NZ Performance Car - - Talk Circuit -

As al­ways, the bumpy, nar­row con­fines of Pukekohe de­liv­ered a bruis­ing en­vi­ron­ment for the open­ing round of the Toy­ota 86 Cham­pi­onship.

Five of the 17 cars that fronted to the open­ing round came away with sig­nif­i­cant dam­age, falling vic­tim to the massive kerbs at the ‘ esses’, the ab­sence of run-off at Rail­way Cor­ner and the un­for­giv­ing high-speed run up to the Pukekohe ‘moun­tain’ — or sim­ply tan­gling in a syn­chro­nised back-straight crash.

At a fast and bumpy cir­cuit where the cars reach speeds in ex­cess of 200kph and rail through cor­ners at an easy 145kph and more, hard on the anti-lock brakes and slam­ming the rip­ple strips lap after lap, driv­ers have to trust the safety and strength of their cars im­plic­itly. The TR 86 cars built for the se­ries have massive brakes, a multi-point full roll cage, a race seat, and six-point safety har­ness, and all driv­ers must use a HANS de­vice neck brace to limit neck in­juries in se­ri­ous crashes.

When the rac­ing is this close and this in­tense, it is in­evitable that metal will make con­tact with metal. Crashes were a fea­ture of all three races at Pukekohe, with Auck­land racer Ja­cob Smith and Te Puke’s Michael Scott com­ing off worst. First Smith spun off the track in qual­i­fy­ing, dam­ag­ing his car and bring­ing the ses­sion to an end. He later com­mented, “I could see it com­ing so I got my hands away from the steer­ing wheel, and just made sure my head was be­tween the seat re­straints. The seat and my har­ness and neck re­straint kept me safe.”

Then, in the first race, Aussie Drew Ridge spun his Al­bany Toy­ota TR 86 through the esses and clouted an in­no­cent Smith, who was turn­ing into Rail­way. The im­pact put Ridge straight, but nudged Smith into the tyres. This time Smith’s Tony Richards Toy­ota TR 86 was too badly dam­aged to con­tinue. Tom Stokes and Mike Light­foot got to­gether on the back straight too, and both spun across the track. Stokes’ car limped away with bent chas­sis rails from the tan­gle, Light­foot’s wore panel dam­age, but the core strength of the car and its FIA-spec roll cage en­abled him to re­join the fray the fol­low­ing day.

Young racer Miles Cock­ram, step­ping up from karting, was find­ing the lim­its of grip — first at Rail­way, where he backed his car into the tyre wall, then in the fi­nal race go­ing for an un­in­ten­tional 180kph slide down the grass at the ‘moun­tain’.

There was worse to come for front-run­ner Michael Scott, who came through the first and sec­ond races un­scathed and in the top five over­all. Head­ing through the fast left-hand cor­ner go­ing up onto Pukekohe‘s ‘moun­tain’ in race three, he clipped the rear of Matt Lock­wood’s car at 143kph and was launched into a spin that be­came a bar­rel-roll in the safety gravel trap. His North­land Toy­ota car flipped up and over the safety catch fenc­ing, com­ing to rest along­side pit lane. Scott walked from the in­verted car, shaken but un­hurt.

“The safety gear was awe­some, the roll cage pre­served the in­tegrity of the driver space and my seat and har­ness did their job re­ally well,” he said af­ter­ward.

Well pro­tected through the massive ro­ta­tions forces of the rollover, he was shaken but not stirred, and the fol­low­ing morn­ing was on a plane back to Christchurch to study for his end-of-year en­gi­neer­ing de­gree ex­ams.

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