The third round of the HiQ Formula First NZ Championship was held at the historic Pukekohe Park Raceway. The “Thunder in the Park” event featured everything from Porsche’s to Muscle Cars and even a few Honda’s. But the closest racing came from the HiQ Formula First NZ Championship races.
Friday’s weather appeared less than ideal as the day broke with the track covered in water and the clouds not wanting to stop pouring with rain. However as is always the case with Auckland weather, the track was soon dry in time for the first test session.
The first session went off without a hitch and all eyes were on Matt Podjursky as he set the pace, and without a tow. Practice 2 however did not go to plan for the Sabre Motorsport team-mates of Cameron Dance and Alex Hawley as the pair got together during the session. Dance got loose exiting turn three and continued his slide through to the exit of turn four, however he failed to save it and collected the tyre barrier before being spat back onto the track to be collected by Hawley. The Auckland teens both emerged from their cars uninjured, however their cars were not.
Upon returning the to the Sabre pits the full extent of the damage was revealed. Dance’s car suffered a bent front bar and some slight front chassis damage on the front due to the contact with the tyre barrier. Alex Hawley’s car hit to the rear of Dance’s car damaged the gearbox and moved the engine out of place meaning that a gearbox change would also be needed on the #17 Jack Daniel’s car. Hawley’s car was also in dire need of repairs with the front end needing some attention. The damage meant a late night for the Sabre Motorsport crew who were up till 11:45 fixing the cars for the mornings qualifying session.
Saturday morning again brought rain which would clear before the HiQ Formula First NZ Championship hit the track for Qualifying. Whilst both the damaged Sabre Motorsport cars were repaired in time for Qualifying, there were still a few cars missing from the grid. The Father and Son combination of Ian and Liam Foster were on holiday. Amy Smith’s engine still had some issues preventing her from running. Dave Scammell wasn’t in attendance and Brook Reeve’s withdrawal from the season meant the grid was down to only 11 entries, however Ryan Hellier retuned to race at Pukekohe to test before the NZGP next year.
Qualifying was topped by Ryan Hellier setting a blistering time of 1:21.536, 1.3 seconds ahead of series front runner Michael Shepherd. Chris Symon was only a whisker away from a front row start setting a time 0.084s off Shepherd. Rookie Liam Lawson again had a strong result in fourth followed by Crighton, McConkey, Podjursky, King, Carter and Hawley in tenth. Bob Dillow set the 11th fastest time ahead of Cameron Dance in 12th.
Bramwell King’s #2 car had a gearbox issue after qualifying which prompted fellow competitors from other teams to help sort the issue to get him out for the first race later that afternoon.
Race 1 was a familiar sight with Shepherd getting the jump on Hellier to take the early lead. The pair broke away to a good lead after the first lap over Chris Symon, however on lap two Symon lost control through turn one and just kissed the inside wall, removing his nose cone and dropping him to eighth. That left Liam Lawson to inherit the podium position at the end of lap two, however with Bramwell King in hot pursuit of the rookie it was set to be a good fight to the flag.
Meanwhile the two leaders of Hellier and Shepherd had stretched out an even bigger lead, putting them selves well out of the reach of Lawson and King.
Arran Crighton again showed his consistency staying in the top five all race ahead of Matt Podjursky and Brody McConkey who were engaged in the fight for sixth.
Symon sat in eighth for the remainder of his race with the gap ahead to big to close and the gap behind giving him a good enough cushion to bring it home without any more risks.
The final four positions were to be decided in the final few laps as Carter, Dance, Dillow and Hawley all had the goal of crossing the line in the top ten. By the final lap Dillow had sealed P9 although Dance was within striking distance of Hawley and a top ten. Dance set himself up for a run onto the home straight which was ruined at the hairpin when Ron Carter attempted to gain a position. The move ultimately resulted in Dance riding the front tyre of Carter’s car, snapping the rear suspension of Dance’s car, preventing him from finishing the race.
Ryan Hellier took the race win by a mere 0.065 seconds over Michael Shepherd. Bramwell King just edged out Liam Lawson to take third by only 0.071 seconds! Arran Crighton came home fifth, McConkey sixth, then Podjursky, Symon, Dillow and Hawley in tenth. Ron Carter just missed out on a top ten, after his incident with Cameron Dance, finishing 11th. Cameron Dance did not finish.
Race 2 again saw Ryan Hellier on pole ahead of Michael Shepherd and Chris Symon. Bramwell King moved up to fourth on the grid after starting race one eighth. Again Shepherd got the first lap lead over Hellier. Liam Lawson jumped up two spots on the opening lap to fourth as Chris Symon dropped three spots to sixth.
Lap three and it was déjà vu out in front as Hellier and Shepherd put a sizeable gap back to Bramwell King in third. Chris Symon ran down the escape road at the end of the back straight dropping another two positions down to eighth.
Half way into the race and an exciting battle pack consisting of Liam Lawson, Arran Crighton and Brody McConkey emerged. The trio, fighting for fourth, changed positions multiple times a lap until the chequered flag dropped.
Matt Podjursky and Chris Symon toughed it out for seventh place, while Ron Carter, Alex Hawley and Cameron Dance were again fighting for a top 10 position. On lap seven Hawley had held tenth until he spun himself around, dropping to last and letting Dance through to the tenth spot.
The win came down to a drag to the finish between Shepherd and Hellier. A drag that Michael Shepherd would eventually win by only 0.061 seconds over Hellier. Bramwell King took another podium finish. Brody McConkey won the battle for fourth over Arran Crighton in fifth and Liam Lawson in sixth. Chris Symon came home seventh, followed by Matt Podjursky, Bob Dillow, Cameron Dance and Ron Carter in 11th. Hawley’s late race spin put him last.
The final race of the weekend, again started with Hellier and Shepherd out front. For the third time Michael Shepherd got the first lap lead.
Liam Lawson ran into trouble early as he and Chris Symon made contact, spinning him around on the exit of turn three. The spin put the hometown teen down to last.
It didn’t take long before a four way battle for the lead broke out between Shepherd, Hellier, King and Symon. The four often ran three or four wide down the front straight before seeing who would be the first to blink through turn one and drop behind one another to get the draft down the back straight.
Matt Podjursky and Brody McConkey fought hard for sixth while Dance, Carter, Dillow and Hawley all fought for seventh place. Dillow seemed to have P7 in the bag however a late charge by Cameron Dance put him ahead of Dillow coming across the line. Alex Hawley also got by Dillow as Carter lost touch of the three and had to settle for 11th.
Ryan Hellier won the battle in the end, this time by a slightly larger margin, 0.456 seconds over series leader Michael Shepherd. King continued his run of podiums taking another third ahead of Chris Symon in fourth and Arran Crighton sixth. Matt Podjursky grabbed McConkey to finish sixth, Dance P8, Hawley ninth, Dillow tenth, Carter eleventh and Liam Lawson crossing the line last after his first lap incident.