Dad started on pole in race 1 but unfortunately couldn’t convert with bad tyres in the race. We switched the tyres for my race and I charged through the field from 19th to finish 1ST! WOOOOOHOOO
Despite a great end result it was far from smooth sailing throughout the day. Heading into the round I was excited to hear DM Motors had fixed our shuddering brakes issues and the car was in good nick ready to race. I love the Taupo track so was amped to get stuck into it.
A single day meeting meant everyone was on the same page going in with no Friday practice. We got down to Taupo Saturday evening and set ourselves up at the track before heading to our hotel. A highlight of the out of Auckland rounds is always the get together the night before and that was the case again with a few drivers meeting for some banter and beers in town.
Feeling organised Sunday morning I was thankful we had an extra practice session before qualifying. We set out at the start of the day with our older set of tyres on. The thought being more worn tyres would be better in the dry and should they wear too much in practice and qualy we could change them before the race. Dad went out first to get his eye in and then half way through after a quick driver swap I was up. Dad mentioned when we swapped that it was slippery but I was not ready for just how slippery it was. I took it easy as I always do in the first session of a race weekend but immediately I was concerned about the feel of the car. I just couldn’t get any speed through the corners with it sliding around. I came in at the end of the session frustrated. Dad put it down to the circuit being slippery, and other drivers seemed to agree it was tough conditions but I was more concerned.
Never the less we moved on to qualifying. We made a bit of a change to tyre pressures in the hopes that could yield some grip but even after 6 seasons of this stuff we are yet to unlock the secrets of tyre pressure. Being that we were sharing the car for the weekend we were allowed to do one qualifying session each. We had some concerns that the first race for the not so fast group was straight after the fast grids qualifying. At this point we didn’t know whether we would be in the fast or not so fast group, and given we were doing both qualifying sessions we could end up having to rush into the race. We put a bit extra fuel in just in case that would happen but still hoping to be in the fast grid which was up a bit later to give ourselves time to prepare.
Dad was up first for qualifying. He came back in great spirits having enjoyed the battle of balancing the sliding car through the corners. I was worried the times weren’t looking so good and Dad reporting a sliding car is the opposite of what I was hoping for.
It was a quick turn around before my qualifying session and I wasn’t overly optimistic. I still didn’t really know were we fit in verses the other drivers so I was full focus on trying to get the lap time. As soon as I got on track though my spirits were broken. The car was an absolute handful. It was so frustrating to find the car behaving completely differently to how it had been only two weeks earlier at Pukekohe. I felt like I had to drive so gently trying to maintain traction rather than pushing the car to the max like I am familiar with. As we agreed before hand I came in early just in case Dad had to jump in for the not so fast group race. But to be honest I was ready to come in anyway, I was not enjoying driving the Red Dragon.
Lucky I did come in early because Dad was waiting anxiously for me in the pits, all suited up because we were indeed in the not so fast group. That would be a disappointing position as we are usually fighting for a top 20 result in the fast grid. It would be disappointing except for the fact that Dad was starting from pole. WOOHOO. With no time to change anything Dad was straight up to the dummy grid. After a quick reminder of the safety car restart rules, as starting at the front he may very well end up leading the pack for such a restart, and then he was out on track lining up for his race. But it wasn’t quite that quick. Once all the cars were lined up on the grid there was a huge delay while everyone waited for the safety car to clear the track and then waited for some confused drivers at the back to find their correct grid positions. I can only imagine how nerve wracking and frustrating it must have been to sit on the grid for so long on high alert waiting for the race to start at any moment.
Then eventually the race started and Dad leapt off out in front with a great get away to lead the race into turn 1. He battled hard in the opening stages, looking good with the Red Dragon up front.
But it quickly become more and more of a battle. Dad was struggling to keep the others behind and one by one they started to slip past. It wasn’t long before another similar MR2 was up behind Dad applying the pressure. From my view up on the garages there was a clear difference between what should be evenly matched cars. Coming out of turn 1 and through 2 Dad was sliding big time battling to keep the car in line, mean while the MR2 behind had grip to spare and was carrying more speed while planted to the track in complete contrast to Dad. It was blinding obvious it wasn’t the track that was causing our sliding problems, it was our car.
Dad lost out to that MR2 and as time went on was slowly losing out to more and more as he continued to slide his way around the Taupo trap. Then all of a sudden he was into the pits. WHAT? I ran down to met him concerned that only something seriously wrong with the car would cause him to come in. Another driver came out to help and Dad frantically told us to check the left rear tyre, something was wrong. A quick inspection and it was clear but perhaps not the disaster I was expecting. A massive flat spot was the cause of the thumping that had made Dad concerned enough to pit. On top of that there just wasn’t much tread left on the tyre at all. We sent him back out but he was effectively out of the race having lost so much time, and there was no way he was going to be fast with the tyre in such a bad shape.
That wouldn’t stop him trying though. After a few laps back on track he got it all wrong coming into the final section. Locking the brakes, no doubt an easy thing to do with the flat spot, he had a big spin and ended up in the grass, thankfully without making contact with any other cars.
