Paddon, Hartley, Cassidy headline internationals with strong finishes
It's interesting to see what forms of motorsport get traction among those in the mainstream, and what struggle. The World Rally Championship seems to be approaching something of a peak, as multiple manufacturers claim rally wins annually, while the World Endurance Championship showcases a similarly competitive group of teams and cars. And yet the WRC continues to hold the trans of New Zealand's media while the exploits of Kiwis in the WEC appears almost forgotten by those on our own shores by comparison.
And then there's the World Time Attack Challenge over the weekend; slicing through an Australian motorsport audience that have been continually fickle over the decades to deliver some of the best crowds Sydney Motorsport Park will see this year.
It was a big weekend of motorsport, so let's rip into it.
Paddon continues to improve on Tarmac
Photo / Getty Images
Hayden Paddon appears to be getting over his struggles on Tarmac, with he and co-driver John Kennard recording a fourth-place finish at Rally RACC Catalunya on the weekend — their best ever result on the challenging surface.
Paddon was unlucky not to make it onto the podium, after a string of issues early in the weekend buried him down the order. But as the event progressed his speed improved and a selection of other cars in the order had issues and crashes. It set up a final-day shootout between the man from Geraldine and his Hyundai Motorsport teammate Thierry Neuville — Neuville eventually coming out on top by 12.8 seconds.
“We have continued with our learning curve and kept the pressure on. Even if we weren’t able to finish on the podium, I’m happy with what we’ve achieved over the three days. Ever since we changed some things on the car yesterday lunchtime, it’s been an improvement,” said Paddon.
A few garages across in parc ferme, Volkswagen celebrated a double victory; Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia securing both the rally win and the 2016 championship win.
Hartley takes fourth LMP1 podium in a row
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Brendon Hartley and his Porsche co-drivers Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard found themselves outgunned for overall pace at the latest round of the World Endurance Championship at Fuji in Japan, but that didn't stop them from grabbing another podium finish — the team's fourth on the trot.
Starting from the front row with Webber behind the wheel, who recently announced his impending retirement from motorsport, the #1 919 Hybrid slipped backwards as Toyota and Audi leaped into the leading two positions.
Though Hartley and co got the odd sniff of first and second throughout the six-hour race, they were always going to finish third as Toyota greeted the chequered flag first.
“I was the third driver in the car and had a pretty smooth stint. When I got back into the car I had a nice fight with the Toyota," said Hartley.
"In the end he was in front and didn’t change tyres at the last pit stop. We did change tyres and were obviously hoping to benefit from the competition’s tyre degradation, but that didn’t happen and we remained third. After three race wins in a row we of course would have preferred another one, but regardless it was a very strong race today.”
Enduro titles decided at Levels
Photo / Matthew Hansen
Trass Family Motorsport are fast establishing themselves as one of New Zealand's leading motorsport squads; having over the weekend complemented their maiden Mahindra North Island Endurance Series crown by collecting the Carters Tyres South Island Endurance Series title as well.
Needing to finish third at the series finale at Levels Raceway in Timaru, drivers Sam Fillmore and Danny Stutterd finished third behind race winners Dwayne Carter and Shane Hodgson, and second-place getters John McIntyre and Simon Gilbertson.
With issues early in the race for the Trass Ferrari handing ascendancy to the other two GT3 combinations on the grid, the race became one for fuel; Hodgson and Carter in their Mercedes-AMG SLS successfully completing the full race in one pit stop, compared to the two stops of McIntyre and Gilbertson in their Camaro GT3.
The one-hour series was also sown up, this time by Hugh Gardiner and his Greenlane Wash Depot Porsche 911 GT3 — sweeping the series with his third race win in a row.
Mixed bag for World Time Attack Kiwis
Photo / Rene Vermeer, timeattackR.com
The Yokohama World Time Attack Challenge continues to grow from strength to strength, with another highly competitive grid fronting up for Australia's biggest race against the clock.
Two New Zealanders lined up for the Open class; Andy Duffin and his tri-rotor Mazda RX-7, and Kat Benson and her Mitsubishi Evolution VII. Benson eventually finished a credible 23rd, while Duffin spent the weekend threatening the podium. He ultimately wound up finishing fifth, with a time of 1:30.4860 around Sydney Motorsport Park — quicker than the current Supercars lap record.
Speaking of Supercars, Brad Jones Racing regular Tim Slade was crowned the overall winner in the MCA 'Hammerhead' Nissan Silvia, formerly driven by Kiwis Earl Bamber and Shane van Gisbergen. Slade rocketed to the top of the tree early in the week with a record-breaking run, only to further lower it to a dizzying 1:22.912.
WTAC was also the home to the Justcar Insurance International Drift Challenge, which featured entries from all over the world including a strong contingent of New Zealanders.
'Mad Mike' Whiddett and Nico Reid were our top qualifiers, both cracking the top 10 on Friday night, but unfortunately neither would feature in the top eight after technical issues forced them both to the sidelines. Instead our two top-eight runners were Drew Donovan and Bruce Tannock — Tannock advancing to the eight after taking down the goliath of Daigo Saito and his monstrous Lamborghini Murcielago drift car. Sadly neither of them would progress further into the top four — the competition eventually won by Michael Rosenblatt.
Cassidy takes fourth in European F3 Championship
Photo / sourced
In a season that has seen him traverse the highs and the lows of motorsport on a regular basis, it was fitting that the final round of the 2016 FIA Formula 3 Championship would see Nick Cassidy balance a podium with a retirement.
Scooping a third-place finish in race one — a race in which his Prema Powerteam squad would claim a 1-4 result — Cassidy failed to finish race two. A dice early in the race with visiting English driver Alexander Sims saw the former Toyota Racing Series champ incur race-ending suspension damage.
Cassidy came back in the finale to take fourth, enough for him to clinch fourth place in the championship behind George Russell, Maximillian Gunther, and dominant series champ Lance Stroll — Stroll now likely to pursue a full-time seat in Formula 1.
Inkster and Winn back on top of Targa NZ
Photo / ProShotz
Glenn Inkster and Spencer Winn continue to etch their names into Targa NZ folklore, having won the latest edition of the event over the weekend with their EcoLight Motorsport Mitsubishi Evolution.
The rally was led early by the Mitsubishi Mirage Maxi of Chris West and Chris Cobham, with electrical gremlins stiffling Inkster's pace. But with the issues soon sorted the Evo was able to charge through the pack to claim another Targa victory — more than five minutes ahead of their nearest rivals, Martin Dippie and Jona Grant in their Porsche 991 911 GT3 RS.
It was an eventful final day all round, with several cars crashing out of contention; including the Volkswagen Polo R of John Rae. Technical problems also slowed the likes of Tony Quinn and Rotorua event winner Leigh Hopper — though both were able to salvage top-six finishes.