Local boy Conrad Clark has taken his first round win in the Hi-Q Components NZ Formula First Championship following a string of strong results at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park. Despite Clark taking the round win, it was Reece Hendl-Cox and Kaleb Ngatoa who produced the biggest stories of the weekend.
Hendl-Cox toke pole position while championship leader Ngatoa put in a lap time just 0.001s short of Hendl-Cox’s time to start alongside the latter from second. Chris Symon, still just a tenth slower than the fastest time, started from third while Amy Smith sorted the issues that have plagued her in the past, setting a time good enough to start fourth.
The opening race of the weekend saw the podium duo quickly separate themselves from the cars behind, setting up a dynamic battle to for the win all the way to the flag. There were a few moments that had the crowd on their feet, on the opening lap Hendl-Cox locked up and only just managed to keep it on the road and in third. Ngatoa nearly had a huge moment at the end of one of the fastest corners of the track, turn nine, when his rear wheel just ran off the road. The series leader raised heart rates again when he collected the rear wheel of Symon, causing the front of his car to launch in the air.
Hendl-Cox converted his pole position to a victory in race seven of the Championship while Chris Symon enjoyed finishing a Saturday race for the first time this season, taking second, with series leader Ngatoa third.
The dramatic championship changing events kicked off early Sunday morning as Hendl-Cox, after producing an impressive driver back through the field after a slow start, was disqualified from the race for a post-race incident.
At the end of the opening lap, young Blake Evans made an unfortunate mistake, running just wide onto the front straight and collecting the tyre barrier with the right side of his car. Evans rolled to a holt with terminal damage, dashing his hopes of a good result after slicing through the field during his only lap.
The incident prompted a safety car to recover the #16 car, bunching the field up again. Symon, leading the race, used his experience to get a good gap on Ngatoa and Callum Crawley at the restart. The pack quickly condensed again into a six-car train of Symon, Ngatoa, Crawley, Hendl-Cox, Clark and Liam Foster.
On the last lap, Symon would out-brake Ngatoa into the chase, and follow through for the race win while Hendl-Cox got by Crawley and Clark to cross the line third. However, his post-race exclusion promoted Crawley onto the podium.
The final race of the weekend started with Alex Hawley and Craig Greenwood colliding on at the opening corner, resulting in both spinning out of the race with damage. Symon was the next to run into trouble when he came grinding to a halt after his car lost ignition, forcing him to pull off the track and retire the car.
Then came the big moment of the race, Ngatoa suffering a steering failure and losing all control of the car as it directed itself into the tyre barrier at turn ten.
That then left a four-car battle for the win between Callum Crawley, Hendl-Cox, Clark and Smith. Crawley and Hendl-Cox lead the pack side by side into the chase on the final lap but Crawley couldn’t pull his car up and spun out of contention handing the win to Hendl-Cox. Crawley gathered it up to finish fourth, promoting Clark to second and giving Smith her first ever podium and the first podium place from a female in 15 years.
The weekend’s results have really shaken up the championship with Ngatoa’s lead shrinking to just 16 points over Crawley while the top five are separated by just 118 points with 225 on offer each round. Blake Evans’ crash has proved costly as he drops to five spots to 11th in the points and 163 points from rookie of the year leader Clark. Clark’s nearest rival is now Taylor Hurst who sits 140 points from the SpeedSport Scholarship driver.
The championship now takes a break over the summer before getting back into the action on February 2-4 at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park for round four of the championship. In the meantime, round highlights can be viewed at www.formulafirst.co.nz/tv .