrell also put in an early flyer, as did our South Island guest, Garry Derrick. It was a particularly impressive time from Garry considering his limited experience at Hampton Downs.
As it turned out it was only one of our drivers who had a minor grass excursion, which just temporarily slowed the qualifying pace, but as the session time ticked down the rain eased and the lap times started to improve. Eventually the results started to take on a familiar pattern. Michael Neville kept posting faster times as the track became less treacherous but was still two seconds faster than his season long rival Brian McGovern who was second overall. Sean Kirkpatrick and David Mackrell filled the next two spots. Struan Robertson, once again, showed us his skill in the wet by posting a time quicker than some of the Cup cars to be 8th overall and the fastest Class E car.
It was interesting listening afterwards to the drivers praising their Pirelli wet tyres which apparently were brilliant. Despite that, our drivers need full recognition for handling those conditions so professionally.
By the time our race started on Saturday afternoon the rain had cleared and we were back to sunshine and dry weather tyres.
At the flag drop we saw Michael easing away in front of Brian McGovern to lead from turn one. Meanwhile, Gerry Kessels tried to make his start more interesting and entertaining in his 944 by trying to start in 3rd gear. Struan Robertson couldn’t capitalise on his hard fought grid position because of gear selection problems and he also had a slow start.
Despite some frantic jostling in the first few corners all early laps were clean and incident free. Eventually the cars formed into groups with Brian pursuing Michael at the front of the field. The Class E pack were putting on some great entertainment with Struan making up for his slow start to eventually close to within half a second of Class winner Tony Houston. Peter Hardy had obviously figured out how to blow out the cobwebs after missing a round and he took the chequered flag in third place for Class E.
The 996 race was a highlight. Our South Island guest gave our regulars a good look at the back of his car as he beat Robert Dong by six seconds at the flag. Meanwhile, Robert had his hands full and spent the race being hotly pursued by Cam McCormack and Phil Jones who finished tightly behind them.
Chris Barendregt was enjoying a return to our series after a lengthy absence. Chris was in a Cayman which was unique to this field and he finished in a very creditable 9th place overall.
Ted Carner (996 Cup Car) and Gerry Kessels (944 S2) must have plotted together to liven up the normally predictable grid starts for this race. When positioning their cars onto the numbered spots on the starting grid Ted inadvertently rolled slightly past his designated position. To correct that he put the car in reverse and moved back slightly. What he then forgot to do was put the car back into first gear. So, as the lights went out he roared off backwards. To make the situation even more bizarre there was the sight of Gerry Kessels already zooming up behind him. Gerry had just had the best start of his career. The only problem was, the starting lights were still red.
At the front of the grid, with the Michael and Brian show, we saw them both get a good start with Michael just edging ahead through turn one.
We were settling in to watch another good battle between these two with Brian nicely in touch behind until about lap four when they encountered a bunch of traffic to lap. This separated the battling duo and broke the suction that Brian was maintaining at the back of Michael’s car.
Michael eventually crossed the line about six seconds ahead of Brian. David Mackrell won a great contest between with Sean Kirkpatrick to finish with a well-deserved 3rd.
Behind them we were treated to another great 996 contest. This time, Cam McCormack had a new set of tyres and he drove out of his skin to hang on to the back of Sean Kirkpatrick’s 997 and lead the other 996 cars home comfortably. In the course of winning his Class he also set the 3rd fastest outright lap time for our weekend. A remarkable and impressive achievement.
In Class E race the final results were similar to the first race with Tony Houston leading home Peter Hardy followed by Struan Robertson and Jim McKernan.
Brian McGovern must have been so impressed with the previous race’s start line entertainment that he decided he would liven things up a little with his own variation.
Starting on the front row, his reaction to the lights going out was sharp. However, these cars don’t rocket off the line when you inadvertently start in 2nd gear. Behind him Cam McCormack had a brilliant launch and he overtook Brian to follow Michael Neville through turn one. Sean Kirkpatrick and David Mackrell also had good starts and they all clustered together through the first few corners for a very exciting beginning to the race. We then had the treat of watching Brian moving through the traffic from 6th up to 2nd place. With this luxury in hand, and despite a brilliant recovery from Brian, Michael Neville went on to post the largest lead of his season and finished with a huge gap back to the rest of the field.
Behind him we were watching an exciting chase between Sean Kirkpatrick and David Mackrell, but first they both had to get past Cam McCormack’s brilliantly driven 996. Cam held 2nd place overall for a couple of laps until inevitably he was overpowered by the later model cars of David Mackrell and Sean Kirkpatrick.
Cam eventually finished 4th overall, winning the 996 battle, with Garry Derrick 2nd and Robert Dong 3rd.
Behind them the Class E drivers were putting on another exciting display. Peter Hardy looked like he was going to get a race win over Tony Houston but a small fumble with the gears when closing on a slower car gave Tony the opportunity to slip past and snatch the lead. They finished like that with Struan Robertson 3rd. Dave Allison was also having fun mixing it up with the Class E drivers in his unique 968 supercharged car.
Driver of the Day
Two awards were presented at a bbq lunch that was generously supplied and hosted by Nathan Webber from Pirelli Tyres and Continental Tyre Services.
Brian McGovern got the award for our Manfeild round for his brilliant start and race craft down there. That race was thrilling and had everybody on their feet.
Peter Hardy was also awarded a trophy for his race efforts at a previous Pukekohe round. Peter put on an eye-catching display of precision spinning but also went on to a well-deserved win.
The driver of the day awards were presented by Steven Neville and the race trophies from the previous round were presented by Nathan.
It was wonderful to have such a great turnout from the Club for both the Saturday and Sunday lunches. The drivers really enjoy the support from all these friendly faces. Thanks again to Pirelli and Nathan for their generosity.