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Velocity News Driver of the Year: 30-11

Last night, we revealed the top 50-31 of the Velocity News Driver of the Year. You can read that list by clicking here.

 

Tonight? We go one step further, and announce the next best bunch from 30-11. 

 

Here we find the country's brightest stars locally and overseas; from drivers that scored acclaim through what they had to overcome to achieve, to drivers that went above and beyond on multiple occasions and helped remind us why we follow this wonderful sport.

 

No more waiting. Let's rip into it.

 

John McIntyre

 

30. John McIntyre (New Entrant)

Categories / North/South Island Endurance Series

Achievements / North Island Endurance Series winner

 

SC: McIntrye’s win in the North Island Endurance Series alongside Simon Gilbertson was one of the best domestic performances of 2018.

 

Up against fully fledged FIA GT3 homologated machinery, McIntyre steered their Porsche 911 GT3 Cup MR to overall victory in the North Island Endurance Series.

 

It was a special win, one that showed that you needn’t have the fastest car on the track. One that was strategy based throughout all three rounds of the three-hour series and truly embodied the spirit of endurance racing.

 

While not the fastest car on the track, McIntyre kept at a comfortable pace against the fast and often unrestricted GT3 cars.

 

Despite their success, the Porsche has since been sidelined in favour of a return to the Reiter Engineering-built SaReNi Camaro GT3. In 2019, another win in one of the several endurance series on offer is not out of the realms of possibility.

 

Dan Gaunt

 

29. Dan Gaunt (New Entrant)

Categories / Australian GT Championship

Achievements / DNF and Class B win Bathurst 12 Hour

 

SC: Not many drivers can say they’ve failed to finish and also won in the same race, except for Dan Gaunt.

 

Dan Gaunt’s campaign in the Bathurst 12 Hour initially had him fight for outright honours. That was until the Audi R8 LMS GT3 he started the race in crashed before he could even get in the driver’s seat.

 

The 33-year-old was ready to crack open a beer at 10:00am, but before he could do that Brenton Grove became ill in in the Class B contending Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. So Gaunt stepped in to replace him.

 

The team went on to win their class, three laps ahead of their nearest rivals. And so Gaunt ended the race on the top step of the podium with class winner to his name and a DNF too.

 

The three-round Australian GT Endurance Championship brought a return to the winners circle too. Alongside Australian ace Tony Bates, Gaunt hauled their car into winning contention on all three occasions.

 

A win at the Phillip Island 101 was another highlight of Gaunt’s year. He nearly came close to winning at the season-ending Hampton Downs 500 too, but fell just short when a suspension issue cropped up.

 

Nowadays, Gaunt is spending time on a new shared business venture with Tony Quinn. He’s set up his own Game Over karting facility in Auckland. Hopefully it doesn’t distract him too much from getting back out in a race car, because he’s certainly still capable.

 

Richard Moore

 

28. Richard Moore (Up 1)

Categories / V8 Ute Series

Achievements / Back-to-back V8 Ute champion

 

MH: Few can claim to have earned back-to-back tin-top titles in New Zealand, but in 2018 Richard Moore added his name to the list.

 

As detailed in yesterday’s DOTY breakdown, the 2017–’18 V8 Ute Series was a fascinating drag-’em-out fight between Moore and Paul Manuell for the second year running. The racing was tight and unforgiving, but grew in respect over the paint-swapping 2016–’17 season.

 

The pair of drivers shared two round wins each, but a more consistent run throughout was what sealed Moore’s second title over what was probably the most competitive grid of V8 Ute drivers we’ve seen in New Zealand.

 

These days the 27-year-old spends more time working as a driver trainer with Downforce Auto Events, having elected to sit out the current 2018–’19 V8 Ute season. Hopefully soon we’ll see him hop back in the saddle for another crack.

