Monday, Dec 2 04:25pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Christmas Classic Post-Weekend Notebook

There was plenty of action on and off the track across Saturday and Sunday at the Christmas Classic, the last major event of the 2019 season.


Here are some noteworthy mentions from the weekend.


»»» Formula First was arguably one of the best classes of the weekend. The series had all three races go down to the wire with photo finishes. The final was best of all with a four-wide finish at the checkered flag. The last five Formula First races have a combined winning margin between first and second of just 0.12s at Pukekohe Park.


»»» It was a successful start to the season for Speed Works and Sky Sport. The two-day broadcast ran without any major dramas.


»»» MotorSport New Zealand CEO Simon Baker claimed two third-place finishes and a second-place in the Mazda Racing Series. The weekend was dominated by Keith Wilkinson who won all three outings.


»»» One of the most spectacular crashes saw GTRNZ GT1/GT2 Shane Whitley suffer a rear wing failure. The car arrived at Pukekohe Park for the weekend with a much bigger rear element, but it let go on approach to Turn 1 and Whitley went into the outside wall at high speed. The Ford Falcon AU suffered significant damage but isn’t expected to be a write-off.


»»» Dean Perkins has ruled himself out of the remaining four rounds of the ENZED Central Muscle Cars. Even though there are 17 races remaining, Perkins said he’s bringing his season to a premature end. The team were scheduled to do an engine refresh after last weekend, but the engine blew up on Sunday morning and ruled them out of contention for the final.


»»» Not every race was broadcast on Sky Sport during the weekend. Only the weekend opener for Formula First was shown. The series decided it wouldn’t pay the associated cost to be shown live.


»»» Chris Symon set a new lap record in Formula First around Pukekohe Park with a 1:21.363 in Race 2 of the weekend.


»»» Matthew McCutcheon’s crash into the concrete wall at 140 km/h on the front straight was recorded at 5G. However, that was only at the moment when the data logging system stopped working. The team believe the impact would have been higher.


»»» McCutcheon's car was not a complete write-off, but it suffered significant damage, so much so that it shifted the steering column forward, twisted the rear chassis rail, broke the gearbox in half and broke the engine mounts. He did manage to complete the weekend in a spare car.


»»» Tempers flared in the pit lane when Sabre Motorsport owner Dennis Martin – the man behind the SpeedSport Scholarship – allegedly ‘slapped’ another driver on the helmet after the crash that took out McCutcheon. UPDATE: Dennis Martin was given a $1,500 fine for the incident and Matthew McCutcheon's license was endorsed by MotorSport New Zealand for three months. 


»»» James Watson was one of the stars in the SsangYong Rhino Racing Series, going around the outside of everyone at Turn 1 on Lap 1 to go from 14th to third.


»»» Was the weekend too long? Perhaps for some, but by and large, almost all of the championships racing across the weekend fielded grids of 10-plus. Only Pirelli Porsche failed to put up more than 10 cars. Perhaps the series should have run with the all-comers series across GT1/GT2 and GT3/GT4, Struan Robertson and Sean Kirkpatrick already were. 


»»» The car park was very full over the weekend, however, spectator numbers weren’t massive by all accounts.


»»» Cameron Jones managed to sort out an ECU issue and finally get one up on the Daytona Prototype runners in GTRNZ GT1/GT2. Perhaps it might have been a different story if Glenn Smith had turned up though.


»»» Several Honda Cup competitors turned up to the track with their cars looking more like Time Attack weapons than club racers. Scott Silver was able to match the pace of the aero-clad cars with second place in Race 1. His charge through the field in the reverse-grid handicap race ended with a miss-shift, going from fourth gear to third instead of fifth, over-revving the engine and ending his day.


»»» BNT V8s ran with its now normal three-class structure, though that came with its own problems. Andre Heimgartner was largely untouchable across the weekend, but the insane Open class Ford Mustang driven by Sam Collins overpowered the Supercars star. Collins led Race 2 but suddenly slowed late in the race to let Heimgartner back through. It remains unclear whether Open cars are allowed to win races.


»»» BNT V8 Lites attracted a small field but by the end of the weekend, there were only a couple cars left running.


»»» Alexandra Whitley was impressive on her debut in the BNT V8s. Her best race lap times were only a little over one second off the pace of the highly experienced Andre Heimgartner.


»»» The Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship opened its account with a new rubber supplier NEXEN Tyre. Perhaps the most notable difference from the outside looking in was the noticeable noise that the tyre makes under load compared to previous tyre manufacturers. The cars are certainly a lot more loose, which makes the action look pretty lively.


»»» Todd Foster, son of GT3 driver Neil Foster, had the worst possible start to his season. He crashed heavily over the top of the ‘mountain’ and was unable to contest the three-race weekend.


»»» It was a hot and humid weekend and often blustering at times. Several competitors found themselves suffering overheating issues in the Toyota 86 Championship. Peter Vodanovich was one of those. He was in contention for the win when his car began to limit power to compensate the increase in temperature.


»»» Jaylyn Robotham didn’t take long to get up to speed. He schooled the Kiwi boys on Sunday with back-to-back wins. The young gun out of Australia looks likely to be the one to beat in the championship chase.


»»» Brock Gilchrist looked a lot more comfortable on and off the track. The 16-year-old was the best of the rest, finishing third in Race 1 and collecting fourth-place finished in Race 2 and Race 3.