This weekend’s final round for the 2011/2012 Suzuki Swift Sport Cup championship comes with a sting in the tail when Saturday’s first of three races for the title comes with double points for the 12 teams racing for victory at Taupo’s motor racing circuit.
Currently led by 17-year-old AJ Lauder from Turua near Thames, his 128 point advantage could be easily swallowed by the 150 on offer for the late Saturday afternoon 22 lap race should things not go his way. Rueing from his only Did Not Finish (DNF) at the recent Manfeild weekend, Lauder says finishing the first race is crucial to his chances of winning the overall championship.
“The focus is just getting that first race out of the way. The main priority is to just finish – at whatever cost, definitely. I’d like to be at or near the front in qualifying so we’re not near anything that can catch us up near the back of the field,” says Lauder of his opening race tactics for the championship title at the circuit set east of Taupo’s township.
The race also includes a compulsory pit stop where a crew member has to remove and replace a wheel on the car.
Eying the opportunity for a return to contention, yachting design student Mark ‘Spud’ Gibson from Taupo says the weekend is equally crucial for him. Having swung from the highs of an early series lead the 19-year-old to now trails Lauder from third position by 129 points.
“It all starts with qualifying really – I need to get on that front row so we can get out of the mid-pack carnage, get a lead and run my own race,” says Gibson of his hero or zero opening race plans.
“We’re going for the win – that’s it. Plus we’ll have the hometown supporters, to help keep me in that positive mindset.”
One point ahead of Gibson, Rangiora’s Chris Cox leads a group of four chasing for the remaining two podium positions. In fourth having spent time in second post the half-way mark, Hamilton’s Shaun Lawrence is 27 ahead of Castrol scholarship winner and series rookie Kent Yarrall from Nelson, on 771 points.
Series co-ordinator Paul Burborough says it’d be a case of seriously bad luck should AJ not take the title:
“AJ Lauder has come a long way since he first started with us as a 12-year old way back in 2007. Finishing runner-up last year he was always going to be a strong prospect for the title this season and he’s shown what he’s really made of. He’s got the Radisich way about him that made Paul, his uncle, so successful. We’re all keen to see how the weekend goes for him – there is no doubt he’s worked really hard and would be a deserving champion. However this is motorsport – a lot can happen.”
Suzuki New Zealand motorsport manager Darren Stevens says the weekend will be another exciting close to the season:
“Again we’ve seen some fierce racing; rivalry and battles that really make the little cars work hard in the most challenging conditions. The teams have had all number of weather conditions thrown at them – even in the height of summer. But to get to the final round with such a clear leader has been a little different to past seasons. Even so there is Saturday’s 22 lap endurance style race to survive. Then on Sunday morning a number of the drivers will be taking part in the Grid Kids Duathlon event that we’ve been supporting. So that will be a great start to the final day’s racing – the kids really enjoy the running and biking and the drivers’ feed off that enthusiasm.”
Along with series partner Castrol; one lucky Grid Kids Duathlon participant is in the draw to win a Suzuki Quadsport Z50 motorbike. Broken in to three age groups (6-7 years, 8-9 years and 10-13 years), the kids run then bike parts of the Taupo race circuit early on the Sunday morning. Each participant receives a finisher’s medal and certificate along with a t-shirt with the Suzuki car numbers they can collect driver autographs on.
The drivers then return focus to their own racing, starting with an eight lap race later in the morning, the start order being based on the Saturday race finishing position. Concluding the series, the final race for the season will be ten laps of the 3.3km Taupo circuit, held in the early afternoon.