By Stuart Owers
After the racing at Highlands we saw our drivers, crews and supporters heading off in many different directions. Some took the opportunity to tour the scenic parts of the South Island while others flew back to take care of mid-week work commitments. Virtually everyone got to Christchurch by Thursday evening to prepare themselves and their cars for another adventure. This was a new, undriven track for many of course, although it was a familiar track for our South Island drivers and for a few North Island people like Cam McCormack and Steff Chambers who have done multiple endurance races at Ruapuna.
The layout of Ruapuna has both tight and fast sections, but unlike Highlands, it was designed to allow plenty of passing opportunities. The tight sections would also favour the brilliant balance and handling of the Boxsters and significantly narrow the lap-time gap between them and the 911 Cup cars.
We were fortunate to be joined in the pits over the weekend by a large number of Canterbury Porsche Club members who turned out to meet the drivers and watch the exciting on-track action.
We were also delighted to welcome back Rob Williams from Hastings who joined us for this round with his 997 Cup car.
Well-known Christchurch Porsche club-member Wayne Graves was another driver joining us for this round. Wayne entered his beautifully presented 964 to add to the colourful air-cooled racing contingent of Chris Fleury, Mike Baker, Guy Stewart and Tony Patmore.
I had a quiet chuckle to myself while I was up in the race control room during the Porsche practice and qualifying sessions. At one stage, after our cars finished a session, the Clerk of the course put a call out to the course safety workers asking them to check the track surface for slippery substances. There were so many dust clouds around the circuit as our drivers were over-reaching the track limits and finding the grass that the officials thought there might be a problem with the track. However, it was just an indication of the competitiveness of our group and how intensely the drivers were going about learning the fastest way around the track. The competition and the intentions were red-hot. Speaking of red, - red faces - there were even a couple of Boxster drivers who had to be towed out of sand traps. For the purposes of this story they shall remain, mercifully, anonymous.
For most of the official qualifying session Garry Derrick had his name at the top of the time sheets and it was only on the very last lap that Regan Scoullar managed to get below that time by a few hundredths of a second to post the fastest lap of qualifying. Unfortunately for Garry, the race officials determined he had been speeding in pit-lane so Garry was relegated to the back of the field for the race start and Tony Austin was promoted to second on the grid, followed by Rob Williams and then Rob Dong. Rob had put in a searing time in his 996 Cup car to beat Cam McCormack to the position of the fastest 996.
The Boxsters were tight and close as always with Noel Simpson claiming the pole, also by one tenth, from his close rivals Chris Taylor and Kelly McEwan. Mark McCaughan had his best ever qualifying result, to snatch the fourth place on the Boxster timesheets.
Race One – 10 laps
A clean start saw the whole field get through the fast and curving turn one without incident. Garry Derrick, starting from the back, had made up about ten positions by turn three as he set about trying to catch the other Cup Cars. During his hot pursuit he set the fastest lap of the race and near the last lap managed to get himself up into 3rd place behind the eventual race winner Regan Scoullar, with Tony Austin finishing in 2nd.
Cam McCormack got the better of Rob Dong to win the 996 Cup class, with Daniel Angus 3rd.
The Boxsters finished their race in their characteristic tight formation. Noel Simpson took the flag just a few tenths ahead of the relentless Chris Taylor. They were followed a couple of seconds later by Kelly McEwan and Grant Biggar.
Race Two – 10 laps
Another clean start saw the tussle at the front resume. Garry Derrick had been re-allocated to the front row and he was keen to get a win. Regan Scoullar kept a tight hold of the top position as the field started to lap the Boxsters and he and Garry slipped past a tight group of dueling drivers. Tony Austin was not so fortunate. One of the Boxsters caused a pinball effect after sliding off the track which resulted in Tony connecting with another car who was taking avoiding action. A bent wheel put Tony out of race two, but fortunately, he was back in action for the next races.
At the chequered flag Regan Scoullar claimed another outright win followed by Garry Derrick, Rob Williams and Struan Robertson. Cam McCormack again took the 996 honours in front of Rob Dong and Daniel Angus. Mike Baker was the quickest of the air-cooled bunch in front of Wayne Graves and Tony Patmore. After the mid-race Kerfuffle with the Boxsters, Noel Simpson claimed his familiar place at the front of that group, followed by Mark McCaughan, Steven Huipeng-Fang and Grant Biggar.
Race Three – 10 laps
Sunday – with everyone enjoying another beautiful Canterbury sunny morning we lined up again for race three of our weekend. An exciting race start saw Garry Derrick leading the pack for the first lap in front of Regan Scoullar and Tony Austin. This was a position Garry didn’t relinquish and the top three finished in that order. Further back in the field we saw Daniel Angus having a brilliant race in his 996 Cup Car to finish in 5th overall and in a tight margin ahead of the chasing Cam McCormack. Robert Dong was also chasing hard, and he finished only a couple of seconds behind the leading 996 pair in third place for the class.
Mike Baker again proved he was the fastest of the air-cooled group ahead of a rapidly improving Tony Patmore.
Noel Simpson finished first in the Boxster class with an uncharacteristically large margin (for Boxsters) of four seconds in front of Chris Taylor, Kelly McEwan, Mark McCaughan and Steven Huipeng Fang.
Race Four – 30 minutes
Prior to this race there was lots of talk amongst the drivers and crews about their pit-stop strategy for our thirty-minute race which would include a compulsory timed pit stop for every class except the Boxsters. Everyone knew that a safety car session would change the outcome of the race, so it was a matter of planning an A and a B strategy.
I’m pleased to tell you there was no safety car needed for this race, so the results were unaffected by that intervention. Regan Scoullar eventually won the race with a fine drive and a relatively comfortable margin over Garry Derrick, but Cam McCormack proved what an excellent long-format driver he is by finishing in third outright. He was followed across the line by Tony Austin, Daniel Angus and Robert Dong.
Chris Taylor had a fantastic race and not only won the Boxster class but also grabbed 8th place overall. Noel Simpson was battling Chris and lead the class for most of the race, however Noel ended up slipping behind during the pit drive-through phase, finishing only two seconds behind Chris for 9th overall. Kelly McEwan was third in class followed by Grant Biggar.
It was with some nostalgia that we all drove away from Ruapuna knowing that we had wrapped up our South Island racing for the season and none of us knew when we might be back for another adventure like we’d just experienced. Our drivers had put on some thrilling racing for the TV cameras and the spectators, and I’m proud of them all. During the times when someone needed assistance in the pits there was plenty of help being offered and always lots of support. Wonderful memories have been created and the reputation of our colourful Porsche series has been enhanced.
Compared to our North Island venues these were expensive rounds to put on, largely because it involved transporting so many cars from the North Island. But the consensus is that the venues and the events were well worth the effort from everybody involved.
Again, huge thanks go to Chris Barendregt for the mammoth amount of work he put into planning and preparing for these very special events.