From backing himself into the wall at nearly 100 km/hr to setting a new class lap record in less than 24 hours, Keith Wilkinson’s Manfeild weekend was full of up-and-downs.
The Mazda Racing Series brought one of the most extensive grids to the Feilding circuit for round four of the North Island Championship and round one of the New Zealand Championship.
Of the 28 cars in the field, reigning national RX-8 cup champion Wilkinson was expected to lead from the front.
Fresh from a clean sweep in round three at Hampton Downs, Wilkinson kicked off his Manfeild weekend by qualifying second for race one.
Starting alongside Simon Baker, Wilkinson looked to out-drag his rival into the opening turn. However, that was when things quickly went sideways.
“I went to the outside of Simon for turn one before braking at my normal braking marker,” Wilkinson told Velocity News.
“But my brakes then went into a sort of overrun, and I had a rock-hard pedal.
“It is like an ABS glitch that is quite common with these cars because we are running large race pads and the computer in the car can’t process the high brake pressures.
“When the problem usually occurs you take the foot right off the pedal and then back on. But when I put my foot back on the brake for the second time, the pedal was still stiff and it felt like the car was accelerating.”
Wilkinson crashed into the tyre wall rear-end first, with the car see-sawing on top of the barrier.
“I knew the second time the brake didn’t work that I was going to end up in the wall. So I focused on trying to slow the car down as much as I could.
“I hit the handbrake, spun the car and dropped the clutch to hopefully slow the impact. In the end I hit the wall at 95 km/hr. But it all happened so fast.”
With himself being cleared by the trackside medical team and the car in scrutineering, Wilkinson could not assess the damage for over an hour after the accident.
When he was able to look at the car, he thought the idea of a repair for Sunday was nonsense.
“I wasn’t convinced at all that we could fix it. My first thoughts were quite grim.
“But my spanner-hand told me that we could get the car out and running within a day. Once we started to get into it, the damage looked a lot worse than it was.
“So, we started to slog it out, fixing the bumper, taillight and doing a string line wheel alignment.
“But then we were told we had to leave the park by 8 pm, so that didn’t help. We had to arrive at 7 am sharp the next morning to finish what we had started.”
Wilkinson was made to start 22nd for race two, and while he was eager to make up lost ground after the day before, he spent the first few laps of the race re-gaining confidence with the car.
“Oh 100 per cent,” he said when asked whether there were any nerves when he arrived at turn one for the first time.
“We hadn’t tested the car and fully ran everything over. So, there were a few thoughts about maybe we had missed a bigger problem, or the brakes wouldn’t work again.
“Plus, on the warm-up lap, there were bits of debris and stones coming out of the car, and the whole thing was making funny noises.
“But after taking it easy on lap one, I quickly got my confidence back. By the end of lap two I was picking my way through the pack.
“I managed to work myself to the podium and even set a lap record for our class along the way. Crazy few days but well worth it.”