Young Kiwi avoids Toyota 86 chaos
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Last weekend's WD-40 Phillip Island 500 is likely going to be remembered for tyre chaos and penalties aplenty in the headline Supercars Championship races.
Aucklander Reid Harker, meanwhile, will remember it as his first international race event.
After back-to-back seasons competing in New Zealand's single-make Toyota 86 Championship, Harker decided to take on Australia's equivalent series -- also built around a field of Toyota 86 pocket rockets -- with the goal of using it as a stepping stone to either GTs or Supercars.
Flying the silver fern on the sides of his car, Harker showed impressive speed and ability to claim two top-10 finishes, 10th and eighth, across the category's three races (the latter coming after he ducked around a spin that caused a 10-car pile-up). It was a notable effort considering the 38-car grid, and it was Harker's first drive of the car and the track.
"I didn't really know what to expect, but thought that we'd be fairly competitive if we had the right car and got on top of the set-up. But it was quite fierce," Harker told Driven.
"I've still got a fair bit of work to do, but I'm happy with the result for our first effort. Every time I go out on the track I'm picking up things."
The 21-year-old's most impressive showing was in race one. A tardy start dropped him back to 21st, but by the end he had passed 10 cars to make it to 11th (a post-race penalty for another driver gifted him 10th). It's no wonder Harker is hopeful of challenging the pointy end of the grid later in the season.
"I reckon we can fight for the top five in the next round, and hopefully pick up some race wins further down the track," he said.
"I guess the main thing [to consider] is our racecraft, although I back myself as a racer in a pack. If there's any major challenge or hurdle to overcome, I just think it's about putting all the little pieces together. Making good moves, getting good starts, and having clean runs."
Harker is one of two Kiwis on the grid this season, with reigning champ on home soil Ryan Yardley also stepping up. His debut was much more difficult, underlined by a spin at 200km/h caused by another driver. The pair are the third and fourth New Zealanders to race in the series, after John Penny and Ash Blewett made cameos last year.
Despite this being Harker's first crack at the international stage, he's quick to swipe aside suggestions of pressure.
"Watching it on TV, it may seem like quite a full-on experience but once you're in the heat of battle, that goes out the back door.
"Of course you feel nervous, but it's no different to back home."
Harker and Yardley now get a break before the next round at the Townsville 500 on July 7-9.