Bamber wins thrilling Wigram trophy race
Some old timers lament the passing of the Wigram airfield circuit, harking back to a time when Formula 1 stars from around the world used to travel to Christchurch to contest the Lady Wigram Trophy Race.
As much as they were the good old days, this year’s event, contested at the Powerbuilt Tools Raceway at Ruapuna, was a worthy substitute.
The opening round of the Toyota Racing Series, at Pukekohe, seemed a long time ago and from the first practice session it became obvious that a lot of people had been doing their homework.
Daniel Gaunt is a talented yet tense young man and he had little to prove by coming back to defend the Lady Wigram Trophy he had won twice previously.
His entry provided a benchmark for the up and comers to aim for, but early in practice he slewed off the circuit at high speed and met the barrier, inflicting considerable damage on the Tatuus. A suspension breakage had left Gaunt a passenger.
The International Motorsport team worked hard to repair the car and on Saturday Gaunt rewarded them by placing it on pole position for the second race in the second session, but jubilation turned to despair when the car weighed in 2kg light and Gaunt was sent to the back of the grid – his hopes of retaining the trophy dashed in the flicker of a read-out.
The disqualification moved series leader Andy Knight to the front with a sizzling 1m 19.810s lap time, while earlier Earl Bamber showed that International Motorsport was still in with a chance by clocking 1m 20.160s to take out the first session.
At the start of the 25-lap trophy race Bamber lined up on pole position with Ben Harford alongside. The outside line, with more rubber laid down, provided a better start and it was Harford who headed the train of cars out of Flexoplas turn as he knuckled down to try and break Bamber’s challenge.
Andy Knight’s car had stalled on the grid during the warm-up lap and the Milwaukee Tools-backed driver suspected all was not well with his car’s electrics. He initially held down third place ahead of Matt Halliday – making his first race start in TRS with a Triple X team car.
Gradually the race split into groups of battling cars and Harford and Bamber edged clear of Knight. Shortly after mid distance, with Bamber trying a couple of moves and even getting alongside Harford, Knight’s car began to run rough and he dropped painfully back down the points positions.
Like Knight, Harford is another driver who seems to be visited by bad luck on the big occasions. With four laps to run, he made a slight mistake at the sweeper and this allowed Bamber to get an inside run down the main straight. Harford left him little room, but, in a manoeuver that lasted quarter of a lap, Bamber got the inside running for the hairpin as they headed almost side-by-side through Pot Hole turn onto the back straight and drove on to win.
Gaunt had initially made up places quickly, but a spin at the hairpin dropped him right back. Grim faced after the meeting, and said that he had been hoping to make up as many places as possible and then hope for a safety car.
Easy to overlook in the wake of Bamber’s brilliant drive, Michael Burdett tracked Halliday all the way and took a very commendable fourth place in his second TRS meeting.
“It’s difficult to follow in these cars and I could only stay there until he made a mistake. It was such a tough race. All I could do when I was following was to back off and cool the tyres. Once I got past, the last two laps were the longest of my life,’’ said the ecstatic Bamber, who at 17 became to youngest winner in the long history of the trophy race.
The opening TRS race had fallen to Harford, who managed to keep Bamber at bay once Bamber had passed Knight on the turn into Flexoplas. Gaunt started this race in fourth and finished fifth, but decided not to start the second race, deciding instead to preserve his tyres for the trophy race.
The second race was red flagged when Mitch Cunningham clipped Burdett and ploughed along the tyre wall on the back straight. The damage looked severe, but the car was repaired in time for the trophy race.
Knight did his point situation a world of good by winning that race ahead of Harford and Halliday.
Australian Nathan Antunes had his most impressive race in the series, finishing fourth.
A varied and entertaining supporting cast included motorcycle racing and a round of the Tasman Revival F5000 series. This was the first time a F5000 round had been held in conjunction with a contemporary race meeting and the cars were a hit with spectators.
Local man and former driving school instructor Chris Hyde continued his unbeaten record in the F5000 series this season by winning all three races and setting a new lap record and top speed at the end of the straight with the McRae GM1. Ken Smith, having a busy weekend racing TRS and F5000, qualified second with the Lola T430, but it was former class front runner.
Roger Williams, now armed with a sinister looking Lola T332 in Interscope colours, blasted through to deprive Smith of second place.
In the second race, Smith gained second place ahead of Stan Redmond T332 after Williams spun at the first S. In the final race it was status normal with Hyde first, ahead of Williams and Smith.