 

Jack Milligan

 

27. Jack Milligan (New Entrant)

Categories / Toyota 86 Championship, Endurance Series'

Achievements / Toyta 86 Championship winner

 

MH: It was a busy old year for Jack Milligan. A CareVets Scholarship win a few years ago put the Christchurch kid on a path to numerous drives in 2018 in a multitude of cars.

 

He tackled the North Island Endurance Series in one of MIKE Racing’s Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3s with Reid Harker, and down south he ran in the South Island Endurance Series with George McFarlane in a Porsche 997 GT3 R.

Both campaigns produced good results, with an NIES win at Hampton Downs followed by an outright podium at SIES round one and a class podium outright at the end of the season.

 

His prized silverware, however, was his championship success in the 2017–’18 Toyota 86 Series. He entered the series as the previous season’s rookie of the year, making him a marked man for the season that followed.

 

Numerous wins and splashes of scintillating on-track aggression saw him emerge on top as the series champion, subsequently earning him a run at the Bathurst round of the Australian sister 86 Series or the second year running.

 

Callum Crawley

 

26. Callum Crawley (New Entrant)

Categories / Formula First Championship

Achievements / Formula First Championship winner

 

SC: Winning the national Formula First title is still arguably one of the toughest championships to win in the country.

 

For Callum Crawley, consistency paid off with a 60 per cent podium finish rate earning him the crown.

 

It didn’t all go his way, however, with a tough title fight with Kaleb Ngatoa going down to the final round of the season.

 

A penalty put Ngatoa on the back foot, but Crawley did what he need to do and once more finished on the podium to claim his maiden Formula First title.

 

Like some lower on the list, it’s a shame not to see Crawley follow the likes of Ngatoa into the Toyota 86 Championship. The highly competitive series is the obvious next step for young drivers looking to forge a career.

 

Hopefully Crawley will pop back up on the national circuit soon.

 

Jonny reid

 

25. Jonny Reid (New Entrant)

Categories: Endurance Series'

Achievements: New Zealand Endurance Championship winner

 

MH: These days Jonny Reid is more focused on his young family than he is on the sport that once regarded him as one its ‘next big things’

.

Regardless, that didn’t stop him from partaking in various GT projects in 2018 — most of which involving driving Audi R8 LMS GT3s.

 

The first of these was a return to the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour with Matt Halliday and Andrew Bagnall for International Motorsport. The trio were competitive in their class, knocking on the door of the outright top 10 (and at times top five) as the race progressed, until eventually getting sucked into a frightening crash in the closing laps.

 

Things were much rosier on home soil. Reid paired again with Neil Foster for the North Island Endurance Series, South Island Endurance Series, and New Zealand Endurance Championship finale.

 

While results in the north were scarce, things improved down south where Reid and Foster won two of the three events. Foster went on to win the title, with Reid technically shut out of the honours since he only contested two of the three races with Foster (2018 DOTY judge Gene Rollinson competed with Foster at the third event, claiming the win).

 

Less confusing was the Endurance Championship finale at Highlands Motorsport Park. After a nail-biting extended tussle with the Aston Martin of Tony Quinn and Damon Leitch, Reid and Foster were able to claim a memorable national title.

 

Callum Hedge

 

24. Callum Hedge (Rookie of the Year, up 6)

Categories / Formula 1600, Toyota 86 Championship, SsangYong Racing Series

Achievements / Formula 1600 Championship winner

 

SC: In last year’s Driver of the Year we picked Callum Hedge as our next up-and-coming Kiwi to keep an eye on.

 

Hedge made sure people were watching in 2018 with a dominant title win in the Formula 1600 Championship. Numerous wins came in the SsangYong Racing Series too.

 

A stint in the Australian Formula Ford Championship was brief, but was promising nevertheless in a car that wasn’t overly competitive.

 

However, it was his success in winning the CareVets Scholarship for the Toyota 86 Championship that had people taking notice. At the end of the 2018 young Hedge ha three wins from six races and another podium in the mix too.

