MOTORSPORT

Australian drivers set up Trans-Tasman tussle

Monday 1 December 2008, 9:03AM
By Toyota Racing Series
256 views


CHRISTCHURCH

Australians Scott Pye and Nathan Antunes and Hamilton racer Michael Burdett
have set up a classic trans-Tasman tussle in the opening round of the
Toyota Racing Series this weekend at Ruapuna.

The Australian pair dominated free practice and qualifying in an Australian
clean-sweep on Friday and Saturday but in race one, it was Michael Burdett
who swept into a commanding lead off the start line.

In back-to-back qualifying sessions this morning on the 3.33 km circuit,
the Australian drivers took all three pole positions for the first round of
the seven-round championship series.

South Australian Scott Pye, a TRS rookie having his first "proper" drive of
a wings-and-slicks race car, grabbed pole for the first race with a best
lap of 1:20.197, his time also the fastest lap of the day which gives him
pole for Sunday's feature race, the 24-lap Wigram Cup.

Second fastest was Michael Burdett, the 2007-2008 TRS rookie of the year,
who posted a 1:20.227.

At the start, Pye said he felt his car begin to creep forward and he missed
a clean launch, forced instead to slot in behind the Enzed car of Burdett.
Pye’s team-mate Antunes overtook Palmerston North’s Sam MacNeill for
third.

As the race progressed, MacNeill dropped further and further back, his
engine sounding flat. Dunedin driver John Whelan was out of contention
with a flat tyre, forced to pit on lap 6. The earliest casualty of the
race was Alastair Wootten, whose car broke its driveshaft joints on the
start line as the field went out on its warm-up lap.

Burdett was under pressure from Antunes for most of the race – the
Australian able to close up under barking for the tighter corners but the
Kiwi then able to get better acceleration out of corners and down the
straights.

Behind Antunes, Scott Pye was watching for the chance to re-take second
place.

Keeley Pudney and Mitch Cunningham formed the tail of a high speed draft of
five cars that drew away from the remainder of the field. The cars were
touching 240 km/h on the front straight.

“I felt happy to be able to control it from the front, but all up the
margin was too close for comfort, both the Aussie cars were right there,”
said Burdett afterward.

Keeley Pudney, the young Rotorua driver, closed up on the leading trio as
the race entered its closing laps, but dropped two wheels off the track and
was overtaken by Mitch Cunningham, who defended fourth place to the finish.

But at the front it was Burdett’s day, an emphatic statement of his
intention to run at the front of the 2008-2009 series and challenge for the
title itself.

Behind him, Scott Pye put a bold overtaking move on Nathan Antunes and
slipped through to take second place.

Fastest lap of the race was set by Mitch Cunningham, a 1:20.764 set on the
last lap.

The Toyota Racing Series continues tomorrow (Sunday November 30) with a 12
lap race at 11.05 am and the feature race, the 24-lap Wigram Cup, at 3:50
pm. Nathan Antunes starts from pole for the morning race; the afternoon
race has an all-Australian front row.

At stake at this weekend’s opening round is the Wigram Cup – and an
important points boost for the winning driver. In 2007-2008, Champion Andy
Knight took the opening weekend points and created a momentum that forced
the field to chase him down through the months that followed. Last
year’s championship went down to the final corner of the last race and a
fierce battle between Knight and rising star Earl Bamber.

Through a constant focus on technology and innovation, the series is also
leading New Zealand motorsport toward a “greener” future

Last season, all TRS cars were converted to run on an E85 biofuel blended
fuel, which produced an immediate reduction in harmful emissions and
measurable improvements in mid-range driveability.

The cars ran without fault all season, proving the effectiveness of
ethanol-based biofuels in motorsport.

This year the cars once more head onto the track with the environmentally
friendly fuel on board; other categories may well follow suit in future
seasons.

New for 2008 are a carbon-fibre inlet manifold that is both lighter and
stronger than the aluminium unit it replaces and for the TV viewer a new
roll-hoop mounted onboard camera that will give a driver’s eye view of
the on-track action.