At the season finale at Hampton Downs, a new king was crowned as Brad Kroef won the RYCO 24•7 NZ V8 Utes championship. His father Greg Kroef was a close 2nd but 3rd place was a hard-fought battle, with Jake Stoneman just edging Phill Ross. Yet for the champion Brad Kroef, the weekend’s racing didn’t all go according to the script. His crew had to replace a brake hose then an oil cooler to keep the car on track. Brad’s win was undeniably a team effort.
In Saturday morning’s Qualifying it was Father Greg Kroef who set the fastest time, closely followed by Jake Stoneman just 0.14 seconds behind. Brad Kroef was 3rd, but the biggest improver was Daniel Ludlam in 4th. In fact, the Qualifying session was the closest of the season, with the field spread out by just 2.6 seconds from first to last – such is the improvement made by the newcomers this season. Jeremy Hunt was relieved just to be on the grid, with his competition license coming through an hour before Qualifying, to ensure he’d be on the grid for all three races.
There had been intermittent showers all weekend, but Race One mid-afternoon began on a dry track. On the front row, Jake Stoneman and Greg Kroef started fast, with Jake getting in front by the second lap. They battled it out the whole race to secure 1st and 2ndrespectively – each adding some solid championship points in the process.
Yet just 6.99 seconds behind them, the big mover was Phil Ross storming from 8th on the grid to 3rd on the podium. Phil leapt ahead from the get-go, quickly finding himself on the tail of Simon Ussher after just two laps. It wasn’t till the dying laps that he finally found his way around Simon. An exhausted Phil Ross admitted afterwards, “I was chasing Simon the whole race. I’m going to sleep well tonight.”
One racer who wasn’t sleeping was Stu Monteith, overtaking his way from 9th to 5th – and securing his grip on 5th in the championship. Stu had secured a 3rd place earlier in the season and has taken massive steps forward lately. Less fortunate was Brad Kroef, withdrawing from the battle with a brake issue and slipping to the back of the field. Was his lead in the championship under threat? The next day’s races would be the decider in Brad Kroef’s quest for the title.
Race Two on Sunday morning was a reverse grid affair where yesterday’s back markers started on the front. It was a clean start, but on turn three, the dominos started to fall when Bruce McRae spun causing a chain reaction. Brad ran into his father Greg, dropping them back to 7thand 8th respectively by lap two.
Up ahead, the deck was being shuffled. After starting near the back of the pack, Phil Ross had overtaken his way to 2nd place by the second lap, but Jake Stoneman was close behind. By lap four, Phil had found a way around Daniel Ludlam to take the lead. But Jake wasn’t going away, ultimately getting to the front by lap nine – a lead he held to the chequered flag with Phil second. Greg Kroef back in 7th place posted the fastest lap, a blistering 1.16.964 – close to his qualifying time.
Jake pocketed maximum points for his efforts, Phil added 31 to his tally. This meant Race Three would prove crucial for the first four competitors’ championship aspirations.
Race Three got away to a delayed start after an incident in the previous race. Jake Stoneman on pole leapt off the start line but Phil Ross was hot on his tail with Greg Kroef in close pursuit. There was plenty at stake – Phil need to get past Jake – his championship position depended on it.
Further back, the championship leader Brad Kroef was working through the field. Having started 8th, Brad Kroef was up to 5th by lap five, and he was breathing down Simon Ussher’s neck.
The battle for the lead was just as intense, with Greg Kroef and Phil Ross weaving around each other corner after corner, until Greg finally secured 2nd place with just five laps to go. Not far behind, a close encounter between Simon Ussher and Geoff Spencer – and Phil Ross got tangled up in the mayhem, running wide and slipping back from the pack; with it, his 3rd in the championship slipped away. Up front, the leaders held their nerve to the chequered flag, with Jake Stoneman notching up his second win for the weekend.
An intense mid-pack dogfight between Stu Monteith, Paul Fougere and Bruce McRae led Bruce McRae to admit after the race, “That was the best race all season.” For Brad Kroef, it was the best result he could have hoped for – his eventual 3rd place earning him enough points to win the RYCO 24•7 NZ V8 Utes championship by a 15-point margin. Brad also notched up fasted lap of the race, a quick 1.17.422.
After the race, Jake Stoneman said “I’m pretty stoked to be where I am after doing just three rounds of the championship.” Greg Kroef admitted, “We’ve worked hard all season – a great team, with a great family behind us.”
As the sun set on the horizon, it was Brad Kroef in the limelight. The Heron Racing Team had worked for the win, with mechanical issues threatening to get in the way. “It’s been one of those weekends” he admitted, with a tear of emotion in his eyes. Yes, it’s also been one of those seasons for Brad Kroef, RYCO 24•7 NZ V8 Utes 2023 champion.