TEMPERATURES RISE ON COOL NIGHT

SAM SILENCES SPRINTCAR RIVALS

Written by Pete McNae

He’s the quiet guy with his foot on the loud pedal. Queenstown builder Sam O’Callaghan might be a bit brief on banter, but he more than makes up for it with big brass knobs at the wheel of the Freeman Motorsport Triple X sprintcar.  Even after his flag to flag feature win in testing conditions in round two of the Hydraulink War of the Wings (presented by Mike Rollo of Harcourts Realty) last night, O’Callaghan managed a “yep” in response to questions around whether he’d enjoyed his outing. Maybe there’s no need for much more, O’Callaghan is in the team to do a job and he met every expectation at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway.

The Nelson round drew 19 starters for time trials, three heat races and the 25-lap feature. Light rain (we call it natural dust suppressant) fell through most of the meeting, making piloting an 850 horsepower sprintcar round a clay oval a high-risk occupation, but apart from a turn two wreck for former Kiwis league international Whetu Taewa in the heats and a turn three tumble by Caleb Baughan midway through the feature, the drivers handled their task superbly. And none moreso than O’Callaghan. He finished near the top of the sheet in the time trials (a slippery track for the first man out, Canterbury’s Jamie Duff, had improved hugely by the time Steve Duff Jnr, Daniel Anderson and Jayden Dodge went out later) and then O’Callaghan had a sixth from near the rear of the grid and a win in his heat races.

With a front row start for the feature, he bounced out ahead of Jason Scott, Luke Keegan and Connor Rangi and continued to do so after restarts for Dodge and Baughan, In fact the yellows worked in his favour as, each occasion the yellow came on, O’Callaghan was about to start lapping traffic. With the field bunching up under the restart, he had clear track in front of him for the four or five laps it took to reel in the backmarkers again. Just as well too because he twice brushed the wall getting around lapped cars, his only errors in 25 fast laps.

Team owner Kevin Freeman said they had a good car for the Nelson track last night (which dusted but retained decent drive thanks to the drizzle) and O’Callaghan had handled himself superbly. “He slapped the wall there once or twice but he was great on the lights and put the car in the right place on the track … pretty happy to have one of these,” he said, gesturing to the War of the Wings feature winner sticker on the tail tank of the 75N.

Veteran Scott showed all his experience to run second, unable to reel in O’Callaghan but cutting out any errors and giving Keegan and Rangi no way past with past champions Matt Honeywell and Jamie Duff completing the top 6. Matt Anderson in seventh was the closest to O’Callaghan’s best lap times while the third Nelson driver in the field, Alicia Mclauchlan, should be well pleased with ninth on her home track, while also putting in three races in her TQ midget.

In something of a surprise, Jamie Duff doubled up, too, getting the drive in the immaculate 5C TQ midget of Gavin Chappell. There’s not much in common between TQs and sprintcars, a wheel at each corner and one to steer with, but he and Mclauchlan distinguished themselves in both classes. Morgan Frost made a welcome first appearance for the season and raced away for the heat one win before Dylan Bensemann got his car’s nose in front and stayed there for heat two. Frost found the feature hard going though, a couple of brief lapses costing him a podium place. Instead, Duff took the win from Dylan Stone-Cuthbert with Mclauchlan making up places for third.

An open-wheel focus also saw the midget class come to town for a round of their Southern Series, nine cars making the grid and nine still running for the feature. Early shots were fired by Jeremy Webb (the national champion in the TQ class) and Tom Lumsden with Webb also winning the pole shuffle to decide the feature grid. But it was Lumsden who got the better start and Lumsden who ticked off lap after lap in front as Webb, Nevil Basalaj and Gavin Wilkie chased in vain. And then on lap 15 (of 15) Lumsden and Webb caught up to two backmarkers, Webb got the better line, dived inside and ran to the finish, just 0.1484 seconds ahead of the unlucky Lumsden. Despite the smaller field and their sporadic appearances, the midgets certainly know how to put on a show.

The streetstock class had a final fine-tuning before the South Island championships at Nelson’s next meeting with a best pairs promotion. Perhaps wary of the need to preserve gear for that one, there was less contact than in recent meetings, although the Davies brothers in the Hundy and Fiddy Racing Team might disagree after each collected a floppy front in heat one. If O’Callaghan, a Central Otago resident in a Nelson race car, was the overall competitor of the night, it was hard to go past Ryan Musgrove for Nelson’s top act. In fact, no one did, Musgrove piloting Bradley Evans’ panel van to three straight wins, showing great pace and a nice touch with the tap and spin. Matt Watson, Neville Soper and Robert Skurr were the best of the rest but, when the pairs points were tallied Musgrove and drawn partner Kyle (Hundy) Davies had 53, ahead of Soper and Watson on 51 with Skurr and Josh Atkinson third overall.

It will be a long trip back home for Cromwell-registered sprintcar Mark Evans. For the best part of 800km, he will be going to hear how his son, Adam, outdrove him last night. Racing in the youth ministock class for teen drivers aged 12-16, Adam took two wins and a close second to throw shade on Dad’s 14th in the sprintcar feature. Adam’s drive on the high line in a slippery second heat was mature and thoughtful and he almost made it three from three but finished tucked in on Raiden Hearne’s rear bumper. The challenging conditions for the ministocks, who run tyres as wide as Frisbees, saw impressive efforts from the likes of Aleisha Oakly (fourth in race one), Max Baker and Jonti Austin, while Connor Blackbourn collected three third place finishes.

Stockcars completed the programme and unfortunately, some of the on-track aggression got carried over into the dark places out the back. Big hitting on the track is all well and good but it can result in injury and expense and occasionally, tempers flare. Solid shots from Levi Collier on his usual target, Blenheim’s Wade Sweeting, were met with a similar response, the old Gumboot Racing alliances from ministock days were revived as Josh Nell and Hamish Carter looked for payback on Dylan Clarke and finally, Ben Smith got a 22-day sojourn from the sport after going after Scott Alexander when he had the Blenheim car pinned. All of that might force a reshuffle in the Tasman Thunder team announced last night. Carter, Alexander and Shane Brooks collected wins while Morgan Dumelow made a more than handy return, staying out of strife and proving that girls are smart while boys are dumb.

There is a three-week gap to the next Nelson meeting when the IHC Charity Shop presents the South Island streetstock championships and the Keightley Teece-led Tasman Thunder take on the Greymouth Grizzlies in a stockcar teams race  on December 8.

Race photos by Tom Laney, www.imagepress.co.nz