Story by Stuart Owers
I should have known we were in for another round of undesirable weather
when I arrived at the Taupo racetrack and spotted a brand-new pair of gumboots beside Steff Chambers’race car. Saturday morning’s rain had arrived early and the forecast was not looking at all optimistic for the rest of the weekend.
Our entry numbers were also slightly down on previous events with a few drivers overseas or committed elsewhere. Perhaps they’d all had some early intuition about the weekend’s conditions.
Once again our drivers and crews found themselves trying to become weather predictors. The heavy early morning rain stopped just before the qualifying session was about to start and the track was developing a faint dry line. The conditions were exactly half way between the need for a dry or a wet tyre. Most cars went out initially with wet tyres but a lot came rushing back in for a fast change to dry tyres as the track continued to improve.
It was Conal Dempsey who set the initial benchmark at the front but several others took turns at posting fastest times. Sean Kirkpatrick had a moment at the top of the sheets, as did David Mackrell and Brian McGovern. There were even a couple of heart stopping moments as David Mackrell and Michael Neville both had turns at facing backwards on the track after being caught out by the varying track grip. With only seconds left on the clock Michael Neville posted a very fast time to secure his position at the head of the grid on pole.
The 944 battle was just as intriguing. Struan Robertson was consistently fast in the uncertain conditions and so was Jim McKernan but it was Steff Chambers who managed to pull off an excellent lap to put herself at the top of the Class E time sheets.
Mike Wilkin had joined us for his first race with us in his 996 GT3 and he posted a time that placed him just behind Ted Carner’s similar 996 on the grid but leaving the experienced Robert Dong to claim the fastest 996 time.
Despite dark and threatening skies the rain had been holding off long enough to make what seemed an obvious decision to run dry tyres for this race. Because of the uncertainty, the pit area prior to the race was full of our drivers and team members standing and looking at various parts of the sky trying to assess when the next lot of rain was about to arrive.
To add further to the tension prior to the start, the race before ours had left a huge oil deposit on the track, just past the start/finish line in the area where the cars needed to brake for turn one.So, the pack formed up onto the start line in mainly dry conditions. When the lights went out everybody’s attention was caught by the sight of Brent Greer’s Carrera rocketing past the GT3’s on the grid to almost snatch first place before the first turn. But, even with the slippery oil directly in his path, it was Michael Neville who led the pack through the first corners. Soon, a trio consisting of Michael Neville, Conal Dempsey and Brian McGovern were evenly spaced and running hot at the front of the field. The closest battle of the race was between Steff Chambers and Struan Robertson at the head of the E Class. Despite many attempts by Struan he couldn’t get past a determined Steff. Unfortunately though, another 944 joining that battle knocked Steff off the track and her race was over prematurely. This left Struan to carry on unchallenged to inherit his first E Class win for the season. Towards the end of the race, the rain that had been threatening finally arrived and turned the track greasy, making it especially difficult for the cars on slicks. This caught out Conal Dempsey who had a slow slide and spin, which let Brian McGovern slip past to claim second place. Conal recovered to finish third with David Mackrell fourth and Brent Greer in an impressive fifth overall. Robert Dong won the 996 class and came home in seventh place.
The best thing you could say about Sunday’s weather was that it made the tyre choice easy. Heavy rain all morning meant it was definitely wet tyre conditions. The start was made even more interesting when Conal Dempsey stuttered away from the line slowly, leaving the whole field to swarm past him. Brent Greer got another flying start but once again, it was Michael Neville who led the field through the first corner.
The front group of GT3’s were soon spaced out and had an unremarkable but safe race in the slippery conditions with Michael getting the chequered flag in front of Brian McGovern. It was Conal who provided the entertainment by slicing his way through the spray back from dead-last to cross the line in third place.
The close racing action was again all with the Class E drivers. Struan Robertson seemed to revel in the wet conditions and once he’d got past the other Class E contenders he relentlessly hunted down the 996 cup cars and even got past them. He eventually finished behind Brent Greer in a remarkable seventh place overall. Behind him, Jim McKernan, Steff Chambers and Felix Fielding were putting on a great display of close racing in the wet conditions. There were constant challenges and passing attempts but it was Jim McKernan who prevailed in this thrilling scenario and he led the rest of group across the line.
Once again the constant rain meant there would be no guesswork needed for the tyre choice and all the cars lined up to begin their skate around, on the soaked and shiny track. At lights out Brent Greer orchestrated another stunning start and threaded his way through the Cup cars to follow Michael Neville and Brian McGovern through the first corner.
This time Conal had the rear tyres steaming and he quickly passed Brent to follow Brian McGovern and continued to pursue the front two for the rest of the race. Brent impressed us again with his mastery of the wet and brought his little Carrera home in a brilliant sixth place overall.
While the GT3’s were evenly spaced out around the track all eyes shifted to the brave wet weather contest amongst the 944s. Steff Chambers lead the group away through the spray from the start.
This commenced a tight contest with Struan Robertson for about three laps until he finally prevailed and slipped past under brakes. Or possibly, slithered past under brakes would be a more accurate description considering the slippery track.
Struan then ambitiously set his sights on Robert Dong’s 996 cup car ahead of him and he even managed to get past him before the end of the race. That didn’t stop the action behind him with Steff having to fight off determined challenges from Jim McKernan and an ever-present Felix Fielding.
Given the treacherous conditions there was some relief at the chequered flag when all drivers came home safely and finished the weekend without incident. In fact, all drivers need to be congratulated for how well they coped with the challenges of this Taupo round. Watching the other categories in action between our races and seeing how many cars were taking to the grass made us appreciate the skill of our Porsche pilots. It’s now fingers crossed for dry weather at our next round in Pukekohe. After three wet rounds, I think we deserve it.
It was great to have Damien and a group of other Porsche Club members from the Hawkes Bay come over to join us to watch the on-track action. Thanks for your support fellas.
Driver of the Day
This is normally presented for outstanding driving from the previous round. In this case, Pukekohe. However, the driver to be awarded this wasn’t present at the Taupo round so the trophy will be presented at the next round.