Evans keeps streak alive despite surprise challenge
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Simon Evans has successfully kept his winning momentum alive, after sweeping races two and three of the BNT NZ Touring Car Championship's weekend at Bruce McLaren motorsport Park; thus winning the round overall ahead of Nick Ross and Sam Barry.
“The conditions were very changeable and everyone was pitting at different stages. I really didn’t know where we were going to come out once everyone had done their stop,” said Evans.
“Overall, it’s a great start to the championship, two round wins in a row. Really looking forward to getting down to Ruapuna and Teretonga in January.”
The sweep means that Evans and his Smeg Racing outfit have won the first six races of the season — though the final race of the day was very nearly lost.
After winning race two over former NZV8 champion Nick Ross, Evans started the final heat of the day (a reverse-grid race) from eighth. He then drove through the order to be fourth by the time the field started to make their mandatory pit stops. The race up to that point had been led by Richards Team Motorsport's Jason Bargwanna.
The former Bathurst 1000 winner's car had been comprehensively altered since round one; RTM swapping out the Ford engine for a more familiar Toyota unit, before then trading the Ford front panels for Toyota Camry ones.
Electrical and overheating issues had forced the driver to sit out the opening race of the weekend, and then contact with Callum Quin in race two ensured he would finish down the order and start on the front row of the finale.
Having led the opening phase of the race, Bargwanna would lose the lead to the hard-charging Evans after a reported jammed wheel nut during his pit stop. However the Australian put up a fight over the final laps, setting the fastest lap of the race during his run.
Ultimately though it wouldn't be enough; Evans taking victory by just 0.325 seconds over Bargwanna, with Callum Quin claiming a podium on debut.
“It's been a tough start to the year for us. We rolled out the Falcon and it was a little under prepared, and we didn't get a chance to test it. [But] the team's done an amazing job since Pukekohe to turn what was a TLX Falcon into a TLX Camry,” Bargwanna told Driven.
“We really pushed hard in that race — the car ran almost perfectly.
“I thought we had it done, but then we had a jammed wheel nut in the stop. We came out and I looked over and I could see Simon was side by side, and I thought 'now this is on'.
“It's good to see that we've got his pace. Whilst he's had a real cracker of a start to the season, we're going to have a real cracking finish to the season.”
In Class Two the race wins were shared between Invercargill drivers Jamie Conroy and Liam MacDonald. MacDonald took the finale, while Conroy won race two — his first race win in the series after making the switch from open wheelers during the off season.
“It’s my first time here at Taupo, I wasn’t expecting to be on the pace straight away, but am really pleased with how the weekend went,” said MacDonald.
“I had a great battle with Jamie Conroy throughout the weekend and it was some of the best racing I’ve been involved with.”
“To win the championship is my goal now. If I can just keep being consistent and get podium finishes and bank points then a championship win is achievable.”
MWN Civil's Brad Lathrope rounded out the Class Two podium, despite clutch dramas in the final heat of the day sending plumes of smoke out from the back of his Ford Falcon.
The next round of the season is at Mike Pero Motorsport Park in Christchurch on January 14–15.