It was another intense weekend at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon for round six of the 2017/18 Hi-Q Components NZ Formula First Championship. Kaleb Ngatoa briefly regained the series lead after a win on Saturday but was quickly outpaced by Callum Crawley on Sunday, the latter regaining and extending his points lead.
It was Reece Hendl-Cox who came out firing on Saturday morning, taking pole position for the second round running. Kaleb Ngatoa put in a lap to move him up to second in the later phases of the session, completing the front row ahead of Callum Crawley and Conrad Clark.
Upon the start of Race 16, Reece Hendl-Cox and Callum Crawley broke away from the field and looked set to decide the lead only between themselves until the final lap when on the second to last corner Crawley spilt it wide into the weeds. Hendl-Cox followed him off in sympathy, while the excursions of those ahead allowed Ngatoa and Clark to move through to take first and second respectively.
Crawley recovered to finish third while Liam Foster moved up to finish fourth after getting by Hendl-Cox. Taylor Hurst produced a great drive to run with the front pack and come home fifth ahead of Hendl-Cox eventually finished sixth.
Off the start of Sunday mornings race, it was Ngatoa who got the advantage, leading Crawley and Clark out of turn one. The pole-sitting Hendl-Cox, unfortunately, dropped a couple of spots leaving him on the back foot for the opening part of the race.
Crawley inherited an almost unassailable lead on lap five when Clark was squeezed by Brody McConkey and Ngatoa at splash, inducing a huge wobble for the SpeedSport Scholarship driver. The gap to Crawley left the remainder of the field to fight for second place as a train from second to tenth formed.
The tussle for second came down to Clark, Ngatoa and Hendl-Cox with the trio nearly exchanging paint. The final lap saw Hendl-Cox fall out of the battle at turn one as he dropped multiple spots while Ngatoa and Clark ran side by side through splash which saw Clark having to use the grass. Hendl-Cox then lost more positions as he ran wide again out of the hairpin, eventually finishing tenth. Ngatoa would claim second ahead of Clark who just beat Liam Foster to third.
From the outset of Race 18, the battle was on as Clark, Crawley and Ngatoa established themselves as the three contenders for the win, risking it all by going three-wide through splash on the opening lap.
It looked to be all over for Crawley after he spent some more time off the track at the hairpin on the second lap, falling off the lead pack to sixth. That left Clark and Ngatoa to duke it out for the lead while the four cars behind them went side by side, wheel to wheel to decide third.
Brody McConkey then gained the lead almost out of nowhere, compacting the field up again and allowing the tail end of the train an opportunity for a podium finish. Then after clawing back positions, Crawley took to the grass again on lap five, this time motivated by Clark, further compromising his chances of victory.
The final three laps would see Crawley yet again make up for the time lost off the track and eventually take the win. Ngatoa limited the points loss with second place while Liam Foster picked up third ahead of Clark and McConkey. Hendl-Cox took sixth ahead of Billy Frazer, Taylor Hurst, Chris Symon with Amy Smith rounding out the top ten.
The Championship now heads to Hampton Downs Motorsport Park on March 9-11 for the penultimate round of the 2017/18 season and it will be Callum Crawley who takes the advantage, albeit a small one, into the Northern events. Crawley leads Ngatoa but just 9 points with Liam Foster sitting a further 61 points behind in third. Conrad Clark comfortably leads the rookie championship, sitting in fourth 141 points from Crawley and over 250 points clear of his nearest rookie rival.
2017/18 NZ Formula First Championship Calendar:
Round 1: Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon - 20-22 October 2017
Round 2: Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park - 17-19 November 2017
Round 3: Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park - 1-3 December 2017
Round 4: Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park - 2-4 February 2018
Round 5: Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon - 9-11 February 2018
Round 6: Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon - 23-25 February 2018
Round 7: Hampton Downs Motorsport Park - 9-11 March 2018
Round 8: Pukekohe Park Raceway - 30 March - 1 April 2018
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