Sunday, March 09, 2014
Auckland Teams Nationals
Waikaraka Park, March 7 & 8
Friday Night Qualifying
A far bigger crowd than usual rolled through the gates for night one of the Teams Nats, despite many people saying they wouldn't be attending as there were only 7 teams entered. Well, all I can say is, bad move! You missed a ripper of a weekend and some of the best teams racing this season. Whether there is drama behind the scenes or not leading up to the event each season, it never fails to provide brutal on track action and the quality of the teams entered was enough for most to realise it was going to be a great weekend of racing.
Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes v Rotorua Rebels
Usual runner 33b Steve Jude was spun early on lap 1 and 35b Adam Groome took over the running duties while a series of Rebels cars at some stage held the lead, 96r Ashton, 93r Aldridge and 98r Steiner before blocking moves by 32b Regan O'Brien and 33b Jude picked off each successive leader, Groome took the white flag and when O'Brien blocked 97r Richard Mahy it left the way clear for Groome to take the win. Lance Aldridge coming home second in the tank.
Baypark Busters v Auckland Allstars
The winners of the Palmy teams meeting up against the surprise package from that event was an exciting prospect and for the local fans it was going to be a case of was the Palmy meeting a fluke or were the Allstars really becoming a force to be reckoned with. Almost the whole team pulled up at the pit gate for the 3 minute bell, I was a little concerned but needn't have worried. Although 13m David Elsworth got a flyer, 6a Hodge and 5a Taniwha were chasing him down, 8a Marx blocked Elsworth, Taniwha took the lead and kept it for the remainder. 7a Tennant, 6a Hodge and 8a Marx then blocked and despite the 15m lethal weapon of Ross Ashby giving some massive hits - most noticeably to Hodge, from the moment Elsworth pulled off and 11m Remnant's wheel departed the car, the Busters hopes were sunk. He was removed from the track despite still being able to run and an apology was issued post race by SNZ. Four Allstars vs 14m Tony Wootton and 15m Ashby was always going to go the way of the Allstars and we had our first really big upset of the weekend.
Nelson Tigers v Manawatu Mustangs
The Mustangs had this race in the bag until the last corner, one of a number of last gasp wins we would see. 85n Dale Ewers sat on the brakes from the green flag holding up 64p and 66p Miers, 62p Barr and 83n Dale McKenzie were the runners. 85n Ewers was the master of this race dealing out some great shots on Miers and stopping 65p Asher Rees in turn four of the last lap as McKenzie drove past for the win. 86n Blair Cunningham also rising to the challenge and removing leader Barr in a four car pile up in turn 4 that eventually brought on the red lights. Turn four was going to see alot of action over the weekend and parts of turn four would be sent flying in all directions! Despite Jack Miers being involved in most of the action (he had an awesome weekend and probably one of the drivers of the meeting) he still managed to come home in 2nd gaining valuable points.
Palmerston North Panthers v Rotorua Rebels
Whoever was up against the Panthers at this meeting was always going to feel the wrath of their Palmy performance and the poor old Rebels were the victims of 'redemption time.' As Gary Parkes said in the pre-race interview "the guys are so wound up about this, I hope they don't overdo it" well there was no fear of that. 98r Bryce Steiner took Shane Penn to the wall in turn 2, 7p Peter Bengston took the lead and after a huge hit to the rear of the Miers tank by 96r Lance Ashton, the Rebel pulled off, Steiner repeated the exact same move on Miers before some loud backfiring and then the Rebels were down to two cars. Miers then put a massive hit on 95r Paul Vasey in turn 4 and held him there for the remainder, 7p, 6p and 9p reeling of the laps for a master class in team racing. The real panthers were back AND Pete Rees had sat this one out, proving that the team can win in style with or without him which would have silenced a few critics... perhaps. Scott Miers turned in a brilliant display without too much fanfare, but it was classic tank blocking at its best. Ominous signs for all the other teams.
Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes v Baypark Busters
The Busters whole weekend could be ended with a poor result here so the pressure was really on them. A 1-2-3 finish by the Busters after the Hawkeyes challenge fell away toward the second half of the race had them back in contention for a finals position. 33b Steve Jude the only Meeanee car left running at one point although 35b Groome would manage to finish. The highlight was a bizarre attack by 34b Mike Mac that sent Ross Ashby's tank flying into the wall but able to continue while the HB car dug in and rolled. 12m Karl Ross taking an important win for the Busters.
