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Velocity News Driver of the Year: 50–31

It's become a hideous cliché, but only because it's true — this little nation at the bottom of the world called New Zealand punches very well above its weight.

 

And certainly the motorsport sphere is one that subscribes to the narrative. The last few years in particular will one day be looked back on as a watershed phase for the sport in this country.

 

The response to this incredible surge has been fantastic within the throws of the sport. But in some chanels (mainstream media, I'm looking at you...) there's a lack of recognition towards classes and drivers outside of the core periphery.

 

In many ways, bringing together these categories has been a motive for the existence of velocitynews.co.nz.

 

And so in order to further stab the stake in the sand, we bring you our Velocity News Driver of the Year list — a compilation of the 50 best Kiwi driver of 2018.

 

This year we add three judges to the awards alongside velocitynews.co.nz editor Simon Chapman (SC) and Driven journalist Matthew Hansen (MH). 

 

Joining the judging panel this time around is Gene Rollinson, a New Zealand Endurance Championship winner and former Dunlop Super2 Series competitior. Rollinson raced competitively in the BNT V8s, Porsche Carrera Cup Challenge and also won his class in the Nürburgring 24 Hour.

 

Also joining are BNT V8s Media Manager Freddy Foote and Speed Works Events/Toyota Racing New Zealand Press Officer Richard Gee. Like Simon and Matthew, both Freddy and Richard are down on the ground at the biggest race meetings every year to see our best as well as up-and-coming drivers. 

 

Tonight, we look at the drivers ranked from 50th to 31st in the country.

 

Gaz Whiter

 

50: Gaz Whiter (New Entry)

Categories / D1NZ 

Achievements / P2 D1NZ, Red Bull Drift Shifters Winner

 

MH: Three years away from your motorsport of choice can have a grave impact on your skill and precision. Although evidently, nobody told Gaz Whiter this.

 

The four-time D1NZ National Drifting Championship title winner was never truly ‘away’ from the scene of course. He made numerous cameos at events like Rod Millen’s Leadfoot Festival and the Mad Mike Summer Bash. But life got much busier for the ‘Whangas’ drifter in 2018.

 

Returning to D1NZ after the lengthy hiatus proved to arguably be a successful one. Victory at the Pukekohe Park series finale helped him secure third in the standings behind Darren Kelly and ultimate champ Cole Armstrong. And the season could’ve been an even better one, if it wasn’t for some of his more ‘physical’ battles from earlier in the year.

 

But his biggest scalp was over in the UK. Whiter was awarded the chance to compete in the 2018 Red Bull Drift Shifters International event in Liverpool, against some of the best drifters in the world (names like Fredric Aasbø, James Deane, Forrest Wang, and more). And, he beat them all.

 

Josh Marston / Photo: Kevin Corin

 

49. Josh Marston (New Entry)

Categories / New Zealand Rally Championship

Achievements / P3 overall, Rally of Canterbury winner

 

MH: By and large, the 2018 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship was a Hayden Paddon clinic. But, there was one other round winner — Josh Marston.

 

Teammate to some guy named Greg Murphy in the Penny Holmes Holden Barina Rallysport squad, Marston has spent the last two seasons quietly achieving in our leading domestic rallying series — chipping away in the team’s new (and still teething) Holden Barina AP4s.

 

Marston’s win came at the Lone Star Rally of Canterbury, and it was a doozy.

 

The rally had by and large been dominated by immensely impressive NZRC freshman Raana Horan, in his older Group N Mitsubishi Evolution.

 

But, having sniffed the chance of a maiden win, Marston pushed. In the closing stages, he and co-driver Andrew Graves clawed back a one-minute deficit. And on the final stage, they upstaged Horan to create a fairy tale of their own.

 

Clean consistency across the rest of the season saw him claim third in the standings, too.

 

Kaleb Ngatoa / Photo: Supplied

 

48. Kaleb Ngatoa (New Entry)

Categories / Formula First, Toyota 86 Championship

Achievements / P2 overall Formula First

 

SC: Formula First is still arguably one of, if not the most, competitive series in the country. It’s no surprise then that the championship title decider went down to the wire.

 

By the end it was Kaleb Ngatoa neck-and-neck with Callum Crawley for the title. Ngatoa came into the final round of the series as the points leader, but at Pukekohe Park the young gun incurred a post-race penalty in the second race.

