Ben Harford won today’s first Toyota Racing Series race at Teretonga, while behind him the championship title fight played out between Andy Knight and 17 year old Earl Bamber.
Knight drove a well-judged defensive race to finish fourth overall, holding a hard-charging Earl Bamber and maintaining his points lead in the Toyota Racing Series.
Rain and hail swept the circuit barely an hour before the cars went out, and the whole field started the race on wet tyres.
Michael Burdett was on pole but lost the lead at the start with too much wheelspins. Ben Harford swept past him into the lead and looked set to take the win.
On the second lap the race was red flagged when Christina Orr and Nathan Antunes tangled at the end of the start-finish straight. Both cars went off the track, badly damaged, and returned to the pits on the back of salvage trucks.
The drying conditions prompted organisers to change its status to “dry” and the field was allowed to switch to slick tyres on the grid before re-starting.
In the re-start, Harford once more held the lead with Michael Burdett close behind. Burdett’s team-mate Nic Jordan filled third spot.
The drama of the race unfolded behind them as Earl Bamber began to carve his way through the field. He had started on the back row of the grid but was attacking through the field to catch Knight and keep his title hopes alive.
As he hunted down and overtook Dominic Storey, Sam MacNeill also spun out of position in front of him, allowing Bamber to close up on Knight.
This set up a tense finish for the race, as Bamber tried repeatedly to pass. Eventually the battle ran out of laps with Knight fourth overall and Bamber right behind in fifth overall. Just 16 points separate the pair going into this afternoon’s feature race, the Spirit of the Nation trophy event.
The 2008 Toyota Racing Series will be fought out between Knight – who starts the feature race from P3 (second row of the grid behind pole-man Michael Burdett); and Bamber whose race start position is P13 (seventh row of the grid).
At stake is the title itself, plus a $10,000 cash prize and the Chris Amon Trophy. Second place is worth $8,000; third place $7,000.
Also up for grabs is the Chris Amon International Scholarship, a $30,000 boost to the successful driver’s international career aspirations. Rookie of the year – a chase currently led by Michael Burdett – carries a $7,000 prize and a $7,000 travel fund.
Teretonga is the world’s southernmost race track, and its location near the coast means weather can be a factor in race weekend results. The 2008 Toyota Racing Series uses an E85 ethanol-petrol biofuel blend, meaning this year marks the first such use of biofuels at Teretonga.