 

Round one at the ITM Auckland SuperSprint saw him record a fourth, third and a win, but it was his efforts at the Speed Works Events meeting that made people stand up. Scintillating passing maneuvers from the 15-year-old made him the class of the field as he took back-to-back wins.

 

Hedge has a promising career ahead, and with international ambitions in 2019 it’d be fair to say the best is yet to come.

 

Andrew Waite

 

23. Andrew Waite (Down 3)

Categories / China Endurance Series, Australian GT Championship

Achievements / P2 overall China Endurance Series

 

SC: Another year of LMP3 racing saw Andrew Waite take another step forward with endurance outfit PTRS.

 

He narrowly missed out on winning the China Endurance Series but scored two wins and another four podiums.

 

Second place in the growing championship amongst equal machinery was an impressive achievement for the young gun, who still balances his commitments at Highlands Motorsport Park with racing ambitions.

 

Overall it was a solid year for Waite that saw him drive in the Australian GT Championship alongside Tony Quinn.

 

A return to LMP3 racing wouldn’t be a surprise in 2019, but with a third place finish and a second place in the bag, a championship win must be the next box to tick.

 

Daniel Bray

 

22. Daniel Bray (New Entrant)

Categories / CIK-FIA International KZ2 Super Cup

Achievements / P2 overall KZ2 Super Cup

 

SC: New Zealand’s karting fraternity continues to pour out masses of talent year-on-year.

 

One driver leading the charge is coach Daniel Bray.

 

With over two decades in karting, Bray found success in 2018 with a stellar second place at the CIK-FIA International KZ2 Super Cup, the highest level KZ2 event in the world. He was one of 105 competing in Italy that weekend.

 

Bray’s second place is the biggest achievement for a New Zealand kart driver since that of Wade Cunningham when he won the World Karting Championship.

 

While Bray’s success story may lie in New Zealand with the next crop of talent, his own racing success must not be forgotten.

 

Cole Armstrong

 

21. Cole Armstrong (Down 2)

Categories / D1NZ National Drifting Championship

Achievements / D1NZ National Drifting Championship winner

 

SC: Prior to 2018, only four-time D1NZ National Drifting Championship title winner Gaz Whiter had been a back-to-back champion. Cole Armstrong broke that streak with a matured performance.

 

In 2017 Armstrong went out guns blazing and won the championship with a dominant performance.

 

Much like Mad Mike Whiddett’s title win in Japan, Armstrong came back in 2018 matured and on another wave length. Gone was the thirst of a maiden title, instead, a more mellow Armstrong returned but still with a point to prove.

 

Armstrong didn’t win a round in 2018, but was consistently inside the top five when he needed to be. The win-it-or-bin-it approach by others proved costly, meanwhile, Armstrong hit his marks and made sure to be near the front.

 

Ultimately, when it came to the title fight between he and teammate Darren Kelly, Armstrong prevailed with a podium performance that ensured he’d be remembered as one of the best domestic drifters.

 

Fabian Coulthard

 

20. Fabian Coulthard (Down 13)

Categories / Supercars Championship

Achievements / P9 overall Supercars Championship

 

MH: In 2017 Fabian Coulthard was a bonafide contender in the Supercars Championship title chase — pipped at the end by his teammate and ultimately the Red Bull Holden Racing Team.

 

Things didn’t go quite so well in 2018. A solitary race win at Winton was backed up by just two other visits to the podium over the 31-round season. A good-but-not-great year from the 36-year-old, when we know he can do so much better.

 

It’s been hard to place where Coulthard’s departure in form went. The arrival of the seemingly superior and slipperier Holden ZB Commodore might’ve been a partial undoing, while the focus on getting teammate Scott McLaughlin a championship win could have also played its part.

 

Perhaps the most commonly repeated explanation among pundits was the driver’s engineer swap, from 2017 engineer Phil Keed (someone that Coulthard had worked with for almost six seasons) to Mark Fenning — a former Marcos Ambrose and Scott Pye engineer.

