New Zealand’s sports teams may have been in the doldrums in recent times
The cricketing Black Caps crumbled in the test series against South Africa, the Silver Ferns were pipped by Australia in the Netball World Series; the All Blacks bundled out of the Rugby World Cup and the Kiwis only able to salvage a win against France as a bright spot in their 2007 international rugby league campaign.
But our motor racing drivers, some of them in relatively under-funded teams, are carrying the New Zealand flag high on the international scene.
It’s testimony to the solid grounding young drivers get in karts, and Formula First or Formula Ford as they move up the motorsport ladder.
There were strong performances from three Kiwis in Australian and world racing last weekend.
Both Tasman Motorsport’s Jason Richards and Team Kiwi Racing’s Shane Van Gisbergen put up impressive performances in the Australian V8 supercar round at Symmons Plains in Tasmania.
The personable Richards, one of the nicest guys in racing (yes nice guys can succeed in this traditionally cut-throat sport) took sixth for the round after turning in a stunning drive to third place in Race 3 on Sunday afternoon.
Richards said qualifying had been disappointing, but Tasman had “a strong race package which kept getting better as the event went on. It was good to be back on the pace again.”
Less happy was his teammate Greg Murphy, who was spun out by other drivers twice in Symmons Plains’ notorious hairpin. He finished 22nd for the weekend.
Van Gisbergen picked up a best placing of 15th and has scored points for TKR in every V8 Supercar sprint race he’s started.
His pace is excellent and he’s shaping up as a real contender for the sharp end of the field in 2008.
Meanwhile, in the former Portuguese colony of Macau in China, 2007 Renault Euro Cup champion Brendon Hartley continued his excellent season.
Racing in only his second Formula 3 race – the first was the Masters at Zolder in Belgium – Hartley produced excellent pace.
He clipped a wall during qualifying and wasn’t running in the crucial final laps of the session.
But in a Sunday morning warm-up he staggered observers with a scintillating lap of the tight street circuit.
The Formula 3 rookie lapped 0.3 of a second under the track record set in 2006.
He climbed to ninth during the Grand Prix, but was elbowed back down the order in a restart after a Safety Car period and came home 12th.
His Macau showing – and his fourth at Zolder – have marked him as a leading contender for the 2008 British Formula 3 Championship.
The racing focus moves back to home turf this weekend and Round 2 of the summer series at Powerbuilt Raceway at Ruapuna, near Christchurch.
John McIntyre leads the NZ Truth V8s series in his BP Ultimate Ford Falcon, from Andy Booth’s Tasman Holden Commodore and Angus Fogg’s Caltex Havoline Falcon.
Expect a strong showing from several others drivers, including Ford’s Australian trio, David Besnard, Cameron McLean and Luke Youlden, from Kiwi Falcon pilots like Mark Pedersen, Tim Edgell and Adam Brook, and Paul Manuell in the Orix Commodore, among others.
Brook may be a real dark horse at Ruapuna, his home circuit.
He’s been strong there in the past when he ran a limited NZ V8 campaign and won impressively in the rain at this season’s series opener at Pukekohe where he produced sufficient pace to prevent his rivals from catching him.
We’ll have full coverage from Ruapuna in next week’s Auto Trader magazine and also on autotrader.co.nz during the weekend.