BAPTISM OF FIRE FOR LESTER IN ADELAIDE The temperature off the track may not have reached the soaring 40-plus figures that the Clipsal 500 Adelaide is commonly known for, but the action on the track was enough to singe the hair off the beards...
BAPTISM OF FIRE FOR LESTER IN ADELAIDE
The temperature off the track may not have reached the soaring 40-plus figures that the Clipsal 500 Adelaide is commonly known for, but the action on the track was enough to singe the hair off the beards of many a tipsy race fan. At the centre of the action was the V8 Supercars and their two 250km endurance races, and providing some scintillating support to the main event was the Porsche Carrera Cup championship with the first round of its 2008 season.
Joining the action for the first time was 18-year old Jono Lester; the young kiwi set to experience not only his debut street race at the Clipsal 500, but also his first race outside of New Zealand, and first impressions were lasting for the youngster.
"Upon walking the track on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, it was clear that this place takes no prisoners," Lester said. "It's fast, bumpy and surprisingly undulating - a real challenge."
After laying eyes on his newly acquired ex-Tony Quinn GT3 Cup Car for the first time, Lester hit the track for two acclimatisation sessions which were used to full effect in preparation for qualifying on a warm Friday afternoon.
Having had the opportunity to 'sleep on it' overnight, Jono and his Greg Murphy Racing crew were confident of bumping themselves up the timesheets in the 30-minute qualifying run, however a number of interruptions both on and off the track and a crucial mistake by the 2008 Taupo A1GP winner saw an eventual outcome of thirteenth on the grid for the opening race.
"I made a real blunder of qualifying," Lester admitted soon after. "With such little time on the track beforehand, I knew I'd have to do the best part of the whole session to continue the learning process.
My tyres weren't at their best for my big shot - on the last lap of the session - by after two sectors I was close to a second up on my previous best. All was looking good and a top six or seven lap time was on the cards, but I overcooked my braking into the turn nine hairpin, ran wide and that was that."
Lester very quickly learned in race one that no matter where you are positioned in the field the drivers race hard and in a frantic manner. Running as high as ninth at one point, Jono made slight contact with Rodney Forbes towards the end of the race; the slight loss of composure allowing Rodney Jane to slip by leaving the Blackwoods car in eleventh spot at the finish.
Race two got off to a great start as Jono slipped by a handful of cars in the run to the treacherous opening chicane, before a spinner in the middle of the pack left Lester with nowhere to go but directly into the path of another car which had also come to grief.
"It came from a long way back," Lester said. "There was a cloud of smoke and my only option was to duck to the right of the spinning car. Unfortunately when I did so I saw another car facing me and we made heavy contact into the sand trap."
As an innocent party in another driver's accident, the late night repair was slightly ironic for Jono and the team, and the final race of the weekend beckoned with a mighty goal ahead.
From the rear of the twenty car grid, Lester made a superb launch and did his best to keep out of trouble on the opening laps. When the race settled down, passing became increasingly difficult as Jono struggled with a slight engine power deficiency that had marred him for the entire weekend to date. Even so, he became enthralled in a spectacular six car battle that lasted the duration of the race - fifteenth place the final result.
Not the best possible end to the weekend, but Jono was optimistic at the finish.
"We've learned an amazing amount this weekend," he said. "For starters, I must admit that I totally underestimated the Clipsal circuit and the competition I have come up against over here.
"These guys can drive, and right throughout the field there isn't one driver who isn't hungry for every position they can muster. With that in mind, I've got to say that I had a fantastic weekend with some of the best racing since my days in Formula First.
"We were a little bit penalised with the car this weekend. It was totally foreign to us and the engine was a little bit lacking, but it was as much myself as it was the machinery, and with a fresh engine rebuild and a re-think of my approach and goals prior to Melbourne, I think we can expect a more positive result."
Speaking of positive results, Jono Lester hopes for the same to come at the penultimate round of the 2007/08 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge at Timaru this coming weekend. Back on home soil once again and in third overall in the points standings, we would expect nothing less.