 

That handed Crawley the points lead and the advantage into the final race of the season, which he finished ahead of Ngatoa in and won the championship.

 

For Ngatoa, it was a breakthrough year. After narrowly missing out on the Formula First tile he moved up to the Toyota 86 Championship where he has so far shown signs of speed.

 

Michael Scott

 

47. Michael Scott (New Entry)

Categories / Toyota 86 Championship

Achievements / P2 overall Toyota 86 Championship

 

Five wins in the Toyota 86 Championship put him equal best with eventual title winner Jack Milligan in the 2017-’18 season.

 

Milligan’s consistent podium finishes gave him the edge over Scott eventually, but the International Motorsport driver was strong throughout with only three results outside the top five.

 

A regular of the Toyota 86 Championship, Scott progressed each year initially finishing fourth (2015-’16), then third (2016-’17), and second (2017-’18) in his attempts.

 

A debut drive at the Bathurst 1000 in the Toyota 86 Racing Series saw the young gun net a top 10 qualifying effort, but unfortunately, he couldn’t finish up the front.

 

Scott’s future racing ambitions remain unclear at the moment, but with a job in the International Motorsport stable his career it would seem is in the right place.

 

Chelsea Herbert

 

46. Chelsea Herbert (New Entry)

Categories / BNT V8s

Achievements / P3 overall Class Two, First Female NZTC winner

 

MH: After becoming the first woman to win a race in a national touring car championship (the BNT V8s) in late 2017, Chelsea Herbert bolstered her credentials by repeating the feat again a few weeks later in early 2018.

 

Gremlins with consistency saw her finish third in the Class Two title chase behind Liam MacDonald and Brock Timperley. A more sown-together and consistent run would’ve seen her finish much closer to the top step of the championship podium.

 

The domestic V8 off-season saw Herbert make the ambitious step into a Class One Toyota Camry V8 for the current 2018–’19 BNT V8s season — the same one that André Heimgartner won the title with last time out.

 

It’s been a challenging start, but so far Herbert has shown solid pace — often finding herself fighting for the the ‘best of the rest’ slot behind Super2 Development Series drivers Jack Smith and Brenton Grove, and series leading veteran Nick Ross.

 

Alexandra Whitley

 

45. Alexandra Whitley (New Entry)

Categories / V8 Ute Series, SsangYong Racing Series, NIES

Achievements / P5 overall V8 Ute Series, First female Ute Series race winner

 

MH: Of those on this list Alexandra Whitely probably raced the weirdest car of them all; the SsangYong Actyon ‘Super Ute’ — a NASCAR-esque regular in the Kiwi endurance scene.

 

She was also recently confirmed as a finalist in the Hockenheim selection programme for the upcoming (and somewhat controversial) wings-and-slicks W Series.

 

But it was in the V8 Ute Series that she did her best work.

 

Having joined the series in late 2017 for their summer season, she immediately found herself fighting in the mid-pack, just off the cusp of the podium placings in what was (and remains) one of the most competitive tin-top championships in the country.

 

Given the improvement in her performances (she wound up finishing the 2017–’18 season fifth in the points), it was only a matter of time before she would threaten for race wins. And that prophecy became fulfilled early last December at Pukekohe Park, with a vintage reverse-grid race decided on the final lap — Whitley having successfully sliced through the field.

 

It’s worth addressing that Whitley is a Toowoomba local from the other side of the ditch. But New Zealand residency saw her become eligible for this list.

 

Glen Collinson

 

44. Glen Collinson (New Entry)

Categories / V8 Ute Series

Achievements / V8 Ute Series race/round winner

 

MH: Domestic motorsport is largely a ‘do it for the love’ kind of affair. Which makes frightening shunts like the one that Glen Collinson was sucked into at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in March particularly painful to watch.

 

Many would consider packing their bags and leaving after such a spill (one that left his DNA Custom Paints Falcon Ute look like a bucket of bolts). But instead, Collinson and his team embarked on a sharp two and a half week rebuild turn-around. And against the odds, the former Suzuki Swift Sport Series front runner scored pole straight away.

 

Collinson’s stint in the ute series made comprehensive inroads last season, with a race win and second overall in round one showing what he could do. But lost points at the last two rounds saw him slump in the standings.

