Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Groundhog Day

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Another teams champs completed, another win to the Panthers. It would almost become boring if it weren't for the fact our two-day pilgrimage to Superstock Mecca, has quite simply become the best meeting of the year, bar none. Despite the Panthers continually 'annoying' everyone by winning, you can't help but admire this team, they are without doubt, the best. The good news though for non-Panthers fans, and I believe there are a few, many of the teams that have been either missing or performing well below par were back, or racing better than ever. Rotorua Rebels fans will be most heartened, after Friday nights qualifying, they easily looked the best, and with lady luck on their side perhaps would have been worthy finalists Sunday night.

I wont give a wordy review of each race but instead a few thoughts and highlights from a meeting that ranks as one of the better ones in recent years. What makes a great meeting - in this case it has to be evenly matched teams, plenty of action, a little bit of drama, controversy and dare I say it, the Panthers playing the bad guys in the finals. First impressions arriving in the pits on Saturday night and the masses of fans usually swarming about the Team GB cars were missing! Fame is fleeting, even in the speedway world. They had found a new favourite, after an absence of seven years, the Wellington Wildcats were grabbing all the pre-race attention. I loved the look of the team and the numbering based on well known former Wildcats. Everything was going to plan until they hit the dirt. They were up first against the resurgent Rotorua Rebels who took a clinical win and then went down to the Canterbury Glen Eagles, eliminated after race 7, the first team out. The lesson here might be getting a team back into the meeting is easier than actually winning a race. The long term prospects look good, this team will do the business and possibly at Auckland we will see some results to match the professional image.

Race of the night on Saturday had to be the Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes verses Great Britain Lions, one of those races that left no cars undamaged, with action everywhere and a very unlucky Hawkeyes team who joined the first night casualties despite being in two of the better races. The Stratford Scappers and Auckland Allstars were the other two not to make it through to finals night. We were pleased to see the Allstars back and despite a few dire predictions from 'concerned friends' in the pits, I have to say it was their best performance in years. Two narrow losses, one of them giving the Nelson Tigers a damn good fright. I think this could be the beginning of a new era for the Allstars. Bernie Fox and Darryl Hammond the standouts.

Well, what can you say about night two, best finals night in ages. The races for 5th and 6th between Waikato and Manawatu, and 3rd + 4th between Great Britain and Rotorua were stunners. Karl Ross v Tony Whittaker had the crowd on their feet in a race that will go down as a classic. For Nelson and Palmerston North, their semi final hopes both centered on stand out performances by Dale Ewers and Peter Rees almost single handedly getting the teams through to the final. Ewers made an important block that won their race while Rees drove like a man possessed fending off Rebels blockers like they were ministocks. Despite eager fans wanting a non-Palmy final it was highly unlikely going by performances on night 1, either the Panthers or the Manawatu Mustangs would make it, just so long as they both didn't was the general consensus! Nelson took the underdog and crowd favourite tag into the final, but I think both teams made a pre-race decision that would be the biggest factor in finding this years champion. 8p Scott Miers had received a hefty amount of damage in their semi-final and despite his incredible pedigree in this event was made the reserve and sat the final out. Nelson took the other option and although they managed to get Dale Ewers car on the track, the damaged sustained in their semi would ultimately cost them dearly when his car failed to complete a lap. Any team, no matter how passionate or talented, cannot take on a full strength Panthers team with only 3 mobile cars and expect to win. They put up a great fight but the writing was on the wall pretty early and the incredible Panthers had done it again, champions for 2011/12.

There was talk floating around the pits about a new team emerging called "the Dream Team" consisting of former NZ Superstock Champions which sounds kinda cool to me, but not wanting to point out the obvious, we have a dream team already, they are called the Palmerston North Panthers and they are worthy of the name. Well done to everyone involved in an incredible event, it was one of the best I've ever been to.

Meeting rating : 9.5/10
Programme : $5, excellent quality, collectable
Driver of the weekend : Bryce Steiner, the backbone of the Rebels
Parking : On the street, hired car so who cares!
Best Moment : Karl Ross v Tony Whittaker


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