The IRC Series’ penultimate championship round bore the brunt of some brutal weather that lingered from Friday through until Sunday at Hampton Downs
Thankfully for the IRC drivers, teams and fans, however, the wet track made not for cancellations, but instead some thrilling race action across the ten competing classes.
The biggest name to appear in the entry lists for the Hampton Downs weekend was former New Zealand A1GP driver and 2010 New Zealand Grand Prix winner Earl Bamber, lining up in the diverse SS2000 field in the EK Honda Civic normally campaigned byTrevor Strong.
Bamber took pole position by over 1.5 seconds from regular front runners Justin Herbert and David Geraghty, before winning the first race and setting the fastest lap in all three sprint races over the weekend.
Herbert and Geraghty battled the the flag for first and second in both of Sunday’s races, faring better thank Bamber with the championship’s unique grid formats.
John Rae made the most of the tight, technical and undulating Hampton Downs terrain to take pole position and race one in the GT1/GT2 field, with Nick Chester’s Holden V8 Supercar and Cameron Jones hitting back on Sunday. Andy Greenslade took twosecond placings in his Jaguar Tranzam.
The NZGT was equally as unpredictable, with Richard Grainger’s pole and opening race victory no match for Geoff Clarkson’s two second placings, and a race win to take the round outright. Stephen Brown-Thomas was the victor in the final race of the weekend.
In the Bridgestone Porsche Series, Ian Hayr stamped his domination on the field with pole position and three wins in his GT3. Conal Dempsey’s 964 Turbo, though close in laptimes, was no match in consistency for the newer model 996.
Series young gun Shannon Coker was the star of the show in the Super 6 class in the Firestone NZ6 Series, taking pole position, a race win and a second placing, with class stalwart Shane Wenzlick winning the other two races.
Following up in the combined grid was the HQ Holdens, and it was Darren Swinburne’s weekend; his pair of race victories split by Gavin McLaughlin’s first win on the 2010/11 season.
Caine Lobb had his work cut out for him in the Sports Suzuki class, managing only one win with Anton Alders and Shaun Varney, son of series promoter Kevin, sharing the other two race victories.
Similarly in the Super Mini Challenge, three winners were crowned from three races, with Greg Gordon, Steven Lovett and Tony Axcell sharing the spoils. Mini 7 class young gun Elliot Heron took two race victories and the class lap record over the weekend.
There was no doubting Michael Shepherd’s dominance in the Formula First category, however. The multiple series champion showed his experience to take another clean sweep of pole positions and race wins at Hampton Downs to all but sew up another championship in the breeding ground for our future single seater aces.
In the Pro 7 racing, Plus class leaders Dean McMillan and James Parker continued their battle at Hampton Downs. While McMillan took pole position convincingly and the race one win, Parker took the weekend overall with victories in races two and three.
As has been the case at almost every round this season in the Pre 65 category, three race winners again eventuated from the weekend’s three races, showing the diversity and equality of the racing and grid formatting of one of New Zealand’s most established and respected racing classes.
Tony Elminger, Andrew Alexander and Peter Stevenson were the Hampton Downs winners.
The Hampton Downs round of the IRC Series was the fifth round of a six round 2010/11 calendar, with the series travelling to Taupo in April to round out the race season.