 

He’s said that the 2018–’19 V8 Utes season could be his last, and he’s not messing around. He won round one at Pukekohe last month (his maiden round win), and subsequently leads the standings at the time of writing.

 

Dom Storey

 

43. Dom Storey (Down 31)

Categories / Super2 Series, Australian GT 

Achievements / P15 overall Super2 Series

 

Many might wonder what went wrong for Dom Storey in 2018 given his title win in the Australian GT Championship a year earlier.

 

Plenty from Supercars have stepped into GT3 machinery and found success, but the reverse proved difficult for Storey.

His maiden championship challenge in the Dunlop Super2 Series was disappointing. A best finish of eighth was one of only three top 10 finishes during the year.

 

It was a tough year for Storey that had him questioning whether he’d be back in the category in 2019, and rightly so knowing that he’s had pace in GT3 racing previously.

 

A brief foray back into the Australian GT Championship to aid Peter Hackett in his efforts to win the Endurance Championship finished unceremoniously and was another low note for the 29-year-old.

 

Storey was perhaps hard done by in his bump-and-run at Hampton Downs that cost him a chance at winning the final 500 km race, but it summed up what was a tough year all ‘round — one that left him frustrated.

 

Paul Manuell 

42. Paul Manuell (New Entry)

Categories / V8 Ute Series

Achievements / P2 overall V8 Ute Series

 

MH: The competitive nature of the V8 Ute Series leaked over into the formulation of our Driver of the Year list. As you can see, three of them all sit poised in a row — the trio headed by former NZV8 champion Paul Manuell.

 

Once again, the Pukekohe-based driver was narrowly edged for the title in 2017–’18 by Richard Moore after another year of on-edge and physical ‘shoulders out’ racing.

 

It was often tit-for-tat for both drivers. But, perhaps unlike the previous season, passing moves and battles were conducted with more respect and racecraft.

 

With Moore not taking part in the current 2018–’19 season, Manuell shapes up as a probable favourite to take the crown. After round one he sits third in the standings behind Matthew Spratt and the aforementioned Collinson.

 

Ben Hunt / Photo: Geoff Ridder

 

41. Ben Hunt (New Entry)

Categories / New Zealand Rally Championship

Achievements / P2 overall New Zealand Rally Championship

 

SC: To finished second only to Hayden Paddon in the New Zealand Rally Championship is a massive achievement for Ben Hunt.

 

Of the five rallies he contested, four of those saw him finish second to Paddon.

 

Playing second fiddle to the former Hyundai factory-backed World Rally Championship driver meant that Hunt perhaps didn’t get the limelight he deserved, especially given his consistency all season.

 

Mechanical woes dogged Hunt’s campaign in 2017, but he and his Subaru team overcame those issues last year.

 

Paddon has indicated he won’t contest a full season in New Zealand in 2019, which might open the door for Hunt to take an elusive second national championship.

 

Reid Harker

 

40. Reid Harker (New Entry)

Categories / Toyota Racing Series, North Island Endurance Series, Carrera Cup Asia

Achievements / NIES win at Pukekohe Park 

 

SC: Reid Harker’s maiden Toyota Racing Series campaign saw him finish as the third highest placed Kiwi driver.

A podium in his maiden season alluded the 22-year-old, who quickly refocused on sports car racing shortly after the season’s end.

 

A drive in the North Island Endurance Series with MIKE Racing in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 saw him win at Pukekohe Park alongside Toyota 86 Championship title getter Jack Milligan.

 

Following that, a one-off appearance in Carrera Cup Asia saw him record respectable top 10 finishes in his debut weekend at Shanghai International Circuit.

 

Harker flew under the radar in 2018 but with the prospect of a full-time Carrera Cup drive on the near future he could be at the forefront of the front page soon enough.

 

Taylor Cockerton

 

39. Taylor Cockerton (Down 18)

Categories / Toyota Racing Series, China Endurance Series

Achievements / P2 on LMP3 debut  

 

SC: Following a third season in the Toyota Racing Series, Taylor Cockerton looked to go back overseas.

 

An unsuccessful New Zealand campaign left the Pukekohe driver frustrated in what was his worst season to date in the smallest field too.

 

A drive in the China Endurance Series for LMP3-specification cars opened a door back into Asia where he recently won Formula Masters.