 

We know what Coulthard can do, and hopefully we see a return to form in 2019.

 

Earl bamber

 

19. Earl Bamber (Down 15)

Categories / IMSA, Supercars, Super2, Carrera Cup, just about every endurance race under the sun, etc

Achievements / P3 overall Enduro Cup

 

SC: The breadth of Earl Bamber’s racing last year was enormous.

 

The two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner raced in just about all the major endurance races from Daytona to Bathurst, Suzuka to Spa, Nurburgring as well, and of course Le Mans.

 

Add in a full campaign in IMSA as well as one-off drives in Carrera Cup Australia, the Super2 Series, and a Supercars Championship Enduro Cup drive and it was a pretty packed schedule.

 

This year’s fall from sixth in our list last year to 19th might seem a bit steep then for someone who has raced so much and even set up his own team. However, last year was highlighted by a win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard.

 

Success was limited this year with only one win in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship — though that could’ve been more if not for a failure at Long Beach.

 

Surprisingly, perhaps his biggest success of last year was in the Supercars Championship, a championship he’d never driven in before. Alongside Shane van Gisbergen he scored second on his competitive debut at the Sandown 500. Fifth at the Bathurst 1000 was another stellar result for the debutant.

 

Third overall in the PIRTEK Enduro Cup has many wanting Bamber back for another stint, but it won't be in 2019 with the Porsche factory driver locked in for Petit Le Mans. 

 

It’s hard to deny Earl Bamber’s talent and sheer scope of racing in 2019 – and you can’t deny the difficulty of his first time podium in a Supercar – but an endurance title or two might’ve seen him higher up the list.

 

Hunter McElrea

 

18. Hunter McElrea (New Entrant)

Categories / Australian Formula Ford Championship

Achievements / Formula Ford Championship winner

 

SC: Alright, before we get into this, yes, Hunter McElrea is New Zealander. His father Andy is a New Zealander, and his grandfather Rod is a New Zealander.

 

Hunter was born in the United States while Andy was working with Rod Millen. Hunter was brought to Australia where he grew up — he holds a New Zealand passport too.

 

Though he’s never lived in New Zealand, we can claim him, a bit like Phar Lap… I guess.

 

Australia’s highly competitive Formula Ford championship was where McElrea found success this season.

 

Wins were plentiful for the 19-year-old, but mistakes made keeping his series lead tough at times. Ultimately, the title decider went down to the wire in a thrilling finish that nearly ended up with McElrea on his lid after a tangle in the final race.

 

With a ticket into the Mazda Road To Indy Scholarship, McElrea headed to the United States for a stab at getting a drive in the USF2000.

 

Win it he did, continuing the McElrea success story and succeeding like Matt Campbell and fellow countryman and friend Jaxon Evans before him.

 

This year McElrea joins the USF2000 Series, the bottom rung on the ‘Road to Indy’ that’ll put him on the right track towards IndyCar and perhaps emulating the feats of Scott Dixon.

 

Michael Pickens / Photo: James Selwyn

 

17. Michael Pickens (Down 3)

Categories / Midgets, Sprintcars

Achievements / World 30 Lapper champion

 

The last time we did this Driver of the Year thing the 2017-’18 speedway season was only just getting underway.

 

At the end of the 2017 season, Michael Pickens went solo with his own team, a move that eventually paid off.

 

The 2017–’18 regular season ended with second in the New Zealand Sprint Car title race, ultimately beaten by Kerry Brocas. Shortly after, Pickens ended up third in the Midget nationals.

 

Pickens racked up his 100th race win before making the jump overseas to America and Australia where he was competitive.

 

The highlight of Pickens’ year was racing in the world famous Chilli Bowl. The gold star event put Picken to the test, and though he didn’t make it to the A-main final, he was a stand out with heat race wins and passes galore to get up to the B-main.

