The penultimate round of the 2015/16 HiQ Formula First Championship was held at the tight and technical Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo. The weekend would prove crucial to the championship front runners as Michael Shepherd had the chance to wrap up the title and the rest to keep it from him.
Saturday morning Qualifying somewhat surprised many as Brody McConkey quickly went to the top of the timesheet. Bramwell King and Chris Symon filled the rest of the top three as Cameron Dance sat at a personal best of fourth. Michael Shepherd struggled to get a quick lap in as he sat fourth until a last gasp effort put him ahead of Dance.
Matt Podjursky lapped in sixth place ahead of Arran Crighton, Kyle George, Bob Dillow and Amy Smith scored an impressive tenth place in the 16 car strong field.
SpeedSport Scholarship winner Liam Lawson had a fuel pressure regulator issue which forced him to turn off the car on his out lap, which would force him to start from the rear of the field.
The first race heated up before the first turn as Cameron Dance locked up and slid into Chris Symon, knocking the pair off the road and spinning Symon in the process.
While Brody McConkey started on pole, it was Bramwell King who would lead the pack off the first turn.
Contact between Kyle George and Dave Scammell sent the later around at the final corner of the opening lap. The spin raised the eyebrows of many as Scammell’s car blocked the majority of the track and left little room for the approaching cars to pass him.
Ron Carter spun in front of Alex Hawley on the second lap and collected the front of Hawley’s car, damaging his steering arm and nose cone. While Hawley nursed the car home the damaged proved too much for Carter and forced him into the pits.
At the half way point Shepherd had got himself into the lead after starting from P4 and with King and McConkey still hot on his tail, the trio boosted away from the rest of the field.
Chris Symon made his way back through the field up to into the battle for fourth. Himself, Crighton, Podjursky, Dillow and Liam Foster started a five way fight for next best position.
Brody McConkey took the race, his first this season, as Michael Shepherd took second ahead of Bramwell King. Chris Symon won the battle for fourth as Matt Podjursky scored his first ever top five result.
Michael Shepherd showed his ambitions early in race two as he took the lead into turn one. Bramwell King would follow as the pair diced through the infield to find King the leader after the opening lap.
Brody McConkey and Chris Symon quickly latched on the back of Shepherd and King, prompting the four to break away from the rest of the field.
Ian Foster ran into trouble on lap two as his front bar mount broke, leaving him to very carefully bring the car back to the garage.
Matt Podjursky, Cameron Dance, Arran Crighton and Kyle George continued their battle from race one, all wanting the critical top five that would cement a solid championship position.
Ron Carter and Alex Hawley had another coming together, although this time it was not as big. Through the chase on the final lap a last attempt by Hawley to gain a position resulted in some small wheel to nose contact.
The championship leader Michael Shepherd would take the race in a typically tight Formula First fashion with race one winner Brody McConkey finished just behind him as King recorded another podium.
Chris Symon landed another fourth ahead of Kyle George in fifth. Cameron Dance secured another strong result in sixth.
The final race again saw Shepherd take the lead out of turn one after starting second alongside Brody McConkey.
The excitement picked up just over half way through as six car train contested for the lead swapping positions rather than paint as they all fought for the win. Michael Shepherd, Bramwell King, Brody McConkey, Chris Symon, Kyle George and Cameron Dance set up one of the most unpredictable finishes of the season.
By the final lap Shepherd, McConkey, King and Symon had put a small cushion between themselves and George and Dance, easing the intensity ever so slightly.
Shepherd would prove why he is the series leader as he set up the draft to win the final race of the penultimate round. The finish was the closest of the weekend as McConkey followed Shepherd by just 0.159s and King a further 0.137s. Chris Symon recorded another fourth placing ahead of a solid P5 for Cameron Dance.
With Shepherd now having one hand on the Championship trophy he now has to finish just one race to secure a record seventh title! The remainder of top ten in the points remains unchanged heading to the final round with King second, McConkey third, Symon fourth and Crighton fifth. Rookie of the year leader Liam Lawson sits sixth just under 100 points clear of his nearest contender, Cameron Dance in seventh. Matt Podjursky holds eight ahead of Bob Dillow in ninth and Liam Foster in tenth.