Promains Formula Open New Zealand (FONZ) held its fourth round at Pukekohe Park Raceway on the 25th and 26th of February for the Jim Palmer Tasman Revival Meeting, wowing the crowd with great racing.
The meeting was very special because it is the last time Wings & Slicks cars will ever race at the iconic South Auckland track before it closes to motorsport this April.
There was a decent sized crowd there to enjoy the racing with FONZ, F5000, Historic Formula Ford and Formula Juniors all celebrating the different eras of single seaters that have raced at Pukekohe since 1963. There were also good fields of saloon cars in several different classes.
Saturday qualifying got under way in damp conditions and fifteen cars headed out onto track all touring around looking for a dry line.
It was sad to see Kenny Smith pull into the pits after only a couple of laps with electrical gremlins in the ex-Marcus Armstrong Tatuus FT50.
However, once a dry line appeared, the remaining field got down to business with Liam Sceats posting the quickest time only to have Sam Mac Neill pip him by a few tenths.
Then within the dying seconds, James Watson put in a flyer in the Swift DB4 which put him on top only to have Mac Neill steal the pole back off him as the chequered flag came out.
Race one on Saturday afternoon saw the front row consist of Mac Neill on pole, Watson alongside, Sceats in third place and series rookie Kaden Probst in fourth position. Tom Alexander was next on the grid, finding the set of tyres he was trialling from a Formula Four car not up to the task of keeping the FT50 in the game.
Watson got the jump on Mac Neill at the start who was soon under pressure from Sceats, Probst and Alexander. Watson opened up a gap as the FT50s behind him battled for second down to sixth. A safety car on the third lap to recover Zac Christensen’s FT40 that had been struck by electrical gremlins brought the pack back together.
Of course, this played into the hands of Leo Francis in the other FT40 who was now leading the Jim Palmer Cup. On the restart, Watson led away with a hard charging Sceats behind.
With a couple of laps left to run, Watson hit a wet patch going into the hairpin and went wide onto the grass which let Sceats and Alexander through. So at the line it was Sceats first, Alexander second, and Watson third.
Race two saw the Swift DB4 of Watson lead away from the line with Sceats, Alexander, Mac Neill fending off Probst and Rush in another of the Swift DB4s. Another safety car before the first lap was completed while Christensen’s FT40 succumbed again to electrical issues, handing the lead of the Jim Palmer Cup to Francis.
On the next restart, Watson again got away using the extra horsepower of the Toyota 4AGE and one lap later the safety car was out again. This time Gary Rush had a spin in the middle of the back straight when his steering wheel came off in his hands. He hit the brakes which in turn threw the car into a spin. Luckily everybody missed him.
Watson brought the black & yellow Swift home in first place from Sceats and Alexander.
The final race was the feature race for the Graeme Lawrence Cup and the Jim Palmer Cup supported by Black Fox Electrical and The Fitness Portal respectively and was supposed to be over ten laps but due to the amount of safety cars throughout the day, time was running short so the race was shortened to eight laps.
Thankfully the whole race ran without incident. This time Christensen managed to keep the FT40 running and managed to hold out Francis from getting a clean sweep of the round for the Jim Palmer Cup.
Next meeting out we are looking forward to Hayden Bakkerus joining the series in an FT40 and the return of Paul Couper with his new engine so there should be more up for grabs in this class.
Once again Watson got the jump on Sceats at the front but as the race wore on, Watson’s Avon slicks that are nearly a season old started to give up and Sceats started to close in, making several dives on Watson at the hairpin. Sceats finally made one stick to take the lead and then Alexander, who was now back on a set of Hankooks, also claimed second spot from Watson at the hairpin and that is how the first three crossed the line for the final ever FONZ race at Pukekohe.
Round Four in review
Whist there appears to have only been three guys featuring at the front, this do not tell the true story of the racing. The fact is the fastest laps of the first six cars were only six tenths of a second apart with the remainder of the field all within 2 seconds of each other as well.
Speaking of the rest of the field, there was action aplenty right throughout the day with Probst and Mac Neill squaring off, while Rush really got the Swift DB4 going better and better after suffering ignition issues for the last several rounds. Rush has had little seat time and was getting quicker as the day wore on.
Grant Rivers in the immaculate ex POPE Racing Swift DB4 has got faster with each meeting and was thrilled to get into the 59s. Rivers is a well known drag racing competitor but has fallen in love with ground effect Formula Atlantics and will only get faster.
The father and son duo of Richard and Fergus Crabb had a great day with Richard back in the car for the first time since early last season and Fergus getting quicker with each meeting. It won’t be too long before he is right up with the front mixing it with the experienced guys. Fergus’s background is off roading and drifting so with only a season in the FT50 under his belt, he is starting to look like a threat to the established circuit racers.
Of the other three, Geoff Harriman had a steady weekend in the Promains sponsored FT50 whilst series new comer Fraser Windelburn in his Ford BDA powered Swift DB4 is becoming more and more comfortable in the car in only his second ever race meeting.
Last but by no means least, the legend that is Smith only got two laps in with the Tatuus FT50 before it succumbed to gear change issues once again. Kenny ever the philosophical one proclaimed that at least this will motivate him to get the 1990 NZIGP winning Swift DB4 ready for the start of next season.
That wrapped up the final ever wings and slicks racing ever to run at Pukekohe as it closes on the 4th of April this year. It was fitting that the meeting was named after Jim Palmer as he was the first man ever to drive the track on a press release day in January 1963 in a Brabham BT16. It was also fitting that Smith at least started a race at this last ever wings and slicks event as he raced a Cooper sports car at that first meeting.
The end of the day was very emotional for not just the FONZ competitors but all of the other classes as well because at the end of the meeting there were a lot of people hanging around and they were all saying they did not want to leave as we all knew this was the last time we would ever see this famous exhilarating and historic race track again.
Header Image: Cameras in Action | Words: Supplied