NZTC Championship 2001/02

31st December 2001


The second round of the Wynn’s New Zealand Touring Cars Championship 2001/02 at Taupo's tight Centennial Park circuit provided the large summer vacation crowd with the most entertaining racing of the year. "Without doubt the 2.0 litre Touring Cars produce the best racing of any class" commented Motorsport Vice President Martin Fine.

Though the Toyota New Zealand Team of Barrie Thomlinson and Phil Hellebrekers were untried at Taupo the outstanding performance of the team at Pukekohe made them the odds on favourites at the meeting.

Thomlinson in the Toyota Altezza once again topped the qualifying time sheet (42.35 sec) and showed the new car has balance as well as horsepower. International Motorsport's engineers had made huge progress since round one with their super production BMW, Kevin Bell finding seconds and becoming the meat in an Altezza sandwich. "We believe that we are even closer to Barrie than the times suggest" beamed Bell. "What really pleases us is the potential for even more performance". The Nissan Primeras didn't fire as expected with a disappointed Angus Fogg commenting "We went slower than in practice. The cars are capable of more".

Thomlinson made an excellent start in Race One, getting much better drive off the line than Bell. Fogg made a great one too beating Hellebrekers to the first corner. It wasn't to last as Fogg ran very wide on the entrance to the main straight, sliding into the tyre barrier and ending his race before it had really started. That left Rhys McKay in the ex Jason Richards Nissan to hound Hellebrekers, the pair swapping positions for lap after lap.

Aaron Harris in the Dynopack BMW had begun the meeting second in the championship standings, but he saw his lead evaporating, as an engine management problem left the car underpowered out of the hairpin cost him both in qualifying and race.

Bell's BNT/Castrol BMW battled with Thomlinson's Altezza, matching the Toyota for pace, probing for any weakness. His best opportunity came as the cars swept onto the main straight for the sixth time. Despite pulling out of Thomlinson's slip stream and slipping ahead down the main straight, Bell waved Thomlinson through, believing that a no passing yellow flag might be still in force as a result of Fogg's incident. Thomlinson shut the door firmly on Bell as the pair headed into the left hander before the hairpin, never allowing Bell to get as close again.

Rhys McKay performed well to hold Hellebrekers out to take the third podium spot.

Kevin Bell's assertion that the BMW was every bit as fast as the Toyota proved right with his fastest lap in Saturday's race (42.30 sec) promoted him to pole position for race two, Thomlinson joining him on the front row of the grid. Unfortunately Bell couldn't capitalise on his position, the BMW not getting enough drive off the line to hold off the Toyotas. As the cars reached the end of the main straight it was Thomlinson and Hellebrekers followed by Bell in third. Angus Fogg and Peter Millener also made excellent starts and almost swallowed Bell up as they went through the left hand sweeper. The back of Bell's car stepped out through the hairpin and Fogg tagged him as the cars exited the turn. Peter Millener in the second International Motorsport BMW ran wide at the same place that Fogg had in the previous race managing to get the car back onto the track but lost several places in the process.

Hellebrekers was making good progress on his team mate, showing the flare that had made him New Zealand Formula Ford Champion only to spin at the end of the main straight on the fourth lap, collecting Kevin Bell in the process and forcing Rhys McKay in Team Kiwi's Nissan Primera into the run off zone. It was the break Thomlinson had been looking for, a comfortable buffer between him and the rest of the field.

The real action was with Bell and Fogg. The Primera got past Bell in the mayhem of Hellebrekers spin and Bell was determined to regain his second place. Fogg wasn't having a bar of it, the Nissan riding on three rather than four wheels for most of every lap as he pushed the car to the limit and beyond. There were several heart stopping moments as the cars entered the left hander at the end of the main straight two wide and at full race pace.

In the end Thomlinson made his win look easy, Fogg crossing the line ahead of Bell and the rest of the field lead across the line by Harris, McKay and Hellebrekers unable to recoup the time they lost at the start of the race.

In the 16 lap reverse grid third race, Angus Fogg who had thought his relatively slow lap times were a disadvantage now found himself on the front row of the grid and relishing the opportunity for a clean start. He didn't disappoint his Team Kiwi fans, blasting off the line with a catch me if you can attitude. Thomlinson and Bell had a lot of traffic to pass if they were going to!
Bell's BMW was an early casualty - A tap on the front right bending a steering arm and terminating his race. Taupo is notoriously difficult to pass on, but Thomlinson sold a dummy first to Harris and then later in the race to Millener, running wide at the end of the main straight before diving down the inside of the left hander to take the place.

Earlier rookie Peter Millener had done a great job holding off the more experienced Rhys McKay for second place before McKay secured the place to give Team Kiwi a familiar one-two formation.
By lap 11 Thomlinson had advanced to third place and Hellebrekers was also making progress to slot in behind Thomlinson. More problems for Harris, a gearbox failure ending his race prematurely.
In the dying laps of the race Thomlinson was making some do or die moves at the hairpin, forcing his nose into the gap but failing to find the exit speed McKay had to take the place. As the chequered flag dropped it was a Team Kiwi double, followed by the Toyotas.

The Taupo round showed that the Toyotas are not unbeatable, that the differences between Super Production and modified Schedule S are not great, that the new cars are developing at a phenomenal rate and the racing will be as close and exciting as ever. The next round of the Championship is at Levels Raceway, Timaru on 12th -13th January 2002.

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Angus Fogg holds off Kevin Bell to secure second place in Race Two at Centennial Park, Taupo

For more information contact:
Tony Bunyan
New Zealand Touring Car Website