Motorsport: Top names at Taupo promise serious racing

By Eric Thompson

Ant Pederson will partner former A1GP racer Matt Halliday in the Taupo V8 SuperTourer enduro races. Photo / SportProMedia.com/Euan Cameron
Ant Pederson will partner former A1GP racer Matt Halliday in the Taupo V8 SuperTourer enduro races. Photo / SportProMedia.com/Euan Cameron

On paper, the list of drivers in the first of the V8 SuperTourer enduro races at the Taupo Motorsport Park should make for a great weekend's racing.

Some top international names are arriving to get their first taste of the new generation V8 race cars. Mingled with the local drivers who have already cut their teeth during the sprint rounds, any one of 10 combinations look good for the win.

Probably at the top of the international pecking order is former Jaguar, Red Bull, BMW and Hispania Formula One race and test driver Christian Klien who is paired with Geoff Emery in the second Supercheap Auto car.

Not only has he raced at the highest level in single seaters, Klien also has race kilometres under his belt in Le Mans prototypes.

Other open wheel racers with an international pedigree and a local connection are former two-time Indy Lights champion, and three-time Freedom 100 winner Wade Cunningham and A1GP and Porsche exponent Matt Halliday.

Cunningham will share driving duties with Jonny Reid, also handy in an A1GP car and a Porsche, and Halliday will partner Ant Pedersen.

Reid lost to inaugural sprint series champion John McIntyre by two points, and is looking forward to continuing the battle for the overall driver's title.

"Wade and I are certainly going into the race with a vision of winning," said Reid. "We've been practising our stops and trying to get every little bit out of it we can. We've improved so much the difference is almost like night and day."

Although not a full-on endurance race like the Australian V8 Supercars events, the Taupo event has two 200km races. Driver changes can be made off-course and wheel changes are permitted, but refuelling is barred.

"From lights to flag the racing is going to be all on," said Reid. "It can't be a conservative race, you've just got to go out there and get on with it. It's going to come down to the whole team doing the job properly.

"I'm quite relaxed and confident looking forward to the racing."

As well as heavyweights from Australia - including recent V8 Supercar almost pole sitter Jonathon Webb - having a go in the new V8ST car, Reid will also have an old adversary from his A1GP days to look out for.

Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen - who raced extensively and successfully for Team Holland in A1GP and was twice European Porsche Cup champion joins Colin Corkery in a Ford Falcon.

"Bleekemolen comes from a very extensive background in Porsche racing so he'll bring with him a whole lot of experience and he'll be able to race competitively as he's been to Taupo before," said Reid.

"With the talent on show you can't really say any one team will have an advantage.

"That's what's really gets me going - I love a challenge and I'm really excited about the weekend."

New Zealand's youngest Formula Ford champion, Australian Porsche Carrera Cup and V8ST regular Andre Heimgartner, is in the field with the experienced former V8SC pilot Paul Morris.

Several of the other drivers also have international single seater experience. They include double Toyota Race Series champion Daniel Gaunt in the Tasman car, current NZV8 Ute Champion Andrew Waite, and last year's TRS champion Nick Cassidy, who is with Jack Perkins in the Greg Murphy M3 Racing Holden Commodore.

Sixteen drivers in the field, including McIntyre, will be on duty at Bathurst in a few weeks. The former NZV8 champion has made a good start to the new V8ST series, taking early honours by winning the sprint part of the championship.

The team has completed testing at the Taupo circuit and is the only team in the field to nominate Taupo as their test track.

"This is the first time as a team owner I've had to put my faith in another driver [Jono Lester]," said McIntyre. "There are a lot of unknowns, and our team hasn't done pit stops before.

"It will come down to the teams with the best set-up and the fittest and most accurate drivers over the distance.

"We hope we will have the pace to be at the front and I'd say that it will be a very fast pace for the entire distance of 200km for both races."

Testing this morning will be done in two one-hour sessions. In the first session either regular driver or the co-driver may drive the car. But in the second session only the co-driver will be permitted in the car. During the afternoon, two qualifying sessions - one for each driver - will be run.

Each driver must complete a qualifying session and times set by each will denote the team's starting position for the two races on Sunday. In the races themselves, each driver must start a race before a compulsory driver swap between laps 30 and 40 occurs.

Both races will be in excess of 200km and the teams can decide how much of that distance each driver completes within the defined 10-lap pit window.

- NZ Herald

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