KNIGHT EMERGES AS A TITLE THREAT - HARFORD WINS DAN HIGGINS TROPHY RACE Christchurch driver Andy Knight emerged as a serious title prospect and Wellingtonian Ben Harford scored a breakthrough win at an all-action fifth round of the 2005 Toyota...
KNIGHT EMERGES AS A TITLE THREAT - HARFORD WINS DAN HIGGINS TROPHY RACE
Christchurch driver Andy Knight emerged as a serious title prospect and Wellingtonian Ben Harford scored a breakthrough win at an all-action fifth round of the 2005 Toyota Racing Series at Feilding's Manfeild Autocourse over the April 2/3 weekend.
The pair were the class of the large Toyota Racing Series field, Knight, 18, claiming his first pole position on Saturday morning then winning the first two races, and Harford - who set the second fastest time in qualifying - winning the third, from Knight and local hero Brendon Hartley.
For both drivers it turned out to be a weekend to remember, though for Knight there was an element of 'what might have been,' after brake problems saw him lose an early advantage, then the lead to Harford in the 20 lap Dan Higgins Trophy final.
"We still don't really know exactly what the problem was," Knight said, "but we think it was a leaky seal in the master cylinder. The pedal went away, then came back, went away then came back, then was fine again for the rest of the race."
Harford got a good start and was gifted second place when fast starter Daniel Gaunt spun off the track on the first lap.
"I was praying for a good start because I had been struggling with them, " he said "then Daniel went straight off. When I saw him go I thought sweet, I'll take second."
However there was more to come.
"Andy got a bit of a jump, " he continued, "then I saw him go into Splash and he got way out of shape and I was able to close the gap on him. At that stage I thought, OK I'll stay close and if it happens again I'm taking him.......and it happened again!"
Though Harford was able to get past Knight the young Christchurch driver - son of TRaNZam racer P.G. Knight and grandson of Powerboat legend Peter Knight - wasn't going to give up without a fight and he remained resolutely glued to the wing of Harford's Dallara-Toyota for the rest of the race.
Third in the final after a consistent weekend was Brendon Hartley, fourth fellow Palmerston North driver Chris Pither.
Hartley, at 15-years-of-age the youngest driver in the Toyota Racing Series, struggled with a tyre problem in qualifying and the first race - the right rear tyre eventually blowing on the back straight on the last lap - but ended up finishing each race in the points and retained second place in the overall series points standings.
Fellow former Kart and Formula Ford front-runner Chris Pither, 18, had one of his best runs of the series so far, finishing second in the first race, third in the second and fourth in the third.
Fifth in the final - after an inspiring charge back up through the field - was Auckland driver Daniel Gaunt. Though he was lucky not to stall when he spun on the first lap Gaunt's recovery drive was a joy to behold as he made up more than ten places, eventually crossing the finishing line 0.001 of a second in front of James Cressey and 0.739 of a second in front of Matthew Hamilton.
Hamilton, Cressey and championship points leader Brent Collins tangled in the first race and the trio spent the rest of the weekend playing catch-up, the damage to Collins' car so great that the Timaru driver decided on Saturday night to buy a new car to replace his damaged one.
"There just wasn't the time overnight to repair the car, so we had a family meeting and decided that we would bring forward the decision to buy the new car," Collins explained.
Though Toyota had a car available members of Collins's family-based team still had to work into the night to get it ready for Sunday's races, and in them, the 29-year-old - who up until this round has had a dream season - struggled on tyres which were well past their best.
"The guys - Paul Sheddon, John Palmer and Harry - got it finished at two o'clock in the morning, then started again at six, but we had a wee problem with the rear sway bar in the first race and in the second we had to put old tyres on and it was getting very slippery towards the end, " he said.
Despite the drama the 29-year-old former South Island and New Zealand Pro 7 champion retained his lead in the series points standings and heads to the final round at Pukekohe's Pukekohe Park Raceway in a fortnight with as good a chance as any to claim the inaugural Toyota Racing Series title.
<pre> 2005 Toyota Racing Series Rnd 5 Manfeild Autocourse Feilding Sat April 2
Race 2: 1. Knight 12 laps 2. Gaunt +2.182 3. Pither +8.409 4. Hartley +9.751 5. Munro +13.805 6. Crighton +14.378 7. Cressey +14.630 8. M. Hamilton +15.586 9. Collins +18.201 10. Spurdle +21.229 11. Higgins +21.654 12. Smith +21.959 13. F. Hamilton +29.243 14. Harford +29.892. DNF Crocker lap 4 DNF Edgell lap
Race 3 1. Harford 20 laps 2. Knight +0.634 3. Hartley +3.740 4. Pither +15.255 5. Gaunt +17.689 6. Cressey +17.690 7. Hamilton +18.428 8. Collins +22.652 9. Edgell +26.463 10. Smith +30.511 11. Spurdle +31.036 12. Ben Crighton +35.978 13. F. Hamilton +43.915 14. Higgins +52.298 DNF Munro lap 13 DNF Crocker lap 8
Points after Rnd 5 of 6 1. Brent Collins 833 2. Brendon Hartley 773 3. Andy Knight 769 4. Daniel Gaunt 732 5=.Matthew Hamilton 683 6=. Chris Pither 683 7. Ben Harford 645 8. Wade Cunningham 540 9. James Cressey 517 10. Ben Crighton 511