Two pairs of brothers; Brad and AJ Lauder from Turua and Mark and Rob Gibson from Taupo will start this weekend’s first round of the 2011/2012 Suzuki Swift Sport Cup series as serious title contenders when the championship begins on 4 November at Pukekohe.
From an entry list of 14 for the three-race weekend season opener, the four aged 15, 17, 19 and 21 years respectively all have the same winning aspirations. Having all led the racing at one time or another last season, only AJ Lauder came close to championship glory, finishing runner-up. The Thames based Lauder says it’s time to make the six round championship his.
“Hopefully it works out; we’ll be giving it a good crack anyway. First we’ve got to survive the weekend and make it through. Based on previous years it seems to be the round where getting to the finish is hardest,” explained Lauder, who is now working for a local contractor.
His fifth season in the 1600cc small car category, Lauder says the experience he’s learned the long hard way is being picked up quickly by younger brother Brad.
“He follows me round a bit on the track to learn the lines, so he’s learning it pretty fast. It’ll help a lot to know he’s there to get in the way of others, so there’s that advantage too.”
Finishing fourth overall in last season’s standings and the highest placed rookie, Mark Gibson, a yacht design student, says he’s also there to win: “Second is not an option. There are a number of top runners, AJ (Lauder) is one of the most prominent, but you can’t discount the likes of Castrol scholarship winner Kent Yarrall with his past experience. The goal is to be consistent, finish every race and get points. We learned a lot of lessons last year and realise it’s a championship.”
Chasing the four is a mix of experience and newly injected talent.
“We’ve learned picking a favourite means it’ll come down to the top-five by the end of the season,” says series co-ordinator Paul Burborough.
“That illustrates how close the racing is. We’ve got a number of potential title winners based on past experience so we know it’ll be another close season again. This not only makes it exciting for us on the sidelines but keeps it challenging and interesting for the drivers’ teams’ and our supporters.”
Based on New Zealand’s most popular selling new small car, the Suzuki Swift Sport Cup series has appeal to a wide driver pool says Suzuki New Zealand’s motorsport manager Darren Stevens.
“Comparatively its cheap racing at top-end championship level, so that attracts an element of driver who wants to be competitive without needing a lot of resourcing. It’s also a great transitional step for those who want to move from karting to car racing and on to other higher-power and international categories.
“So we get a mix of people with varying abilities and aspirations. Once they learn and apply some of the race craft it becomes even closer racing. There are two main factors that influence performance: how well they drive and the fine-tuning of the car’s setup.”
Starting the five month summer season at the 2.8 kilometre long clockwise circuit, Pukekohe will be a flat-out introduction to the series for newcomers says Burborough: “One of the great aspects of the New Zealand series is the variety of circuits we have. Pukekohe is a high-speed high reflex track unlike Ruapuna near Christchurch, which is very technical and requires more precision.”
Marking the series fifth birthday, on Friday afternoon drivers’ get the chance to take guests and promotion winners for a hot-lap ride of the race circuit. Included in the line-up are four Skycity New Zealand Breakers players, taking time out from on-court training to learning some driver training tips.
On Saturday morning the drivers’ get a 20 minute qualifying session to set their fastest lap to decide the opening race start order. The top-three fastest cars earn championship points to kick-start their campaign. Then beginning at 3:44pm, the ten-lap race has traditionally seen multiple leader changes and high-speed up-enders as the cars try squeezing four wide through the turns.
Sunday morning at 8:30, Suzuki driver Jamie Gaskin will join the Grid Kids duathlon event being held on the circuit prior to the car racing. Open for entry to kids in the 6 - 7, 8 - 9, 10 - 13 age groups they can enter the duathlon event as individuals or in teams and compete for prizes. They are also in with a chance to front the race car race grid later in the day as part of the pre-race television promotional build-up.
At 10:03am the second 10-lap race is held as a full reverse-grid event based on the finishing order from the first race. The starting order for the third and final race is then based on the points earned in the first two races, with highest placed driver to the front. The cars will line-up for the 12-lap race from 1:43pm with on-track promotion making way for the scheduled 1:48pm start time.
The results will determine the round winner and early championship leader, with the top three placers acknowledged at a track-side award ceremony at around 3pm.