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Pirelli Porsche Race Series – Round Three

By Stuart Owers

What a thrill to step off the flight to Queenstown knowing we had two consecutive weekends of exciting Porsche racing ahead of us in the beautiful South Island. It was an extra bonus to be greeted by sparkling blue skies and heat after the grey and wet summer we were having in Auckland.

My creaking rent-a-dent Toyota soon had us through the Kawerau Gorge and arriving at the immaculately groomed Highlands Motorsport Park. This was not only the first time our Pirelli Porsche Series had raced at this picturesque venue, but it would also be the first time most of our drivers had ever raced there. Many had not even driven at Highlands until the first practice session started, so it was time to try and learn this complicated and technical track.

As we’ve mentioned before, this season had been particularly difficult to book and plan because of the changing of Motorsport NZ promoters. Prior to the season there was plenty of confusion and uncertainty, but Chris Barendregt had patiently negotiated his way through the limited range of options. After weeks of to and fro and untold hours of phone calls and emails, Chris managed to pull off a brilliant programme for us.

It was the first time our Championship Series had been back in the South Island for several years, so it was going to be an adventure for everyone. We were fortunate to be joined by a number of South Island drivers; Garry Derrick bought along his colourful 991 Cup Car, Chris Nicholas entered his 997 Cup car, Stewart Callaway had his GT4 Cayman there which added to our variety of models and Mike Baker, Guy Stewart and Chris Fleury had their beautifully presented air-cooled 911s there for race fans to admire.

Adding to the sense of occasion was the presence of the Sky TV cameras and crews and there was an extra buzz from being the first round of New Zealand’s top-tier International Summer Series. All the glitterati were there, including a couple of potential Kiwi Formula One drivers who were hoping to soak up the reflective glory from our group of talented Pirelli Porsche stars.

Highlands is an interesting track because of the way it was designed with a lack of long straights around it’s 4.1km length. It also has many corners that flow directly into other corners, so it means there are very few traditional passing opportunities. It was going to be challenging as our various classes, totaling 28 cars, got around and past each other.

Because of the lack of in-depth experience at Highlands for many drivers, some of our lap times weren’t quite as close to each other as we’ve become used to. Having said that, Regan Scoullar (997 Cup) kept us guessing and waiting until near the end of the session before he put in a time only one-tenth faster than Garry Derrick (991 Cup) to grab the outright pole position. Behind the front pair was Chris Nicholas (997 Cup) and then, remarkably, Cam McCormack (996 Cup) who, despite having a faulty shock absorber, not only put in the fastest 996 time but also out qualified two 997 Cup cars.

The Boxster pole was claimed by Chris Taylor by a tiny margin over Noel Simpson. They were followed by Steven Huipeng Fang, Kelly McEwan and Grant Biggar.

Race One – 10 laps
I had only just finished speaking in the commentary box about how difficult the Cup cars were to launch off the line when the start lights went out and…. a Cup car stalled on the front row. This is a nightmare scenario as it is almost inviting cars from several rows back to crash into the back of the stationery vehicle. Despite holding my breath in alarm, all the cars got around the motionless car of Garry Derrick and the racing was underway. As usual when there is chaos on the start line it mixes up the qualifying order into the first corner, but everyone got through the first lap cleanly.

Despite the stall, Garry put on a good show for us as he stormed his way back through the field and caught the front runners; Regan Scoullar and Chris Nicholas. Garry still managed a third-place finish by the end of the race. Cam McCormack crossed the finish line in a remarkable 4th place and 1st in the 996 Class.

Behind the Cup cars Guy Stewart was the quickest of the air-cooled bunch, followed a couple of seconds later by Tony Patmore in his beautiful wide-body Carrera, then Mike Baker and Chris Fleury.

The Boxsters were exciting to watch, as always, with Noel Simpson winning the 13 strong Class, in front of the distinctive bright blue car of Kelly McEwan, then Steven Huipeng Fang. The Boxster pole sitter, Chris Taylor, had to settle for 9th after recovering from an uncharacteristic spin.

Race Two – Ten laps
There was a new grid line-up for our second race because Tony Austin had put in an improved lap time during the first race, so he was rewarded by being promoted to 4th on the grid.

