Johnny Mac takes early V8 lead
Reigning NZ V8 champion John McIntyre had the almost perfect start to his title defence in the opening round of the New Zealand Truth-backed series at Pukekohe Park Raceway last weekend.
He was fastest all the way through the three-part qualifying and started his BP Ultimate/Squawking Magpie Wines Ford Falcon from pole.
He won the first two races, and finished fourth in the final 22-lapper, run on a glistening-wet track that drivers said was even slipperier than it looked. McIntyre left the South Auckland circuit with a healthy points lead and looking forward to a couple of glasses of red wine when he got home to Nelson.
But the edge was taken off his achievement when he learnt that the team’s truck – fortunately without the car in it – had been gutted by fire on Sunday night (see story page 51).
It was a major blow for the driver and his self-run team who had put in the hard yards to arrive at Pukekohe right on top of their game.
There was a familiar look to the V8 results sheet at the end of the two-day race meeting.
After Round 1, the top four in the championship are the fastmen from last year’s series – McIntyre, Andy Booth, Angus Fogg and Kayne Scott.
It was only the third race, which started with a reverse grid that had a different look about it.
McIntyre, Fogg and Booth figured - in that order - but they were in places fourth through sixth.
Scott, driving near blind with a fogged-up windscreen in the Fujitsu Falcon, was eighth and counting himself lucky to have reached the finish.
Christchurch’s Adam Brook took the win in his Falcon giving his supporters plenty to cheer about – as they did when he crossed the finish line; and giving his sponsor, Versatile Buildings, plenty to smile about – its show-building village on Pukekohe’s Manukau Road, borders the racetrack.
Brook, who has raced only sporadically in the NZ V8 series because of family and financial reasons, produced a superb drive to hang on to the lead after starting from the front row of the grid.
Though other near-the-front starters were gathered in by the top guns, Brook drove immaculately to keep the white and orange Ford at the head of the field – an indicator that he has the pace to run at or near the sharp end as the series progresses.
He beat Australian V8 Supercar driver Cameron McLean (Falcon) to the line by 4.1 seconds, with Dean Perkins (GT Radials Ford) third, just holding off the fast-closing McIntyre.
McLean’s third placing was the weekend’s best showing by the three Australians in the 2007/2008 NZ V8 field.
But the weekend really belonged to McIntyre. He threw down the challenge early, clocking a 61.250-second lap in the first qualifying session to determine the fastest 20 drivers – only just, mind, because Fogg was only one-thousandth of a second slower in the Caltex Havoline Falcon.
A further tenth of a second behind was Scott who had ended Friday’s timed practice sessions perplexed by his inability to match the 61.4s lap he’d turned in private testing the week before.
On Friday he had struggled to get within a second of that time, and the team did some intense thinking and put in a late night tweaking the Fujitsu car’s set-up.
Booth was the fastest of the Commodore qualifiers, lapping at 61.773s in the Tasman Motorsport Holden.
Perkins was a mere four-thousandths of a second behind, with Mark Pedersen a 10th in arrears in the United Video Falcon.
It was Pedersen’s best start to the season in the past three years, and there was plenty of optimism in the blue and yellow Ford’s garage.
Australians David Besnard (Ford) and McLean were next-quickest, followed by former Formula Ford champion, Tim Edgell in the Chesters Falcon.
Completing the top 10 was the second Holden driver, Paul Manuell, three-hundredths of a second shy of Edgell.
Aussie Luke Youlden was 11th in the Powerbuilt Tools Falcon, followed by Paul Radisich’s Falcon.
Few of the drivers had done many laps, conserving their tyres for the top 20 and top 10 shootouts.
Radisich was the big improver in the first shootout, rocketing the yellow Falcon into fifth place, behind McIntyre, Fogg, Booth and Perkins. Behind him came McLean, Pedersen, Manuell, Scott and Besnard.
McIntyre reinforced his superiority with a stunning 61.088-second lap to grab pole position in the top 10 shootout.
Fogg was three-tenths behind him, Booth another three-hundredths further back.
Then came Radisich, Scott, Pedersen, Perkins, McLean, Besnard and Manuell. And the stage was set.
Act 1 was decided in the first 100 metres – McIntyre leapt into a lead he never lost.
The drama unfolded behind him. Booth made a blindingly-fast start and dived inside Fogg who yielded. Radisich held fourth. Pedersen’s good run continued and he ran fifth, ahead of Scott.
But two laps from home, Pedersen’s luck ran out. The United Video Falcon slowed and Pedersen parked it off the track near the pit exit. A tyre had delaminated and its race was over.
McIntyre took the win, by 1.9 seconds from Booth, followed by Fogg, Radisich, Scott, Manuell, Youlden, Perkins, Clark Proctor (Falcon) and Andrew Anderson (Holden).
McIntyre was delighted with the way his weekend was shaping: “It’s the first time I’ve been on pole for the first race of the season – Angus usually beats me for that.”
Booth, who had hammered away at McIntyre during the opening laps, said his Commodore had lost some of its edge as the lap count mounted.
“The car was great in the first part of the race, very quick.”
But he had “hurt the tyres” trying to get past McIntyre.
Fogg said that after Booth “got a real good start”, he wasn’t going to go around the outside (of Pukekohe’s daunting sweeper trying to regain second place).
Act 2 was played out in two scenes on Sunday, the first on a dry track, the second on a damp and then treacherously slippery surface as the rain hit Pukekohe.
