Former V8 Supercar ace and Bathurst 1000 champion Jason Bargwanna has surprisingly claimed first blood in the opening race of the 2015–’16 NZ Touring Car Championship at Taupo Motorsport Park — beating all of the much touted NZ SuperTourer competitors in his NZV8 TLX Toyota Camry. Second was Mitch Cunningham, with series debutant Bryce Fullwood — also from Australia — finishing in a stellar third.
“There's always that unknown of where we were going to be against that different equipment. We were all on the same tyre, which evened it out a little bit. And it's all come down to set-up and how you can get the most out of [the tyre]. I thought our car was going to be really strong towards the end of the race, and that's something to work on for most,” Bargwanna told driven.co.nz.
Bargwanna had already surprised the pundits by qualifying his Richards Team Motorsport Camry in third place, behind the NZ SuperTourers of pole-sitter Tim Edgell, and reigning SuperTourer series winner Simon Evans. But as the race unfolded, Bargwanna picked the pairing off one-by-one, claiming the lead after he and Tim Edgell had to take evasive action to avoid a spinning Alyssa Clapperton in the second Team Kiwi Racing Holden Commodore.
“We were starting to put a lot of pressure on Tim [Edgell], we were right under his rear wing, and there was definitely going to be an opportunity coming in the next few laps. We were stronger in a few areas, and I was pretty confident that we could get the job done. As we got to the lapped traffic, I saw a bit of a zig-or-zag situation. Tim obviously chose to go to the outside, and I took the inside. In that case we were better off.”
Having grabbed the lead, Bargwanna was able to kick clear — eventually winning the race with a relatively handy 1.1-second margin.
Reigning Taupo round-winner, Mitch Cunningham, claimed second position after a “hard fought” race. Starting from fourth, Cunningham initially looked under threat for the position by Gene Rollinson. But as the race unfolded, he was able to catch and pass a fading Simon Evans, then a similarly-faded Tim Edgell — neither driver able to manage their new Dunlop tyres to the same effect as Cunningham or Bargwanna.
Fullwood, Craig Baird, Edgell, Evans, Rollinson, Nick Ross, Tom Alexander, and Angus Fogg rounded out the top ten, while Kevin Williams claimed victory in the TL segment.
“It's a whole new ball game for all of us, as [the tyre] is fresh for everybody. I've raced and looked after tyres for a long time in my career, so I've got some experience there and I knew what we were faced with towards the middle of that race — that's why we set the car up the way we did,” explained Bargwanna.
Cunningham also singled out the new tyre as an important inclusion to the series: “The new tyre's interesting. It's hard, hard to drive on. I think that showed — some people struggled. The Hankook, you could punish it for the entire length of a race, but we were driving gingerly. You could see at the end some were struggling with the rear of their car, so that's probably going to be a characteristic of the championship — how you manage the tyres,” he elaborated.
With tyres proving to be somewhat of an equalizer, the question of parity is, at least for now, out of the spotlight.
“I never really thought man I'm catching him pretty good here, or man he's walking away from me. So with the issue of parity; I don't really think there is one. Things might be a little different at a power track like Pukekohe, with its long straight,” said Cunningham.
Race two of the weekend takes place at 12.00pm tomorrow afternoon, with the third and final race scheduled for 4.10pm.