Billy Frazer has come within striking distance of the ITM New Zealand Formula Ford Championship lead after another very strong round coupled with some dramas for current points leader James Penrose.
Held at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park it was Thomas Boniface who got onto the front foot on Saturday morning as he took the Evolution Motorsport pole award by just 0.050s over the second-fastest driver Zac Stichbury.
Frazer set a time to start on the second row in third alongside Callum Crawley in fourth. Kaleb Ngatoa set the fifth-fastest time after seemingly overcoming a raft on ongoing engine issues. In his just first outing at the track, Penrose recorded the sixth fastest time.
In the first of three 10-lap races, Frazer reigned supreme over Stichbury who finished a close second, just 0.102s behind Frazer.
After starting third on the grid, Frazer quickly found himself in the heated battle for the lead. Stichbury took the early lead ahead of Boniface, Crawley and Frazer. At the midway point of the race, Ngatoa and Penrose latched onto the back of the pack to form a six-car gaggle which fought for the lead.
Towards the closing moments of the race, six became two as Frazer and Stichbury were left to decide who would be victorious. Frazer led out of the final corner, but despite a strong run from Stichbury he wasn’t able to get the lead and had to settle for second. Boniface came home a lonely third with Callum Crawley taking fourth ahead of Penrose.
Before Sunday morning’s race Penrose and his team discovered they had a bearing failure in their gearbox and were unable to replace it in time for the race. Some excellent camaraderie amongst the Formula Ford paddock saw Penrose get back out on track for the race though, albeit in Tony Graham’s car of similar age.
The change in car meant he had to start from the back of the grid but it still allowed him to recover some all-important championship points.
The early lead went to Boniface as he, Zac Stichbury, Frazer and Crawley battled for the honours. Meanwhile, Penrose set about charging his way through the pack to recover as many positions and therefore points as possible.
Ronan Murphy bought out a safety car on lap five as he encountered an issue which left him and his car stranded on the side of the track just before the dipper. This allowed the field to bunch up and give a small reprieve to Boniface’s engine which was starting to emit smoke.
Upon the restart, Boniface stretched out to the huge lead as his engine saved its best performance for last. Penrose got by Ken Smith to move into fifth where he would finish the race.
The battle for second was hot between Frazer, Crawley, Stichbury and Ngatoa. It all boiled over on the last lap between Ngatoa and Stichbury as light contact sent Stichbury spinning out of turn four. This allowed Frazer and Crawley go about chasing a distant but slowing Boniface in the final few straights.
On the final run to the flag, Boniface’s engine gave up and slowed dramatically allowing Frazer and Crawley to rapidly close the over two-second gap. Boniface split the charging duo as they overtook on either side of him but it was too little too late for them as Boniface would hold onto the win by just a few tenths of a second.
Frazer grabbed second over Crawley but just 0.113s with Ngatoa taking fourth. Penrose finished fifth.
In the final race, Frazer nailed the start off the line and got a break from the rest of the field early on. In the opening two laps, there was a great battle for third between Ngatoa, Crawley, and Stichbury. On the third lap, Ngatoa was able to break away to and set about trying to chase down Frazer in the lead. Ultimately he wouldn’t be able to catch Frazer who went on to win but Ngatoa did hold on to finish second.
This left Crawley, Stichbury and now Penrose, back in his own car having repaired the gearbox, to fight for the final podium spot. The battle was fierce right up until the penultimate lap when a series of small mistakes from Stichbury allowed Penrose to relegate the former to fifth before he spun going into the dipper. This left Crawley and Penrose to finish the race relatively uneventfully in third and fourth respectively.
The championship situation has changed dramatically with two rounds remaining. Penrose now holds a narrow six-point lead over Billy Frazer who has had the clear pace advantage in the last two rounds. The other changes see Crawley drop to third and Ngatoa leap up to seventh.
Next weekend the ITM NZ Formula Ford Championship holds its penultimate round at Pukekohe Park as part of the BP Ultimate MotorSport NZ Championship.
2019/20 ITM NZ Formula Ford Championship Standings (Top 10):
James Penrose, 23, Christchurch (’93 Van Diemen Stealth) – 740pts
Billy Frazer, 16, Pukekohe (Spectrum 015) – 734pts
Callum Crawley, 19, Feilding (Spectrum 015) – 695pts
Zac Stichbury, 18, Hawkes Bay (Mygale SJ08) – 634pts
Thomas Boniface, 15, Taranaki (Mygale SJ13) – 612pts
Ronan Murphy, 18, Havelock North (Spectrum 015) – 441pts
Kaleb Ngatoa, 18, Marton (Mygale) – 384pts
Keith Miller (Van Diemen RF90) – 306pts
Cameron Tanner (Van Diemen RF90) – 223pts
Blake Evans, 15, Rotorua (Mygale SJ08) – 204pts