There were seven very happy Kiwi Briggs LO206 category karters amongst the 350 drivers celebrating at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday evening after a very successful second USAC-sanctioned Battle at the Brickyard kart race meeting over the July 07-08 weekend.
“It certainly was an amazing event,” group spokesperson, and current KartSport Wellington club President, Brent Melhop, said from his hotel in the city on Monday morning. “All seven of us qualified and got to finish the Finals and bar Hadleigh (Coffey) who had a big crash and bruised his ribs, we all came through pretty much unscathed.”
Melhop ended up the top finisher of the seven-strong group of Kiwi Briggs LO206 class runners from Wellington who made the trip, finishing 10th in the one-make Margay K3 chassis/Briggs LO206 Ignite Masters class Final (out of 33 starters) and 11th in the main Ignite class Final (out of 44 starters).
Next best was Glen Dodd who finished 16th in the Ignite Masters (for drivers 35 years and over) Final after making up six places then came Shane Sayer (19th) and Mike Hanks (24th)
In the main Ignite class Final Shaun Croskery, Glen Dodd and Kyle Nelson finished line-astern in 25th, 26th and 27th places respectively with Shane Sayer 31st, Mike Hanks 34th and Hadleigh Coffey making it up to 35th after starting from the back row of the grid thanks to missing the Pre-Final because of his crash in qualifying.
Coffey and Croskery also entered the open-chassis Briggs Medium class (with 50 entries) where they finished the final 34th (Croskery) and 41st (Coffey)
The course the Battle at the Brickyard meeting ran this year was based on the ‘road course’ at the venue originally created to run the United States Formula 1 GP and the World Championship round of the MotoGP motorcycle series, and included part of the start/finish straight of the Indianapolis 500 course.
As a special ‘treat’ on Friday evening the 350 karters across the 17 classes entered got to do a parade lap around the full 4.0km (2.5 mile) length of the famous oval.
While in Indianapolis the Kiwi karters also took the opportunity to do ‘shop tours’ of both the Andretti Motorsports and Chip Ganassi team race shops….where fellow Kiwi Scott Dixon turned up to say gidday and sign hats, books, posters and a Kiwi flag for the KartSport Wellington club house!
The seven Kiwis ran under the Wilford Motorsport banner with assistance from Auckland-based Carter’s Tyre Service, and Wellington businesses ERS Karting, George Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Business Knowledge and Typeface.
All seven ran the same livery on their Margay Ignite/Briggs LO2016 karts and the same Carter’s Tyre Service helmet visor banner they do at home.
Once the novelty of being at the famous ‘Brickyard’ wore off Melhop says that reality of the situation soon became apparent.
“Friday, for instance, was a very busy day with three practice runs then qualifying at the end of the day. The sessions were short – just seven minutes – and with a 1 min 18 second lap it meant you only got five laps per session to learn a new kart on a hard tyre on a circuit no one had seen before.”
The style of racing was also new to most of the Kiwis, who had only ever raced their own Briggs LO206 karts at home on purpose-built kart tracks, rather than converted motor racing circuits.
“It was actually more like the road racing we do at home at places like Manfeild and Taupo,” says Melhop, “with drivers running together to get good times, lots and lots of bump drafting and late dives. You had to draft if you wanted to get a good time.”
With plenty of experience road racing at home Melhop adapted quickest, qualifying fourth (out of 31) in the Ignite Masters class. Shane Sayer was next best with the 10th quickest time then came Glen Dodd (18th) and Mike Hanks (23rd).
It was Sayer who set the best time in the open Ignite category though (in doing so achieving one of his stated goals (to beat Brent Melhop!), setting the 8th quickest time out of a field of 45. Melhop was next with the 10th quickest time followed by Hadleigh Coffey (14th), Shaun Croskery (16th), Glen Dodd (24th), Kyle Nelson (28th) and Mike Hanks (42nd).
Croskery and Coffey also entered the open-chassis Briggs Medium class but it was in that qualifying session that Hadleigh Coffey crashed heavily, breaking his kart’s seat, bruising his ribs and getting a trip to the track’s state-of-the-art medical centre for a check-up. Croskery qualified 26th (out of 54 starters), Coffey 39th despite the early end to his session.
The pressure on the Kiwi drivers told on Saturday when all – to a man – went backwards in their various Pre-Finals. As Melhop said; “The pressure and drafting all stepped up a notch. At home we run a 15 tooth front sprocket but at Indy we were running a 19 tooth and getting to over 100km/h. Amazing!”
Sunday was the big day with the general razzmatazz cranked up to fever pitch.
“Honestly, “ says Melhop, “it was just like we were at the real Indy 500. There was a guy playing the national anthem on an electric guitar, a four-person guard of honour, everyone singing the song ‘Back home in Indiana,’ and reciting the prayer for safety, then the famous words spoken by the President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Doug Boles, ‘Drivers, start your engines!’”
Completing the picture the first class out got to do a lap of the Battle at the Brickyard track behind a 1969 Indy 500 Chevrolet Camaro convertible pace car.
Not surprisingly, thoughts amongst the Kiwi group have already turned to a return trip in 2019.
“Everyone up here made us so welcome,” says Melhop, “from the guys at USAC whose meeting it was, to Margay Karts who put the arrive-and-drive package together for us. So our thinking right now is, why not do it again next year with an even bigger group of Kiwi Briggs karters?”