Round 4 Write-up - Celebrating Chris Amon
By Kim Murray
The 2011 New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing hosted the fourth round of the Northern Muscle Cars series and the second of three combined NMC/CMC rounds. For the Northern drivers Hampton Downs is known to be merciless on brakes, gearboxes and axles and punishing of any inconsistency. The 27 Muscle Car drivers on the grid would have their work cut out trying to tame the track, but what a way to spend a weekend!
A three day format for the round saw the Central and Northern drivers starting to arrive on Thursday, setting up pits and getting in some familiarisation laps. Some drivers, like Aussie tourist Paul Stubber and Central’s Bruce Deihl, had never been around the track whereas others like Graham Cargill and Tony Gordon had raced here before. For Vern Muller the track would strike swiftly, a broken axle on Thursday had Muller pondering what kind of weekend he was in for.
Friday practice was uneventful aside from the odd off-track excursion and a damaged engine for Roy Bingley in the VL Commodore. By the time afternoon qualifying rolled around the drivers were all up to speed. Fresh from replacing a broken axle after practice, Stubber laid down a lightning fast 1min 11.865sec lap, quick enough to set pole for race 1 and with Wigston’s HQ alongside Stubber’s Camaro the Central drivers had the front row sorted ahead of Northern’s Colin Meadows in the Corvette ZR-1 and Tim La Trobe in the Mercedes 500SEC on the second.
Saturday dawned to destruction with the Sinclair and Butcher pit a veritable swimming pool, Stubber’s pit bay literally crushed around the Sonic Performance station wagon parked beneath it, and Andrew Turner’s pit totally destroyed by the weight of hundreds of litres of water and strong winds whipping it throughout the night.
The weather leading up to the start of race 1 had the drivers guessing when it came to tyres and suspension settings. John Elliott, Steve Malam and Tim La Trobe would run their wets while the rest of the field would be dry shod for the start. Elliott, clearly hoping for a downpour to even the odds in the GTR XU-1’s favour would, like La Trobe and Malam be punished for their tyre choice when the sun came out almost as soon as the cars went out for their warm up lap.
Right from the start it was on between Wigston and Stubber. La Trobe was swallowed up quickly and shuffled back through the field, the Mustangs of Anderson and Honnor blazing by to commence their own battle. Malam was holding out Andrew Turner in the VH Commodore and Michael Eden in the XY GT but the inevitable was coming. Vern Muller’s XC Cobra lost engine power on lap one and would retire.
Tony Gordon’s big block Corvette suffered cylinder head damage and retired mid-race while Colin Meadows in the ZR-1 Corvette continued to hound Wigston. With Stubber far enough out in front Meadows figured he had the speed and the space to take Wigston. As he closed up behind the white HQ, Wigston ran out wide over the saw tooth kerbing and the substantially lower Corvette followed. With white fibreglass spraying from behind the Corvette and fluid seeping from a damaged radiator and oil cooler the Corvette crossed the line to hold onto third while Stubber led Wigston across the line to take the win. After returning to the pits and inspecting the damage Meadows lamented following Wigston off track “I should’ve known Shane’s car was much higher than mine, ah well what do you do?!” the team would work tirelessly to get the ZR-1 on the grid Sunday morning. Stubber meanwhile was pretty happy: “we hedged our bets and went with a wet setup and dry tyres, so she was softer if it got damp” he said after the race.
Race 2 saw the Stubber Wigston front row staying the same while the Corvettes of Tony Gordon and Colin Meadows would sit this race out. John Elliott got a screamer and made up several spots before crossing the start line, the GTR XU-1 set up with a potent start package. Tim La Trobe was trying to get past the Wigston’s HQ but had Honnor to contend with, his 69 Mustang never easy to slip by. Muller started in ninth place but an awesome start saw him up to sixth by lap five and climbing higher. Steve Malam fried the clutch in the big block 70 Camaro and didn’t even get a lap on board.
Wigston was looking for a way by Stubber, Andrew Sinclair was chasing Bruce McRae’s thundering HQ GTS350, but a familiar problem was to return when an oil filter o-ring let go and Sinclair retired the Commodore. Bruce Dreadon was battling with Northern’s Hamish Andrews; at times the Mustang and Commodore didn’t always look like they belonged together but the racing sure was pretty serious. Andrews passed the Cargill Charger and while Dreadon was looking for a way by the car suddenly began to shudder under hard braking. Dreadon retired the 66 Mustang, worried a rotor was about to explode.
