SsangYong Racing Series defending champion Daniel Connor rebounded from a difficult previous round at Hampton Downs to win Round 5 of the Series at Manfeild, from Chelsea Herbert and Royce Rollinson.
The SsangYong Racing Series featured at Manfeild as one of the classes of the prestigious NZ Grand Prix weekend.
It was the SsangYong Racing Series' first visit to Manfeild and another colourful and impressive line-up of 27 drivers raced in three very exciting and competitive races, which provided lots of action right through the weekend.
Special 'guest driver' at Manfeild was 1985 European Touring Car Champion and former Spa 24 Hour race winner Gianfranco Brancatelli. Italian Brancatelli hadn't raced for 16 years, and was back in New Zealand for the first time since the iconic Wellington Street Races, to drive a recently imported Volvo Group A Historic Touring Car the following weekend at Teretonga. With nothing else on over the weekend at Manfeild, he took up an offer to race a SsangYong Actyon Ute.
Championship leader Jayden Dodge was the fastest qualifier in his Stadium Finance sponsored #91 Actyon Ute for the third consecutive round, ahead of Joel Herbert in his #62 MTF Finance sponsored SsangYong, with Connor qualifying third. Again, highlighting how competitive the SsangYong Series is, the top 15 in qualifying at Manfeild were covered by just one second.
Dodge won an eventful race one on Saturday in hot, sunny conditions from the pole, clearing out in the end from Connor and Christchurch based Rowan Shepherd. They were followed by Herbert, Kirk Stoneman, and Joel Herbert to complete the top six.
The second race on Sunday morning lined up in similar conditions to the first race, with the top 10 on the grid reversed from their finishing positions from Race 1. Hayden Johnston and Royce Rollinson started from the front row, with Dodge and Connor starting from row five.
After an incident just after the start at turn one, which saw about 10 drivers involved, Johnston led early but struck problems, dropping him down the order, while Rollinson held on to score a hard earned, first ever SsangYong Racing Series victory, from a charging Todd Prujean, and Matt Gibson. Their battle for second was one of many highlights in Race 2. Jayden Dodge crossed the line fourth ahead of Connor, and Stoneman.
Dodge however was later penalized post-race for being underweight at the scales, costing the championship leader more valuable points after previous penalty issues at Hampton Downs. Likewise second in the points, Rowan Shepherd was also penalized, after contact with Joel Herbert on the final lap of Race 2, costing the Eastland SsangYong racer points as well.
Connor then dominated the final race from pole, taking advantage of the various battles inside the top 10 behind him. Chelsea Herbert managed to pass Royce Rollinson for second place late in the race, with Rollinson holding onto third across the line. Christina Orr-West scored a hard-earned fourth place finish, ahead of Todd Prujean, and Kieron Rollinson.
Point's leader Dodge charged from the back of the grid after his race 2 penalty to finish seventh, while Joel Herbert, who started the weekend third in the points, had to serve a drive-through penalty in the final race for an unsafe track re-entry, dropping him down the order. With Dodge, Shepherd, and Herbert all losing valuable points over the weekend, the championship points chase has well and truly closed up, especially when each of the drivers drop their worst round at the conclusion of the series at Pukekohe in April.
So after three more exciting and action packed SsangYong Racing Series races at Manfeild, Daniel Connor won his second round of the 15/16 Series, moving him back into the top three in the points. Chelsea Herbert was second for the round narrowly ahead of Royce Rollinson. After five rounds of the championship, Dodge (3052 points), leads from Shepherd (2684 points), with Connor (2588 points) now third overall.
up for the SsangYong Racing Series is Round Six, at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo over the Easter weekend (March 266-27), where another full field of entries are expected.