Maiden Wins at Manfeild for Greg Kroef and Simon Ussher.
Photo credit: @dillonphotonz
The RYCO 24•7 V8 Utes event at Manfeild in New Zealand dished up a smorgasbord of surprises. It all began with qualifying on Saturday April 15th, where seasoned V8 Utes veteran and winner of Round Two Jake Stoneman posted the fastest lap. But the big surprise was Daniel Ludlam – barely a season into his V8 Utes journey – posting the second fastest time having just stepped up to the ex Shane Dias Ute. With eleven utes qualifying a mere four seconds apart, the scene was set for some intense battles during Race One in the afternoon.
The 8-lap race produced upsets and excitement right from the start and showed how closely-matched the RYCO 24•7 V8 Utes have become. As the lights went out, pole-sitter Jake Stoneman had a perfect start, shooting off the line to stay in front. Third qualifier Greg Kroef stamped his authority on the race early, slipping down the inside of Daniel Ludlam to secure second place by the first corner. Further back, Stu Monteith wasn’t as quick off the mark, missing a gearshift – fortunately Paul Fougere right behind him missed Stu.
While a dogfight between Jake Stoneman and Greg Kroef unfolded up front, sixth qualifier and championship leader Brad Kroef soon found a way around Simon Ussher. He then manoeuvred around Daniel Ludlam, then the highly experienced Spencer who is back after an extended break.
Despite some aggressive moves from Greg Kroef, Jake Stoneman held on to keep his Ute in the familiar position of first. Just behind them, Brad Kroef muscled his way up to finish third, keeping his championship hopes alive. After the race, as sweat poured from his face, Greg Kroef reflected, “That was insane, that was intense”. Further back, Phill Ross finished seventh, dropping him from second to third in the championship – just one point behind Greg Kroef.
Daniel Ludlam claimed fastest lap with 1.20.013. As for close racing, the first seven Utes finished just 6.67 seconds apart, making for great spectator viewing and spectacular TV, as the racing was broadcast live on Sky Sport and Fox Sports.
The following Sunday, persistence finally paid off with a win for Simon Ussher. The reverse-grid Race Two relegated yesterday’s front runners to the back of the field, leaving plenty of overtaking ahead of them. There was also an unexpected challenge – a crash in the previous GTRNZ GT race had left oil on Turn one. Unperturbed, Brad Kroef produced an overtaking master class, leapfrogging from seventh to third and boosting his championship lead. Jake Stoneman worked his way through the field in similar fashion, racing from tenth to second. Yet the real hero of the race was Simon Ussher, securing his first-ever race win after seven years in the V8 Utes category.
With the RYCO 24•7 V8 Utes championship points battle so tight, Race Three in the afternoon would be crucial to the front-runners’ title hopes. It didn’t all go to plan. The race began with a rare stall from pole-sitter Jake Stoneman, allowing the entire field to swarm past him. That allowed Simon Ussher to hit the front heading into turn one, with the Kroef duo of Greg and Brad close behind. As the race wore on, Greg Kroef passed Simon for the lead on lap two; the slipstream helping tow son Brad along and overtake Simon.
Further back, the slow-starting Stoneman was slicing through the pack and by lap eight was up to third overall. Staring down the barrel of his first ever win, Greg Kroef was on edge. “I was nervous watching Jake coming up in my rear-view mirror, getting closer and closer.” His son Brad drove a clinical race to finish second, with Jake Stoneman third. And that’s how positions remained to the chequered flag.
This race result was Greg Kroef’s first ever RYCO 24•7 V8 Utes race win. It was also the second time his #23 Ute had won at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon. Greg Kroef had bought the Ford from Jake Stoneman, who’d originally built and raced the Ute – Jake had even won a previous round of the championship at the circuit. History repeats at Manfeild. The championship now heads to Hampton Downs for the title decider on the weekend of May 5th – 7th.