Erratic weather made tyre choice the decider at round three of the Enzed Central Muscle Cars championship

Enzed Central Muscle Cars (CMC) took to Taupo at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park for the third round of the class' championship, joining the ITM Motorsport Championship round of the Premier Motorsport Championship with a grid of 25 cars.

Friday was a practice day, with two sessions for CMC, and the weather was exceptional — probably the most settled of any of the three days; bad weather loomed for the weekend and the forecast of rain put a damper on everyone’s spirits.

On Saturday morning, the cars were out for qualifying at 9.30am, on a clear, dry, albeit slightly cold, track. Some good times were put down, with John Midgley’s XD Falcon topping the charts with a run of 1min 34.379s. Greg Honnor’s Mustang was close behind, with 1 min 34.645s, and, in third place, was Dean Perkins with 1min 35.442s — not his best qualifying run and blamed on poor tyre choice. Following Perkins were Grant Dalton; David Hopper; Bruce Anderson; Rick van Swet; Allan Pearce; Steve Ross; and, to round out the top 10, Andrew Sinclair, flying the flag for the Group 2 cars in the Chickadee Commodore.

Race one

Next, it was race one of the weekend, with the weather gods deciding it was time to mess with the boys. The wet track caused issues with tyre choice, as, with it being a 50/50 call as to how the weather would go, half the cars rolled out on slicks and half on wets.
With the drop of the flag they were off — some better than others, it would be fair to say; at this point, the cars on wets had the advantage. The field spread out as some struggled with grip, but, up front, the battle between Perkins and Midgley was on, with Honnor and Dalton keeping things honest. Lap one saw the retirement of Steve Hildred in the Monaro after a spin at the chicane off the end of the back straight, the rest of the field managing to avoid the Monaro in the adverse conditions.

As the race progressed, Paul Clarke in the No. 49 Mustang retired with overheating problems, which turned out to be due to a faulty radiator cap. Bruce Kett also succumbed to the wet weather and headed off into the Armco, badly damaging the front of his Camaro. Luckily, he managed to regroup and carry on to complete the race.

As the race progressed, several battles developed as the significance of tyre choice came into play, with a drying track starting to hurt the wet tyres and the slick tyres starting to come on towards the end. Honnor fell prey to a bit of grass tracking, which destroyed the front splitter on the Mustang, but still managed to finish a lap down. 

The battle at the front was decided by Perkins displaying his unique car-control skills in the wet and shooting to the front to claim first place, followed 13 seconds later by Midgley, then Dalton in third place. Next across the line was Hopper, followed by Anderson, Ross, Clarke Hopkins, Steve Noyer, Ian Easton, and Tristan Teki, to round out the top 10.

Race two

Race two, and once again the weather was not looking good; neither was the tyre situation — most of the cars that had been on wets for race one had blistered their tyres, so not a lot of options were to be had. So, with the meeting being declared wet by race officials, it was not a good situation as far as tyres went. However, after some discussion, it was decided to leave the tyre choice up to the competitor.

An eight-lap handicap race was the format, and Dr John Elliott’s XU1 Torana was on pole with a 30-second head start on row two, followed 20 seconds later by the next group, and so on. The fourth group away had seven cars in it, followed by the next group of five cars. The last three groups of cars were spread over 13 seconds, with Midgley at the rear on his own, as a result of his good qualifying time.

As with race one, the rain stopped midway through the race, favouring those on slicks once again — although not before catching out a few, putting some onto the grass and making some spin. The field saw a series of good battles, with Paul Boden looking to claim the race only to have Paul Clarke’s Mustang pip him at the post by three seconds. They were followed by Noyer, Gary McKelvie, Ross, Hopper, Greg Holden, Kett, Perkins, and Hopkins. 
The handicap race proved to be eventful, with Paul Clarke coming from

grid seven to take the win, Boden from grid four in second place, and Noyer from grid eight in third. The movers in the field were Perkins, who made up 14 positions; Ross, who made up 13 spots; and Hopper, who made up 12. All the drivers should be congratulated on the standard of their driving in the trying conditions. ‘Bring on Sunday and a dry track’ was the call.

Race three

Sunday arrived with a hint of rain but the track was dry for race three — once again a handicap race of eight laps, with the slower cars off the front of the grid. The grid was basically the same as it had been race two, except for Paul Clarke, who moved back a few spots as a result of bettering his lap time the day before. All the cars were on slick tyres and the drivers were relishing the chance to push their cars to the limit on the dry surface. Once again, however, the rain set in for the first few laps and action was seen on every part of the track as the Hankook slicks were put to the test. Sean Fowler and McKelvie practised synchronized spinning in turn one, putting on a show for the crowd; both drove away with nothing but their pride damaged. Hopkins retired before the start with broken suspension — fortunately noticing it on the warm-up lap. 

As the race went on and the track dried, the faster cars at the rear came through the field much more quickly. The club handicap and the penalty system made for an interesting mix in the results. Paul Clarke snuck into the lead to take first place once again, but not for long, as a break-out rule applied and he broke out by 2.5 seconds, meaning 60 seconds was added to his time, bumping him back to 21st place. Second across the line, Ross, suffered the same fate, with 30 seconds added, which pushed him back to 18th place, leaving Perkins to pick up first place. Teki was also penalized, crossing the line in fourth but put back to 19th, leaving second place to Honnor. Hopper was third and Dalton fourth after Holden was relegated to 22nd for the same issue. Rounding out the top 10 were Anderson, Calvin Andrew, Easton, Midgley, Sinclair, and Kett.

Race four

Tensions were high for race four, the last race of the weekend, as everyone was out to do their best, given the weather conditions they had all had to endure over the weekend. Once again, the inclement elements threatened and tyres were driver’s choice as showers were coming and going. It was a 10-lap race, fastest off from the front. A bit of confusion from the tower with the lights saw a false start. The field spread out, unsure whether they were racing or not, but a full restart was called — probably not what Perkins would have wanted, as he had been off like a rocket.

Set again, the restart was not quite as good for Perkins this time, as he bogged on the line. Midgley was gone, as was Honnor, along with Dalton, and the scene was set for an epic battle up front. Midgley pulled a gap that he was not going to relinquish and took the lead, driving a superb race. However, his big blue Falcon began to show signs of resistance by puffing blue smoke at times. Perkins and Honnor kept each other busy, and Dalton hung on to them for dear life till the end. Perkins closed the gap to two seconds at the end, taking the round win, with Midgley in second place, while Honnor had set a blistering new lap record for CMC of 1min 33.776s in the last race. 

Having been put through the wringer over the weekend, the cars were now able to be put away and prepped for Hampton Downs and the next round, which is to be part of the New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing over January 20–22.

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