Drawing 78 peer BMW race drivers to Manawatu’s Manfeild circuit it was Auckland’s Andrew Nugent who set fastest time and claimed successive race victories amidst a weekend of chequered weather.
Contesting the second round of the 2015/2016 Castrol BMW Race Driver Series, each competition category had a dominant team. Heading the Open Class (A&B) field, Nugent had previously shown his E92 specification car could edge out the 17 other teams vying for the top spot. In the E30 category a single grid of 34 cars was topped by Aaron Hodgson while Ashley Blewett dominated the two-litre class.
The most southern round of the season boosted the classic-car Manfeild weekend, bringing a mix of new technology to the nostalgic yester-year field.
While Nugent set fastest time in Friday’s qualifying session the 535i car of Dan Slater was a sliver behind – and a spot ahead of the #1 car of Robert Berggren. Although Slater got faster lap times in two of the races the consistent lap-by-lap pace kept Nugent a finger-tip ahead.
“It was a great result; I was really pleased for the team,” said Nugent. “A lot of work goes in to getting things right and the result is really sinking in. It has been a long project and the culmination of a lot of work really. I guess the biggest result was the relief at getting the result – relief the car has gone so well. Being a new car it has taken time to get it there.
“It’s been three years since I last raced at Manfeild and so it took me a while to learn the track again. As we got in to the racing I built up my knowledge of the lines, focussing on consistency. That was so if we made any changes to the car I could tell if it worked or not. Now it’s a case of getting me to drive the car better – I’m pretty new to it and have a lot of learning to do. The car is fantastic and I know there is more to come – so it’s a continual process of capability and confidence.
“The weekend’s weather made it difficult as the track was never the same twice and was quite cold so the tyres never got to optimum temperature. Still; that’s what a driver has to do – understand the conditions and drive to them.
“As always the guys in the Open Class are quick – so it’s not a walk in a park and so does focus one’s mind! They are a great bunch of guys, they leave racing room so are a fantastic group to race with.”
Packing in to one grid for the weekend’s racing it was clear from Friday’s qualifying there would be a two-way battle for supremacy between Hodgson and Matt Griffin. Regularly producing the closest racing of the series the E30 category was again the scene for the closest margins.
Headed by the 2009 Speedsport Scholarship winner and younger brother of previous round winner Shane, Aaron Hodgson had a little secret up his sleeve for the weekend.
Having done many laps at the 3.03km circuit as part of the Speedsport Scholarship and the Formula First campaign with Sabre Motorsport, Hodgson was familiar with the environment.
“Even so it was a pretty outstanding result – especially against Matt – who is not easy to beat at all,” said Hodgson of his top qualifying result and two race wins.
“The real highlight for me was seeing Dennis Martin and Peter Morgan from Sabre Motorsport there to congratulate me.”
Missing one of the Friday test sessions prior to qualifying Hodgson was optimistic of a good result: “I had a good feeling about the car heading in to qualifying although I’d not raced the BMW there at Manfeild before. Sunday’s handicap race was good at the start, until I got caught in traffic and Matt got past me. Then I had half-spin with few laps to go – which dropped me down the order.” Hodgson finished eighth.
“There are still a few things with the car we will try, and do some testing before the next event – things like anti-roll bar sizes – to see what the real difference is. “
Evergreen competition was again expected to dominate the 26-strong grid.
Fresh from racing the weekend prior, Ashley Blewett set a qualifying time 0.15sec behind the #1 320i of Graham Ball. Reversing the order in Saturday’s opening race Blewett was untouchable – even in the wet of Sunday’s handicap start race.
During the starter process two cars got missed during the count-down, leaving them languishing on the grid while lower priority cars were released from the pit lane. The mix-up was later upheld by the judicial process – leaving the mistake to taint the weekend placings.
That we won each race by a relative margin was a very good surprise,” said Blewett.
“It was unexpected, for sure. I don’t really know how it’s come about because Marty (Seddon) and Graham and Peter Ball are a few guys who are very competitive and typically are giving me a good run. Instead I had good winning margins in the dry and even better in the wet.
“The car was just handling so well – especially in the wet and it gave me a lot of confidence really. We all speak frankly about our setups and tyre pressures, particularly Graham and Peter Ball. We are there to enjoy some good racing and are happy to talk about what is working with the car and what is not.
“Although Manfeild isn’t a track I’m as familiar with compared to others it just worked well in the conditions of the weekend – I had the turn-in and grip others were missing – and so was able to maximise the cars potential in those conditions.”
Taking a two-month break until the third round (of seven) the competition resumes 16 January 2016 when the series competes at the Taupo Motorsport Park. Adding another dimension to the series will be the addition of a two-round endurance title – encompassing all three classes.