The first meeting of the year was much anticipated as it was the first official race meeting at the newly completed motor sport facility at Hampton Downs.
The event was hosted by the Auckland Car Club and featured pretty full fields considering the amount of activity at other circuits.
Competitors were encouraged to walk the track prior to racing to get a feel for the layout. I did this with several of the drivers and their comments were “more undulations than I thought”, “Look at the track width of this corner” “this first corner is going to be interesting”. The circuit used for this year is the 2.5km national configuration.
The day started out quite fine and calm and qualifying went well with no major incidents although we saw a huge variation in lap times. Later on we find out several drivers had attended the shakedown laps on the day before! The track was quite busy with a healthy 21 car field.
Justin Butcher in the #17 Falcon put down some good times in the session in to come out top with what would be the fastest time of the weekend, with a 1:14.2, followed by Colin Meadows in the Corvette with a 1:14.22. Tim La Trobe drove the Mercedes 500 for third position on the grid with a 1:15.8. Dave O’Leary was seen going very slowly with fuel pump issues. Paul Burnet led the 4500cc under class with a 1:19.2.
Race 1 was set to be a cracker. Unfortunately, whilst on the dummy grid, there was a lengthy delay caused by an incident in the previous race, where the skies darkened and steady rain arrived. This meant drivers not only had to contend with a new circuit, a fairly mixed grid but also a slippery track.
The grid start saw Colin Meadows get away the best and he moved into a comfortable lead only to throw it all away with a spin at turn 2. Justin Butcher led the field through but lost the lead to a fast group who were handling the wet conditions well. This included Ross Golding in the Commodore, Neil Tolich in the V8 Capri and Chris Allen in the potent 7.2 L Falcon.
The conditions were not improving for the drivers and it was a challenge for all as looking down the grid prior to the race showed that some tyres were definitely in need of some tread. After several lead changes, Chris Allen came through to take the win, followed by Ross Golding and Neil Tolich third. Colin Meadows battled back for 4th place with fastest race lap of 1:25.4. Greg Sutton in the 240Z took the under 4500cc group with a very competitive race lap time of 1:27.2.
Race 2 was the traditional reverse grid delayed start. The weather picked up a little and the track was still quite wet but drying. Unfortunately some competitors weren’t set up for wet conditions and so only 15 starters faced the flag.
Mike Ellis in the Falcon Coupe received a favourable draw and led early on. Chris Allen chased well and was challenging for the lead within a few laps. These two Fords maintained a good pace and distance from the chasing pack which included the Holdens of Hamish Andrews, Ross Golding and Bruce McRae, along with Neil Tolich, Colin Meadows and Andrew Turner. This group provided good close racing and the track layout seemed to provide plenty of passing opportunities.
Chris Allen took the win quite comfortably in the end. Mike Ellis claimed second with a big gap back to Justin Butcher who now will be the class lap record holder with a 1:20.5. The Ford Falcon lobby will be happy with a 1,2,3 result! Roy Bingley had his best race in a while to take the win for the 4500cc class and Graham Cargill second.
Due to time restraints all classes missed out on their third race which is a little frustrating for competitors as this is the second time this year that this has eventuated. I’m confident this track will be one of the drivers’ favourites once the facility is fully up and running.