Round 2 Report: Pukekohe
In its previous layout, the Pukekohe Park raceway had a reputation as a car breaker and the second round of the Super Mini Challenge series held on the updated layout did little to prove otherwise. The weekend started out smoothly for the 30 car field, featuring 18 Super Mini Challenge entries, despite most of the field getting their first look at the additions to the venerable layout in the qualifying session.
Steve Midgley carried on from his success of Taupo opening his account with a dominant pole position. Also impressive was Hayden Gare in his Toyota powered Open class entry scoring second in his first look at the demanding circuit. Trent Dixon headed up the Miglia class by a sound margin, with Elliott Heron leading the HRT pairing atop the Mini 7 standings. Richard Wagstaff was down the order as a result of running the lesser powered 91 car, he had company from Kevin Townsend whose first run of the season was hampered by unsuccessful aerodynamic testing. Scott Thompson also piloted the 45 car for his first run of the season piping brother Chris for fourth in the Mini 7 class. Ross Linklater was another making a return to the class running down in the seventh spot in Mini 7.
The opening race for the Super Mini Challenge was held in failing light late on Saturday afternoon, with the entire field off together for the grid start. Midgley led out strongly, scampering away from Dixon who cleared Gare in the early laps. Townsend came storming through from the back to work his way up the order quickly in the early laps. As the laps counted down the higher powered cars managed to work their way through, with Bill Robson, Toby Annabell, Robin Greenland and Colin Middlemiss all making up for lacklustre qualifying efforts. Simon Middlemiss was unable to qualify his car and made a resounding six spots off the back of the grid in the early laps.
The race would draw to an early close after Midgley had a spectacular accident at the end of the front stretch, spinning on the oil of an expired Star Car to have contact with the inside fence before barrelling off to the outside wall. With the 36 car parked up a mess in the middle of the straightaway the race was red flagged after completing 5 of the scheduled 8 laps. Midgley clambered from the car uninjured, but the wreck spelt the end for the intensely successful car, well known for winning the Overall SMC series in its maiden season.
The results gave Gare his first overall win in only his second round, ahead of Midgley who was awarded second after a count back of laps under red flag. Miglia class winner Dixon was next, then back to the resurgent Townsend ahead of Mini 7 class victor E Heron. Robson was next then back to Warren Heron, Annabell, Wagstaff and Greg Gordon to round out the ten.
The field was thinned slightly for the second race of the weekend, following a bruising Saturday. The Mini Seven class were first away with the delayed grid start, with an entertaining battle between the two HRT cars and Gordon for the top spots. The Thompson brothers were also hard at it in behind for the minors. Dixon managed to skip away off the start, leading Robson as they demolished the Mini 7 field on their way to the front. Making similar inroads were Townsend and Gare as they led the charge for the Open class.
A safety car intervention was required on the fourth lap to recover some expired cars, and this closed the field and mixed the order for the restart. The lead Mini Sevens were able to gain a handy gap on the restart, allowing the battle for the top spots to continue, with W Heron able to make the pass for the lead on the outside of the Sweeper. Gordon undid his hard work with a spin in the Esses to give up third spot. Townsend and Gare made full use of the restart, charging through to get to the front in the final lap.
Down to the line it was Townsend who made the pass for the win under the GT Radials bridge, with E Heron getting back by W Heron in the draft and holding on for second and the Mini 7 class win. Gare was next with Dixon consolidating on his Miglia class lead. It was then back to S Thompson, Robson, C Thompson, Mans and Lex Linklater in tenth.
The final race of the weekend was a full handicap grid, with the eight lap race distance resulting in large gaps off the start line. However the race would not last long, as a safety car to recover the stricken Wagstaff car was used to wind down the laps.This caused the race to effectively end after the third lap resulting in the start order almost equalling the finishing results. However Roger Llewellin scored his first win in the series after making the pass for the win late on the third lap. Ken Rae took second after a trying weekend, ahead of L and R Linklater. C and S Thompson were next then back to the Miglia class winner Robson who was one of the few to make spots in the race. Mans was next then Greenland and E Heron in tenth spot. The open class winner was Annabell way back in eleventh after having no chance of getting through the field.
The round points saw Robson walk away with the big win, taking 85 points aided by double points for his farthest away round. The competitors from the top of the North Island will need to wait until Manfeild to get their double points race. Dixon scored 76 with a pair of wins but had to settle for second in the Miglia class ahead of Mans. Annabell was also aided by double points to take the round win for the Open class, scoring 72 to Gare's 70 with Townsend third on 66. No Mini 7 cars were included in the double points, giving E Heron the round win on 68, ahead of W Heron on 56 with the remaining 7 cars all separated by 7 points for the round.
Robson's strong result jumps him to the Overall series lead with E Heron next in a repeat of last season's down to the wire battle. Gare moves to the Open class lead and third overall with Dixon and Midgley rounding out the top five.
The next round is after the Christmas break on New Year's Weekend at Taupo Motorsport Park. The event will be chocked full of festivities while still leaving space for the sublime racing action with the most exciting and fastest cars in the country all there. Make sure you head down to the track to see some great racing on the 4-5 of January. See you all next year!