After the Christmas puddings had been consumed and the New Years hangovers were gone, the HiQ Formula First Championship ventured to the newly renamed Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo.
Heading into the weekend series leader Michael Shepherd was looking the favourite to take another race win as was series rookie Liam Lawson, as the teen took his first win at his last outing in the circuit.
Taupo would also welcome the return of Amy Smith after her engine had suffered some major issues which ruled her out of the past two rounds. Liam Foster also returned from holiday after missing round three as did Dave Scammell.
Friday testing offered some interesting conditions as the rain poured for the entire day, meaning drivers could get their first chance at some proper wet weather running. While it was the series youngest driver Liam Lawson dominating the time sheets, it was another driver in the Sabre fold that was turning heads along pit-lane. Team owner Dennis Martin donned his old race gear to test some new tyres for next season. The 2x Formula First Champion hadn’t appeared to have lost his touch as he was faster than some series front runners.
With the rain done and dusted, the sun came out in force on Saturday for Qualifying and Race one. Michael Shepherd was once again the fastest in Qualifying setting a time 0.898s faster than Chris Symon in Second. Even closer, however was the gap between Symon and King in third, only 0.011s! Liam Lawson grabbed fourth, followed by Brody McConkey.
Pole sitter Michael Shepherd got the early lead over Symon and King with Lawson and McConkey not far behind them. During the second lap Shepherd and King broke away from the field, leaving Symon, Lawson and McConkey to battle for the final podium position.
With Shepherd and King exchanging the race lead countless times over the final half of the race it was Shepherd who nabbed the win on the final lap.
The battle for third was not over until the line as the trio of Lawson, Symon and McConkey took the battle down to a drag to the finish. It was Lawson who would take the podium by less than three tenths of a second over Symon.
Shepherds win had a special number attached to it, win number 100 for the six time Champ! The first driver to ever accomplish the massive achievement.
Shepherds again dominant start in race two was put to waste as an incident between Bob Dillow and Liam Foster resulted in Dillow getting beached at turn seven, bringing out the Safety Car.
Once the Safety Car had made its appearance the battles reignited throughout the pack. Shepherd still led the way over King and McConkey in second and third respectively. Not far behind them was Lawson and Symon, however that did not last long as the pair made contact in the final lap which meant they lost the draft from the front three and missed out on a potential podium.
By now King was in-front of Shepherd, but as always in Formula First, its never over until they cross the line as the win would be decided late in the lap. King held on to the win as he crossed the line ahead of Shepherd who only just held onto second over McConkey.
The contact earlier in the lap left Lawson and Symon to battle for fourth on the last lap. Lawson looked good to take it, but an ambitious move by Symon at the chase paid off as he out braked the rookie to nab a top four.
Matt Podjursky received a five second penalty for a corner cut which put him down to ninth. Liam Foster recovered to finish in tenth after the first lap incident with Dillow.
Race three again started with a Michael Shepherd lead, although it was not the top four that provided the most actioned packed racing this time.
A five lap battle for fifth emerged between Liam Lawson, Liam Foster, Arran Crighton and Cameron Dance. Dance was the first to kick off the defining moves as he went for a dive on Lawson into the chase on lap three, whilst he got in-front, he failed to pull it up and had to cut across the grass and narrowly missed his team-mate upon rejoining the track.
Dance’s excursion allowed Liam Foster to pull up alongside him down the straight and take the line into turn one, however a shunt from behind by Arran Crighton kicked Foster sideways and ruined his run, gifting Dance the position.
Up the front, King and Shepherd were battling hard for the win as it again went down to the final few corners. As Shepherd and King went into the chase for the final time, Chris Symon came rocketing in with a late dive however nothing came of it.
Michael Shepherd would cross the line in first for the 101st time ahead of King and Symon. Brody McConkey came home fourth while the four-way battle for fifth was won by Liam Lawson ahead of Cameron Dance, Foster then Crighton.
At the conclusion of the race Chris Symon received a 10 second penalty for jumping the start. The penalty prompted McConkey to the podium.
After records were broken and penalties were handed out, the round was taken by Shepherd meaning he extended his series lead to 165 points over Bramwell King. Chris Symon moves down a spot to third, as does Brody McConkey to fourth. Rookie Liam Lawson holds his top five in the championship.