In our fourth instalment of Catching up with Kohlbecker, Talkmotorsport spoke with the US driver straight after the penultimate round of the 2020 Castrol Toyota Racing Series at Pukekohe Park Raceway, Auckland. Having competed in NZ last season in the 2018/19 NZ Formula Ford Championship, Spike Kohlbecker has moved up to the wings and slicks category. He’s been thrown in the deep end with five consecutive TRS rounds but has been up for the challenge and a steep learning curve for what is ahead.
The season started the third weekend of January at the technical Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell followed by the short and fast Teretonga Park Raceway a week later. The third round at Hampton Downs in the north Waikato could be described as a drivers’ circuit which provided the opportunity for plenty of passing.
We asked him what he thought of the fourth round at Pukekohe? A circuit that resulted in a tight qualifying session on Saturday morning with the top 17 cars within 0.8 second of each other.
“It was quite good and was a great learning experience. Quite a bit different to last weekend at Hampton Downs. There’s more high-speed stuff and that’s what made the difference. A different aspect to what this car can do, as well as the driver.
“We had a bit of luck and as well as some misfortune.
“In the opening race on Saturday afternoon we were going pretty good and got up to 11th . Unfortunately there was a safety car for a spin on the outside of turn 3. Someone drove over the debris and it flicked up and hit my car. I didn’t know the front wing was broken but knew I had plenty of understeer. So I had to come in (to the pits) and change the nose. I got back out and managed to pass two cars to finish 14th.
Race two on Sunday morning saw Kohlbecker finish one better in 13th.
“We finished the weekend quite well in the third race. We had a good start and I eventually finished 12th.
“Overall the weekend was a great experience. Most definitely feel I am improving a lot having no background experience in aero. But in saying that, so is everyone else, which is to be expected.
“It’s really pushing me to the limits and I’m trying my hardest. Sometimes that still isn’t enough because everyone around you is doing the same. That’s quite frustrating.
“Hampton Downs was a great track which I enjoyed with more low speed turns and it was a little bit easier to pass. Pukekohe is super, super bumpy on the front straight and in turn 1. Sometimes we bottom out and the rear end shakes around.
“We were pretty spot on in the high speed stuff this weekend. We struggled with turns 2,and 3. I was carrying the right amount of speed but not braking deep enough (just a little too early).”
This weekend it’s the final round at Manfeild Park in Feilding with the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting. It is a track that Kohlbecker has raced at before in the NZ Formula Ford Championship.
“It’s a good track with lots of passing opportunities particularly through the the last complex of turns with different lines that can be taken.
“We need to work on getting up to speed early on the Friday (practice). We need to be ready for Saturday morning qualifying. Immediately heading out and getting on the pace. It should be doable.
“Once you get used to the car it starts to become enjoyable. It is a difficult car to drive, way different to what I am used. Most definitely this jump has been big, amazing and fantastic experience. It will set us up for what is next.”
Testing and practice for the weekend takes place Thursday and Friday with qualifying and race 1 on Saturday. Race 2 is on Sunday morning with the feature 35-lap New Zealand Grand Prix taking place Sunday late afternoon.
Kohlbecker currently sits 16th overall on 63-points with a chance of moving up to 13th overall with four drivers within seven points of each other.