CRC MOTOR RACE SERIES November 25, 1998 KIWI Formula Holden stars Scott Dixon and Greg Murphy - each needing to prove he's New Zealand's Number One single-seater driver - may well have someone else to contend with at the front of the ...
CRC MOTOR RACE SERIES
November 25, 1998 KIWI Formula Holden stars Scott Dixon and Greg Murphy - each needing to prove he's New Zealand's Number One single-seater driver - may well have someone else to contend with at the front of the field in this weekend's Tasman Express Formula Holden races at Invercargill.
Young Austrian Robert Lechner, one of a 15-strong field set to line up at the Teretonga round of the CRC Motor Race Series, comes to Southland direct from a sensational showing at last weekend's prestigious Macau Formula 3 GP.
Lechner, runner-up in this year's German F3 championship, won pole against a class field including many of international single-seater racing's brightest rising stars.
The 21-year-old initially lost the Race 1 lead to Brazilian F3 star, Enrique Bernoldi, but came back to get alongside him on Macau's spectacularly-fast waterfront section - trying so hard to out-brake him that he almost put himself into the safety barriers. From there Lechner was forced to settle for second.
In the second race, the Austrian stalled on the startline - only getting going because he's so light that his car could carry a second battery. Remarkably, he fought back to fourth place behind a victory for Scot Peter Dumbreck.
Although it was a standout performance from a Macau first-timer, Lechner was disappointed: "I was on pole. I was top rookie. But all I can think is that bloody start cost me a place on the podium."
Although Adelaide team-owner Arthur Abrahams is talking cautiously about it taking the Teretonga meeting for Lechner to settle into one of his Formula Holden Reynards, the race-sharp Austrian is likely to join current Australian champion Dixon and former class star Murphy as equal-favourites on Sunday. With Murphy and Dixon both trying to secure spots in next year's Indy Lights series in USA, there's a lot to prove in this weekend's Tasman Express races and the pair to follow at the NZ Grand Prix in Christchurch a week later.
Murphy though has thrown a shadow over his Grand Prix start: He says he is bitterly disappointed that sponsorship backing for his NZ campaign appears to have fallen through at the last-minute - putting his Ruapuna appearance under threat.
"We still haven't got a budget - but we're working on it. We had a couple of things happening...but we got let down. As usual," says Murphy, who is scheduled to fly out to USA immediately after this weekend's meeting for an Indy Lights test. Dixon follows, with another team, straight after the December 6 GP.
In addition to Lechner, also likely to be up-front this weekend is Aucklander Simon Wills. Although he's recovering from a bruising collision a touring car at Bathurst, Wills has concentrated on single-seaters - with several British F3 seasons and a race-winning Formula Holden part-season this year.
And there are others with the potential to cause an upset, including young Mercer driver Jason Liefting - winner of a non-championship Formula Holden race already this year - and Queensland-based Kiwi superkart star Chris Staff. Lechner's Dutch team-mate Wouter van Eeuwijk also has credentials as a fast karter and Formula Ford driver who started late in this year's German F3 season but took top 10 finishes.
Wellington driver Ross Rutherford, who graduated from karting to TraNZams last summer, will make his Formula Holden debut at Teretonga.
Japanese driver Akihiro Asai is a Formula Holden regular this year and young Adelaide driver Brenton Ramsay shapes up at the head of an Australian contingent that comprises Ian Peters, Rodger Oakeshott, Damien Digby and Les Crampton.
Meanwhile, the crowd-pleasing head to head battle between longtime touring car star Craig Baird and ex-Formula Ford ace Shane Drake in V8 Chev Camaros TraNZams is on again.
Drake announced just a week ago that he'd failed to secure the sponsorship backing needed to defend his title in this summer's Enzed TraNZam Championship.
But a last-minute sponsorship deal will see Drake lining up for the series opener at Teretonga this weekend after all - the Mark Petch-owned Camaro now in BNZ Activator credit card livery.
For arch-rival Baird this is the last full series of his career as a fulltime racing driver and as Drake says: "Bairdo's got some unfinished business in the class having missed the title last time - and I want it back. So it should be good."
Young Aucklander Mark Porter makes his debut in the class at the wheel of another Chev - aiming to measure himself against Baird and Drake in deciding whether to repeat this year's Japanese GT championship campaign.
He's hoping he'll be right there with them and isn't fazed about driving the 650hp Camaro: "It's got four wheels just like any other car."
Christchurch driver Grant Silvester steps up from a Class 2 Ford Mustang last year to running the same car in Class 1 spec this season - joining a big field of TraNZams including former speedway sprintcar star Kerry Jones in his six-litre Camaro, more Camaros driven by South Islanders John Harcourt, Michael Johnston, Peter Knight Jnr and Eddie Fairbairn, the Mustang of Kim Buckley and the very quick Chev Lumina driven by Christchurch driver Terry Brown.
A pumped-up Kenny Smith has withdrawn from the NZ Grand Prix in favour of his campaign to win the FF1600 Championship and he goes to Teretonga determined to make his sacrifice worthwhile.
Smith's single-minded commitment to winning a title that's eluded him for almost a decade was obvious at last weekend's Manfeild season opener.
The 57-year-old was furious when what he said was mis-timing in the qualifying session pushed him off the front row of the grid - and then showed his commitment with some totally-committed dicing with fellow-contenders Brady Kennett, Phil Hellebrekers and Daynom Templeman.
Kennett goes into Teretonga's trio of races with a 14-point lead over Smith. Aucklander Templeman is only one point back and Hellebrekers and young guns Nicholas Ross, Robert Henderson and LeRoy Stevenson are handily-placed in the standings.