Round 5 Toyota Racing Series
16 – 18 February 2007
Manfeild Autocourse, Feilding
I received a phone call on Monday asking if I would like to race in the Toyota Racing Series (TRS) that weekend and, by Wednesday night, I was on a plane and on my way to New Zealand.
I had never raced in New Zealand or the TRS before, so I was quite excited and a little nervous at the same time. I was allowed two rookie sessions on the Thursday which meant I could learn the car and the circuit before the rest of the competitors joined me on track on Friday.
Friday practice went well. I was 13th fastest in the first session, 8th in the second and 5th in the third. I felt that each session I was getting a better grasp of the driving technique required and the car set-up so I was eager to see how I went in qualifying on Saturday morning.
Unfortunately, I didn’t go so well. Although I went almost a second quicker than my best time on Friday, everyone else went quicker again and I qualified 11th only 8 tenths off pole. I was quite disappointed because that had to have been my worst qualifying result since my Formula Ford days, but I was looking forward to the races. Racing is my favourite part of the weekend and, with the times so close, I knew it was going to be very tough.
I got the car off the line OK but, as I headed up to turn 1, I was absolutely surrounded by cars. The car in front of me appeared to brake quite early but, with cars all around me, I could not take evasive action and had no choice but to brake as well. This meant that a couple of cars went around the outside of me into the turn so I came out in around 14th.
The first lap was full-on furious racing. Having never raced any of these drivers before, it is hard to know who you can trust and who will have you off in the dirt. Being so far down the order, however, I had no choice but to try and pass other cars which meant occasionally taking some risks. Luckily for me, the other drivers were tough but fair. The layout of the circuit and the banked corners meant passing was possible either under brakes heading into the turns, or around the outside. I used both and had some good battles as I moved forward. I worked hard to get into 10th position and then set my sights on the next group of cars in front. It appears I tried a little too hard, however, as on the last turn of the 10th lap, I went in WAY too hot and speared off the circuit, through the gravel and out the other side. I avoided hitting the tyre wall by centimetres. Annoyingly, the car would not restart so I was forced to sit and watch the last 3 laps from the side lines.
In the TRS, starting positions for race two are determined by your fastest lap in race one. Before spearing off, I had managed to set the 9th fastest time so I gridded up in position 9 for the start of race two.
My car felt great straight out of the box and I picked up one position on the first lap. For the next 2 or 3 laps I felt comfortable staying with the cars in front and looked for opportunities to move up more places. After about the 4th lap, though, the cars in front started to go faster whereas my car maintained the same speed. It was very frustrating to watch them pull away a tenth or two every lap and be unable to stay with them. I finished race two in 8th but, unfortunately, only set the 12th fastest lap.
Starting off position twelve for race three meant I was right in the thick of the action for the first lap. I was driving around the outside of a car as we went through turn two but ahead of me a car had spun right on my line. I managed to avoid hitting it but, in my mirrors, I saw other cars crash out right behind me. The red flag was deployed and the field made its way back to the start line for a restart as the carnage was cleared.
Over the first 8 laps of the race I steadily made my way through the field, just getting into the top ten before another red flag was deployed for an incident involving my team-mate, Barton Mawer, and local driver Christina Orr. I had been right behind them when the incident occurred and was forced off the track to avoid being hit myself. This unfortunately cost me a couple of spots so I dropped back to about 11th. There was another red flag to clear the cars from the circuit and then we were back racing.
The final 12 laps were uninterrupted and I made my way into 7th place, setting the 6th fastest time along the way. I was faster than the two cars in front of me but only just so even when I caught up to them it was very hard to find a way past.
Overall, I really enjoyed the weekend, but was disappointed that I was not more consistently towards the front. Hopefully, I will be able to go back again for another race and try to better next time.