TAUPO MEETING GETS MOTORSPORT SEASON GOING, WRITES COLIN SMITH
New Zealand’s motor racing season makes a slightly earlier start this summer with Taupo Motorsport Park hosting a busy programme this weekend, headlined by the first round of the BNT NZ Touring Cars Championship.
A season-opening Labour Weekend meeting has been a Taupo tradition since Mt Maunganui’s Baypark circuit closed in 1995. But this year the Taupo action happens a week earlier.
The winter has seen the unification of the NZV8s and V8 SuperTourer categories into a seven-round BNT NZ Touring Cars Championship for 2015-16 and a grid of about 20 cars is expected for the opening round.
Among the leading contenders are the respective champions from last season — Aucklander Simon Evans (Holden) who won the SuperTourer title and Australian Jason Bargwanna (Toyota Camry) who claimed the NZV8s crown.
Other front-runners at Taupo are expected to include the TLX-spec Nissan Altima V8 of Nick Ross (Cambridge) and the SuperTourers of Queensland-based Craig Baird and Aucklanders Angus Fogg, Mitch Cunningham and Gene Rollinson.
It will be interesting to see how moves to establish parity between the new generation TLX cars and the 7-litre SuperTourers will progress during the season as they compete for the Class 1 title.
The older Schedule TL cars compete in Class 2 with Kevin Williams (Auckland), Steve Taylor (Hamilton), Brad Lathrope (Auckland) and Brock Cooley (Wellington) among the likely front-runners.
This weekend’s schedule includes a 20-minute qualifying session at 1pm today followed by a 12-lap opening race at 3.55pm.
Tomorrow there will be a 14-lap race with a rolling start at noon and a 20-lap feature race with a standing start at 4.10pm.
Also in action is the Tradezone GTNZ series — now spilt into GT1/GT2 and GT3/GT4 race groups based on lap times — with more than 40 cars between the two grids.
A likely highlight, with a field of more than 30 cars, is the Enzed Central Muscle Cars category.
The SsangYong Actyon Utes with an expected field of 28 utes along with the Motul Honda Cup, Kumho Pre-65 saloons, UDC V8 Utes and Pirelli Porsche Championship completes the programme.
Practice and qualifying sessions begin at 8.40am today and 10 races are set for this afternoon with a scheduled 1.25pm start and 5.15pm circuit closure. Tomorrow’s programme has 19 races scheduled with an 8.35am start time.