Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th January 2002

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Qualifying - Hellebrekers Steals Pole!!
by Tony Bunyan

Phil Hellebrekers secured pole position for the 4th round of the 2001/02 New Zealand Touring Car Championship finishing head of his Toyota team mate Barrie Thomlinson by less than seven hundredths of the second. It was Hellebrekers first pole position since moving from Formula Ford to 2.0 litre Touring Cars. Hellebrekers appeared comfortable on the Pukekohe track, taking advantage of the light traffic to record his best time of the 6th lap.

The weather was fine and clear with a warm track as the cars went out for their 20 minute qualifying session. This was stark contrast to the previous week's torrential rain.

Time Out as Tony Oliver's Car is Retrieved from the Kitty Litter

In the second half of the session Tony Oliver missed is braking point the car firmly in the kitty litter. The yellow flags were brought out slowing cars on a critical part of their run. The position of the car was deemed to be too dangerous and the safety car circulated as his car was retrieved.

Team Kiwi's Angus Fogg would join Kevin Bell on the second row of the grid..



Thomlinson Takes 2 out of 3!
by Tony Bunyan

Race one
The weather was fine with patches of bright sunshine as the cars assembled for Saturday's race. Phil Hellebrekers got away to a good start followed through the Esses by Thomlinson, Fogg, Mackay, and Bell.

In the early stages of the race the two Toyotas made a break on the pack, with Hellebrekers holding a comfortable lead over championship points leader Thomlinson.

Hellebrekers on His Winning Way!

As the cars streamed over the top of the mountain on lap three Angus Fogg ran wide hitting the Armco and puncturing his oil cooler line. Rhys McKay took advantage of Fogg's mishap promoting himself to third position with Bell hard on his exhaust pipe. With his engine overheating Fogg had no choice but to bring his car to a halt, his second DNF in as many races.

By the midpoint of the race Bell had succeeded in passing McKay, with the two Toyota's still battling for supremacy . Aaron Harris found himself orphaned in the middle of the order, with Peter Millener and Tony Oliver fighting for the minor places.

Thomlinson had not given up on the lead, hounding Hellebrekers at every opportunity. Catching someone is one thing, but passing them is another. Sometimes so close that the cars could trade paint, Thomlinson was unable to capitalise on the situation. Rhys McKay was also working hard to regain his podium place. It was a classic Nissan/BMW duel, each pilot probing the weaknesses of the other. Both teams were biting their fingernails to the bone, But in the dying stages of the race it was McKay who gained the upper hand, beating Bell to the line for the flag.

As the flag fell Phil Hellebrekers had driven a fantastic race, but his team mate and rival for the championship, Barrie Thomlinson pipped him at the post to take the win and denie his team mate his elusive first win. Hellebreker's had hoped to continue whittling away at Thomlinson's lead. With Thomlinson's strangle hold on the Championship gripping ever tighter, the question of team orders will not need toarise. But then it is a question that only Thomlinson and team manager Steve Boyce can really answer!

Race Two
The weather for Sunday's first race was hot and sunny, with a blue sky, but heavy rain cloud threatening in the surrounding hills. The grid remained the same as race one, with Hellebrekers on pole.

Hellebrekers got away to the best start, with Fogg slipping in behind Thomlinson to occupy third position. At the hairpin Kevin Bell braked devilishly late to try an outside overtaking manouvere on Fogg. It didn't stick. On lap 2 the back end of Peter Millener's BMW stepped out at the Esses. After gathering up the car he added insult to injury by applying the power a little early and doing another donut, much to the crowds delight. The pressure was showing on Fogg too, who ran wide on the mountain (luckily it was dry) off onto the grass, but managing to stay ahead of Bell.

Bell was not to be denied, finally getting past Fogg at the hairpin on lap 3. The racing was much closer than Race 1. Not only were Hellebrekers and Thomlinson dog fighting, but they were being hounded by the Bell and Fogg. McKay struggled to hang onto the shirt tails of the leading group, Harris behind him.

Fogg attacked Bell down the back straight, using the Nissan Primeras raw power to overtake the BMW E46. No luck. The pressure on Hellebrekers was tremendous, the four cars closing up under brakes at the hairpin and dicing over the mountain and down the home straight.

Having retained the lead for three quarters of the race Hellebrekers faulted. It was costly. As the cars reappeared from the dip, Thomlinson, Bell and Fogg had got passed him. By now the lead cars had also caught the tail enders.

In a bid to take the lead Bell left his braking desperately late at the hairpin, but time was running out and Thomlinson made his Toyota Altezza extremely wide.

The racing was as hot as the track and the drivers put on a tremendously entertaining display. It was a well deserved win for Thomlinson who continues to accumulate points and extend his Championship Points lead.

Race 3
The third and final race reversed the order of the top 10 cars. Wayne Moore and Patrick Hodgson occupied the front row of the grid with Tony Oliver and Peter Millener and first of the 2.0 litre cars. The track remained warm and dry, the late afternoon sun breaking through scattered cloud.

Millener in the BMW 320 and Oliver in the Toyota Corona made short work of the smaller cars, with Team Kiwi's Nissan Primera's blasting off the line to hound the leaders into the Esses. Angus Fogg once again showed his class, overtaking the lead pair on the second lap. Hellebreker's had also made good progress until a tap from McKay's Nissan Primera at the Esses unbalanced the Toyota and sent the Altezza onto the grass. An unscheduled pit stop ensued.

In the meantime Fogg had consolidated his lead, putting space between him and the duelling duo of Bell and Thomlinson. Rhys McKay in in the number one pit stop Primera was chasing hard, passing Harris's Dynapack BMW coupe down the back straight at top speed.

The pace was fast and furious as the leaders caught the tail Enders on lap eight. McKay had caught Millener and then Oliver eventually passing both of them as he attempted to reel in the front runners.

Fogg, Bell and Thomlinson were evenly spaced as the the cars reached three-quarter race distance , but it was only a lull in a furious battle for first place. Millener's BMW pulled up with mechanical failure and McKay drove a lonely race in 4th place, while Bell turned the torch on Fogg.

Fogg was finding it increasingly difficult to hold off a determined Bell. It only required a small mistake on the final lap to allow both Bell and Thomlinson through. As the cars appeared over the top of the mountain, Bell was a head, but Thomlinson's Toyota Altezza was closing in on him rapidly. Once again New Zealand's premier circuit racing class had brought the crowd to their feet. It was a photo finish as the cars crossed line, with only the time sheet able to separate the cars and award Bell his first win of the season!!

All text and photographs are copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002 TR Bunyan