Story by Stuart Owers
Taupo was the perfect place to finish our seven round series and with all the drivers, supporters, friends and crew staying away from home it became a very social way to conclude an exciting season. Phil Jones had organised a Saturday night dinner venue and all seats were quickly snapped up. At the track many others had turned out to support our multi-layered battles.
With most drivers experiencing a dry but slippery track and slow lap times during the Friday practice session, nobody was expecting particularly fast qualifying times. Clearly, Michael Neville didn’t get that message. By lap two he’d set a stunning 1.29 time which was not only his best time of the session but also nearly two seconds faster than Brian McGovern in P2. Sean Kirkpatrick was making use of the experience he’d gained doing an endurance race at Taupo a few weeks beforehand and put his name on the P3 slot.
Robert Dong was the fastest of the 996 Cup cars with Phil Jones and Cam McCormack filling the next two spots.
The Class E /944 contest was won by Jim McKernan putting himself on the Class E pole position in front of Struan Robertson and Steff Chambers. Steff was lucky to even be out on the track after she had experienced gear selection issues during the earlier practice session and was expecting to have to withdraw from the rest of the round. Luckily, Struan Robertson rolled up his sleeves and generously helped her repair the car so she could enjoy the rest of the weekend.
Jason Nicholl made a welcome return to the series, but his car wasn’t eligible for points because he was running the wrong tyres.
If you’d been focused on watching the exciting drag race at the front of the field between Brian and Michael, you would have missed some of the frantic shuffling of positions that went on behind them. The two front runners almost matched each other all the way down to the first corner but Michael had the inside line, so he led the pack towards turn two. Robert Dong had one of the best starts of his long career and followed the first two cars through. He’d even outpaced the 997 Cup cars of Sean Kirkpatrick, David Mackrell and Keith Miller. Things then got a little chaotic for a while with a variety of half spins resulting in a couple of relatively minor nudges. Ted Carner and Keith Miller were the only ones to come away with damage and both cars finished the race wearing cracked rear bumpers.
Out at the front Michael Neville seemed to have a confident lead over Brian McGovern for a couple of laps but things were about to change. As the cars came into view on the long back straight, we were surprised to see Brian had moved ahead of him. Michael had run wide on the sweeper before the straight and Brian managed to sneak underneath him. Michael put on a classic display of race craft behind Brian with weaving and feinting as they braked for each corner. After only half a lap he managed to dive down the inside of Brian at the tight turn five and establish a lead that couldn’t be overturned.
Behind them Robert Dong asserted his authority by leading the pack of 996’s but behind him Phil Jones was in hot pursuit and set a lap time that was two seconds faster than Robert’s best.
The Class E race was won decisively by Struan Robertson in front of Jim McKernan and Steff Chambers.
Another beautiful blue-sky day meant the drivers were heading out in near perfect racing conditions. Cool but sunny. Michael Neville got the best start this time, but Sean Kirkpatrick came storming through from the second row to go side by side with Brian into the first corner. Both drivers showed great skills and awareness of each other as they continued to try and get an overlap.
By turn four Brian had manoeuvred his car in front of Sean and then started to focus on the chase to catch Michael who had used the tussle behind him to establish a handy early lead. Michael eventually finished the race with a 13 second margin back to Brian which was probably the biggest gap we’d seen all season.
Pursuing them all closely was David Mackrell who kept in touch with Sean and pressured him for the entire race and finished less than a second behind him.
Following the 997 pack Robert Dong had launched his car off the line brilliantly and looked like he was going to have a comfortable time at the head of the 996 group.
Cam McCormack clearly had other ideas. We watched Robert put up a great struggle but eventually Cam found a way past and he held that lead until the end. Phil Jones also joined the party and pressured Robert, those two crossing the finish line with an exciting half second gap between them.
The 944 group had their usual reverse grid start which meant Struan was starting last. He was decisive early on though and managed to forge his way through and was unchallenged for the rest of the race.
Our final race of the season was bringing some pressure to bear on two drivers in particular. Struan Robertson still had to get a good result to seal the Class E trophy and Michael Neville had set himself the goal of winning all 21 races for the season. So, tension was high as the revs rose and we waited for the lights to go out.
Another excellent start from Sean Kirkpatrick saw him following Michael through the first couple of turns with Brian McGovern in third place. This was exactly what Michael needed to take the pressure off him and he was able to focus on putting in fast lap times without being challenged by Brian.
We watched Sean and Brian battle for nearly a lap but eventually Brian slipped past. Once again, David Mackrell was hotly in pursuit of Sean and, to the delight of the spectators, kept that pressure on until the flag dropped.
Behind the 997s we watched possibly the best contest of the whole season as Cam McCormack, Robert Dong and Phil Jones all battled in close formation and swapped positions.
Even our experienced commentator Clint Brown was literally on his feet as this trio kept diving, swooping and challenging each other. At the finish line Cam McCormack was in front of Robert by one tenth of a second and Phil was a tiny half a second behind them both.
Struan Robertson took the pressure off himself by getting past the other 944s early on and had a comfortable lead at the chequered flag.
There must have been a wave of relief and delight for Michael Neville as he crossed the finish line.
From the commentary box we could see him pumping his fists and waving his arms. He had achieved his goal of winning every race and had won both of the Club’s most prestigious trophies.
To everyone’s delight he celebrated by doing a huge burnout and donuts out in front of the crowd, then departed through turn one, like a drift car in a cloud of smoke.
We were fortunate to have an excellent turnout of Porsche Club supporters who had joined us to enjoy the racing and be part of the final round and we all gathered immediately after the last race for the final trackside prizegiving.
Even though there was plenty to celebrate there was a tinge of sadness that the 2018/19 series was now over. It had been a particularly harmonious group of drivers and supporters all season and was it notable how all the teams and competitors had made sacrifices to help each other out when they needed it.
Our new champion, Michael Neville, had won both of the major cups and also written himself into the Porsche Club’s history books by winning the same trophies that also had his Dad’s name on them. Because of that unique and emotional situation Steven Neville was asked to present these to his son. Following that there was a blur of champagne spraying and eventually the cutting of a cake to add to the celebrations.
We also presented “round” trophies to Struan Robertson, Cam McCormack, Michael Neville and Sean Kirkpatrick for winning their Classes for the Taupo weekend.
The driver of the day award was presented to David Mackrell for his fantastic starts and excellent speed.
The individual Class winners will be presented with their trophies at the Club’s annual dinner and prizegiving in May.
I am proud to have been part of this wonderful group of drivers and supporters. Congratulations to all of the class of 2018/19. We know of the many sacrifices you have made and hurdles you’ve overcome to be part of the fun and we salute you all. You will treasure those wonderful memories forever.
Let’s start planning for an even bigger and more colourful season coming up.
The race committee have got some new and innovative ideas that we’re looking forward to involving you with soon. Enjoy your well-earned break.
Finally, huge thank yous also go to our Series sponsors who made this all possible. To Pirelli, Castrol, Acti Bush, Official Porsche Centres, Continental Tyres, Woods, Tissot, and Dempsey Wood, thank you so much for being a part of this wonderful Series.