V8 UTE CHAMPIONSHIP HOTS UP
Local driver Chris Pither 'The Gypsy' constructed the perfect weekend as he took out Round 5 of the ENZED V8 Ute Challenge at Manfeild Park in Feilding this weekend.
After winning the opening race of the round on Saturday Pither added two more victories in his Gallagher XR8 Falcon on Sunday to win the round, move to second place in the championship and close the gap to series leader Caine Lobb 'The Ginja Ninja' of Whangarei. Lobb finished second overall at a track that did not suit his Mark Cromie Holden while Simon 'Jnr Burner' Beirne of Christchurch finished third overall for the round in his Team McDonald's Falcon. Beirne secured a third and a second placing before suffering a flat tyre in the finale, recovering to grab enough points to seal the final podium spot.
After a thrilling race on Saturday that was won by Pither, after he passed debutant Andrew Waite of Auckland on the final lap, today's opening race was another beauty.
Lobb had pole position in a reverse of the grid from the previous days marble draw format with Mike 'Buzz' Lightfoot alongside and Pither in third place. Meanwhile Beirne was on the outside of row three. Lobb led away while Pither emerged from the first corner in second place. It was Beirne who made the best start however, charging straight into third place from grid number six.
The opening laps were frantic with Lobb, Pither and Beirne embroiled in a furious dice. Pither briefly took the lead before Lobb grabbed it back only for Pither to take it for keeps at the start of lap three.
Beirne also made it past Lobb and the trio maintained that order to the finish with Pither winning from Beirne and Lobb. Mike 'Buzz' Lightfoot bounced back from an incident packed race the previous day to finish fourth. Scott 'Precious' McKelvie of Auckland continued his great recent form to cross the line next in his ICOM Holden. Another driver showing good form, Jeff 'Ripples' Kernohan of Turangi looked set to finish sixth in his Falcon only to be pipped by James 'Huggi' Urquhart in a Holden. The runner- up from the previous day, Andrew Waite in the Mainline Construction Holden slid off the track late in the race and finished eleventh.
The finale saw Pither on pole with Beirne alongside and Lobb third on the grid. They raced away in that order until Lobb passed Beirne on the second lap when Beirne picked up a puncture, Jeff Kernohan suffering the same fate a lap later. Pither was left in the lead from Lobb, Waite, McKelvie and the rest of the field and things seemed very settled. However a brief late race appearance of the safety car changed things dramatically for some. Pither got away well from the restart although Lobb took the opportunity to challenge briefly but he could not unsettle the leader.
Pither went on to cross the line ahead of Lobb and Waite to complete his clean sweep. Meanwhile Peter 'Rocketman' Robb, Peter 'Kaos' Ward and Urquhart all lost ground in the dash to the finish while Geoff 'SOS' Spencer was one of the main beneficiaries of it all, climbing to fifth.
Pither was rapt. "The new diff and driveshaft held together and there are a few tricks to Manfeild and I used them! It has been a solid round and gives us a crack at the championship. We are back in touch."
Lobb, meanwhile, was puzzled. "The circuit never suited us. We got some good points in the last race but our pace hasn't changed all weekend."
'The Team McDonald's Falcon ran like a dream," said Beirne. "When we got the puncture I got to the pits quickly and the boys did a good job to get us out without losing a lap. The safety car meant I caught up a place and that could make a difference in the final points."
Series debutant Waite, third in the final race, enjoyed his introduction to V8 Utes finishing fourth overall. "It was good fun," said the driver who has adopted the nickname DJ48.
McKelvie was fifth for the round, that effort promoting him to fourth in championship.
The Citizen Time Out Moment of the round was awarded to Mike 'Buzz' Lightfoot who endured a big scare when his bonnet flew open, blocking his vision in the opening race on Saturday.
The next round of the ENZED V8 Ute Challenge takes place at the Taupo Motorsport Park form 11-13 March.
The category enjoys the support of ENZED, UDC Finance, Radio Hauraki, Yokohama, Castrol, Citizen Watches, Exedy, Armorall, SCT and EFILive.