After one of the most exciting racing seasons in the ten year history of the Porter Group V8 Ute category, the fight for the title will go down to the wire for the last round at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, March 11 and 12, when four drivers will battle it out to become the official New Zealand V8 Ute Racing Champion.
Paul 'Auto' Manuell — the reigning champion in the category — has led the series all the way since round one at the ITM V8 Supercar event back in November. Unlike last season, however, he has not had it all his own way and has seen his 56 point lead over second placed Richard 'Danger' Moore, after round one, reduced to 28 points with three races left.
Manuell in his ORIX Holden has won at both Pukekohe and Teretonga, but Moore has fought hard with wins his Mitre 10 Trade Racing team at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo, then again at the Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Christchurch, before taking the last round at the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting at Manfeild Circuit.
Were it not for misfortune at Pukekohe, when he was caught up in an accident ahead of him, then that 28 point gap could be even narrower.
As points sit now, Manuell has the clear advantage but Moore will be hoping to have a circuit advantage with the final round at Hampton. As a driver instructor at the circuit, he has completed thousands of laps and knows every groove, bump and square inch of the racing line, and having won a round there on his V8 Ute debut in 2015, he will be extremely confident he can be at the sharp end of the field.
Third placed Matthew 'Stinger' Spratt and fourth placed Brett 'The Scud' Rudd are the mathematical underdogs in the title fight. However, this has been a season of curve balls and almost every driver has had a poor result or unexpected twist somewhere.
If Spratt and Rudd remain competitive in their KPH Transport and LOSCAM Holdens respectively, as they have been for the last two rounds, then they could be in with a real shot should Manuell or Moore run into strife.
Top Ford runner Glen 'Coyote' Collinson and Holden racers Peter 'Kaos' Ward, Nigel 'Hammered' Hanley and Geoff 'SOS' Spencer have all looked extremely threatening in recent rounds and will be out to spoil any party the top runners are planning.
Collinson has won at Hampton Downs before too, so his confidence will be high this weekend in the DNA Paints Panorama Motorsport Ford FG. Never-say-die Ward can win anywhere, while Hanley has been electrifying in the wet and seems to be getting a handle over the Placemakers Holden in recent races. Spencer was fiercely-competitive on home-soil at Manfeild track last time out and will be looking to carry that form over to the final round.
Another fly in the ointment for the top runners could be the experienced Jamie 'Slenderman' Gaskin in the Ryco 82C Stadium Finance Ford, proving to be faster at each race following his Christchurch debut earlier this year — he could easily be a point stealer at Hamptons and sway the outcome of the series ...
Three more Fast Fords complete the field — Simon 'The Bandit' Ussher in the United Fragile Freight Ford; and father and son duo 'Dirty' Dave and Jeff 'Ripples' Kernonhan in the KCL Fords — which almost guarantee the renewal of the epic door-to-door racing they have enjoyed in the past two rounds.
But, at the end of it all, there can be only one!
Paul Manuell (Holden) — 440
Richard Moore (Holden) — 412
Matt Spratt (Holden) — 378
Brett Rudd (Holden) — 353
Peter Ward (Holden) — 325
Glen Collinson (Ford) — 324
Geoff Spencer (Holden) — 303
Nigel Hanley (Holden) — 271
Simon Ussher (Ford) — 210
Jamie Gaskin (Ford) — 155
Jeff Kernohan (Ford) — 140
David Kernohan (Ford) — 131
Elton Goonan (Ford) — 124
James Urquhart (Holden) — 112
Jayden Dodge (Ford) — 89