Formula Holden's most dominant driver, Kiwi flier Simon Wills, will be out to win his third consecutive Tasman Express New Zealand Grand Prix Series and NZ Grand Prix, when the lightning fast Formula Holden machines take to the tracks for their ...
Formula Holden's most dominant driver, Kiwi flier Simon Wills, will be out to win his third consecutive Tasman Express New Zealand Grand Prix Series and NZ Grand Prix, when the lightning fast Formula Holden machines take to the tracks for their annual two round, four race championship battle commencing at Manfeild this coming weekend. Wills, coming off his second Holden Australian Drivers' Championship win, and a strong seventh place in the FAI Bathurst 1000 at Mount Panorama alongside fellow Kiwi and three time NZGP winner Craig Baird, will go into the series as the hot favourite.
After two years spent contesting the four race Tasman Cup on New Zealand's South Island, this year the championship moves north to Palmerston's Manfeild Autocourse and Auckland's Pukekohe venues. While Wills will be back for a crack at securing his third NZGP and Tasman Cup, behind him there's a host of Australian, New Zealand and International drivers all aiming at dislodging the FHolden King from his throne. A total of sixteen drivers will take to the Manfeild and Pukekohe circuits on consecutive weekends hell bent on claiming the coveted Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy and the prized New Zealand Motor Cup. With a new points system in place for this year's championship the battle should go right down to the wire.
The first round of the championship will be contested on the 3.03 kilometre Manfeild circuit, using a new clockwise configuration. A preliminary race, conducted over 20 laps, will take place on the morning of Sunday, November 26, followed in the afternoon by the 30 lap Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy race. The second round's pair of races will be held the following weekend on the famous and notoriously fast Pukekohe circuit located approximately 45 minutes drive from Auckland. The current Pukekohe lap record was set by Greg Murphy in 1995 and stands at 53.55s, an average speed of almost 190km/h - this is sure to be smashed during the hotly contested GP weekend.
The NZGP is one of the most famous GP's on record with numerous F1 stars of the past recording victory and inscribing their names on the prestigious New Zealand Motor Cup - something Wills has also done twice. The Grand Prix will be conducted over a 40 lap, 112 kilometre journey and will test the drivers strength and stamina, although they will be given a 28 lap preliminary race to get their eye in earlier in the day.
Whilst Wills and his Birrana team will go into the championship as warm favourites, there are a host of talented youngsters looking to upset the Birrana applecart. One of those is none other than Wills 2000 Gold Star team mate LeRoy Stevenson. Stevenson will be out to keep Wills honest on home soil and could back up Birrana's one-two from last year. The rejuvenated NRC outfit, fresh from a strong HADC championship challenge, go into the NZ series without their 2000 trump card Christian Murchison, but a pair of flying Kiwi's that will surely form a formidable combination. Former Ralt Australia pilot and Auckland resident Matthew Halliday jumps ship to the NRC team, as does fellow Kiwi Andy Booth. Booth showed good speed this year during limited HADC outings, and like Halliday, will be after victory to kick start a possible Indy Lights career in the USA.
Kevin Murphy's team has already achieved great Formula Holden success at Manfeild and Pukekohe and cannot be discounted. With Malibu based Emerson Newton-John bringing some entrepreneurial spice to the team, as well as a comprehensive International resume, they could surprise. Newton-John has tested the ex Tim Leahey 92D at Calder and Winton, recording competitive times and will be a strong podium contender in what is sure to be a hectic top ten. Silver Star Champion Peter Hill will occupy the seat of his regular 95D and after a strong performance at Mallala's final Gold Star round will be expected to join the Gold Star youngsters in combat. After a difficult year sorting the newest cars in the field, Chris Hocking's team will take Formula Ford winners Steve Owen and Stuart Kostera Jnr across the Tasman for the first time. Owen has the speed and racecraft to be a thorn in the side of the top three, and watch for him should it rain. Kostera will keep Owen honest and could be a revelation.
Another to keep a keen eye on will be eighteen-year-old Paul Dumbrell. Like Wills and Owen, he too, comes straight from the Bathurst enduro. Dumbrell's formerly K Mart liveried hybrid 93D is the car Scott Dixon drove in '98 and '99 and now sports some innovative aerodynamic mods. Complete with a late model sequential gearbox and a host of genuine go faster bits, the Trevor Sheumack (Dixon's '98 championship winning spanner) engineered machine will be in with a shout. Dumbrell has had his best year to date with string of top four performances and has been quick in testing.
In addition to the five professional teams making the trek across the Tasman, three of our strongest Silver Star competitors will be looking to knock off a gaggle of Kiwi namesake a little further down the field. Ian Peters, fresh from his Mallala rollover, Mark Ellis and Roger Oakeshott will take on Stan Redman, Dean Cockerton and Ian Lloyd in the battle for mid-field honours, which could also include a couple of last minute additions. News updates, practice times and all the stories from the Tasman Express New Zealand Grand Prix Series will be published on the official Formula Holden website - formulaholden.com - on each of the three practice, qualifying and race days for both events.