A hard-fought fifth place for John McIntyre in the first race of the final round of the inaugural V8SuperTourers sprint championship keeps him in the hunt for the championship title.
McIntyre and fellow V8SuperTourer competitors are in action at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, midway between Auckland and Hamilton, for the 1 to 3 June final and have two further races to run on Sunday to wrap up the four-round sprint series.
McIntyre, from Nelson, still holds second place on the leader-board, just over 100 points from current leader Jonny Reid. Meanwhile John McIntyre Racing team-mate Steve Richards, the expat Kiwi race driver from Melbourne, holds steady in eighth.
Saturday's action saw McIntyre and the #47 Amcor Ford, and Richards and the #556 CRC Ford on track for an hour long practice session where the #556 car, in particular, was showing good pace.
"But we made one minute change too many and the pace wasn't there for qualifying," says Richards, who was 15th despite setting a qualifying time less a second slower than fastest-qualifier Scott McLaughlin.
McIntyre had to admit to an unexpected first – he hit the Armco on his first lap of qualifying, necessitating an immediate return to the pits for the JMR crew to check #47 for significant damage. "The tyres are like ice when cold, so that's a lesson learned!"
With the steering not quite right and time counting down in the 20-minute qualifying session, McIntyre had to do his best, achieving the ninth quickest time.
"We did remarkably well, considering, to start from ninth, and then I got a great start to get inside Andre Heimgartner to snatch his seventh place," explains McIntyre. "Everyone piled into turn one, some were pushed wide and I managed to get through to gain another couple of places. Reid, who'd qualified second, was one who was pushed around and I got past him for fourth. As things settled down, Greg Murphy and I had a good battle, passing and re-passing each other, then Reid did the same with both of them ending up in front of me – we need to find some more speed in the car. I got past Andy Knight when he made an error, then he made it back in front but got in another mess, clipped me and I just tried to give him room so I could hold on for fifth."
McIntyre is striving to find ways to improve the pace of the #47 car. "However when we qualify badly, we seem to race pretty well. And starting in fifth tomorrow is better than starting in ninth, so we'll just take it from there."
Richards is taking a similar attitude that starting from tenth is an improvement on Saturday's 15th starting position. "The thing with starting down the field is you do get caught up in other dramas. After making the wrong setting change for qualifying, we changed it back and the pace was certainly back for the race. So we'll start tenth for race two on Sunday and go from there."
After brilliant weather all day Saturday for a good crowd of race fans, Sunday's forecast looks cloudier. The day's action will comprise a 25-lap race commencing at 11:40 am with the reversed top five starting grid and a 35-lap race at 2:45 pm to wrap up the inaugural V8SuperTourer sprint championship.
More details about McIntyre and his team can be found on www.jmr.co.nz.