Hello everyone. Zak Caban with you. Welcome to Zak Sports coverage of the opening round of the 2016 NSW Formula Ford Championship from Wakefield Park in Goulburn.
It’s the start of a massive 18-race season for the state series, that will share its grid with the National competition when we get to Rounds 3 and 6 respectively.
Each round will feature three races, and the series will be split evenly between Sydney Motorsport Park and Goulburn’s Wakefield Park.
2015 was a simply scintillating season in the outright category. The Duratec class constantly had three or four drivers on the grid capable of winning races, which lead to some thrilling battles, and outstanding racing.
Sadly for this series, some of those drivers at the forefront of the 2015 competition have moved on, most notably Andrew Kahl, who will contest the National series in 2016.
But, with departures come arrivals, and it’s fantastic to see Jett Bennett and Jake Donaldson making their debut in the 2016 Championship. They’ll contest in the Duratec Class, where Lachlan Gibbons remains, and starts as an unbackable favourite to claim the 2016 Championship.
If Round 1 is any guide, it’s likely that we’ll spend more of 2016 focusing on the Kent class rather than the Duratec division, which held our attention last year… the battles in the Kent class in the opening round of the season were astonishing – and there’s a third debutant in the ranks there, with Aaron Grech behind the wheel of the third car in the Anglo Australian Motorsport stable.
Qualifying was dominated by Lachlan Gibbons. As expected, the former karter raced to pole position by eight-tenths of a second from Jett Bennett and Jake Donaldson – Bennett getting the first blood in the battle of the debutants.
Gibbons was unchallenged across the weekend – winning all three races, and doing so comfortably. He won by nine seconds in the opening two races, before highlighting his dominance in the final race, and winning by thirteen seconds.
Jett Bennett scored three second place finishes, while Jake Donaldson was third in all three races, although some issues in the finale saw him finish one lap down.
It was a relatively uneventful weekend, that went to script – Gibbons goes three from three to take the early going forward to Sydney Motorsport Park for Round 2.
From there, Hodges would go to three race victories, but not without Holihan putting up a fight – the #41 was fast off the line in all three races, but would eventually hold second comfortable, after slotting in behind his team-mate, and being too far back to mount a challenge. Hodges won Race 1 by 1.4 seconds, and it’s important to note that a few car lengths is all you need in this category, with the times between each driver being very close.
The second race was rather comfortable for Hodges – an incident on the opening lap involving most of the Kent Class saw chaos at turn 10, and while all cars were able to resume, Hodges was not involved in the incident, and raced out to a commanding lead.
Holihan slipped to the back of the field, but soldiered on beautifully to fight his way back to third in class, before a tight battle with Rodney Baker held our attention – Baker was on-track to take second position, but a late race off-track excursion saw him relegated to third, as Holihan escaped with a lucky second, in a race where he had no right to finish that far up the field… but damage control worked to the maximum effect, as Hodges extended his championship lead by the smallest possible margin.
Mark Lowing, who finished third in Race 1, was one of three retirements in Race 2 – one of the unlucky ones not to get out of the carnage at turn 10 unscathed.
Race 3 was dominated by Hodges, who won by 4.8 seconds from Holihan and Lowing bounced back from Race 2 retirement to finish third. Series debutant Aaron Grech was fourth home – his best finish for the weekend, and like Bennett and Donaldson in the Duratec Class, his progress will be well worth monitoring as the season goes on. He’s racing with Anglo Australian Motorsport – one of the most professional setups in the State Championships, and he’ll learn from team-mates Hodges and Holihan as the season wears on.
It was a disappointing end to an already frustrating weekend for Rodney Baker – he could only manage eighth in class, and that was after some more issues after that spin at the end of race 2.
Gibbons and Hodges were dominant – the form guide coming into the weekend proved to be spot on, and now the championship will head to the full length Brabham Circuit at Sydney Motorsport Park for Round 2, and we look forward to your company there.