As the BNT NZ Touring Car Championship heads to its final round of the 2016/17 season at Hampton Downs this weekend, there is still plenty to play for in both class one and two.
Reigning class one champion Simon Evans in his Smeg Holden holds a healthy lead, with 198-points over Tom Alexander. With 75 points on offer for a race win, if Evans wins the first race of the weekend the championship will go to the Smeg racer with two races to go.
In class two the points gap between first and second place is closer. Liam MacDonald holds a 127-point lead over Brad Lathrope. If MacDonald wins race one, and Lathrope finishes fifth or lower, then the championship will go to MacDonald with two races to go.
But in motorsport, anything can happen, so fans may see the championship remaining alive and coming down to the final race in both classes.
Evans, who has won 11 races this season and only finished outside the podium on two occasions, says he won’t be playing the conservative card at Hampton Downs.
“We come here with a healthy championship lead and our focus is to win races, so we’ll treat it like any other weekend and win as many races as we can,” says Evans.
Evans says that with wet weather likely to fall over the weekend, it should be a leveler for the field.
“Everyone is quite experienced at Hampton Downs, so I don’t think there will be one particular driver with an advantage. The wet weather should be a good leveler and I expect the Toyota Camry’s of Jason Bargwanna and Sam Barry to be strong, so too the Nissan Altima of Nick Ross.”
“And Tom Alexander will be hunting for his first win.”
Despite holding second place in the championship, Alexander has gone winless all season.
“We haven’t been able to grab that first win yet and would love to get it before the end of the season, I know it’s not going to be an easy task but the team and I will do our best to try and make this happen,” says Alexander.
Alexander says that though there is a significant points gap between he and Simon Evans, anything can happen in motorsport.
“We are still in the fight for the championship mathematically but Simon has been mega quick all year as we knew he would be. He has a pretty handy points gap going into the round, it won’t be easy but we will never give up because motorsport can be a cruel game at times and you never know what can happen.”
“We still have to be wary of the Camry’s behind us too, but we will just get out there do our best – that’s all we can really do and see where that puts us at the end of the weekend.”
Further back in the field, there are plenty of other championship positions also up for grabs.
Sam Barry is chasing second place in the class one championship. He currently sits in third place, 158 points behind Tom Alexander.
Also poised to strike and take opportunity of possible misfortune is Barry’s teammate, Australian Jason Bargwanna. The plucky Australian is a two-time NZ Touring Car Champion and a former winner of the Bathurst 1000 and brings a wealth of experience with him.
In class two, Brad Lathrope will be focused on positioning himself to take advantage should championship leader Liam MacDonald strike trouble.
“Heading into the final round of the championship I’m looking forward to finishing on a high,” says Lathrope.
“Liam has had a great run so far and has been the bench mark all season. Realistically to catch him I need a lot of luck my way. Mathematically there’s a chance but for me to make up the 127 point difference I’d need him to have an uncharacteristically bad round.”
It’s also a close points spread over the rest of the class two competitors. Jamie Conroy currently holds down third place in the championship, followed by Chelsea Herbert, Nick Farrier and Simon Fleming. The four drivers only covered by 107 points. Third place could go to any one of the four.
A 20-car grid is expected for the final round, with three races to be run over Saturday and Sunday at Hampton Downs.