BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

SCENE SET FOR SUNDAY FINISH

Written by Pete McNae

 

We had Good Friday, but Saturday was better because, 24 hours after it was meant to happen, the Nelson Speedway Association got to complete day one of its Easter Extravaganza. The foul weather that whipped cross-country on Wednesday and Thursday forced a postponement of Friday’s racing but all was not lost. A few of the advertised travellers, notably the Joblin brothers and Jack Miers from the superstock ranks, pulled the pin when it looked like the weekend might be a washout — but this is Nelson and the sun shone long enough and strong enough to get the party started. Unless you race sidecars, that is …. brutal ruts midway round turn one and coming out of turn four meant it simply wasn’t safe for them tonight. With some long distance entrants in their field, they asked the club to grade the track but the half-hour required was too much to commit in a packed programme. Every effort will be made to give the class a sound race surface for tomorrow’s conclusion of the meeting. The sight of 1500kg superstocks with all four wheels off the ground and frequent flatties, suspension damage and a couple of lost wheels were simply the result of Mother Nature putting the boot into the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway for the fourth or fifth time this season.

Still, seven classes did get to run, most competing for their Easter championship, although the TQ midgets were gathering points towards a title tomorrow and the midgets ran their Trackman Trophy round in honour of the late Murray Teece.

The big name on the super saloon list was three-time national champion Mark Osborne in the 16R Hypermac and he didn’t disappoint. With many of the heavy hitters from the South Island ranks choosing Cromwell, Osborne was set to stomp a big footprint on a nine-car class padded out by saloon drivers Rob Flood, Chris Cornelius and Paul Power. But it wasn’t as cut and dried as all that, although Osborne did deliver in the feature. In heat one, he needed some of his sponsor’s special sauce to slide past Nelson’s Mark Carey right on the line, winning by 0.0082sec, a cruel result for Carey who had run for his life for nine and 15/16ths laps. Trevor Elliott was the pacesetter in the second heat and didn’t let go, posting the fastest lap as he took the win, but the feature was all Osborne. Once he hit clear air, he romped away for a 6sec win over Elliott and Kane Lawson.

The midget field lost one driver to injury before the meeting while Nelson’s Jamie Brown missed a heat as he and dad, Andrew, sorted a new engine, but even while down on numbers, delivered the race of the night and the individual drive of the night. Heat wins went to Jeremy Webb and Tom Lumsden but Nelson’s Gavin Wilkie caught a dose of telepathy at the start of the feature and was gone from row two before the frontrunners could react. It looked like Webb might be the man to round him up as the open-wheelers dealt with ruts the size of the Spooner tunnel … instead Lumsden threw it all in on the outside and went around Webb and Wilkie on the outside line, wheelstanding down the spectator straight for a spectacular feature win. Aucklander Jayden Worthington, who didn’t enter the nationals in January and was new to Nelson, improved through the night and posted the fastest feature lap on a much less drivey track in claiming fourth. He’ll contend again today.

The TQs  were equally afflicted by the challenges of keeping the wheels in contact with the clay. The pole line was safe and the high line was there for the brave but the middle ground was an adventure through two heats and a feature. But no one wrecked and there were impressive race wins for Alicia Mclauchlan and Kyle Glover in the heats while Jayden Corkill did the business — again — in the 15-lapper. A raft of relegations in heat one had an effect on the feature grid and, while Glover had the quickest car on the night, he couldn’t reel in Corkill and Mclauchlan. Dylan Stone-Cuthbert also had his share of fast laps but came undone on a couple of ragged ones.

The production saloon class has one stealth entry — Dave Leitch’s bright yellow VW was in the sick bay so he entered in the Mitsubishi coupe formerly run by Patrick Ward. And the 70-something saloon driver made a fair fist of it in an unfamiliar car with a second behind programme centrefold Jono Sutton in heat one and a slightly less glorious ninth in the second race, won by Tony Diedrichs. With the productions opting for a feature over accumulated points, Eddie Frans made the most of the front row spot he had earned in the heats to head off Sutton and Steve Watson in the Easter feature. Kaylim McNabb, in his first full night in the class, had the misfortune of ripping out a right front wheel while punctures were plentiful.

The contact classes (sorry productions, not you this time) were decided over three heats. Typically, heats one and two were relatively tame with the gloves coming off for heat three. Least aggressive and impressive were the stockcars. With a bunch of visitors failing to front (apart from Greymouth drivers Brittany Carpenter and Dave Houston Snr), the locals chose to chase through their three heats. Keightley Teece was too good in the first two, Michael Paynter reeled in Brad Neiman to win the third. Teece headed Neiman by four points overall with Paynter third while Justin Hearne shook out a season or so of rust in Wayne Martin’s car and Dylan Hall looked the most menacing in his big brother’s Tank. More tomorrow, please.

Five superstock visitors didn’t arrive but there were still 19 on the grid for heat one. Jamie Hamilton led fellow Cantab Malcolm Ngatai home with Palmerston North’s William Humphries third in heat one, Brett Nicholls the first of the locals in fourth. Rotorua’s Lance Ashton did front end damage that took the whole meeting to repair while Humphries’ car spat out the driveshaft on the startline in heat two. The win went to Alex Hill from Ants McKenzie and Jared Gray in a big Nelson bounce back as Nicholls opted to run Blair Cunningham into the turn three wall late in the race. Heat three saw Cunningham creeping the poleline for revenge but, just as Nicholls arrived, a front wheel took its leave from the Tank. Shane Harwood did pin Nicholls twice although the 48N driver managed to spin Harwood late in the race. Watch this space tomorrow, perhaps. Former national champ Ngatai won the third heat from Humphries and, with it, became Nelson’s Easter champ by two points from Hamilton with Gray third in what might well be his last Nelson meeting if Henry Ford runs the car tomorrow.

Streetstocks followed a similar template, a couple of sorting-out races and a busy third heat.Dave McSherry put points on the board for Canterbury in round one and Steve Soper levelled the ledger for Nelson in the second heat. McSherry sealed the deal in the third, winning the race and the championship with Mike Johns in 29C second overall and Soper third.

After the meeting, Osborne (in Ashton’s car) and Nick Fowler in Harwood’s 18N went out to brush up for next week’s Legends meeting in Palmerston North while Paynter also looked the goods in Nicholls’ Gordge. Injured superstock driver Asher Rees closed proceedings with searing laps in Osborne’s super saloon — all of speedway hopes the talented young man will make his way back to the sport soon.

Tomorrow’s meeting sees youth ministocks step in for the productions, sidecars hopefully get a go and The Hits 89.6FM derby is down to close the season. Racing starts at 4pm with spectator gates open from 3pm.

 

All images, Tom Laney, www.imagepress.co.nz