Nelson Tigers v Auckland Allstars
82n Gray sat on the brakes before 5a Gavin Taniwha found himself in the lead trying to slow the freight train attack by 85n Ewers and 83n, Taniwha wound off into the apex of turns 3 and 4 ending his race. With the runner removed the Tigers clinical attack centred on Carl Hodge, Bryce Marx took over the running but a car down the result was in the bag for the Nelson boys. 9a Jamie Fergusson had a problem after a hit on Gray and then nearly put up the wall by Mackenzie. A last gasp attack by Hodge on runaway leader Ewers almost held him up giving Marx a glimpse of a chance but Ewers recovered for a convincing win.
Manawatu Mustangs v Palmerston North Panthers
Never an easy race as there are so many family ties in the two Palmy teams but they served up the race of the night, the turn four wall barely survived the onslaught! Jack Miers really stood out in this race, first dealing to 6p Scott Joblin, before a crunching shot on 7p Bengsten in turn four leaving the 7p crippled. Rees making his return from injury found himself in the running role but for two laps the 66p Miers tank tracked and chased him before landing a huge blow in turn 2. Shane Penn took over the lead and was chased home by Miers, only 5 cars still running the Panthers would qualify top with 290 points ahead of Nelson on 280, Baypark 210 and Auckland grabbing the last semi final spot on 200 points.
Saturday Night Finals
Semi Final 1 : Baypark Busters v Nelson Tigers
Jared Gray sat on the brakes while 13m Elsworth put McKenzie into the wall on turn one. 85n Dale Ewers once again did the running and lead out early. 12m Ross had a flat right front tyre so Elsworth ran for the Busters. 11m Remnant hit 82n Gray and the car immediately began smoking heavily. 82n Gray started running shotgun for Ewers before Remnant slowed them both, Elsworth caught the 85n and landed a big shot leaving them all stationery. Ewers was able to restart but Elsworth's race was over. 12m Ross was given a tour of the outside wall with chunks of concrete flying off the bumpers while Ewers reeled of lap after lap and taking the win ahead of 15m Ashby.
Semi Final 2 :Auckland Allstars v Palmerston North Panthers
Shane Penn lead early while 5a Taniwha (although in second place) had the brakes on as Bengsten pushed his car along. Penn accidentally ran into 5p Rees and brushed him aside before giving 7a Scott Tennant the same treatment. 8a Bryce Marx ended up on top of the 5p car both smacking into the wall in turn 4. Tennant then managed to block Penn and 6a Hodge took over the lead from Bengston. 5a Taniwha then blocked Rees and with 3 laps to go it was looking like another huge boilover for the Allstars, everything turned on its head at this point, Penn and Joblin blocked Hodge, Bengsten grabbed the lead on the final lap and as Bengsten crossed the line, Hodge chased down Penn and they both went hard into the concrete on turn one bringing on the red lights and eventually the race being declared with the Panther victory. Shane Penn was obviously hurt and a long delay to remove him from the car took the gloss off another impressive race. The Panthers had made the final to defend their title but paid a huge price, Penn taken to Hospital.
Palmerston North Panthers v Nelson Tigers
Two teams that had a lot to prove after the Palmy teams meeting, and so they came into what essentially was the dream final fans had hoped for a few weeks ago. Palmy had no Penn of course but that probably only served to spur them on even more for their injured team mate. An almost identical start from the Tigers with 82n Gray sitting on the brakes while 85n Ewers did the running with McKenzie. 6p Joblin took Ewers to wall in turn 4 and they were both left stuck there for a few laps. Rees stopped McKenzie while Bengsten and Joblin grabbed the lead. 82n Gray tangled with Rees and ended up on the bonnet of the car before Rees managed to dislodge the Tiger and roll him, reds activated and both cars were removed. Another red light for debris on the track had Bengsten leading McKenzie with two laps to go, 6p Joblin and then Miers took care of Ewers, 86n Cunningham stopped Joblin but it was too late as 7p Bengsten crossed the line for an emphatic victory and a 7th Auckland Nats title to the Panthers.
The Auckland Allstars continued their dream run defeating the Baypark Busters in the runoff for third place and the Manawatu Mustangs claimed fifth with a hard won battle over the Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes. When you think about the wooden spooners, Rotorua, you really get an idea of how good the racing was as this team was just as capable of being a finalist as any other. The Panthers have given out a warning that their time is certainly not coming to an end, that they are still the team to beat and that Superstock teams racing can still shock and surprise with some incredible action over the two nights. I'm going to say 66p Jack Miers, 6a Carl Hodge and 85n Dale Ewers were the drivers of the weekend, in the race between Manawatu and Hawkes Bay I doubt a single Meeanee car drove off the track without Miers tyre prints all over the bodywork! Hodge just repeated his performance from Palmerston North and Ewers was incredible to watch, lets hope the bug bites and he puts any nonsense about retirement on the back burner! The all in final race was won by 96r Lance Ashton giving the Rebels fans something to cheer about! Well finally, like many others I wish Shane Penn a speedy recovery, we love the big hits but not at any cost.
