Friday 9th, Saturday 10th & Sunday 11th November 2001

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Qualifying - Thomlinson Brings Toyota Early Success
by Tony Bunyan 

The first round in the 20001/02 New Zealand Touring Car Championship Meeting began at the Pukekohe Park Raceway this weekend in conjunction with the Boost Mobile V8 International, round 12 of the Shell Australian V8 Supercar Series.

Combined with their New Zealand V8 rivals, a huge field of 42 cars took to the track for the timed practice session. The drama unfolded almost immediately for Team Kiwi when Drivesafe 500 winner John McIntyre lost control of his Nissan Primera over Ford Mountain, severely damaging the car into the Armco and bringing red flagging the session. After 2.0 litre dominance at the 2001 Drivesafe 500 the tide was truely turned this weekend. Pukekohe allows the V8s to really stretch their legs down the long back straight, the only place where the 2.0 litres appeared faster was through the tight section of the track at the Boost Mobile Corner.

The weather was overcast, but fine, with a warm track. Because of the size of the field, the cars headed out for one of two 20 minute qualifying sessions. The fastest half of the field.

Some of the Lunchtime Entertainment that Kept the 25,000 Strong Crowd Happy!

Straight out of the box Barrie Thomlinson in the Toyota Altezza was the man to beat. The manufacturer backed car reveled in the track conditions. His team mate Formula Ford Champion Phil Hellebrekers slotted comfortably into second place.

Fresh from his early success in the 2001 Drivesafe 500, Christchurch's Kevin Bell in the BNT BMW 320 SP had the car working well to secure third place.

Cars weren't the Only interest at the Track

Having had the car repaired overnight John McIntyre put the Team Kiwi Nissan Primera ahead of Owen Evans in the Geoff Short Motorsport Lexus




Thomlinson Takes Maximum Championship Points
by Tony Bunyan 

For the second year in a row, a new two car team has stepped up to the plate to contest the New Zealand Touring Car Championship. Last year Team Kiwi made its debut with stunning success. This year it's Toyota New Zealand's turn.

There has been little fanfare to the entry of the silver and red bullets. They chose to save all their thunder for the track. Thomlinson's time of 1m 05.7431 in race trim has set a new benchmark that teams will have to work hard to better. The championship will again produce the kind of close exciting racing that has been the key feature of the 2.0 litre Championship. With professional teams increasing in number, new models from Toyota and BMW making their debut and priviteer teams looking to expand into two car teams, the strength of the Class continues to grow.

Barrie Thomlinson lead a revived Toyota challenge in Qualiying

Race One
Because of the amalgamation of two classes into the one race, the grid for the race was set with the 2.0 litre cars lining up behind one another in the outside lane grid positions of a rolling start. Barrie Thomlinson had the 2.0 litre pole postion, with V8 pole winner Ashl;ey Stichbury leading the V8s on the inside.

To take advantage of the V8s torque, Stichbury pulled the field up and the cars got away to a very slow start. Kevin Bell made a great start up the outside picking off several of the slower starter as they headed down into the sweeper.

Team Kiwis Rhys McKay suffered an oil leak, spraying fluid over the rear of the car and sending his car into a spin at the exit of the Esses. After getting a great start Bell in the BMW 320 SP got caught behind a slower V8 and watch Thomlinson slip further from his grip.

By the midpoint of the race the faster cars had caught the tail enders. This lead to carnage as the Nissan Primera of Les Brown desperate trying to move out of the way of the faster cars was swallowed by the V8 pack and severely tagged. His day ended up against the tyre wall at the exit to the Esses.

Les Browns Car Took a Big Hit into the Tyre Barrier

Phil Hellebrekers was having only marginal more success with the V8s, lossing his rear bumper but managing to keep the car on the track. Owen Evan whose weekend had started so well ended after the gearbox of his Lexus IS200 failed. With so much drama on the track it was inevitable that the safety car would make its appearance. This allowed the feild to bunch up.

Three quarters of the race completed and it was Thomlinson, Bell, Hellebrekers, Harris and Lamont. Both Team Kiwi cars were out, McIntyre's Primera losing oil pressure and forcing him into retirement.

Matthew Farmer was next to get ahit from a V8, losing his muffler, the rear bumper dragged along behind.

All the while Barrie Thomlinson had driven a supurb race to cross the line nearly 6.5 seconds ahead of closest rival Kevin Bell. His drive and the performance of the Toyota Altezza were outstranding from start to finish and gave him a maximum points start.

Race Two
Race Two was shortened from 16 to eight laps because of timetable constraints. The rolling start got away cleanly and it was Barrie Thomlinson who made a break on the rest of the 2.0 litre field, with Ken Bell leading the chase

Race Three

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