 

The International Midget Series Tri-Nations showed Pickens was the man to beat. While America came out on top, Pickens was placed the highest of any driver on points for the series, but it wasn’t enough for his New Zealand team to win.

 

A win in the World 30 lapper put him ahead of NASCAR starts Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell.

 

Tom Blomqvist

 

16. Tom Blomqvist (New Entrant)

Categories / WEC, IMSA, Blancpain GT Series

Achievements / 24 Hours of Spa winner

 

SC: A bricklayer, a BMW ace, and a DTM exile win the 24 Hours of Spa — it was perhaps one of the best stories of 2018.

 

British-born New Zealander Tom Blomqvist endured the worst season of his career in 2017. Finishing second-to-last in the DTM, Blomqvist was booted from the leading BMW outfit and slotted into the team’s sports car program.

 

Success came immediately. Blomqvist joined Walkenhorst Racing with fellow BMW-backed driver Phillip Eng and Christian Krognes, a building supplies business owner and part-time racing driver.

 

It was a fairytale comeback for Blomqvist.

 

The 25-year-old led the bulkshare of the race with ‘wins’ at the six hour mark and 12-’hour mark. That saw him finish fifth in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup after essentially competing in just two of the five rounds.

 

Blomqvist capped off his year with a podium in the FIA World Endurance Championship in Fuji with António Félix da Costa, another strong effort in BMW’s developing GTE programme.

 

Blomqvist’s ended 2018 with confirmation he’d be heading to North America to field one of BMW’s factory-backed M8 GTE cars in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

 

DTM might not have been the right place for Blomqvist, but sports car racing has certainly been kind to the Kiwi in a short amount of time.

 

Liam Lawson

 

15. Liam Lawson (Down 2)

Categories / ADAC Formula 4, Asian Formula 3

Achievements / P2 overal ADAC Formula 4

 

SC: Up-and-comer Liam Lawson was the star among the front runners in this year’s ADAC German Formula 4 Championship.

 

With a season of Formula 4 in Australia under his belt, Lawson wasn’t classed as a ‘rookie’, but his inexperience on the German circuits — literally nil — made him look a little less likely to be ahead of his more accomplished rivals.

Despite that, Lawson managed to score a stellar second in the championship.

 

It was a rocky start to the season, but up against young drivers who had a season in Germany already under their belt, Lawson was the standout among them.

 

Three wins and nine podiums came in the championship, but his best performance perhaps came at the Lausitzring where he fought from behind, made bold passes, and won the race.

 

Lawson ended his year with a weekend in the Asian Formula 3 Championship, where he walked over the top of his competition by winning each race by 20 seconds each time.

 

This year looks set to be a big one for Lawson with a Formula 3 Championship campaign possibly on the horizon and more success sure to come, hopefully beginning in the Toyota Racing Series.

 

Mad Mike

 

14. 'Mad Mike' Whiddett (Up 11)

Categories / Formula DRIFT Japan

Achievements / Formula DRIFT Japan champion

 

SC: Despite being widely considered as one of the best in the country, 'Mad Mike' Whiddett had never won a major international title until 2018.

 

Several attempts at trying to crack Formula DRIFT in the United States were largely unsuccessful. His simultaneously brutish and flamboyant style never really suited the American way. However, he fit right the mold perfectly in Japan.

 

Winning the Formula DRIFT Japan title seemed inevitable for Whiddett. In 2017 he came close. One win in Ebisu set him up for the title fight, but a mistake ultimately cost him that shot.

 

Buoyed by the success of 2017, Whiddett came into last year far more matured as a driver. The flamboyant style remained, but fewer risks taken.

 

Ultimately, it paid off. Two wins and two second place finishes secured his first major overseas title in the home of drifting — a sizeable achievement.

 

Whiddett has been busy building his own empire on home soil too, running his ‘Summer Bash’ events as well as another Red Bull Drift Shifters showcase on the streets of London.

 

Whiddett has plenty on his plate at the moment, but 2019 will probably just as ‘mad’.

