Unpredictable and often slippery track conditions really put the drivers to the test during the penultimate round of the Prowear NZ Superlap Series at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo over April 2–3.
A close time attack battle is always exciting anywhere in the line-up, but watching the fight for top honours, which came down to a tenth of a second, had spectators, crew members, and other drivers on their feet cheering for their favoured team. It was an absolute pleasure to watch two cars, who have both represented New Zealand at the Yokohama World Time Attack Challenge, make their way out of the pits together, and the sound coming from Andy Duffin’s Mazda RX-7 down the straights was incredible.
The Pro Open win went to Scott Kreyl’s Mitsubishi Evo with a time of 1:29.889. This dedicated time attack weapon was piloted by three-time World Time Attack Champion driver Garth Walden, who had flown in from Australia to take the wheel. The team were struggling with a boost leak over the weekend, and some on-the-fly changes to the aerodynamics of the car, but in the end they did enough to hold that top spot and take the round.
After setting the fastest time for Saturday, Andy Duffin’s 3 Rotor Racing FD RX-7 couldn’t quite hold off the competition on Sunday. The 3 Rotor Racing crew were working hard to dial in more grip for the stunningly presented 20B rotary, but in the final shootout Andy felt his drive wasn’t as on point as it could have been. A best time of 1:29.994 is still mighty impressive, and we’re sure we will see more of this car at the Superlap rounds in future.
Third spot went to Leon Scott’s Evo with a time of 1:36.7. Leon decided to play the long game this weekend and put his car on the trailer after lunch on Sunday, opting not to run in the final sessions and to instead save the car for the final in the hopes of holding his championship lead.
The Shortty Racing Team Subaru WRX took home another fourth place finish with a time of 1:41.8, and another broken gearbox for driver Jason Shortt. Jason has enough points to hold his championship spot without contending the final round, so it’s yet to be seen if the car will be patched up to contend at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, or if it will go into the shed for a full rebuild for the 2016–’17 season for the team to hopefully shake the ‘Box Slayer’ nickname.
Rounding out the Pro Open class was Greg Hirst bringing out his new MR2 for its first Superlap round, and a best of 1:53.1. Throughout Saturday he did look like he might have been wishing for more than an umbrella to shelter the targa top in the open pits!
Pro Street was another David and Goliath clash between the Manon Racing AE92 Levin and the ST HiTec R35 GT-R. Barry Manon had put a lot of hours into fixing the problems that plagued the Levin at Manfeild, and aside from a few niggles with the LSD it was looking like the car was singing all weekend, enabling the 0GRIP crew to wind up a bit more boost and post a time of 1:37.5 for the class win — six from six.
Iain Clegg had his GT-R on double duty, with the second drive going to his crew manager, Stewart Mearns. Iain was looking like he had it in the bag by the end of Saturday in the wet, but on a drier track on Sunday, and some mechanical issues sidelining him from the last few sessions, it meant he couldn’t match the Levin and had to settle for second place with 1:39.3.
Michael Sorensen’s Subaru WRX dropped three seconds off his best time from the last Taupo round, coming in at 1:44.5. Jason Morris’s MacMorris Racing MPS also found another second since last time with a time of 1:48.2. The rest of the Pro Street field saw Morris Mustchin improve his times all weekend, Geoff Gordon also set a new PB, Bruce Clothier was only in attendance on Saturday when the track wasn’t as good, so his times were off what the Starlet is capable of. Series organizer Kaz Kostiuk-Warren finally got a chance to drive his new track car in a Superlap round and take it for a spin — literally.
The JTune team were all alone again in the Street front-wheel drive class (seriously, where are all the Hondas hiding?), and while this meant they could rest on their laurels and easily take home the class win, that’s not how the boys roll. Jason Xu’s orange Accord was pushed hard around the track by the ever-smiling Ray Williams. They missed their target of getting in the 1:44 range, but still set a very respectable 1:45.1 on street tyres.
Street all-wheel drive had a very small field this weekend, but still some great drives. Emil Roshan’s beautiful Skyline R34 laid down a 1:43.8, and Brad Jesson tried hard to catch him (and shake his reputation as a one-and-done man), but could only come up with a 1:45.2, however the car was on form for the bulk of the weekend getting through most of the sessions before a cracked manifold ended his run. Michael Nealis pulled a 1:55.9 out of the Legacy GTB wagon, while his wife, Michelle Nealis, opted to stay on pit-crew duty this weekend instead of driving.
Street rear-wheel drive made for exciting watching, especially in moist conditions. Shamil Arachchie’s Toyota Supra took out the win with a 1:44.2, with Glenn Hodges right on his tail with a 1:45.1 (and plans to increase the aero on his car before the final round, and make this battle even closer). Darren McDonald flung his Commodore around in 1:46.2 before cooking the brake pads. Bradley Haines celebrated his 21st over the weekend, so couldn’t quite crack the two-minute mark — but we think that’s understandable in the circumstances.
Casey Jones had his turbo give up early on Saturday, turning his race weekend into a holiday weekend, and Kerri Mareeba did her usual single lap before spending the rest of the weekend on the clipboard.
With five weeks to go before the final round on May 7–8 at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, it’s time for the cars to head back into their sheds, and the crews to put on their thinking caps to find those elusive fractions of a second.
Photos: Ash Bechan