 

Success came instantly for the Kiwi who took a strong second place finish at Zhuhai. The weekend’s second race was rained out, robbing Cockerton of another shot at the podium.

 

A self-described “average” end to the final two races of the season left Cockerton wanting more. With one solitary strong performance to his credit Cockerton heads into the 2019 season needing to make the most of any new opportunities.

 

Dave Holder / Photo: Supplied 

38. Dave Holder (New Entry)

Categories / Junior World Rally Championship

Achievements / P3 at Rally Portugal, P9 overall JWRC

 

The upper echelon of world rallying might’ve been a shock to the system for Junior World Rally Championship debutant Dave Holder last year.

 

His first foray outside of New Zealand dropped him in the deep end. However, by the end of the five-round championship Holder was battle hardened.

 

The former New Zealand Rally Championship title winner started slowly. It was berth by snowbank in Sweden for the driver more used to the sunny summers of Mount Maunganui.

 

His first international Tarmac rally in France went without success, but by the time he was on gravel everything started to click.

 

Rally Portugal provided Holder with his first podium and by the season-ending Rally Turkey he was winning stages.

 

Ninth in the championship standings mightn’t seem massive, but hopefully it’s only the beginning of a budding international career.

 

Simon Evans / Photo: Jaguar

 

37. Simon Evans (Down 13)

Categories / Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, North Island Endurance Series

Achievements / eTROPHY debut win

 

SC: A quiet year for Simon Evans only saw his racing begin midway through the year, and even that was limited.

 

A one-off appearance in the North Island Endurance Series saw him finish second alongside Chris Hanley in the Wet & Forget-backed ex-V8 SuperTourer Holden Commodore VF.

 

But his endurance racing season was brought to a premature end when the engine let go a round later.

 

That was that, until an opportunity came to join the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, the new support class to the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

 

There’s only been one race this season, but Evans won it. Admittedly, he was handed pole position after it was rained out and conditions weren’t conducive for overtaking. Nevertheless, he still won an international FIA grade race.

Hopefully Evans can continue that form into 2019.

 

Tom Alexander

 

36. Tom Alexander (New Entry)

Categories / SuperUtes Series

Achievements / P3 overall SuperUtes Series

 

SC: Young gun Tom Alexander can be happy with how his international racing debut season went.

 

Third in the first season of the SuperUtes Series is nothing to scoff at; especially given the mechanical woes he endured all year.

 

Was it the right step for him? Perhaps not, especially for a guy trying to crack the heights of Supercars. Nevertheless, the opportunity was there for Alexander to take, capitalize on it he did, in the paddock he was.

 

Race wins came from the outset, and if not for the teething issues his Holden Colorado suffered there’d be a good chance that he’d have been knocking on the door of eventual title winner Ryal Harris.

 

Regardless of whether the SuperUtes Series was a success or not, Alexander is tied up with the right people in Ross Stone Racing.

 

Might that open a door to the Super2 Series? Possibly. A good year for Alexander, but plenty of room for building.

 

Liam MacDonald

 

35. Liam MacDonald (New Entry)

Categories / BNT V8s

Achievements / BNT V8s Class Two champion

 

Back-to-back BNT V8s title win in Class Two by Liam MacDonald came as little surprise to many.

 

During his first title he was relatively unchallenged as other around him faltered, amassing a mammoth 300-point advantage by the season’s end.

 

Last year wasn’t as simple, however. Challenges from Brock Timperley and Chelsea Herbert kept the Southland-born driver on his toes.

 

MacDonald eventually prevailed, but only narrowly ahead of the aforementioned duo. With seven wins to his name, a trifecta of podiums, and rumours about his future, was was disappointing to not see him join the Class One ranks.

 

While Herbert chasses her Supercars ambition through a move to Class One with Richard Team Motorsport and Timperley recently tested a late model Supercar with similar ambitions, MacDonald has not returned to national championship level racing.

 

Nick Ross

 

34. Nick Ross (New Entry)

Categories / BNT V8s

Achievements / BNT V8s Class One P3 overall

 

The achievements of Nick Ross shouldn’t be downplayed. A veteran of the BNT V8s, Ross held his own to finish third overall behind one of New Zealand’s best Supercar drivers, Andre Heimgartner, and a Bathurst 1000 winner, Jason Bargwanna.

