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Intense NZ Formula Ford title battle resumes at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon

The highly competitive NAPA Auto Parts 2024 New Zealand Formula Ford Championship (NZFF) gets underway again as the penultimate round takes place this weekend. It’s been five years since the national series competed at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding, a track that offers some of the best Formula Ford racing in the country. Three drivers are in a head-for-head battle for both the overall and Class 1 national titles with just 75-points between them. With four races to be contested and a maximum of 302-points available, the event also doubles as the fifth and penultimate round of the 2023/24 Giltrap Group North Island Formula Ford Series (NIFF).

Such is the intensity of the battle, the final race of the last round held in Christchurch was only recently decided at the Motorsport NZ National Court of Appeal hearing which in turn changed the overall points table.

The three-way battle is between Blake Knowles (Van Diemen RF05) who currently leads the title fight 40-points clear of Will Neale (Van Diemen Stealth) with Seb Manson (Spectrum 015) 35-points further back in third.

During the final feature race in Christchurch, Knowles and Manson made contact while fighting for the race lead, with Knowles making a pass on Manson on the outside of Turn 2. The resulting clash caused damage to the rear axle of Manson’s Spectrum and he did not finish the race while Knowles went on to take the race win.

Initially this was ruled as a racing incident which in turn was protested by Manson’s team, resulting in the stewards deciding that Knowles was at fault. A penalty of an additional five seconds was added to his race time and saw him drop to 11th for the race and second on the points table.

This decision was then appealed by Knowle’s team and the Court of Appeal hearing ruled in his favour, thus quashing the penalty and reinstating his race win.

While the South Island Series champion, Seb Manson is 75-points behind Knowles, he has been the in-form driver having won four of the seven races held so far. Knowles has won the other three races while Neale has been consistent, finishing on the podium in five of the races and is more confident of winning heading to Manfeild.

“We’ve been struggling with the race ability of the car, and keeping up with the others,” commented Neale. “Since Ruapuna, we have spent a lot of time sorting out issues. We are only halfway through the championship so have been accumulating points. While I haven’t capitalised on some opportunities, I’m even more focussed and will be pushing for race wins as I’m confident we have found more straight-line speed.”

Rookie driver Izaac Fletcher holds fourth overall and will be looking for his first win in a national series. The South Islander heads to Manfeild having competed at the last NIFF round at Hampton Downs gaining valuable experience.

In the national Class 2 title fight, Cameron Freeman (Van Diemen RF92) holds a 143-point lead over Cameron Tanner (Van Diemen RF90) with Jacob Cunniffe (Swift SC96K) in third place.

The weekend also doubles as the penultimate round of the 2023/24 Giltrap Group North Island Formula Ford Series which also has a tight battle for the overall lead. Just five-points separates the top three with Blake Dowdall (Spectrum 015) one-point head of Dylan Grant (Van Diemen RF03), who also sits fifth overall in the national championship, with Zach Blincoe (Mygale) in third.

“Manfeild is my home track where we have done most of our testing,” commented Dowdall. “I love it as there is lots of drafting, it has some nicely banked corners and three great straights.”

In the NIFF rookie standings, Toby McCormack (Van Diemen RF01 Scholarship car) has a 74-points over Reagan Edwards (Spectrum 015). Both are battling for a 237-piece SP Custom Series Tool Kit worth $3000 for the top rookie, provided by NAPA Auto Parts and SP Tools. Shane Drake continues to lead the NIFF Class 2 competition.

The weekend will see the important Morrie Smith Memorial Trophy presented to the winner of the final race of the round. Father of Ken Smith, Morrie was instrumental in getting his son into motorsport and was an important figure, particularly in the early days of Formula Ford racing in New Zealand.

Also to be contested is the $1,010.10 Hampton Downs NZ Racing Academy cash prize for fastest qualifier as well as the NAPA Auto Parts Driver of the Day award.

The winner of the overall title will receive a fully funded two-day Formula 4 test in the US with Kiwi Motorsport. They will also have a FT60 test compliments of the Tony Quinn Foundation.

The 2024 NZ Formula Ford Championship includes the Ron Frost Memorial Trophy to be contested at the final race of Round 4 and the Stephen Gillard Memorial Trophy which will be awarded to the highest placed Rookie at the end of the championship.

The NZ Formula Ford Championship is also supported by NAPA Auto Part, Yokohama and the Tony Quinn Foundation.

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