Pedersen and Williams star in V8 super-thriller
Everyone loves an underdog, or so the old saying goes.
And as last Sunday evening’s reverse grid NZ V8s race progressed and front-row starter Kevin Williams continued to lead, fending off Australian V8 Supercar driver David Besnard for lap after lap, the crowd got right behind the privateer underdog from Pukekohe.
Eventually, Williams had to bow to the inevitable. At a late race restart he failed to sufficiently warm up the rear brakes on the Strapping Systems Holden Commodore, and as he braked for Turn 1, the Commodore locked up and ran wide.
Besnard pounced and forced his Ford Falcon into the gap, though Williams briefly got back ahead.
But the real beneficiary was former V8s champion Paul Pedersen, who muscled his way past both as he completed his stunning drive from 27th on the grid to ultimate victory.
Besnard’s lead over Williams ended after a couple of laps as he parked the silver Falcon on the infield, leaving the Commodore driver back in second place.
Not a comfortable second place – nor for some laps before that a comfortable third place – because a fired-up Andy Booth, stung by being docked 50 seconds for a first corner incident in the second V8s race earlier in the day, was nipping at his heels in the Tasman Motorsport Commodore. That 50 seconds had stripped Booth of the Race 2 victory, handing it to John McIntyre.
Booth is a wily and aggressive driver and not the easiest to hold off, but Williams did it lap-after-lap – in fact, right to the chequered flag, to the delight of the crowd.
I’ve never heard such vocal support for a driver in an NZ V8s race in the series’ long history.
Every time Williams held Booth out in the braking duel for the ultra-tight left-hand corner at the end of Taupo’s long and fast back straight, the grandstands would erupt in cheering, whistles, clapping, hoots of delight.
It was reminiscent of the reception Greg Murphy got from the Pukekohe crowd when he won a V8 Supercar race at the south of Auckland circuit.
Meanwhile, Booth was throwing everything he knew at the Pukekohe privateer.
Williams would hold him out in the sweeping turn on to the main straight, the Strapping Systems Commodore hugging the pole line.
Booth would feint to the outside on the exit from the sweeper and draw alongside Williams on the run down to Turn 12.
But Williams would hold doggedly to the inside line, braking hard and deep and denying the Tasman car the opportunity to pass.
Every time Williams stood his ground the crowd would shriek with delight, willing him on to second place.
It was a superb drive, one of the greatest moments yet in NZ V8s racing.
Williams hung on, crossing the line 0.83 seconds ahead of Booth.
Dean Perkins was fourth in the GT Radials Falcon, ahead of Australians Cameron McLean and Luke Youlden, both in Falcons.
Then came McIntyre in the BP Ultimate Ford, his seventh place – in combination with wins in the two earlier races – enough to clinch the round win and increase his series points lead.
Clark Proctor (Falcon), Cam Hardy (Commodore) and Andrew Porter (Falcon) completed the top 10.
Former champion Kayne Scott capped a frustrating weekend with a 14th place finish, the Fujitsu Ford slowed by an overheating engine.
It had been an exciting, mayhem-filled race which had the crowd fizzing.
There were spins and off-track excursions galore, Taupo’s infamous dust was billowing as cars carved up the infield, and there would be plenty for the panelbeaters to do before next month’s races at Manfeild.
Take Andrew Fawcet’s Strawberry Homes Falcon, for example.
He finished 22nd, among the walking wounded, with the driver’s side rear door ripped off the Falcon after being hit by other cars in the infield corners.
Initially, Fawcet had got going after the incident with the door sticking out at near right-angles, but had been obliged to pit to have it removed.
Julia Huzziff didn’t even get her Commodore to the finish, parking it after a wheel came off.
If Williams had covered himself in glory with his doggedly-defensive drive to second place, so too had Pedersen with his victory.
There are people who will tell you there’s only one passing chance at Taupo, but if that’s so, Pedersen didn’t believe them.
In a drive of controlled aggression, he scythed his way through the field.
He was having a one-off appearance in the 2007-2008 series, driving the Caltex-Havoline Ford Falcon raced previously by Angus Fogg.
Fogg was debuting a brand-new car which got off to a rocky start on the weekend, but came right in the first two races, netting Fogg third overall for the weekend behind Pedersen.
Pedersen says that to make progress at Taupo, a driver has to go for every gap he sees, poking his car’s nose inside rival cars’ and on to the apex of a corner.
That forces the driver in front to move wide and into the marbles (tiny pieces of tyre rubber and dust that accumulate off the racing line making the track surface ultra-slippery) where they lose momentum and have to concede the placing.
Pedersen says he got through the field by aggression.
“You have to be aggressive on this track,” he said. “If gaps are there, you have got to get your nose into them.”
Williams, driving his self-sponsored and self-prepared Commodore, says his is a true privateer operation.
“I build my own engines, paint the car. I’m one of the only privateers.
“This weekend it has been only myself and my partner Shelley who have been the team.”
He said that going into the reverse grid race the Holden was in good shape, with new brakes and new tyres.
Even so, holding out Besnard and then Booth for so long had been “very, very difficult.”
He said that from the race start he had thought it was possible to bring the Holden home to a podium finish.
“I had a very good car.”
Williams started from the front row but was initially shaded by Falcon racer John Penny.
Williams soon got past Penny, and opened a reasonable gap before the faster cars came through.
First of the big guns to attack was Besnard.
Williams fought tooth and nail with the Australian through the infield corners, and consistently made use of his car’s strong braking ability and stability under brakes to deny the Besnard at Turn 12, the corner at the end of the main straight.
The corner, tightened for this year, was unpopular with most drivers but Williams loved it.
“Besnard had the horsepower but he didn’t have enough to get past in the new corner. I think it’s a wonderful corner.”
Things looked bad for him when a Safety Car period was called on lap 14 while course workers extracted a spun-up car from a scoria trap.
That bunched the field, with Besnard re-starting on Williams’ tail, and Pedersen right there too.
At the restart, Pedersen swept into the lead and then Besnard went by.
And then Williams came under attack from Booth.
But he used Turn 12 time and time again to keep Booth at bay.
During those battles, Shelley had been coaching Williams, radioing details of which drivers were closing on him and urging him to hold his line and drive his own race as Besnard and then Booth made their repeated attacks.
“Shelly was on the radio saying ‘drive you own line, drive your own line’.
“She was looking at what cars were closing in. She said: ‘just concentrate in driving your race’.
“On the last lap, I braked so deep, but the car was beautiful in straightline braking – and I’m one of the only cars running a standard Commodore brake booster rather than a pedal box.”
It was an outstanding drive, and his second place was hugely popular with the vocal crowd.