Edgecumbe-based racer Christina Orr-West will be giving it all she’s got as the SsangYong Racing Series returns to Hampton Downs Motorsport Park as part of this weekend’s Premier Motorsport series.
Orr-West currently holds seventh place after three rounds of the intensely-competitive, one-make series for SsangYong Actyon Sport utes, a sterling effort following a massive crash at the second round and competing in an unfamiliar loan ute at round three.
“After the crash at round two at Pukekohe as part of the V8 Supercar event in November, I’ve got to say we thought we’d call it quits,” says Mrs Orr-West who is competing in her second SsangYong Racing Series season. “I was absolutely gutted that my Dayle ITM ute was so badly damaged. But SsangYong lent us the LDV ute to use for round three at Hampton Downs while we continued to work on getting my ute repaired, which was fantastic.”
While getting to know the loan ute, Orr-West says she qualified 16th at the November Hampton Downs meeting. “I was lucky it rained and I went from 16th to finish sixth. Others were giving me dark looks when I kept doing a rain dance all afternoon – that’s where I made the gains.”
Orr-West says her smooth driving style means she can gain an advantage over others in wet conditions. “I treat the throttle like it’s an egg. By driving precisely, easing onto the throttle and being easy on the clutch, I do get a gain over a number of others. Our Aussie female ute racer Alexandra Whitley, for example, hadn’t driven in the wet as many Australian races are called off if it rains, especially in karting where she started, so I’ve been able to share some knowledge.”
Despite a huge amount of work by her local panel beater, her team and herself personally, Orr-West says it hasn’t been possible to repair her 2.3-litre Mercedes-Benz powered ute between the November crash and this weekend’s round at Hampton Downs.
“Yes, there have been very long nights and a few tears of frustration as we tried and tried to get it right. SsangYong New Zealand has given us parts as well, but it just wasn’t right, so now SsangYong has taken it away to be repaired. I hope we’ll get it back for the Taupo meeting in February.
“The thing is, for all it’s a one make series, each ute has its own characteristics. They may have stronger torque in some places or you might have to drive them slightly differently. I have a special bond with my ute, so it was particularly difficult to tell sponsors like Deborah and Martin Day from Dayle ITM that I wouldn’t be racing it this weekend. But Deb and Martin and all my sponsors have been very understanding. That’s helped take some of the stress out of the situation.”
Orr-West is gunning for a podium result at Hampton Downs. “Top three would be nice. I know the loan ute has it in it, I just need to get the setup right.”
Deborah Day, a director of Dayle ITM in Avondale, Auckland which sponsors Orr-West, says: “It’s gratifying to still see Christina vying for the championship. Pukekohe dealt her some hard blows, but the Orr family are not ones to step down from a challenge. They have dug in to see the year out, and we’re proud to be along for the ride.”
As a senior official at the Pukekohe V8 Supercar round, Mrs Day was acutely aware of the scale of the racing incident in which Orr-West was an innocent party and resulted in the major damage to her ute.
“Christina is a true advocate for safety in New Zealand motorsport. It was difficult and nerve-wracking to call the medical car out onto the track for a friend’s incident.”
The seven round SsangYong Racing Series, with its approximately 30 competitors, started in Taupo in October 2015 and finishes at Pukekohe in April 2016.