After the race there was the expected level of frustration. Dad did report he had some fun sliding the car around but it really should have been a completely different result. I was just glad that he finally believed me that something was wrong with our car. Looking at the rear tyre more closely now it was really bad. We had hummed and harred about changing it pre race but the rushed timing hadn’t given us the opportunity. Dad was regretting that outcome big time but even looking back now the tyre really did look passable prior to qualifying and I really didn’t expect so much wear in just a few session.
In the end it was a 24th place finish for Dad, helped by the inevitable 2kcup drop out rate. A real case of what could have been, but at least the car was all straight and ready for it’s next battle.
With a big break before race 2 we changed the tyres and got everything set for my turn behind the wheel. I was happy to have new tyres on but there was no way of knowing how much difference it would make. I made sure to have a cookie before my race to give me extra speed, a running joke from the Gran Turismo community. With the second race being reverse grid based on lap time I was all set to start from 19th. 19th, in the third flag drop, starting a full 20 seconds after the front group of cars. But you all know I love a reverse grid race.
I launched off the start hoping to make the most of the fast starting Red Dragon. Down into the first corner was tight and busy as always. I moved to the inside, right up behind the car in front. Around the first corner boxed into position feeling like I had plenty more speed but unable to get around the car in front. Through the next couple of corners it was the same story. I was helpless as the train of cars went past beside me on the right while I was stuck behind the train on the left. Then down into turn 5 I could see it continuing with no opening for me to slot the Red Dragon into. As everyone turned right I was getting desperate and got back on the gas to go straight ahead a little longer, going wider than I’ve ever been into turn 5 making it three wide through the corner. And it worked! A close exit side by side with the car that had been holding me up so much and then easily past as we headed towards the next turn. At that next turn I was straight onto attacking the cars up in front, diving to the inside and getting another overtake just like that.
The frantic overtakes continued. I was passing cars left right and centre. Taking all sorts of lines, some conventional overtaking lines and some just down right mad as I found any way possible to get through the field, all the time knowing that the fast cars behind would be doing just the same trying to catch me. That’s how it is in the reverse grid. It’s over take or get overtaken. I’m just gutted I forgot to turn the camera on because it was such an epic sequence of racing. I was so enjoying being in the thick of the action and quickly figuring out how much grip the car had. It was far more than earlier in the day. The car was still sliding as I pushed it to the limit but it was sliding in a way I’m familiar with, in a way that’s manageable and tameable. Thank goodness for that change of tyres.
On lap six I made another overtake and saw clear track in front of me. I looked across and couldn’t see any cars further up the track either. Two possibilities were going through my mind. Either I was in the lead, or others were so far in front of me I was never going to catch them. I kept pushing hard for a couple laps not only for fear that it was option two but also because I knew the faster guys were coming from the back of the field. They always do. After a few laps of checking my mirror there was still no one zooming up behind me. I had a moderate gap to the car behind and the gap was staying consistent. I focused back on the road ahead and just set about putting tidy laps in. I wasn’t worried about setting a record but it was all about being consistent with good times and not making any mistakes that would let those behind me catch up.
It actually become very calm in the car. It was a relaxed feeling I’ve never had in a race before as I set those consistent times, within half a second of my best, and held the gap to the cars behind me. I think it’s a sign of how comfortable I’ve become racing in the 2kcup, this being my sixth season, still in the same car no less. As I was racing around I found myself reflecting on how far I’ve come from that first race 6 years ago. A race were I spun out twice. That reminds me, don’t spin out in this one. Focus Mathew.
I made just a couple of small mistakes throughout the race, missing a gear or changing into 4th instead of 2nd. The biggest problem came as I went to lap a car. I came up fast on them into the last set of corners. Seeing that I had superior turn I set myself up to go up the inside on the exit of the final turn knowing I would easily get through. Unfortunately that’s when he must of noticed me as he turned hard to the inside trying to let me past. I was completely caught out and had to slow up hugely as I turned back onto the racing line. He let me past on the straight but now the car behind had closed the gap a lot. A bit of a lesson for me that I need to have more awareness in those situations and prepare for the fact that the car in front might not do what I’m expecting. Fortunately the next car to be lapped let me through quickly and then in a role reversal held up the car behind me a bit to put the gap back to what it had been.
And that’s how it would finish. With me out front when the chequered flag waved. Fist pumping as I came over the line. So excited by the turn around from earlier in the day. I jumped out of the car to praise from Dad. I still had to ask though, “Did I actually win?”. I’m never really sure what position I’m in when out on track so it was such a relief to hear that yes, I had won the race. My first win at my favourite track, Taupo Motorsport Park.
And that was that. We packed up, watched the other racing that was on, then headed back to Auckland. I flew back to Christchurch early Monday morning leaving Dad with all the pack up work. Again I owe you a huge thanks for everything you do. Allowing me to be the fly and drive guy is truly the best. Thank you.
And shout out to Dan for coming out and cheering me on. Dan’s the one eating a cookie with me in the photo above, sharing in the laughs throughout the day. It sure was a fun one. Shout out also to Mum being the one that made the cookies. Clearly your lucky charm magic applies to your baking not just when your present at the track, thank you.
Next up is the final round of the season. The one hour race at Hampton downs is always a thriller. Dad and I have had some practice with driver swaps these past two rounds so we’re feeling more prepared than ever. I’m starting to feel the financial hurt of flying up for all these races so I’m not sure how many more I’m going to manage. Best make it a good one on May 4th just in case it’s my last.
Bring it on.