Angus Fogg just couldn’t keep from grinning as he sat, his racing overalls soaked with podium champagne, with John McIntyre and Kayne Scott in the NZ V8s media conference at Manfeild last Sunday afternoon.
The grin has been there since Saturday morning when he put the Caltex Havoline Ford Falcon on pole for the three-race Fujitsu 200.
By Saturday afternoon and the first press conference it had grown broader.
The lanky racer had won – initially running away from the pack till officials threw the red flag and stopped the race after heavy rain began to fall. That set up a restart, but Fogg had the measure of the opposition in the race’s wet second half.
Though Fogg is a frequent visitor to the podium-finisher press conferences, this was the first time this season he’d been there as a winner, just as the grin-inducing pole position had been his first of the 2007-2008 season.
Fogg had plenty to grin about in Race 2 on Sunday, scoring a clear-cut win though a late-race yellow flag period brought McIntyre back within striking distance.
But Fogg won the restart and hung on to take the win.
That grin would stay there the whole weekend, and as the third, reverse grid, race loomed up, Fogg was out front of the Caltex tent, signing T-shirts and the inside of baseball caps – most were black, so Fogg improvised, signing the white lining of the hats with his black felt-tip.
Fogg clowned with the kids, looking the picture of relaxed confidence.
But neither he nor McIntyre was under any illusion about the difficulties that would face them in the reverse grid race.
Both had everything to win – or lose – in a race which they would start from the back of the grid, having to thread their way with care past slower cars as they worked to get as close to the front by the chequered flag as they strove to amass as many points as possible.
McIntyre still led the championship, but Fogg had cut the margin to 76 points.
Not finishing the race wasn’t an option for either. They would have to make sure they kept out of anyone else’s accident – no mean feat in an NZ V8 reverse-gridder.
They would also have to play a cat-and-mouse game, keeping tabs on each other as McIntyre strove to preserve his points lead which Fogg tried to slice further into.
Fogg said McIntyre’s 76-point lead was still a big buffer with seven races remaining in the series, but McIntyre said his priority in what he predicted would be a mayhem-filled reverse-gridder was to minimise any chances of Fogg closing in further.
McIntyre said he was happy with his second place in Sunday’s Heat 2. He had got shuffled back from fourth on the grid to sixth at the start as he avoided making contact with other cars.
Even a slight touch with another car – as he’d had at the start of Race 1 – can cause damage and a weakness in the car, and he hadn’t wanted to race hard for 18 laps with a car that he wasn’t sure of. So he’d chosen discretion over valour and opted to avoid any possible contact.
He had then scythed his way through to second place and closed right in on Fogg after a yellow flag period.
“We had good car speed,” he said.
Fogg and McIntyre would start from the back of the field along with Kayne Scott (Fujitsu Ford) who is third on series points. Scott had said after Race 1 that he felt he would have a good car for the reverse grid 22-lapper.
Race 2 hadn’t gone so well for the Fujitsu Ford driver. He’d gone the wrong way on fine-tuning the chassis’ set-up.
McIntyre said he’d be following “my normal reverse grid race approach of sitting back and just picking off the slower cars rather than risk anything. But I’ll have to keep my eye on Fogg and Scott.
“If they’re not 10 places in front of me, I’ll just drive my own race and make it to the finish which should be enough (to protect my series lead).
“But the nature of the circuit means the race will be a busy one. In some ways it’s nice starting at the back and watching the rest of them funnelling into the first corner.”
Fogg said that in Race 2, where he had opened a sizeable gap on his rivals before the Safety Car period, he had opted for a car set-up that would allow him to run away from the field.
“I had the tyres high from the start. The idea was to get a gap and hope the others got tangled up with each other.
“John managed to get through, but (my chance of winning the series) isn’t completely over.”
The strategy for the reverse grid race? “The car is obviously good, so we have just got to be patient and pick off (slower cars) when we can, and see where we end up.”
But he would be careful. “We don’t need any DNFs (did not finishes).”
Seasoned observers are rating Race 3, the reverse grid 22-lapper, as one of the best-ever NZ V8 struggles.
The three at the top of the points tree started relatively circumspectly, though Scott began really cutting his way through the pack. The other two took things a lot more gently.
At the front of the field, Andrew Porter was driving into a good lead in his Falcon, though similarly-mounted Australian David Besnard was cutting a broad path as he moved inexorably to the front.
Track commentator and radio motorsport reporter Brian Kelly says he thinks Besnard should write a book on how to contest reverse grid races. “Is there money in it?” Besnard quipped later. “If there is, I’ll write it.”
Scott had soon put 12 cars behind him, and McIntyre edged ahead of Fogg.
Besnard swept into the lead on lap five, and Radisich began closing the gap on Kevin Williams (Holden) and Porter.
Scott’s progress got held up when he got some tough breaks in traffic and McIntyre slipped ahead of him.
When the race went yellow after Nick Ross and Cameron Mclean got together in the Esses, Besnard led from Radisich, Porter, Andrew Fawcet and Mark Pedersen.
Mid-field, McIntyre led Scott and a fast-closing Fogg.
At a restart with four laps to go, Pedersen got past Fawcet with a move that angered the Wellingtonian, and Scott found himself shuffled down the order as he got baulked by slow cars.
McIntyre was now just ahead of Fogg, who was determined to pass the BP Ultimate Ford.
They came up behind Andrew Anderson’s Pinepac ITM Commodore, and McIntyre had to weigh up whether to risk trying to pass the Auckland speedster or hold back and hope Fogg didn’t make a bold lunge.
Sitting behind the two cars, Fogg momentarily thought about passing both of them, then thought about his championship hopes and backed out of it. A couple of seasons ago Foggy would probably have thrown caution to the wind. But not last Sunday.
And so they finished in that order, with Scott closing back in; and McIntyre preserved his series lead. Fogg has put himself into a position where he’s still in with a chance going to Timaru (a circuit he likes) and Teretonga (one he likes as a circuit but one at which he’s tended to have mixed results).
Scott is in with an outside chance as he moves into a section of the season where he will juggle the remaining two rounds with his Team Kiwi Racing duties in the Australian V8 Supercar Championship.
McIntyre now has 737 points to Fogg’s 658 and Scott’s 621.
At the sharp end of the reverse grid race, Besnard took a victory that has been long overdue, Radisich was second and Porter third.
Through his broad grin at the post-meeting press conference, Fogg said it was doubly satisfying to have built the car and the engine and to have driven it to a round win on only its second outing (he debuted the new car at Taupo).
McIntyre said he had driven the final race with an eye on his mirrors “to see where these two guys were.”
Though it was a gamble that might not have paid off had Fogg made a bold move, McIntyre said: “I gave up trying to pass Andrew Anderson (in the closing laps).”
Scott: “I was hoping Angus was going to pass both of them.”
Fogg: “I thought about it.”
Assessing his championship chances, Fogg said: “John has been professional in getting the points all season where I’ve been a bit up and down.
“But my car is in the groove now and I am in the groove.”
And the grin got wider again.