By Stuart Owers
The very first day of February 2020 saw the young stars of the Toyota Racing series arriving at Hampton Downs to try and earn themselves a place in a future Formula 1 team, and our Pirelli Porsche Series stars were also there to provide some exciting support racing. This was the fourth round of our championship and Steff Chambers was there early, ready to defend her spot at the top of the points table.
One of the biggest surprises of the weekend was arriving on Saturday morning to see Brian McGovern’s car sitting in the pit garages ready to go out and qualify. Brian was forced to sit out the previous round because of a broken leg. We all assumed it was going to be the end of his season. Despite the plaster cast, Brian decided he was up to the task and he joined the rest of the cars lining up in pit row. The other surprise was seeing Rob Dong’s 996 Cup car rolling out, with Michael Neville at the wheel. Rob had generously encouraged Michael to do the round so he could enjoy getting out on the track again. Rob was still going to drive his 997 Cup car, which used to be owned by Michael.
From the outset the competition for the pole position was between Sean Kirkpatrick and Brian McGovern. Both set fast times but it was Brian who set an early bench mark. Despite Sean repeatedly lowering his times it was Brian who claimed the front row spot with a .4 second margin. Behind them, claiming the third grid position was Robert Dong in his 997 Cup car, but narrowly behind Robert was his old 996, driven by Michael Neville. Another great drive in a 996 came from Cam McCormack who also slotted up amongst the 997 front runners. The 944 battle has been intriguing this year and it was Marin Vujcich who claimed the best of their times, with Peter Hardy close behind.
Chris Barendregt was trying out some slicks in his Class D Cayman and set an excellent qualifying time.
There was plenty of frantic reacting and avoiding after the lights went out to start the first race. Brian’s car seemed to stall on the grid which meant Robert Dong, Cam McCormack and Stef Chambers had to swerve around him. Fortunately, Brian got the car going after a couple of seconds, but it meant he went into turn one in sixth place.
Sean Kirkpatrick led the field on the first lap with the fast-starting Robert Dong right behind him. Close behind them were the two older Cup cars of Michael Neville and Cam McCormack. Marin Vujcich got an early lead for the 944’s but was hotly pursued by Peter Hardy and Jim McKernan.
Michael tailed Robert for a few laps but then put in a great pass heading into turn two. Slightly further back, Cam McCormack and Struan Robertson were locked into what would be a race long battle, with Cam eventually crossing the line in front.
This was an exciting race with contests between drivers all the way through the field giving the commentators plenty to talk about. Underlying all the battles was Brian’s charge from sixth to second. On the last lap it looked like Sean Kirkpatrick would take a comfortable win, until he started slowing coming up the hill towards the chequered flag.
Brian came swooping up beside him in a close photo finish. The electronic timing showed that Sean had won the race by .009 seconds. Behind the front two, Robert Dong had repassed Michael Neville for third. We then saw the alarming sight of Sean’s car rolling to a stop on the side of the track. His engine had developed a problem and, unfortunately, it would be his last race for the weekend. Marin maintained his lead for the class E honours and was followed across the line by Peter Hardy.
The first race on Sunday was a little less dramatic. The second place position on the grid was sadly empty because of the withdrawal of Sean Kirkpatrick’s car. The start was a straight forward affair with Brian McGovern leading the field from pole position this time.
Michael Neville was off to a rocket-like start from the second row and he went side by side with Brian into the first corner. Cam McCormack had a great start as well and even managed to slip underneath Robert Dong going into the first corner.
Struan Robertson went side by side with Robert in the early part of the lap until Robert managed to ease out a margin in front of him and started clawing his way back up from fourth place.
Peter Hardy had the initial jump on the Class E field with a good margin over the other 944’s. This led to an exciting chase from Marin as he set off to close the gap to Peter.
Cam and Struan had a touch and a minor off-course excursion between them which dropped both back in the pack. There was no exciting battle at the front, because Brian had stretched out to a commanding 14 second lead at the chequered flag. Fortunately, there were two other intensely close finishes to attract the attention of the TV cameras.
Michael Neville was glued to the back of Rob Dong’s car putting enormous pressure on him. It looked like he may be able to just get a nose ahead at the finish-line, but Robert edged him out for second place by a tiny margin.
In Class E, Marin Vujcich managed to slip past a fast Peter Hardy for another thrilling and tight photo finish.
There were no mishaps off the start line this time, but Michael Neville got a fantastic launch from the second row and led the pack into the first few corners. But, with the tyres still cold Michael misjudged his braking at the sweeper and ran wide letting Brian and several other cars past on the inside.
Cam McCormack also got a red-hot start and was away in front of Robert Dong which meant Rob was going to have his work cut out for him.
Robert then decided to have his own little TV moment shortly afterwards and had an uncharacteristic spin which dropped him right back in the pack. Even Cam had a wild slide in his 996 Cup car coming out of the Porsche dipper, showing just how greasy the intense sun had made the track.
Further back, we saw Peter Hardy get off the line with a perfect drag racing start that gave him a good margin over the other 944s.
This set up an exciting race between Peter and Marin Vujcich with Marin slowly reeling in Peter, resulting in an exciting battle for most of the race.
Marin eventually took the chequered flag just ahead of Peter, Jim McKernan and a rapidly improving Daniel Angus. For the line honours, Brian McGovern crossed under the flag first with Michael Neville recovering to finish second, and Cam McCormack third.
Driver of the Day – Taupo
We normally award the driver of the day award, for the previous round, at the Sunday lunch gathering. This time though, our recipient went missing. Chris Barendregt slipped off to his nearby apartment, so we couldn’t give him the award publicly for his giant killing efforts in his Cayman at Taupo. He did, however, get a pleasant surprise to see the trophy next to his car when he returned. Congratulations go to Chris for an amazing third place overall at our Taupo 30-minute race.