Matt Podjursky knocked Arran Crighton off the top step of the championship ladder during the penultimate round of the 2016/17 Hi-Q Components NZ Formula First Championship at Hampton Downs. After leading for nearly seven rounds Crighton now trails Podjursky by just two points.
The forecasted rain held off for the weekend, greeting drivers with a surprisingly dry Qualifying session on Saturday morning. Reece Hendl-Cox showed why he would later become Rookie Champion elect claiming an impressive pole position over now championship leader Matt Podjursky. Podjursky’s time was merely 0.008s off the rookie but still secured him a front row start for all three races nonetheless. The then championship leader Arran Crighton recorded the third fastest time ahead of Callum Crawley whose rookie season has stepped up in the last few rounds.
It was on for young and old from the drop of the flag in race one, as the top five all bunched together to form a five-way for the lead. Matt Podjursky, Reece Hendl-Cox, Callum Crawley, Arran Crighton and Bramwell King were all side-by-side, nose-to-tail providing the typically close Formula First action.
Further down the pack Billy Fazer, Dylan Smith and Ron Carter headed into turn one three wide. Before Carter fell victim to an unintentional squeeze from the Sabre Motorsport duo which briefing saw him rub the wall on the inside of turn one.
By the second to last lap, the top five were still battling hard for the win coming across the line five wide. The intense action saw the crowd on the edge of the seats while the teams on the pit wall all stood back as the unheard of action occurred.
The final run to the line saw Crighton get in front of the rest while Podjursky and King followed him just 1.2 tenths of a second behind. Hendl-Cox crossed the line fourth followed by Crawley in fifth.
Amy Smith improved on her impressive qualifying position to equal her personal best finishing position of six. Chris Symon finished eighth ahead of Travis Day and Alex Hawley. Dylan Smith finished in tenth.
Kaleb Ngatoa was forced to shut off his car painfully close to the finish line after a mechanical drama led to an overheating issue.
Sunday mornings race two saw Matt Podursky significantly increase his hopes of gaining the points lead, a win for the Taranaki local shrunk the gap to just 16 points behind Crighton.
Podjursky again started off the front row and took an early lead ahead of King and Hendl-Cox. By the end of the lap King drafted by Podjursky to take the lead before the pair opened a small gap back to Hendl-Cox.
Chris Symon was wounded after contact with Hendl-Cox dislodged his nose cone on lap two. Symon’s race was further soured when he spun out at turn two whilst battling hard with Callum Crawley the following lap.
The following lap saw the top four cars consisting of King, Podjursky, Hendl-Cox and Crighton, close back up into a four-way battle for the lead. Podjursky then dropped down to fourth before he, Hendl-Cox and Crighton went three wide through the dipper!
The top four all fanned out across the line looking for the best advantage on the final lap. King led into turn one but Podjursky soon got to the front before a dive from Hendl-Cox at the dipper put him up to second. Podjursky led Hendl-Cox and King to the line in a nose-to-tail formation. No one had a draft, leaving the run to the line static but close with just 0.5 seconds separating the top four!
The stakes were raised for the final race of the weekend, with not only the championship lead on the line but the Nelson Piquet Trophy also up for grabs. Another advantageous start by Podjursky gave him the early lead ahead of King and Crighton. King soon took the lead ahead of Podjursky and Reece Hendl-Cox as Crighton fell behind the rookie.
Disaster then struck Crighton as an incident put him way down in eighth, then gifting Podjursky a comparatively larger championship lead. Crighton then reminded us why he led the championship for nearly seven rounds, moving up to sixth by lap 5.
The battle up front soon became a three-way fight after Crawley briefly joined the battle but then had to defend a hard charging Crighton. King, Podjursky and Hendl-Cox came across the line nose to tail in a similar fashion to race two.
Crawley held off Crighton to take a solid fourth, while Chris Symon took sixth ahead of Amy Smith in seventh.
King would finish the winner of the Nelson Piquet Trophy while a second place finish for Podjursky was enough to move him into a narrow championship lead from Arran Crighton. Reece Hendl-Cox grabbed a podium ending another strong weekend for the rookie.
The championship situation has been shaken up with Podjursky now leading the championship by two points over Crighton. Bramwell King’s 41 point gap to the top now sits at just 17 while Reece Hendl-Cox has claimed the Rookie Championship, establishing an unassailable points lead heading into the final round. Chris Symon’s hope of a top three in the points looks slim as he sits 189 points from third yet only nine in front of the red-hot rookie Reece Hendl-Cox. Callum Crawley’s strong weekend coupled with Ngatoa’s disappointing results has seen Crawley move past Ngatoa up to sixth in the championship.
With 225 points on the line at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park for the final round of the Hi-Q Components NZ Formula First Championship on April 15/16, the championship is still wide open!