Story by Stuart Owers
The Manfeild track is undoubtedly the best spectator viewing experience of any facility I’ve experienced in the world. Those Club members who made the trip through to watch the Porsches battling it out at the newly named Circuit Chris Amon would have been well rewarded. The races were all close, exciting and entertaining.
By the time qualifying started early on Saturday morning two of our competitors had been forced to withdraw because of mechanical problems encountered during the Friday practice sessions. Sean Kirkpatrick had blown an oil seal and Dave Allison developed front wheel bearing issues. Slightly wounded but still running was Tony Houston who was worried about an alarming crack that his crew discovered in the gearbox bell housing.
The qualifying session, run in slippery wet conditions, was exciting to watch with lap times being lowered throughout the entire 20 minutes. At one stage Paul Kelly and Brian McGovern were separated by .001 of a second for pole position. In the end however, Paul lowered the time to nearly a quarter of a second beyond Brian’s reach.
Anthony Lyons joined the session in his 996 Cup car for the first time this season but had some mechanical issues of his own which left him with an uncharacteristically slow qualifying time. The rest of the class C battle was very close with Tim James getting the better time in his Cayman GT4. Robert Dong was just behind in his 996 Cup car followed by Brent Greer and Phil Jones.
Steff Chambers stamped her mark on the class E contest by setting the fastest qualifying time with Tony Houston and AJ Redding very close behind.
The morning dawned with ominous grey and drizzly skies that had all the drivers nervously trying to anticipate which set of tyres to put on. The Porsche race was early and only the second race on the Saturday programme which meant there were few opportunities for other race groups to dry out the damp track. In the end, most drivers elected to put on dry tyres.
As the lights went out we could see all the cars squirming and wheel spinning off the line more than usual showing that the track was still greasy even though the rain had stopped. Paul Kelly had to make some quick steering corrections through the esses as his 991 Cup looked like it wanted to take him for a tour of the wet grass. He held it together skilfully but it gave Brian McGovern a chance to loom up behind him. Further back an entertaining tussle was beginning between Robert Dong and Tim James that continued for the entire race. The class E contest also started with Steff Chambers, Tony Houston and AJ Redding all bunched together for several laps. Tony eventually got the better of the other cars but there were several position changes. Up at the front we saw Paul Kelly fending off some enormous pressure from Brian. Paul was forced to drive defensive lines as Brian relentlessly attacked from the outside line as well as trying to find a way down the inside. At a couple of corners, the cars were side by side with a little bit of rubbing and paint being exchanged. The big crowds on the banks could clearly be seen to be enjoying the intense battle.
Halfway through the race we saw the unfortunate Anthony Lyons cruising back into the pits. His mechanical issues meant his racing weekend was sadly over.
The class C starting order was switched around as Robert Dong slipped past Tim James early in the race and held off Tim’s challenges for the entire eight laps. Both Phil Jones and Brent Greer also kept in touch and gave plenty of opportunities for colourful group action photos.
Behind the intense Kelly – McGovern battle at the front, the other class B cars of Kevin Etches and Keith Miller settled into a steady pace.
In class D, Jim McKernan was setting some impressive times in his supercharged 944.
The final lap saw Paul Kelly take the chequered flag a narrow quarter of a second in front of Brian McGovern for a thrilling finish.
A dry track meant our competitors could finally make an easy decision to put on their Pirelli slicks and forget about the weather uncertainty.
All eyes were on the front few rows to see who would win the drag race to the first corner. As the lights went out Paul Kelly managed to synchronise his clutch and throttle perfectly and get away cleanly. A slower start from Brian McGovern gave Kevin Etches the chance to draw alongside and we held our breath as the two 997s went into turn one side by side behind Kelly. Somehow Brian managed to hold his position around the first corner and emerged just in front of the fast-starting Kevin Etches.
In the next group back Robert Dong got the best start of the Class C pack with Tim James at the rear of this tight group.
The next biggest group was the Class E battle. This time Steff Chambers led through the first few corners with Adrian Redding sandwiched between her and Tony Houston.
Frustratingly, Steff encountered gearbox problems early in the race and had to yield to both Tony and Adrian. She was able to keep going but fell off the pace of the other two cars.
The class C battle turned into an intriguing race as Tim James slipped past Brent Greer and started hunting down Robert Dong for another race long challenge.
At the chequered flag Paul Kelly crossed the line first but only half a second in front of the relentless pursuit of Brian McGovern. Kevin Etches and Keith Miller were third and fourth respectively. Robert Dong won class C again and a relieved Tony Houston claimed another big points haul for himself in class E.
Another fascinating drag race off the line saw Paul Kelly’s skilful starts paying dividends as he led Brian McGovern into the first corner again. Robert Dong and Tim James also resumed their wrestling match and we settled back to watch more exciting and close racing. Within a few laps however we could see a black flag being displayed for Paul Kelly. He was getting a drive through penalty for a practice start he did just before the starting grid. There was some confusion in the Kelly team about how this penalty should be taken so Paul continued to do his laps, which eventually resulted in his exclusion from the official race finishing order, even though he crossed the line in his now customary first place.
So, the official first place was awarded to Brian McGovern who was followed home by Kevin Etches and Keith Miller.
Robert Dong prevailed again in the highly entertaining Class C race with Tim James, while Jim McKernan claimed another class D win. Further back Tony Houston’s gearbox held together well enough for him to score another class E victory but only narrowly in front of a hard charging Adrian Redding. Steff Chambers was obviously having increasing difficulties with her gearbox as we saw her limping home uncharacteristically off the pace.
Rush Hour Endurance Race
These one-hour races are a new feature this season. They’re a handicap race that any competitor at the race meeting can enter (except single seaters). The handicaps are designed to even out the battle between cars capable of a wide range of different lap times. Once again Porsches were well represented, this time by Paul Kelly, Brian McGovern, Adrian Redding and Tim James.
A one hour race has the potential to be a little boring for the fans but we were treated to the spectacle of rain falling after about 30 minutes.
All the cars were out on slicks at that stage so the strategy dice were certainly being rolled as different teams elected to either stay out on slicks or change to wets. The last few laps had the large spectator crowd intrigued as we all watched a GT3 Mercedes on wet tyres hunting down Brian McGovern who was holding down first place on increasingly unsuitable and marginal slicks. On the last lap the better grip from the Mercedes paid off and he went through to claim victory with Brian in a well-deserved second place.
Driver of the Round
At a lunch gathering on the Sunday we awarded the trophy for the driver of the round for the previous meeting at Teretonga. This time it was awarded to Paul Kelly for his dominant performance and pace down at that tricky circuit.
It was great to be joined at this lunch by a good number of Porsche Club members who had come along to watch all the on-track action.
With two rounds still to go we head to the next championship round at Hampton Downs on March 10th and 11th with some close points battles. For the National Championship trophy we have a narrow margin between Paul Kelly at the top of the table followed very closely by Brian McGovern with Brent Greer in third place.
For the Porsche Cup, which can be won by a driver from any class, we have Tony Houston currently leading the points, followed by Brian McGovern then Steff Chambers.