Motorsport: Kiwi drivers racing against the world

By Eric Thompson

New Zealanders pit their skills in grands prix, a 24-hour race and V8s

Brendan Hartley will drive in round eight of the Grand Am Rolex series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the three-hour endurance race.
Brendan Hartley will drive in round eight of the Grand Am Rolex series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the three-hour endurance race.

It's a bumper weekend for New Zealanders racing in motorsport, with drivers competing in everything from 24-hour endurance events, single seaters, saloon cars and big V8s.

Mitch EvansThe 19-year-old Kiwi is back behind the wheel of his Arden International GP2 car at the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix this weekend and is hoping for a change of fortune.

The Aucklander has had an up-and-down season experiencing everything from podium finishes to mechanical dramas. As with most young fellas at that age, he's a bit miffed things haven't quite panned out as he hoped but is chuffed to be able to go racing again this weekend.

Evans sits 11th in the championship and knows a good performance at the Hungaroring will move him well inside the top 10. After the fast circuits encountered at the past two rounds at Silverstone and Nurburgring, the drivers will have to come to grips with one of the slowest and more technical tracks on the calendar.

The extreme heat and twister nature of the track will impose added stress on the teams but Evans is confident he's got the goods to make an impression. "It's great to be back in the car," said Evans. "As you know we had a few missed opportunities at Silverstone and Germany and I really want to get some good results for myself and the team.

"I think it's coming but you have to be in exactly the right place and if there is so much as the smallest thing out of line it makes it hard to get a result. The championship is just so competitive.

"We've been quick in qualifying and have shown great race pace and if we can get everything aligned we'll be able to challenge for a podium."

Richie StanawayJoining Evans at the Hungarian Grand Prix are two other Kiwi drivers, Richie Stanaway and Earl Bamber. Bamber is filling in for a one-off drive, having set the Asia Carrera Cup series alight winning numerous races and leading the championship.

Stanaway, on the other hand, is doing the full season with French outfit DAMS and despite a few mishaps, sits eighth in the series and is the third best rookie in the field.

The rookie championship is a bit of a misnomer. In Supercup parlance it just means a driver hasn't raced that particular championship before, but could have been racing Porsches all his life.

Stanaway is the only driver in the field who's never raced a Porsche before, let alone a Porsche series somewhere else in the world.

"The good thing this weekend is that we have tested at the Hungaroring this year and at least this time I won't be heading into the race cold turkey," he said.

"I've just got to try and do my best and put in a good performance and finish further up the field. I'm a bit frustrated not to be doing better but I am finishing where I'm being expected to be. Obviously it's a bit of a learning year and the class is really competitive and it's really hard to just get inside the top 10."

Brendon HartleyStarting to carve out a name for himself in sportscar racing after a sterling effort at the recent Le Mans 24 Hour race where he and his Murphy Prototypes LMP2 team finished a creditable seventh in class, Brendon Hartley has winged his way across the Atlantic this weekend.

The Kiwi is belting up for round eight of the Grand Am Rolex series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the three-hour endurance race.

Hartley has shown excellent pace in the American series, qualifying on the front row and setting the fastest race lap times on numerous occasions.

Driving the Starworks Daytona Prototype again this weekend, Hartley feels the time's right to get on to the podium again.

"We've been really quick in the American races so far this year," he said.

"We're looking good this weekend hopefully for a win. We've got the pace, that's for sure."

Matt HallidayUS-based New Zealander Matt Halliday is debuting at one of the most famous 24-hour endurance races in the world this weekend at Spa Francorchamps for the Total 24 Hours of Spa. He joins up with his teammates in the Belgium Audi Club Team WRT R8 car for round four of the Blancpain Endurance Series for GT sports cars.

Halliday has been pleased during testing by lapping comfortably within the top 10 and is confident he will be well on the pace come race day. However, he is also aware that consistency as well as speed could be the key to success.

Having taken out overall victory in the 2011 race, and finishing runners-up last year, the team is well primed for success especially after one of their cars set the fastest lap time in pre-event testing a fortnight ago.

"It's pretty exciting to be part of the Audi effort at Spa," said Halliday after his first practice. "The 24 hours of Spa is the biggest GT endurance race in the world and the track, as we know, is one of the original big boys that requires huge commitment on a normal day.

"We haven't got the fastest race car but it is a 24-hour race. Outright pace won't win here, it takes consistency and that's what we have."

V8 SupercarsCloser to home there are three Kiwi V8 drivers looking to improve on the V8 Supercars leader board this weekend at the Coates Hire Ipswich 360, round eight of the championship.

Fabian Coulthard, Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin will have their work cut out as the bloke who lies second in the series, Craig Lowndes, has won the past five races at the Paperclip on the spin.

On top of that, series leader Jamie Whincup had a most unaccustomed event last time out in Townsville, not even remotely looking like getting on the podium. He won't be a happy bunny and Red Bull Racing Australia will have to up their game at their home track if more points aren't to be eroded from the defending champion's lead.

Young McLaughlin has just signed an extension to his tenure with Gary Rogers Motorsport until 2016 and is itching to get his season back on track. Hopefully Ipswich will be the place to do it, but the Kiwi is not a big fan of the 60/60 Super Sprint format.

"I hate the sprint format, it doesn't reward anyone who wins the first part of the race," said McLaughlin. "Every time I've been in a good position after the first part I've been punted off on the re-start. And if that's not bad enough, setting the car up here [Ipswich] is a fine balance.

"You have to get it to work on the slow corners, handle well on the fast bits and then there are all the bumps.

"We've got a bit of pace in the car and it went well in testing - we'll be right."

Van Gisbergen is best placed of the Kiwi drivers in fifth with Coulthard in seventh and McLaughlin just outside the top 10 in 11th.

- NZ Herald

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