Finals Night, NZ Stockcar Title
Paradise Valley Raceway, Rotorua
A huge crowd turned up for night two of the New Zealand Stockcar Championship and with the qualifying having been a bit more torrid than most expected, the entire add-on area to the pits was completely empty of cars resulting in one of the consolation groups being dropped. It didnt make much difference to a strong programme including three championship groups, the leftover stockcars and Modifieds fronting almost as the 'hotdog' class. Of the three podium winners last season only 2nz Rees managed to qualify, both 1nz Kyle Lane and 3nz Kane Hargreaves not making the cut. A runoff for the last qualifying spot was won by 23m Ian Daniel
Heat 1 for the title had surprise qualifiers 17p Shane Simpson and 24m Ian Daniel on the front row although all eyes were on on the red tank of Rees who was starting from a rear grid of 23. The action was as per most first heats in a title, lots of racing for points although a number of cars failed to finish most notably 6w Paul Gaskin. The Huntly clubs hopes were extinguished pretty quickly with both 81h Rod Smythe and 88h Justin Hutchby dnf. Biggest mover of the race was Peter Rees who finished 4th behind 581p Jordan Dare, 73p Mitchell Hill and local boy 98r Mark Costello stopping an ominous Palmy 1-2-3. Scott Tennant in his first ever NZ title stealthily worked his way through the field gaining 19 places, finishing 8th from a rear grid of 27. Unfortunately his luck would end there for the night.
Heat 2 was the heat everyone would be talking about post meeting. The Gaskin v Rees incident that really would define the outcome of the meeting in my opinion. Former 1nz Graeme Ward was in the box seat after an impressive first heat 6th starting in pole position with 24w Scott McIntosh on his outside. Rees on grid 9 and heat 1 winner Dare starting near the rear of field. Two cars failed to make the start. The famous first turn push would claim some more victims with 741a Craig Chatfield taking a wild ride finishing balanced on 89v Blair Lockett's bonnet. After an impressive run, 97p Ward was taken to the wall and halted by 81h Rod Smythe. Rees had carved his way through the field and inherited the lead until 6w Paul Gaskin hooked onto the tank and drove him into the turn 3 + 4 wall, then spinning him. Rees was able to restart and the crippled tank limped home just outside the top 10. Post race, Gaskin was pinged by the refs as having cut the pole line to attack Rees and was excluded from the rest of the meeting. A very harsh call having watched the footage by Petrolfumes on YouTube. 73p Mitchell Hill and 29a Scott Tennants chances both ended with DNF's along with 9 others. Palmerston North cars came home 1-2-3 with Auckland's Bernie Fox finishing 4th. Rees misfortune gave Dare another win with maximum points after two heats, a very dangerous place to be. My feeling was ironicly Gaskin had almost helped Rees by dropping him down the points table he wasn't quite the target that Dare would be in heat 3, and with Gaskin's exclusion would anyone step up to the role of taking on the tank?
Petrolfumes video can be accessed HERE
As mentioned by the commentary team, history showed that the winners almost always came from the top six going into the final heat and this meeting would follow that tradition. 581p Jordan Dare on 56pts, 242a Bernie Fox (48) 17p Shane Simpson (46) 52b Regan O'Brien (43) and 98r Mark Costello and 2nz Peter Rees tied on 42 points. O'Brien had the best chance with a grid two starting position whereas Dare and Fox were on grids 20 and 19. Three cars failed to make the grid including Gaskin of course. On paper Dare only had to finish in 15th place or higher to gain the coveted 1nz which as it turned out was not that easy. A few cars had a 'quick makeover' in the pits with Mark Costello's car now black and the front of Fox's car blue. O'Brien took an early lead and along with Bernie Fox were probably the two most set upon cars for the whole race, both somehow managed to keep there cars going. 98p halted O'Brien while leading but Fox in particular took a huge shot from Graeme Ward in turn 3 that I was sure had ended his run. Through all the carnage Rees picked his way from grid 9 to take the lead but after his heat 2 finish he was not going to have enough points to beat Dare. Step up the Wellington T-Macs as both 12w Simon Hendry and 24w Scott McIntosh took Dare to the wall on turn 4 just metres from the finish line and held him there despite the efforts of 73p Hill to push the stricken 581p towards the line. Fox managed to finish in 9th, two places behind O'Brien, only 12 others managing to cross the finish line. 2nz Rees had just done the seemingly impossible and taken his 4th NZ title, but the feeling in the crowd was one of "oh so close" for Jordan Dare who had driven the meeting of his life. Rees, Fox and O'Brien NZ 1, 2 and 3 with 74p Chevron Taniwha and 69s Tony Zehnder rounding out the top 5.
Final thoughts on the 2011/12 New Zealand Stockcar title? This is how a meeting should be run, as a spectator you couldn't fault the show. A massive field of the best drivers this incredible class boasts, with a nightmare amount of entries to accommodate and yet the meeting ran smoothly. The commentary was detailed and up to the minute, the printed programme is a stunner and well worth the $8 charged, with great content too. Loving the AWS cover art as usual, very collectable. A mammoth effort by the team involved in putting the event together and hopefully a great sense of achievement now the dust has settled. Personally it was great to see some Auckland stockcars make the finals, huge congrats to 741a Craig Chatfield, 242a Bernie Fox and 29a Scott Tennant. Just on the topic of Scott Tennant, the current crop of young talented drivers on the scene at the moment is incredible, Jordan Dare is almost scary to watch and both the Rotorua and Palmerston North clubs have a frightening amount of these up and coming drivers. Perhaps that is why so many people I spoke to after the meeting were just over the moon with the podium finish for two of the sports real battlers, Regan O'Brien and Bernie Fox. As for Peter Rees, wow, 4 x 1nz what more can you say?
Meeting rating : 9.5/10
Programme : $8 full colour, collectable, excellent
Driver of the night : 581p Jordan Dare
Parking : Free, and miles of it!
Best Moment : Rees v Gaskin, controversy, we love it