23-24 April 2011
The second to last round of the Northern Muscle Cars calendar was also the last of this season's combined rounds with Central Muscle Cars. There were plenty of successes for the Northern drivers and a few failures along the way, but best of all there was plenty of excitement and action for those drivers who made the trek to Taupo. Of the NMC Class A campaigners, Bruce McRae, Andrew Turner and Bruce Kett fronted while the Class B drivers were represented by Tony Van Tiel, Paul Burnet, Dr John Elliott and Hamish Andrews.
Cold and wet summed up Friday's weather and the guys out on track knew it best. Central driver Greg Honnor turned his Mustang around a few times in the early sessions, while John Elliott had an episode of out of control reverse action which almost ended in a meeting between the GTR XU-1 and the fence: "you hold your breath as you hurtle backwards at a hundred miles an hour...it's most unsettling" said Elliott. By the end of Friday things on track had settled down and the field was making speed and finalising set ups.
Not everyone was having good times - Bruce Kett was chasing a second CMC title but the Camaro suffered problems and was retired to the trailer, dashing Kett's hopes. Andrew Turner was racing the team's number two car for the weekend after the disaster at Hampton Downs and had a mystery clutch problem which sidelined the car and he didn't even see the track before putting the VK Commodore back in the transporter. Former Northern member Vern Muller had the XC Cobra humming till an input shaft let go and the tacho needle went off the dial. A spare box would need to be located and put in before he could qualify the big Falcon for Saturday, but there would be worse to come for the XC Cobra.
Saturday dawned cloudy but mainly dry and as the field headed out to qualify drivers were discovering the track was still pretty slippery. After surviving practice for the first time in ages Paul Burnet was qualifying well in the GTR Torana, and looking to complete an entire meeting without lunching an engine. The GTR performing well posting consecutively quicker times until the final lap when he put the power down too quickly exiting turn seven and the rear end overtook the front, with Central drivers Shane Wigston and Colin Sargison taking evasive action to miss the GTR. Burnet finished with a respectable 1min 47.480sec qualifying time to head the Northern Muscle Car times. Tony Van Tiel was working on bedding in a new brake setup but by the end managed to post a strong 1min 49.377sec time, with Elliott and Andrews in the 1min 50s.
Saturday afternoon was still overcast and the track temperature was cool. A big crowd filled the stands and the back straight bank was well populated for race 1 where the Commodores of Northern's Hamish Andrews and Central driver Shaun McGovern were on the front row with the GTR XU-1 of Elliott and the XTGT of CMC's Ross Francis waiting behind them.
As the cars got away and the field settled Hamish Andrews took a strong lead. The XA Falcon coupes of Tony Van Tiel and Mike Ellis were monstering Elliott's GTR XU-1 as the rest of the grid got away from the handicap start. By lap three Andrews still held sway but the CMC Mustangs of Bruce Ekdahl and Bruce Dreadon and the XA coupe of Ellis were all closing in. Northern's Group A title contender Bruce McRae suffered an engine failure in the thunderous HQ GTS350 and wouldn't complete a single lap, his weekend over and a new engine was on the shopping list.
Central drivers Michael Eden and Bruce Anderson had a coming together through the esses off the end of the back straight, Eden continuing to circulate briefly in the XY GT before retiring. Ahead, McGovern's Commodore was swamped by the mid-pack cars as they charged forwards while elsewhere on track Muller was forced to retire the XC Cobra with engine damage sustained from the gearbox failure.
Paul Stubber wanted the race win and the Camaro was charging through the field. Mike Ellis was storming toward Hamish Andrews who was maintaining a strong lead, but by lap five Ellis had Andrews in his clutches.
After some spirited driving Hamish Andrews had held out the field as long as possible, he was caught and passed by Ellis and then Ekdahl. The Central drivers took up disputing the lead through the infield, with Ellis crossing the line ahead of Ekdahl and Andrews in third, Ellis taking his maiden CMC win. But Hamish Andrews would have a short-lived podium, officials judging him to have broken out of his handicap time and shuffling him down the order with a time penalty.
Sunday saw the drivers pumped and ready to race with a grid start to get the day under way. Central ace Paul Stubber had the pole and was looking for nothing less than a win, but Shane Wigston had the HQ off to a flyer and led Stubber away from the lights. John Elliott got a great start and made it through the first lap but after braking heavily the right front wheel bearing collapsed with the brake rotor separating from the hub and the front of the GTR XU-1 collapsed as he wound his way through the infield, and with it, it seemed Elliott's chance at the Central Muscle Cars Group 2 title was gone.
Stubber got the Camaro to the front and left Wigston to battle with the Mustangs of Honnor and Rob Mitchell. Further back in the field Van Tiel was battling Burnet, looking for a way to get by the GTR and catch Greg Cuttance who was creating a growing gap. Under pressure from the XA coupe Burnet went around with Van Tiel and then Dreadon taking advantage to move by. Hamish Andrews had an up and down race starting out strong with quick laps but a mechanical problem sidelined the Commodore driver leading to retirement as a jubilant Stubber took the win ahead of Wigston and Honnor. Tony Van Tiel in thirteenth was the highest finisher of the Northern field ahead of Burnet two places further back.
Between races the effort to get John Elliott back on track took hold with a suitable rotor being borrowed from a competitor in another class, new wheel bearings found and fitted up and the whole package being reinstalled and checked. The assistance from everyone ensured the car was ready for the final race and Elliott was back in the hunt for that Group 2 title and a top three Group B finish in the Northern points chase.
The final race for the weekend was another handicap start with McGovern first away and Elliott right behind him, the rest of the Northern drivers gathered together with Andrews starting from position five, Van Tiel away from sixth and Burnet following in seventh.
By lap two Elliott was onto the tail of McGovern and looking to get by the Commodore, while Ross Francis in the XTGT had been passed by Bruce Dreadon in the '66 Mustang who was looking to catch the leading pair. The action was frantic with Stubber slicing through the field like a knife and by the next lap he was already up to eighth and not looking for anything except another win. Michael Eden blitzed the GTR of Burnet while Andrews was swamped by the A9X of Clarke Hopkins, then the Falcons of Cuttance and Van Tiel followed in quick succession. The race was winding down and Stubber had hit the front stamping his smoky seal on the final few laps with Wigston joining in the skid-fest. Stubber crossed the line ahead of Wigston and Eden with Northern drivers Elliott crossing in eighth, Burnet in twelfth, Andrews in fifteenth and Van Tiel in twenty first to end the meeting on a successful note for the quartet of Northern finishers.
The end of the meeting also concluded the season for Central Muscle Cars and it was a humble John Elliott who took out the CMC Group 2 title saying "this win is for all the people who helped me out when it seemed my title hopes were lost" adding "I've driven absolutely flat out all season and worked out long ago that this was an endurance series and to not finish was to have no chance".
The final round for Northern Muscle Cars will be held at Pukekohe over the weekend of May 1 and the results there will crown the champions in both Group A and Group B. With Colin Meadows currently leading Group A and Tony Van Tiel heading Group B the scramble for final points at Pukekohe will be fantastic as the season comes to an end.