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Neale on top of NZ Formula Ford title fight

Christchurch’s Will Neale has come out on top after a three-race battle at the second round of the NAPA Auto Parts 2024 New Zealand Formula Ford Championship in Christchurch last weekend. While the result of Race 3 and the overall points standings are provisional due to a continuing appeal hearing, consistency from Neale (Van Diemen Stealth) gives him a ten -point lead over Blake Knowles (Van Diemen RF05) with Seb Manson a further 30-points behind.

The Euromarque Motorsport Park in Christchurch hosted the second South Island round which proved to be quite an arm-wrestle between Manson (Spectrum 015) and Knowles for the overall lead in the championship. Manson went into the round with a narrow four-point lead over Will Neale (Van Diemen Stealth) and 11 over Knowles and set the fastest lap in qualifying winning the $1,010,10 cash prize provided by the Hampton Downs NZ Racing Academy which also provides a travel fund for competitors.

While Manson took the chequered flag in the opening race, a five-second penalty for a jump-start dropped him to fourth, handing the win to Knowles with Neale second and rookie Izaak Fletcher (Ray GR20) third.

Manson bounced back winning the second race from Knowles ahead of Caleb Byers (Ray GR21), Neale and Mason Potter (Spectrum 015).

The final third race saw Knowles get off the line quicker, snatching the lead from Manson which he held for the following five laps. The pairing put a large gap on the rest of the field with Byers, Dylan Petch (Van Diemen Stealth), Potter, Fletcher, Neale, Zach Blincoe (Mygale SJ07A) and Dylan Grant (Van Diemen RF03) fighting for the remaining place on the podium.

Manson was able get past Knowles on the sixth lap, however, the latter never let him get away, constantly putting pressure on him. Unfortunately, on the tenth lap the two had a coming together with Manson retiring out of the race bringing out the safety car for the remaining three laps.

“My car came in quite early in the race, while Seb’s came in later,” commented Knowles. “He got in front of me and then later, coming out of Turn 1 it was unfortunate that we came together.”

While Knowles crossed the line in first, a code of driving conduct was deemed to have been breached, by race stewards, handing him a five-second penalty, which is currently under appeal, dropping him down the order. Byers took the win from Petch ahead of Fletcher, Neale, Potter and Blincoe.

“It’s a good result, particularly after last weekend,” commented Byers. “Pretty happy with a win and a podium this weekend. The boys have done a really good job on the car so really happy.”

Izaak Fletcher continues to lead the rookie standings with some strong results including a podium in the opening race.

“I’ve definitely gone better than expected with some top racing out there,” said Fletcher. “The season is going really well so really pleased so far.”

Jacob Cunniffe was awarded Driver of the Day taking home the $300 prize provided by NAPA Auto Parts.

In the Class 2 battle, both Cameron Freeman (Van Diemen RF92) and Cameron Tanner (Van Diemen RF90) went into the round tied on 284 points. However, an incident between Tanner and Jacob Cunniffe (Swift SC96K) in the opening race saw both drivers unable to start the second race, also held on Saturday. This has resulted in Freeman taking a huge 143-point lead in the Class 2 title fight.

Now at the halfway point of the Championship, drivers and teams take a break before the penultimate round taking place 5-7 April at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding with the finale two-weeks later in support of the Supercars round in Taupo.

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 prestigious Morrie Smith Memorial Trophy up for grabs at the final race of the third round. The Ron Frost Memorial Trophy will be contested at the final race of Round 4 and the Stephen Gillard Memorial Trophy 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. The round also doubled as the final round of the 2023/24 Yokohama South Island Formula Ford Championship.

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