The result sheet shows that the final top two was the same in Race 2 – McIntyre from Booth, with Scott third this time – but result sheets tell little of the drama, and there was drama aplenty in the 18 laps of the second NZ V8 race.
There are hints in the results. The DNF (did not finish) tally shows that Anderson and Julia Huzziff (Commodore) were out, as was Inky Tulloch (Falcon).
Booth started from pole after setting the quickest lap in Race 1, was briefly headed by Fogg who surged past soon after the start, and regained the lead to cross the line first after lap one. McIntyre was second, ahead of Fogg.
McIntyre made his move on lap three, diving alongside Booth on the run out of the hairpin. They ran side-by-side up and over the hill and down the pit straight, with McIntyre trying to get past on the start-finish line and then making the pass in classic style on the inside line in the sweeper.
Behind Fogg, Radisich led Scott and Manuell.
“It takes a lot of trust to race side-by-side like that and it also shows the calibre of the drivers we have running in this series,” said McIntyre.
But the day was about to turn to disaster for Pinepac ITM Holden driver Anderson and Huzziff. Four cars, Anderson’s among them, came out of the hairpin together, and Anderson got a tap, throwing the Holden off the track and into a tyre barrier.
It came to rest pointing back towards the track. Huzziff accelerating hard on the run towards the hill found herself with nowhere to go and crashed into Anderson’s Commodore, hurling it up and on to the tyre barrier.
Anderson escaped serious injury but Huzziff was taken to hospital where she had surgery on Monday to repair a shattered kneecap. Officials red-flagged the race while track workers repaired the Armco safety barrier.
When the race re-started more than 40 minutes later, light rain was falling but the cars remained on slick-treaded dry weather tyres as McIntyre led the NZ Truth V8s away for the remaining 14 laps.
McIntyre and Booth were extending their lead over the rest of the field when Tulloch slid off the Esses, the Falcon careering across the grass and colliding heavily with a safety barrier, breaking the retaining posts.
The crash brought out the safety car, and later delayed the meeting further while work was completed on the damaged barrier.
The rain was now heavy, and at the re-start McIntyre led from Booth, Fogg, Scott, Besnard and Radisich.
Radisich slid wide on the very slippery track, and Manuell got ahead of him, though the double World Touring Car Cup winner re-passed the Orix Commodore in the sweeper a lap later.
Fogg finished fourth behind McIntyre, Booth and Scott, with Besnard, Radisich, Manuell, Clark Proctor (Falcon), McLean and Perkins completing the top 10.
V8 rookie and reigning Mini Challenge champion, Eddie Bell, started the reverse grid final race from pole in the green Bartercard Holden with Brook on the outside of the front row.
Booth and McIntyre started 28th and 29th.
The expected mayhem started in the first corner where Pedersen, starting ninth (his non-finish in Race 1 and 14th in Race 2, which he had started 26th, dropped him down the points ladder, and the Race 3 grid is decided by points amassed during the weekend), was tapped and spun.
Tim Edgell had no way of avoiding the United Video Falcon and collided with it. The bootlid came loose and hung down one side as Pedersen resumed racing.
As he accelerated down the back straight, the bootlid fell off the car.
“As we went down the back straight, I looked in the mirror to see where the cars were around me and I saw the rear wing and bootlid fall off. Without rear downforce the car was undriveable.”
So Pedersen parked the Falcon and is now looking forward to Round 2 at Ruapuna, near Christchurch, on November 24 and 25.
The car has speed and handling as Pedersen showed with his pace in qualifying and early in Race 1, and by his drive through the field in Race 2 where he had dropped to a s low as 30th after an incident.
While Pedersen’s race was ending, Bell led from Brook. He was soon overtaken by Dave Stewart (Commodore) and Brook who swept into the lead on lap 10, to the accompaniment of cheers from his supporters in the Members’ Stand.
By then, mid-distance in the race, McLean had begun to inch closer to the Versatile Falcon.
He got closer still after Stewart hit the wall on top of the hill and the Safety Car was deployed.
Brook hung on to the lead at the Indian file re-start.
Meanwhile, Radisich had moved from 23rd to 10th before problems with his windscreen wipers forced him to slow; he came home in 21st. McIntyre passed Booth and Fogg in the closing stages and began challenging Perkins for third but simply ran out of laps.
When the curtain fell on Act 3, Brook took a richly deserved win from McLean and Perkins. McIntyre was fourth, ahead of Fogg and Booth, Manuell, Scott, Cam Hardy (Commodore) and Youlden.
Scott had struggled all race with a fogged-up windscreen that resisted all his efforts to clear it. He had been missing apexes, even turned into corners too early a couple of times, and had little idea of where other cars were around him.
He said it was the closest he’s ever come to driving into the pits and parking.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that for most of the race there were no cars immediately in front of him, he would have pulled out for safety reasons.
Fogg said the track had been extremely treacherous in Race 3.
“Over the top of the hill, it was the slipperiest I have ever felt. It was just a sheet of water – no grip at all. I had to take a big gulp of air going over there.”
Booth said that in the last eight laps or so there was “a total lack of grip. Everyone did well to stay on the track”.
McIntyre said he believes his team has taken a step up from last season when the Falcon raced well but lacked qualifying speed.
“(This weekend) the car was as good in the race as it was in qualifying, and it’s sometimes hard to get those two things together.”