Hall tops the winners' list at ProKart series opener
Defending Aarque Group KZ4 class title holder Regan Hall topped the winner’s list at the opening round of this year’s Toyota Racing Pro Kart Series in conjunction with Speedworks at Palmerston North over the weekend, earning six wins from six starts.
Not only that, but Hall, from Auckland, also beat home all the KZ2 Masters starters in all but one of their combined races, some achievement in one of the tech-and-cost-restricted KZ4 category karts.
The weekend meeting, which hosted the first of the new, expanded TRS and Speedworks-backed series, could hardly have got off to a better start, with close, exciting racing in hot, dry conditions at the KartSport Manawatu club’s Manawatu Toyota Raceway kart track on the outskirts of the city.
Category stalwart and multi-time former Aarque Group KZ4 class champion Garry Cullum was never far from Hall’s bumper with second placings in three of the four heats, the Pre-Final and the Final. Fellow Aucklander, Sam Dashfield, also showed the sort of pace in qualifying (second quickest) and the Pre-Final and Final (finishing third in each behind Hall and Cullum) which could see him win class races before the year is out.
In the other Aarque Group-sponsored classes Jared MacKenzie edged out fellow Aucklander Kevan Storr to claim top honours in KZ2 Masters while last year’s CIK-FIA KZ2 World Cup runner-up, Daniel Bray, just missed out on a clean-sweep of his own in KZ2.
After qualifying quickest – with teammate Matthew Payne second and multi-time class champion Ryan Grant third - Bray won all four heats and the Pre-Final to start the Final from pole.
Contact on the opening lap of that race, however, saw him shuffled back down the order to sixth place, leaving defending ProKart Series KZ2 class title holder Mat Kinsman to grab the lead and race win.
Bray was back up to second place by lap 10 (of 20) but Kinsman had enough in hand to claim that win, as well as runner-up status for the round – with Matthew Payne third, Graeme Smyth fourth and top local driver Jacob Cranston fifth.
Best of the highly-rated former Junior stars who have moved up to the ProKart Series this year, was Josh Parkinson from Auckland who had a best heat race finish of 4th and who ended up 8th overall for the round and 8th in the series’ point standings, just one point behind seasoned veteran Ryan Grant.
With just one season of racing in the Rotax Max Junior category, another young Aucklander, Michael Adolph, also impressed with a best finish of 5th in the Final and 10th overall, a result which would have been even better had he not broken a drive chain and been unable to start the third KZ2 class heat.
The racing was just as close and exciting in the three Rotax classes which were added to the ProKart Series programme at the start of the year.
There were four different race winners over the two-day race weekend, for instance, in Giltrap Group 125cc Rotax Max Light, with a rare dead heat leaving Heat 1 & 2 winner Michael McCulloch from the Kapiti Coast sharing round victory with Heat 2 winner and Pre-Final runner-up Fynn Osborne from Hamilton.
The bonus point he earned for qualifying quickest means that McCulloch has a one point lead over Osborne in the series’ points standings. However the pair’s score was the same when every race score was tallied so they were declared the joint winners on the day.
Top local driver Jackson Rooney won both the Pre-Final and Final but a 5-4-3-3 score card through the heats meant that his was a race for the third – rather than the top - step of the podium. The other heat winner- Ryan Crombie – was fourth, with fellow Aucklanders Ashton Grant and Marco Giltrap fifth and sixth respectively.
Fittingly the Manawatu Toyota-backed 125cc Rotax Max Heavy class proved to be a local benefit with WPKA Goldstar Series #1 plate holder Ashley Higgins taking the win by a single point from Palmerston North-based international Fraser Hart.
While it was Hart who qualified quickest and won three of the heats and the Pre-Final a mechanical issue meant he failed to finish the Final, leaving Higgins to lead home Darren Walker from Tauranga and Henry Gelb from Auckland, and take round victory as well as the early season class series lead from Hart, Walker and Gelb.
Finally, William Exton from Picton made the trip across Cook Strait worthwhile with a class win in Giltrap Group 125cc Rotax Max Junior. The win did not come easily however, as if anything, the depth of competition was even greater than in the 125ccc Rotax Max Light class.
Aucklander Josh Richmond, for instance, started the ball rolling, topping the time sheets in qualifying until shuffled back to fourth in the dying stages of the session by Clay Osborne, William Exton and Riley Spargo.
Osborne, the younger brother of Lights’ class runner-up Fynn, then went on to win the first three heats, the Pre-Final and Final. However failing to finish the fourth heat meant he was only ever going to be in a battle for second place for the round behind the quick and consistent Exton. He followed Osborne home in the first three heats, won the fourth then was back in second place behind Osborne in the Pre-Final and third behind Osborne and a determined Josh Richmond in the Final.
Had the cards fallen differently, indeed, Richmond could well have ended up on the podium. He finished third in both the first and second heats and second in the fourth heat and Final. Having his kart’s chain break while leading the third heat was the deal-broker though. And a nose-cone penalty in the Pre-Final (dropping him from P4 at the line to P7) didn’t help his chances.
Undeterred he worked his way back up through the field from P7 to P2 in the Final to tie for fifth place on the day and in the overall class series’ point standings with Logan Manson.
The series resumes at KartSport Rotorua’s Century Batteries International Raceway over the Sat-Sun March 16-17 weekend with promotor Steve Brown predicting more of the same great racing and even bigger fields.
“Palmerston North set the bar really high, it really was a stunning weekend, but we’re rolling now, so Rotorua is going to be even better.”