23 NZ Touring Cars for ITM 500
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New names and faces bolster NZ Touring Car line up this weekend
Round two of the 2015–’16 NZ Touring Car series this weekend at Pukekohe Park Raceway will see a bolstered 23-car field take to the unforgiving 'concrete canyon', as the series supports the V8 Supercar championship's annual visit to New Zealand's shores for the ITM 500.
Along with series regulars like Holden pilots Angus Fogg, Simon Evans, and Tim Edgell, a variety of new faces will be joining the mix for the event.
Andy Higgins, better known for his time behind the wheel of an F5000 open-wheeled monster, will be taking over the controls of the number 14 Racer Products Ford Falcon NZ SuperTourer, campaigned by Gene Rollinson in round one.
But it's the competitive class two for TL cars sees the largest growth, with four extra drivers for the weekend in the form of Liam MacDonald, Bruce Verdon, Nathan Pilcher, and Bronson Porter. All chasing class two leader, Kevin Williams who scored two race wins at Taupo — Falcon pilot Brock Cooley spoiling his chances of a clean sweep of the weekend after a valiant win in race three.
Jason Bargwanna surprised many up and down pit lane, winning the opening race of the season. Photo / Velocity NZ
Approaching round one of the series at Taupo Motorsport Park, the question of how close the parity between the NZ SuperTourer and NZV8 TLX chassis would be was prominent. However, that question was promptly answered when TLX-runner Jason Bargwanna won race one of the weekend in his Richards Team Toyota Camry. Consistency from Bargwanna over races two and three resulted in him taking an early championship lead, ahead of last seasons' NZ SuperTourer series winner Simon Evans, and Ford pilot Mitchell Cunningham.
“There were a lot of questions about parity prior to round one, however we were pleased with just how close the cars were. The cars in class one, the V8supertourer specs cars and the TLX spec cars were a lot closer than everyone thought,” said category co-ordinator Gary Lathrope.
“Having the class one cars on the same Dunlop tyre certainly helped and brought the different specification cars closer together. There is great camaraderie and a willingness by all teams and drivers to make this series be successful. We feel we are on the right path to move forward.”
A full field of V8s hits turn one at Taupo for the first time. Photo / Velocity NZ
Bargwanna, a former Bathurst 1000 champion, is relishing the opportunity to race at Pukekohe Park Raceway, a track that both excites and intimidates drivers due to its high speeds, bumps, and elements of danger.
“I love it. It’s a drivers track and it’s my kind of place,” said Bargwanna.
"Pukekohe is the sort of track that drivers love and the type of race track that gets your attention. The approach and run over the hill in front of the crowd in fourth gear right on the edge of grip is something that stands out in your whole season and something they don’t even come close to allowing in new track design.”
“The Team Richards Toyota Camry is a gun around this place, and has a great balance in both high speed and direction change. The question is, will it be enough? We want the championship this year and we will have our work cut out.”
The Smeg Racing Commodore driven by Simon Evans navigates turn one at Taupo. Photo / Velocity NZ
Simon Evans is likely to be one of Bargwanna's main challengers for outright Pukekohe honours, as well as championship honours as the season progresses to its eventual finale at Pukekohe on April 16–17, 2016.
“The first round at Taupo as a merger of the previous two series was good. The two different specification cars are actually closer than what everyone thought it was going to be. Both cars have strengths in different areas so it levels out. To have the previous two series champions 1st and 2nd in the championship just proves how close it is,” said Evans.
A new Dunlop tyre across the board has also helped spice up the competition, with Evans one of numerous drivers still trying to get their head around the compound.
“We didn’t do any testing on the new Dunlop tyre before we went to Taupo so we knew it was always going to be a little hit and miss at some point. We tried things that worked and then didn’t work. It's just understanding the tyre at the moment,” he explained.
“I love Pukekohe as a track and now with one meeting under our belt on the Dunlop tyre we are going in with a lot better understanding of what we need to do to extract the best speed out of the car.”
The NZ Touring Car series are scheduled to hit the track for the first time tomorrow morning at 9.50am for their opening practice session, with qualifying to take place on Saturday morning at 9.30am. Race one kicks off just over two hours later at 11.35am, with races two and three taking place on Sunday at 11.50am and 2.55pm respectively.