 

Consider also that he held off a strong challenge from Australian up-and-comer Jack Smith. Last year he raced in not only BNT V8s, but the Super2 Series and the Kumho Tyres V8 Touring Cars.

 

Three wins came at Hampton Downs, Teretonga and Manfeild and had it not been for a wing failure at Teretonga his place in the championship might’ve even been ahead of Bargwanna.

 

Despite the small field, last year’s Class One grid was competitive between the top five drivers, and for Ross to finish not far behind Bargwanna and Heimgartner is a stellar effort.

 

Richie Stanaway / Photo: Supercars

 

33.Richie Stanaway (Biggest Shaker, Down 27)

Categories / Supercars Championship

Achievements / P25 overall Supercars Championship

 

The year started with tons of hype surrounding Supercars and the five New Zealanders racing in it.

 

It was anticipated a few would be in with a shot of the title, but none expected Richie Stanaway to slump as low as second-to-last by the season’s end.

 

Tickford Racing struggled all season. Chaz Mostert took just one win, Mark Winterbottom went winless, and Cameron Waters never cracked the podium.

 

At the bottom of the pile was Stanaway, clearly the least of their worries. His frustrations showed at Townsville when he decided to drift the final few corners.

 

A perplexed Stanaway came into the few final rounds of the season with little hope. A season best ninth was all he could scrounge, 13 points ahead of the wooden spoon, Todd Hazelwood.

 

And so, he left.

 

Stanaway’s future in the Supercars Championship is uncertain.

 

After all the talk of him getting in and it being in the one place where he wanted to race the dream quickly turned into a nightmare. However, recent rumours suggests that the road might not end just yet.

 

There's no doubting Stanaway's ability – easily a top 10 on talent alone – but the fact remains that 2018 was not kind to Richie. And while we'd have liked for him to be further up this list, there simply wasn't enough to justify it.  

 

Brendon Leitch

 

32. Brendon Leitch (Down 6)

Categories / Toyota Racing Series, North Island Endurance Series

Achievements / P7 overall TRS, P2 overall NIES

 

2018 could be seen as a year of shortcomings for Brendon Leitch. While taking two wins in the Toyota Racing Series – the most he’s had in one season – seventh overall in a reduced field left the 23-year-old wondering what went wrong.

 

The wins were good, but much needed podiums to put him in contention went begging in all five rounds.

 

An opportunity to race in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 brought success from the outset with pole on debut at Hampton Downs in the North Island Endurance Series.

 

A strong start to his North Island campaign alongside Christina Orr-West put them in the running for the title, but they fell just short.

 

It was an okay year for Leitch and one that will hopefully springboard him into 2019 with more miles under his belt and a newfound ambition to win the Toyota Racing Series this year.

 

With what looks to be his sixth and final Toyota Racing Series, 2019 could be the defining year for Leitch and his career.

 

Jono lester

 

31. Jono Lester (Down 10)

Categories / Blancpian GT Series Asia, Thailand Super Series

Achievements / P3 overall Thailand Super Series, Blancpain GT Series win 

 

Journeyman GT3 driver Jono Lester enjoyed another year in Asia sampling several series.

 

Having spent 2017 solely focusing on Japan’s SUPER GT Series, Gulf Racing decided not to bring Lester back. That left the 29-year-old once again to test the waters elsewhere.

 

A drive in the Thailand Super Series brought success with a championship challenge going down to the final round where he ultimately finished third. But his success on debut in the Blancpain GT Asia Series was perhaps his biggest profit this season.

 

Driving for HubAuto Corsa, Lester scored a second place finish in only his second race alongside Nick Foster. He went on to take two wins at Shanghai and Ningbo respectively to aid Foster in finishing second in the championship.

 

Eighth in the championship overall was an impressive result, especially given his limited three-round run in the series.

While GT3 racing has been Lester’s forte for the best part of a decade, he could find himself refocusing in 2019.

 

A test at the end of the 2018 season with a WTCR team could soon see the Kiwi jetting around the world in a TCR-specification Alfa Romeo Giulia.

 

If the plan is pulled off, it’ll be the first time a Kiwi has driven in the world’s highest touring car championship since the likes of Craig Baird and Paul Radisich.

 

Tune in to velocitynews.co.nz for Part 2 of the Velocity News Driver of the Year, where we choose 30-11. See you at 6.00pm Wednesday night.

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