FIRST WHEN THE FLAG FALLS

DUFF TIMES HIS RUN

Written by Pete McNae

There’s only one lap that matters, all the rest are speedway foreplay. When the online report is written and the record books updated, it’s who was first to the flag who gets the kudos.

New South Island sprintcar champion Jamie Duff knows that. So does Ray Baughan, who put in a power of work, only to have to settle for second in the Donaldson Civil-backed championship last night. For 23 out of 25 circuits of the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, Baughan — a staunch and successful supporter of the Nelson club over many seasons in both midgets and sprintcars — looked like he had the title in his reach. He had a front row start, got the jump on Duff, then held his lead through four restarts, often getting half-a-dozen car lengths on the former New Zealand champion.

And then, Duff changed the narrative. Running tight on the track as Baughan edged higher, Duff made his move off turn two on lap 23 in the A Main and, by turn three, he was gone. Baughan tried to close the door but Duff’s pass was clean and that was how they finished, with Steve Duff Jnr completing the podium in third in a fairly handy outing for the ConCut team from Christchurch. Steve Jnr (let’s call him Jnr from now on with so much Duff to report on), had his own challenges to deal with as Nelson teenager Connor Rangi looked at one point like he might slip past after starting from the third row, but Jnr gathered himself, tidied his line for the last five laps and secured third.

The championships drew 20 of the 23 entered starters, conveniently erasing the need for a B Main and creating four groups of five who met in heat races. Winners there were Matt Honeywell, Shaun Ashton, Sam O’Callaghan and Luke Keegan. Predictably, the track was pulverised in the early heats with the sun out, although lap times in the 12.3s range suggested there was grip, if not much visibility. Thankfully, there were no major wrecks although Nelson’s Jason Smith, Paddy North from Blenheim and Andy Erskine (Cromwell) had troubled runs with spins, flats and mechanical issues.

For the 25-lapper that would decide the South Island champion, reigning champ Daniel Anderson (Te Anau) surrendered his sash before the race even began. He made it onto the track, called for three minutes to repair an issue that arose prior to the grid forming up, then had to withdraw when he couldn’t get the car to run. Baughan and Duff had the front row, ahead of Jnr and five-times South Island titleholder Jason Scott and it was Baughan who got the foot up it first to lead to the first yellow, when Erskine spun. He was away cleanly once more but Luke Keegan rode the turn three wall while running in the top six and the yellows came on again. And again, Baughan jumped clear with Duff in his slipstream, sometimes bridging the gap, sometimes dropping back a few metres. When North and Ashton tangled and O’Callaghan climbed the wall in one of Kevin Freeman’s cars, the field was brought back together and this time, when Duff punched, there was no counter-punch from Baughan.

While hard-charging Rangi came the closest of the locals to a place on the podium, fan favourite Alicia Mclauchlan also showed she has arrived in the sprintcar class. She pushed the 6N Jacks Tyres car much harder into the bends than she has in the past and should be well pleased with her seventh place finish on the back of a forceful and poised drive.

Support racing was variable in quantity and quality, perhaps the most notable factor being the performance of our nearest neighbours, from Eastern States speedway. Their production saloon class came to town with a points edge after round one of the Mike Inwood Trophy for teams racing and extended that further. Nelson started the race at a one-car disadvantage but, with Brett Allan and Jono Webb coming home first and second it was 2 E-zy for the visitors. Allan and Webb also took out an open race each before Vaughan Cornelius, who had won the 2K Cup last week on Blenheim turf, finally scored one for the locals. Tony Diedrichs has had his moments this season with wins being laced with crashes and engine issues — a wall ride in turn one was at least something new while Kaylim McNabb’s promising first season might have ended early in a sheet of flame from beneath the bonnet.

Those Marlburians were at it again in the stockcar triples, where the presence of 16 starters created a mathematical problem even the late Stephen Hawking couldn’t have solved. The answer was to run young Baiden Mailman-Byrman, who is still on his L plates in the class, as a single while the other 15 were split into five teams of three. With a little help from blockman Matt Inwood, Blenheim clubmate Scott Alexander won two of the three races with Keightley Teece taking the other but the winning triple was the combination of Inwood, Dylan Clarke and Dylan Hall, the former Speedway New Zealand stockcar rookie of the year driving brother Adam’s 19N Tank. Hall hasn’t run a car for a couple of seasons but was an instant hit — how he missed the stockcar stirrer award is one for the video ref to sort out.

The maths thing came up again in the streetstock best pairs with seven cars on the grid. The wear and tear from the Nelson Knights’ recent win in the Streetstock State of Origin Series was obvious, there was little contact, even the runoff for the title was called off when one team opted to forfeit. Nathan Thomas was in good touch with a win, a second and a fourth as he and drawn partner Ryan Musgrove took the overall victory when the father and son Soper pairing couldn’t make the runoff. Former stockcar driver Ricky Rose was a welcome addition to a field that has really battled to get cars on the grid all season.

There were just four bikes taking the tape in the sidecar class, Rob Martin having a crack at swinging on Shaun Solly’s bike while Wade Thorn was on the chair for Brent Steer. Steer won heat one, Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley went from fourth to first in the next, then gave themselves a three-quarter lap handicap in the last race. They couldn’t bridge the gap to Steer or Solly but weren’t far away when Martin let go of the grips on the run to the flag and skimmed towards the line on his back, his butt, his head and his hands. Solly, minus swinger, was credited with second.

Youth ministocks had the final spot in the programme and farewelled Kyla Blackbourn, the eldest of three siblings in the class. Kyla had a spectacular entry to speedway, rolling her car and was almost as spectacular as she wound up her time in the division, challenging for placings in all three races. Her night went sixth, fourth, second — not the win she wanted but, nevertheless, not too shabby. First home on the official sheets in the three outings were Raiden Hearne, Cameron Thompson and Zak Baker in what was a much more disciplined night for the youth class.

Now there are just two meetings — over one weekend — left in the season at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway. Entries from around the country, including national superstock champion William Humphries, are starting to roll in for The New Gate Company Easter Extravaganza. Racing is from 4pm on both Good Friday and Saturday.

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