As the lights went out there was a sigh of relief from me as all the cars got away to a clean start with no stationery cars left on the track. As the race unfolded it was Garry Derrick who had a slide off the black stuff this time, which let most of the front running cars through. Garry recovered to finish in third place, but outright victory went to Regan Scoullar followed by Tony Austin.

Cam McCormack won the 996 Class again, followed by Daniel Angus and Jim McKernan.

The Boxster race was intense, as always. Steven Huipeng Fang must have decided he wanted some extra TV focus and coverage for his sponsors by continuing to drive his car after damaging a radiator. The TV coverage showed steam and water pouring out of the radiator as Steven drove on, evidently unaware of the radiator geyser. Eventually the car overheated, and the cameras picked up a spectacular engine explosion which resulted in a huge flame pouring out of the exhaust. Steven then had to suffer the indignity of a couple of TV ‘slo-mo’ replays which all cleverly added value for his sponsors. At the front of that Class, it was Chris Taylor who made no mistakes this time to claim another Boxster win, followed by Kelly McEwan and Rhys Warren.

Race Three – 10 laps
Another beautifully hot and sunny Otago day greeted the large Porsche turnout for our two Sunday races. Garry Derrick was starting on the pole position with Regan Scoullar beside him and Tony Austin and Chris Nicholas made up the second row. Another clean start saw the race settle down into the usual battles within the classes. Garry Derrick held the front position, but it was exciting to watch as we saw Garry being strongly challenged by Regan Scoullar. As the leaders started to lap the Boxsters there was a misunderstanding when Regan was lapping one of the Boxsters which resulted in damage to both cars and they had to withdraw. The immobile cars in the middle of the track brought out the safety car and unfortunately for the spectators the race finished under the safety car. The final result for the Cup cars saw Garry Derrick taking the win, followed by Tony Austin, Chris Nicholas and Struan Robertson.

Cam McCormack maintained his winning record in the 996 Class, followed by Daniel Angus.

Mike Baker was the quickest of the air-cooled cars followed by Tony Patmore.

The Boxsters saw a resumption of the close and intense racing at the front of their field between Chris Taylor and Noel Simpson, with Chris claiming another win. Kelly McEwan finished in third place.

Race Four – 30 minutes
The cars rolling out onto the starting grid had a small piece of white tape attached to their windscreens with a pit-stop time written on it. This was the time each car had to spend stationery in the pits in the form of a handicapping formula. The Boxsters just had to roll through for a compulsory drive-through in the pits, but all the other classes had to stop with times ranging up to three minutes. Each driver and crew had to decide when to take their pit-stop during the race. A popular strategy is to wait until near the end of the 30-minute race in case there is a safety car which means the pit-stop is effectively shortened with the field being slowed behind the safety car. Others prefer to come in early and get some clear air when they rejoin the race.

Regan Scoullar was back on the grid with his repaired Cup car after some high intensity work from his support team and so was one of the damaged Boxsters.

The start saw every car get away cleanly and safely with Garry Derrick surging into an early lead.

Unfortunately, the TV cameras caught the sight of Steff Chambers getting the exit of the “Bus-Stop” section slightly wrong and we saw her hitting the concrete outside wall. The impact looked fairly minor and Steff set off again, but a brake caliper had been damaged which eventually failed and sent her off into a sand-trap, which then triggered a safety car.

The damage proved to be more extensive than it looked and despite long hours being put into repairing the car it had to be withdrawn from the following Christchurch round. The resulting safety car saw a huge number of competitors diving for the pits to get their compulsory pit-stop out of the way while the race was slowed. Once under green flag conditions the front running Cup cars simply ran out of time to reclaim the front positions which left the hard-charging Cam McCormack to take the chequered flag in first place, with Garry Derrick in 2nd place and Chris Nicholas in 3rd.

After our final race of the weekend, we had a podium ceremony to present trophies to our round winners for each class. The trophies were provided by the new Motorsport NZ promoters. We asked one of our sponsors, Richard Norris, to present the trophies, and he also generously donated one of his company’s Rapid Dry Towel products to each winner.

The winners were; Class A; Garry Derrick, Class B; Tony Austin, Class C; Cam McCormack, Class D; Tony Patmore, Class E; Chris Taylor, Open B; Mike Baker.

Congratulations on a fabulous result for the weekend to all our delighted class winners.

Our first Highlands event was resounding success and many drivers were asking when we were going to be back there again. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later. The atmosphere, the comradery of the drivers and the venue couldn’t have been better.