NZ F1600: Bethune Takes Provisional Championship Lead
 January 18, 2018| 
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#32 Josh Bethune leads #17 Callum Hedge -  Ruapuna Rnd 2, 2017-18 NZ F1600 Champs (1200x505)
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – The second round of the New Zealand Formula 1600 Championship appeared to be an early birthday present for Aucklander Josh Bethune. Turning 15 on Tuesday, Bethune won two of three races at the Mike Pero Motorsport Park just outside of Christchurch over the weekend in his Mygale and finished runner up in the third. This was enough for him to win the Wigram Cup and take a four-point lead in the national championship over Callum Hedge (Mygale) with Bailey Paterson (Van Diemen Stealth) in third. The results, however, remain provisional after Bethune’s engine was deemed illegal at post-race technical inspection. The stewards’ decision has been appealed and a hearing will be held in due course.

Second, for the weekend was 13-year-old Hedge, also from Auckland, who won the opening race and twice finished second to Bethune, while local rookie driver Paterson claimed a hat-trick of third-place finishes.

“Saturday wasn’t our day but Sunday was,” commented Bethune. “Once I got past (Hedge) it was a matter of focusing on what was ahead and not looking in my mirrors.”

The weekend also doubled as the fourth round of the South Island F1600 Championship, which Paterson continues to lead from Jordan Michels (Mygale), Ethan Anderson (Van Diemen Stealth) and Bethune.

“It was a pretty good weekend for us,” commented Paterson. “I’m happy with the car setup, the motor is strong but still some more to work to bring down the gap.”

A top field of 24 cars took to the grid as part of the support categories for the opening round of the Toyota Racing Series at the Lady Wigram Trophy meeting. Drivers faced damp conditions for qualifying on Saturday morning with teams having to decide on a wet or dry setup. Hedge immediately set the fastest time early in the session, ending up 1.4 seconds quicker than Bethune and laying down a challenge for the rest of the field.

Hedge easily won the opening race, held in dry conditions, from Bethune and Paterson before Bethune got the better of him in Sunday’s two races. The final feature race saw the top two neck and neck for 12 laps while creating quite a gap on the rest of the field.

“We have pretty good speed but in the end Josh’s (Bethune) car had more speed when our car went off in the last race,” said Hedge.

Southland’s Michels had what he described as a character-building weekend after leading the national championship heading into the round.

“We had a DNF in the final race as a result of the engine overheating,” commented Michels. “I’m gutted for everyone around me who have put a copious amount of effort in to get me on track.” He has slipped to fifth overall in the points table behind fellow Southlander Ethan Anderson.

Not only was the field one of the biggest for a number of years but it also had depth with many battles happening throughout the three different classes.

While the battle up front was for Class 1, Australian based Kiwis Tim Miles (1991 Van Diemen) and 1990/91 NZ Formula Ford title holder Andy McElrea (1988 Van Diemen) were making a one-off appearance in the series and took the round win for Class 2 and 3 respectively.

Making his debut appearance in single seater racing was Australian Tommy Smith (Mygale). With a background in karting, Smith has been testing in NZ as well as taking in two F1600 rounds.

“It’s been a really good weekend,” commented Smith. “It’s been great getting a feel for racing these cars, being in a big field and learning to pass.”

Drivers and teams are now heading directly to Invercargill for the third round of the national championship which again doubles as the fifth and penultimate round of the South Island championship.
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