Sunday, March 02, 2014
Superstock Teams Champs
Palmerston North Speedway
They say change is good, and going by the crowd reaction on Friday night, the failure of not one but both Palmy teams to make the top four was met with disbelief and for some, no doubt, a sense of relief. Of the top four teams to qualify, only the Baypark Busters had ever won this title before, so for the Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes, Wanganui Warriors and Great Britain Lions there really was a sense of change and an air of expectation for night two. Saturday night delivered big time! A meeting that has always been a must see event for any true speedway fan, took the action to another level and with the Burger King Supersaloon Series providing some of the best support programme racing I've ever seen, the fans were treated to an incredible weekend of action and speedway at it's best.
But for me, the memory I'll carry away from this meeting was watching the entire arena give the Auckland Allstars a standing ovation when they beat the Palmerston North Panthers. It was like something from a dream, I really had to pinch myself and for the Allstars fans it had been a long time coming. It epitomised the whole meeting actually, there were no dead certs and any team could produce an upset. The days of easy beats are long gone. Many people will say the Wanganui v Manawatu race on Friday night was an all time classic and the race of the meeting when it looked as though no cars would finish. Bevan Humphrey just managing to drag his car across the line while Kyle Heibner held Adam Joblin in the wall just metres from the line.
A few drivers stood out and I believe Kyle Heibner was named the driver of the weekend which I would agree with, although I thought Carl Hodge and Ross Ashby were equally as impressive. Ashby did the business and only upon watching a highlights video of the Busters races do you realise how much work the big man put in. Carl Hodge was a sensation for the Allstars in his first appearance at the Palmy Teams and was almost a one man highlights reel including a rollover that he managed to continue racing from. Heibner was a big reason the Warriors made the final, the Wanganui team looked more structured than they have in years and with Kerry Podjursky blocking they were capable of the win.
Last season, the title for my review of this meeting was "Are the Panthers too good?" and lamented the lack of a serious challenger to their run of titles, 12 months on and I don't think anyone was ready for the spectacular fall from grace that occurred. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to say they 'threw' their races to keep the traveling punters happy, but knowing the calibre of this team and their hunger for wins it was simply just a bad weekend for the Panthers. God help the team that meets them first up at their next race at the Auckland Teams Nats! The other side of the coin was the GB Lions who in their short history at this meeting have had astoundingly good results but this season were without mercurial leader Frankie Wainman jnr and with only Tom Harris having appeared before, were lacking in experience. Their only practice race against the Auckland Allstars a week prior resulted in a loss but once again on the nights that mattered and under the guidance of Tony Mac, they surprised everyone and made the top four, eventually car and driver damage taking its toll as they were bundled out of their last race with only 3 cars managing to make the track.
The decision to relaunch the Busters two seasons ago was met with anger in some corners and many thought the idea was not going to fly but with the class also being reignited at Baypark and the resulting win at Palmy I'm sure many are feeling not only justified in their decision but excited about the next chapter for the club. News that Kyle Fraser is retiring will be a massive blow to the solid crew that have formed this team for over a decade, but there is no shortage of cars wanting to join the Busters camp so I think this next era for the Mount based team could be requiring a larger trophy cabinet. Whether you agreed with the reformation or not, it has added some real competition into the teams racing arena.
Finally the refereeing decisions... wow! Obviously a call was made to stick to the letter of the law and the two teams that copped the game changing calls were Nelson and Palmy. There does need to be a strict adherence to the rules but you cant have races where both Scott Miers and Scott Joblin are removed from the racing - which is a HUGE call - and not inform the public why. Wanganui and Hawkes Bay also fell foul of the Refs and Malcolm Ngatai was made to leave the track but little info came through and this is only going to start rumours and pointless postings when a simple "refs call is..." from the ref or the commentary team will end it right there and then. I think it could actually be a really cool addition to the atmosphere like the third umpire TRY or NO TRY in rugby league. The Palmy promoters are on the ball with most things so maybe we'll see some innovation like that next year. Anyway all I know is, as far as teams meetings go, this really was one of the best I've ever been to. Just when I think I've seen it all, you go to a meeting like this one and your hooked all over again.