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Pirelli Porsche Race Series – Round Five

By Stuart Owers

A lot of planning had gone into what should have been a memorable day for our last ever Porsche racing event at the iconic Pukekohe racetrack. Before the property developers move in and the flags are lowered for the final time, we wanted to mark the occasion with a colourful day of Porsche racing and Club member involvement. Porsche New Zealand had also gone to a lot of effort. They organised a video camera-person and their Marketing/PR team were all there to help record the occasion.

The Porsche NZ General Manager, Greg Clarke, was there also and he was going to present our Driver of the Round trophies. In addition to that the Club had organised a run, in conjunction with Porsche NZ, out to the track and special parking had been put aside for our Club members. We were set for a colourful day of exciting racing to give that knarly old track a suitably nostalgic send off.

We had a number of drivers entering for this event just because of the special occasion. Brian McGovern brought himself and his 996 Cup car out of retirement. Rob Williams towed his car from the flood ravaged Hawkes Bay down through Palmerston North to join us. Oliver Saxton and Racing Ray Williams were doing a one-off drive in Oliver’s Cayman GT4. The father and son team of Mark and Ethan Hourigan brought up their Cayman GT4 from Wellington and Brent Greer joined us after missing quite a few rounds.

I was thrilled to meet many ex-Porsche racers who dropped by to say hello. Nigel Cagiou, Steve Rasmussen, Rob Hurst, and Kevin Ross were there, and of course Jim Palmer, one of the original Porsche racers was being honoured there by having this special meeting named after him. Jim, still a Porsche fan, had his Porsche Turbo road car parked on the other side of the track.

We expected there would be a tussle for the front row positions between the similar 997 Cup Cars of Tony Austin and Regan Scoullar and they didn’t disappoint us. At the end of the session Tony had grabbed the outright pole position by five thousanths of a second off Regan. Cam McCormack qualified in an impressive third place with his 996 Cup car just in front of Ethan Hourigan in his Cayman GT4. Brian McGovern was next in his 996, and he was in front of the two 997 Cup cars of Struan Robertson and Rob Williams.

The Boxster grid was topped by Noel Simpson, followed by Kelly McEwan, Chris Taylor and Steven Huipeng Fang.

Race One
I’m hoping this will be the shortest race report I’ll ever have to write, simply because I would hate to see repeat of what unfolded out on that track. Despite a damp surface from a passing shower making traction difficult and grip uncertain, the race started cleanly with Reagan leading Tony Austin into the first corner. But, on the opening lap a Boxster driver lost control coming up and over the hill towards the front straight and the resulting melee caused another Boxster to crash heavily whilst he was trying to avoid other cars. The race was red flagged while the crash crews had to spend about 20 minutes recovering the damaged Boxster.

Eventually we had a race re-start, this time behind the safety car. It didn’t help that we had half the track dry and the other half wet. That made it especially difficult for drivers to assess what was underneath them - classic Pukekohe conditions. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we almost immediately saw a Cup car losing control in the fast-sweeping corner after the front straight, hitting the concrete barrier heavily several times. The cars immediately behind him managed to avoid the stricken car but others weren’t so lucky and several cars collided with each other while trying to stop or swerve around the resulting chaos. We were relieved to see all the drivers involved were unhurt, although one was particularly shaken but declared ok after a lot of attention from the superb medical team. With officials having to spend another 20 minutes or so cleaning up the debris and moving stricken cars, the race management declared the race was over with only two actual racing laps completed.

Race Two
Fortunately, the patchy weather came right and our second race started with a dry track and no rain in sight. Regan Scoullar got off to another great start to grab the lead in front of Tony Austin, a lead he didn’t relinquish. Behind the front two cars Brian McGovern had a tense race fending off the close attentions of Cam McCormack. The two 996 Cup cars were never more than a couple of car lengths apart but eventually Brian claimed an outstanding 3rd outright with Cam finishing 4th. Noel Simpson continued his impressive form by winning the Boxster Class again, this time in front of our perennial second place specialist, Kelly McEwan.Those two were followed by Chris Taylor, Steven Huipeng Fang and Grant Biggar.

Race Three
As our cars rolled out onto the dummy grid the weather changed dramatically when an intense rainstorm hit the area. The downpour was so intense that the race officials made the decision to not only cancel our race but abandon the meeting completely. Afterwards the drivers said the roar of rain on the roofs of their cars was spectacular and the thought of racing in those conditions was more than a little daunting.

It was sad that our final ever Pukekohe round and Porsche’s history with this exciting track has ended in less than auspicious circumstances. In some ways though, maybe it was fitting that we left more memento marks on those unforgiving concrete barriers. That bumpy, fast track has been the scene of many spectacular Porsche crashes over the previous years.

We’ve had a 911 Cup Car making the TV evening news by flipping over the high safety fence on the front straight and into the spectator area, two 944s ending up upside down on top of tire barriers, and a 911 ploughing straight ahead at the hairpin, through the grass, and then travelling onto a neighboring property’s driveway where the astonished houseowner was washing his car.

There’s been many spectacular and colourful Porsche eras there. The intensity of the original 996 Cup car period in the early 2000’s was exciting and glamorous to be a part of. Then the rivalries between the thunderous Lighting Direct Porsches and Ray Williams turbo Leopard car are also fond memories, although the Leopard car also had its own devastating connection with those infamous concrete barriers. Special mention must go to one driver in particular, Robert Dong. Robert has not missed a Porsche race at Pukekohe for the past 25 years. What a remarkable achievement.

Despite the way our last day fizzled out with the weather, sincere thanks go to all the different Club members and sponsors who put a lot of effort into trying to make this historic meeting a special occasion.

The one very positive factor I took away from that meeting was seeing highly competitive drivers and teams generously pulling together and helping each other out to try and ease the misfortunes of others. Nobody hesitated to pitch in and help. Despite everything that happened the Porsche Club can be proud of how we signed off our history at this grand old track.