Pitstop

Eric Thompson is a motoring writer

Pitstop: Halliday hoping Champ Car test will translate into drive

By BOB PEARCE

Auckland racing driver Matt Halliday is heading to the United States for an official two-day test with top Champ Car team Mi-Jack Conquest Racing.

The test is scheduled to take place at the historic Sebring circuit in Florida on February 4 and 5.

Halliday raced for Conquest in the 2001 Indylights Championship in which he finished sixth overall despite contesting only nine of the 12 races.

He was subsequently injured in an oval race in the US but came back to compete in the Renault V6 championship in Europe, where he had an impressive podium finish in a support race to the Monaco Grand Prix.

For the past two seasons he has been a front-runner in the Porsche GT3 series on his home circuits.

Halliday has been negotiating the test over the past 18 months and hopes a successful performance can lead to a fulltime seat in the Champ Car races, which are contested in the US, Canada, Mexico and Australia.

He has begun the search for sponsorship in time for the first race at Long Beach on April 10.

Pukekohe ready soon

Auckland motorsport fans can enjoy some good news at last after months of disappointments. Despite Auckland's weather, the Pukekohe racing circuit is on track to reopen on March 1.

The circuit has been closed since November for long-delayed drainage work and an upgrade of the horse-training track.

Greg Mitchell, general manager of Pukekohe Park, says Auckland's appalling weather in the early summer caused some delays but an extra month had been factored in from the start.

The drainage improvements have necessitated cuts in the track by the hill seating and near the bridge and a drain has been excavated between the track and the stands down the main straight.

The opportunity was taken to upgrade the sewerage and cuts for this were made on the first corner after the front straight and close to the hairpin. All the cuts will be consolidated and resealed and there will also be new seal in the Esses and into the back straight.

A round of the national motorcycle road racing championship is scheduled for the first weekend in March and the Aussie V8s will be on track on the weekend of April 16-17.

The annual historic motorcycle festival has moved to April 30.

Counties Racing Club has already shifted one galloping meeting and the February 23 date is also likely to be moved because grassing after the $2.2 million upgrade is unlikely to be complete.

Scott chasing hard

Kayne Scott, the Hamilton driver who won two of the V8 races at Teretonga in a Petch Holden, promises further improvements in the car but is doubtful if he can catch series leader Wade Henshaw.

"We lost too much ground in the first round at Pukekohe where we had problems and then had the car destroyed," he said.

"Since then we've made heaps of changes to the new car and there is more to come.

"The crew have shown relentless commitment and each race weekend they put in three days of superhuman effort."

Scott says Henshaw in a Holden, John McIntyre in a Ford and himself had broken away from the pack in terms of performance.

Henshaw leads the championship with 792 points from Andy Booth (Holden) with 642, Scott with 587, Paul Manuell (Holden) with 567 and McIntyre with 523.

McIntyre, who had a horror weekend at Teretonga, did have the consolation of setting a new lap record, lowering last year's mark by just over a second to 1m 3.131s.

Popularity test

The popularity of the new Toyota racing class will be tested this weekend when the cars race at Ruapuna without the premier V8 tourers.

Auckland team owner Mark Petch, who runs both a V8 Holden and two Toyotas, was impressed by the crowd of close to 12,000 at Teretonga last weekend and questioned some of the spectators about what had drawn them in.

Most said the V8s were the big attraction ahead of the Toyotas and the New Zealand Grand Prix in Formula Fords.

Briscoe to join Dixon

Aussie Ryan Briscoe was named yesterday to join Scott Dixon and Darren Manning in a third Ganassi car for the Indycar championship.

Briscoe, who worked last season as a test driver for the Toyota Formula One team, is due to test with his new team at Miami.

New blood for teams

Two of the New Zealand-owned teams in the Aussie V8 supercar championship have made significant changes in their support staff ready for the new season.

Team Dynamik, which runs Aucklander Simon Wills, has made three new appointments.

Former England test cricketer Ian Greig has joined the team as commercial director in a bid to enhance the team's off-track profile. And the team's Brisbane engine shop has gained ex-Dick Johnson Racing engine troubleshooter Peter Wallace and powerplant guru Steve Dewhurst.

Team Kiwi, meanwhile, has snaffled New Zealander Alan Draper, one of the most experienced and successful engine technicians in Australian touring car racing from Team Dynamik. Draper has worked for Johnson.

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