ony McCall overcame rainy and blustery weather to take the early points lead in the 2007 Asset Finance New Zealand Offroad Racing National Championship last Sunday.
He bounced back from a tyre pressure error that severely restricted traction in the slippery going and gave his powerful SFL/PPG Cougar 07 racer a perfect debut.
He qualified fastest, lining up on pole alongside Neville Smith’s Cougar.Smith and McCall are the founders of the Cougar brand of offroad race car.
But both were caught out by Sunday’s weather.
Expecting cool but dry conditions at the Meremere track, McCall had opted for higher tyre pressures to obtain maximum grip from what he expected to be a hard surface.
“So I felt a bit of an idiot when the rain came down just after the start and then stayed for the whole race.”
Smith chose a tyre with less mechanical grip and lost time in the qualifying sprint.
An all-new body shape and a rear wing are the key differences between McCall’s 07 evolution Cougar and the classic models.
He had been hoping for a dry race to try out the new specification, which combines the proven frame design and suspension geometry with an all new body computer-modelled to reduce lift at speeds higher than 100km/h.
“We weren’t able to learn much about the aerodynamic performance because the rain meant there was little traction and there were only two fast points on the whole course. Once the track turned to grease we were pretty much on tiptoes [with] not a lot of grip to be had.”
The race had shaped up to be a horsepower contest between McCall’s 250kW naturally aspirated Cougar Smith’s 305kW turbo Honda-engined car.
Smith’s car features sequential shift transmission, an anti-lag boost system on its turbo and a dry sump oil system that helps optimise weight distribution by holding the engine’s oil in an external reservoir.
Also starting in the top five were Donn Attwood’s 1.6-litre RV Toyota, and Clive Thorburns’ new V6 Southern Cross Australian car.
Tyre pressure issues aside, the weather was no problem for McCall, and he led by almost a minute after lap one.He had lapped the whole field by lap 12 of the 30 lap (150km) race and was never challenged.
Thornton had sprinted from fifth to third in the opening laps, but broke a driveshaft and retired.
Attwood was in the bunch pursuing McCall, making the most of his smaller car’s agility.
Smith found the slippery going difficult.
“I was following Tony quite close for the first lap or so, and every time he got on to a straight I could see I was losing ground on him,” he said.
Drivers were forced to pit repeatedly for replacement goggles.
Attwood ran out of eyewear and was forced to drive without, eventually withdrawing from the race, his eyes painfully clogged with mud.
The drive of the race came from Chris Whyte. His Camco Scorpion is an all-new design and like Attwood he runs in the Super 1600 class, which is shaping up to be the most competitive in the championship.
He fought off challenges from experienced racers Richard Crabb and Malcolm Langley and even stayed ahead of White’s much more powerful car to finish second overall.
Crabb, returning to the sport in an all-new mid-engined Super 1600, grappled with grip and vision, and was also forced to pit to change a flat tyre at mid distance.
The first truck home was Glenn Turvey’s American built Toyota ute. It races in the sport category for modified 4WD and 2WD trucks. No production trucks or unlimited-class trucks finished the race.
The next round of the 2007 Asset Finance New Zealand Offroad Racing Championship is this Sunday, March 25, at West Melton near Christchurch.
North and South Island racers contest three rounds each before meeting for the all-in national final in August.