As Stubber and Wigston homed in on Elliott’s GTR XU-1 the laps wound down. Stubber was never going to let the Wigston by but they may have to pass Elliott before the finish line. The grey A9X of Clarke Hopkins was being stalked by Alan Pearce’s Commodore but Hopkins wasn’t going to yield and held Pearce at bay. “That Torana of Hopkins is really well set up around here” Pearce said post race.
Michael Eden’s XY GT was leading the Mustang of Rob Mitchell and locked together for most of the race with Justin Butcher in the XE Falcon. When Sinclair’s Commodore leaked oil on to the track late in the race things got hairy for Mitchell. As he climbed from the final turn up to the front straight he came across oil on his racing line and the Mustang let go, pirouetting up the main straight. Mitchell recovered unscathed to rejoin the chase but on the next lap the same manoeuvre occurred and he promptly retired the Greg Honnor owned 65 Notchy.
The XC Cobra of Vern Muller passed Honnor to take fourth position. The two drivers were working their Ford coupes and using lots of the track, the battle between Aussie 77 XC Cobra and American 69 Mustang unfolded before the crowd’s eyes. With the laps almost up Honnor had an opportunity when Muller locked a front and oversteered into the sharply falling lefthander that is turn 5 but Muller regathered, barely keeping his lead over Honnor. Tony Van Tiel was chasing Bruce Deihl, the Falcon coupe and the Torana hatch circulating ahead of Andrews’ Commodore but gaining ground on Andrew Turner ahead.
Wigston and Stubber drove out of the long final turn, coming over the crest the revs flashed as the rear suspension unloaded, Wigston pulled out and came alongside Stubber, both looking to avoid Elliott. By the line there was 0.188 of a second in it, Wigston getting a last gasp win over Stubber. Further back Tim La Trobe crossed a lonely third in the Mercedes while Muller held onto fourth ahead of Honnor.
Sunday saw Colin Meadows on pole for race 3, the team had completed patching up the ZR-1 around 4am and then got ready to return to the track. A new radiator and oil cooler as well as repairs to everything forward of the front wheels except the spoiler, “I’ve been pretty lazy really, I mean how long have we been racing the car and I still haven’t made a spare front spoiler.” chuckled Meadows.
Wigston bolted, taking the lead from Meadows. Honnor got out in front of Stubber and made the Mustang seem very wide. Kett was battling with Bruce Anderson and Michael Eden until he outbraked himself entering turn 1 and spun. Returning to the race saw Kett almost T-boned by Elliott at race speed as Kett straddled the racing line trying to get back to the race.
Central’s Colin Sargison was hounding Michael Eden looking for a way past the sliding Falcon, Stubber was about to take a chance when Honnor out-braked himself in the Mustang and Stubber was gifted the move up to third. Meadows had found a way past Wigston’s HQ and with a clear track Meadows was looking toward a win. But the ZR-1 gearbox cried enough after leading for barely half a lap and Meadows retired to the infield. Stubber was closing the gap to Wigston while a determined Tim La Trobe was doing all he could to keep Vern Muller at bay. La Trobe’s Mercedes passed Honnor to take third leaving Honnor to fend off Muller who was coming on strong at the end of the race. Wigston crossed the stripe with a gap back to Stubber and La Trobe in third.
Tim La Trobe was looking for a better result in race 4 and went for broke from the get go. Wigston and Stubber were immediately into the sideways stuff while Greg Honnor went backwards and fell into the clutches of Bruce Anderson in the 69 Mustang. Alan Pearce set off after Vern Muller while Central drivers Tony Boyden in his VL Commodore and Michael Eden in the Falcon were duking it out before lap 2 had commenced.
La Trobe was out in front till he suffered gearbox problems which forced him to slow, eventually retiring on lap six. Muller and Pearce were racing for the win now with both drivers knowing they were in with a chance. Malam had garnered third, Anderson then moved the Mustang up to fourth while Wigston played it up for the crowd. Eden and Boyden both retired after a coming together while Mitchell and McRae seemed almost inseparable, swapping positions till the very end. Muller drove a strong race to take a well deserved win in the XC Cobra from Pearce’s Commodore with Malam third in the big block Camaro.
A great crowd was treated to some real close racing by the Northern and Central drivers over the entire meeting. The next meeting is February 11–13 at the NZGP meeting at Manfeild where the NZV8s will be supporting the Northern Muscle Cars who are racing for the third of three rounds with their Central Muscle Car fraternity ensuring a great racing will be seen.
Northern Muscle Car results:
1st: Tim La Trobe
2nd: Justin Butcher
3rd: Bruce Kett
1st: Tony van Tiel
2nd: Hamish Andrews
3rd: Graham Cargill