Motorsport: Ford on the hunt

By Eric Thompson

The Australian V8 Supercars roar into Hamilton this weekend for the second round of their championship, for the second time, around the streets of the Frankton district.

New Zealand hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Ford, and last year's move from Pukekohe south to Hamilton bought hope of a breakthrough win. It wasn't to be, as Ford left New Zealand without a round win for the eighth time in a row. Holden driver Garth Tander was supreme in winning three from three at the inaugural Hamilton 400.

"They were three very good races," said Tander at the end of the weekend in 2008. "It's a fantastic result for us and it's a bit of revenge here in New Zealand after 2007 [his wheel nut jammed]."

This year's event could change Ford's luck as defending V8 champion, Vodafone Ford driver Jamie Whincup, is hot to trot, carrying on his title-winning form from last year. He picked up maximum points at the first round in Adelaide and is looking to make his mark in Hamilton this year.

Whincup had a big accident last year after being clipped by Todd Kelly during qualifying that ended in his car being totalled before racing had even started.

However, what that weekend did was to motivate Whincup for the rest of the season and he finally got rid of the bridesmaid tag - having finished second three years in a row - when he not only won Bathurst again, but also his first V8 Supercar title.

Not being put off after last year's big crash, Whincup is chomping at the bit to get back to Hamilton and actually race around there.

He has been heard to say it's a circuit he loves and parts of it are some of the best driving around. But this year he'll no doubt be happy to make the grid for the first race on Saturday, and then see how things pan out from there on in.

For the first time in ages the series is wide open. Now all the teams, with their various new pairings and driver changes, have had their first hit out, round two here in NZ should see who's got the goods and who hasn't come late Sunday afternoon.

Greg Murphy showed promise last year with good car speed but nothing really came of it and, after one round, is in 17th place on the points table. He'll want to improve on a seriously bad 2008, by his standards, with only a second at Bathurst with fellow Kiwi Jason Richards as the highlight.

Richards, having left Tasman Motorsport, is now at Brad Jones Racing and appears to have the goods to match his talent. He is the best placed Kiwi in the series; in fifth place, 15 points behind Steven Johnson.

"I'm really excited about this season - it's like the first day at a new job," said Richards. "The car's going great as it gets out of the corners better, making the straights longer."

After leaving Paul Morris Racing moving to the Paul Cruickshank Racing outfit, another Kiwi, Fabian Coulthard, is enjoying fighting it out at the front of the field, currently in 10th place. Coulthard is driving the ex-Whincup championship winning Triple Eight-built FG chassis Ford. Young Stone Brothers Racing Kiwi driver Shane van Gisbergen continues to improve in only his second year in the main game and for a 19-year-old is showing a lot of maturity and race craft. He'll be hoping to improve on his seventh place after the New Zealand round of the series.

Other than Whincup, the other Aussies to keep an eye on are Will Davison, second in the championship, and the hard-charging Lee Holdsworth who's just behind him in third. Although he's languishing back in 12th, keep your eye on Tander as he likes it here in New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 14 Jul 2014 00:18:17 Processing Time: 1772ms