 

Andre Heimgartner

 

13. André Heimgartner (Down 3)

Categories / Supercars Championship, BNT V8s

Achievements / BNT V8s champion

 

MH: Auckland-based André Heimgartner appeared to have a career in tatters at the end of 2016.

 

After ‘character building’ runs with the now defunct Super Black Racing and Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport squads, he was on the Supercars sidelines — racing (and winning) in Porsche Carrera Cup Australia, with the odd GT cameo in Asia thrown in to pass the time.

 

But, a late call-up to replace the injured Ash Walsh at Brad Jones Racing — combined with a swashbuckling drive at the Gold Coast 600 — altered his trajectory for the good, and a full-time 2018 ride at Nissan Motorsport was the result.

 

Still, those Nissans hadn’t been competitive, and it was hard to see how Heimgartner was going to have a better year than those before it.

 

Nonetheless, he began the year in style by winning one of the toughest BNT V8s seasons we’ve seen in recent years. He and Richards Team Motorsport Toyota teammate Jason Bargwanna literally barged into each other throughout the season, with Heimgartner claiming his first national championship win since 2012.

 

And because he’d been racing all summer, Heimgartner hit the ground running in Supercars. Although tangible results weren’t immediate, competitive pace certainly was. Over the course of the year he was almost equal to the team’s competitive stalwart driver Michael Caruso, and a trio of top 10s at the very end saw him jump by Caruso to be the second-highest Nissan driver in the points standings.

 

Another season with Nissan has yet to be confirmed. But, the 23-year-old certainly deserves it.

 

Steven Richards

 

12. Steven Richards (Highest New Entry)

Categories / Supercars Championship, Australian GT Championship

Achievements / Bathurst 1000 winner, Enduro Cup winner

 

SC: Despite having lived most of his life in Australia, Steven Richards still recognises his Kiwi heritage.

 

In 2018 Richards cemented himself as the second most successful New Zealander at the Bathurst 1000 ahead of Greg Murphy.

 

Only his father sits ahead of him on seven wins. With win number five in the bag alongside Craig Lowndes, Richards joined a fairytale finish to the Australian’s full-time career.

 

Richards’ win was impressive, especially given his time out of the seat. The occasional drive in his BMW M6 GT3 kept him race ready, but the ABS-shod TC-fed armchair racers aren’t really comparable to the Supercar for skill.

 

At 46-years-old Richards jumped straight into the Supercar and was dominant alongside Lowndes. It even begs the question whether Richards would be as competitive as Lowndes in that car alone in the regular season — I would suggest he would be.

 

With third at the Sandown 500, victory at Bathurst and second on the Gold Coast, Richards shared the PIRTEK Enduro Cup with Lowndes.

 

Not bad for a dad who races only every so often.

 

Such success begs the question whether Richards should be shopping around for a co-drive this year. Given his pedigree, one can only hope he is picked up quickly and maybe make it six.

 

Mitch Evans

 

11. Mitch Evans (Up 5)

Categories / Formula E

Achievements / P7 overall Formula E

 

SC: Now in his third season of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, Mitch Evans is knocking on the door of a maiden win.

 

Seventh in the 2017–’18 season saw a win slip through his fingers after taking his first pole position with Panasonic Jaguar Racing.

 

A podium last year put him ahead of the likes of Andre Lotterer, teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. and even ex-Formula 1 driver Nick Heidfeld in the overall standings.

 

Evans was unlucky at times, and his dad will tell you that too. But while results mightn’t seem so spectacular, Evans is highly rated as being among the top drivers.

 

The start of the 2018–’19 season saw Evans net a fourth place finish in the Gen-2 Formula E machine. It seems only a matter of time before he’s on the top step as Jaguar begins to match the more advanced competition.

 

Tune in to velocitynews.co.nz for Part 3 of the Velocity News Driver of the Year, where we choose the Top 10. See you at 6.00pm Thursday night. 

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