By my maths this is the 48th official running of the NZ Superstock Title and Nelson sure put on some great weather for one of the showcase meetings on the speedway calendar. 71 Superstocks made it to the track for qualifying night, split into four groups named after famous Nelson NZ champions. Despite the lack of a grand parade, we were set for a big night ahead. Reigning NZ champion Joe Faram had a miserable build up to his title defence but despite two engine setbacks he was able to secure the sister car to his own to at least be in the running. So here is a brief rundown of the four qualifying groups, the top six in each group making the finals and two from a repercharge on Saturday night completing the field.
18 Cars were in this group getting the championship underway and like most years, the first two heats are usually flag racing to secure valuable points. Boote lead from start to finish ahead of Peter Rees who posted the quickest lap time in the 10p tank. 115p Steve Pribicevich suffered a flat left front wheel when 841c Matt Boulton rode over top of him while 878r Shane Braken was in all sorts of bother, losing the right front wheel and nearly the bonnet bringing on the reds. 34w Scott McIntosh and 112p Shaun Pearson both retiring early. Heat 2 featured a great battle mid field between Rees, Boote, 2nz Kerry Humphries and 72p Simon Joblin. Boote posting the fastest lap of the race but the win to 58p Peter Bengston ahead of 89c Jason Smith and 74n Ian Clayworth. Spins for 34w, 112p and 12c Nick Self dropping them all down the finishing order. Going into the final heat, Boote, Bengston and Smith were tied on 33pts but 2nz Humphries would need a big finish to qualify back on 25pts. Heat 3 was a doozy! 16 cars fronted and from flag fall it was all on, 96n Kerry Hill spinning 2nz while Rees took the lead. 38r Ross Ashby retiring early. 492i Campbell McManaway was in with a good chance of qualifying when Humphries really let loose, a massive hit in turn 4 crippling the Invercargill driver before the 2nz then took out both 74n and 12c in the same corner. If he couldn't win the race he was going to eliminate his competition but Clayworth was able to continue and qualify ahead of 2nz. 7n Boote had looked good in the first two heats but really showed his speed in heat three with a WOW performance finishing 2nd to Rees.
Qualifiers: 7n Boote 50pts, 58p Bengston 48pts, 10p Rees 48pts, 89c Smith 47pts, 72p Joblin 44pts, 74n Clayworth 35pts.
All the talk about this group centred on 95k Tony Fabish who seemed to come from nowhere and put on a heat 1 performance that really got the crowd buzzing. By comparison, 15c Andrew Good's night was over fairly quickly being spun in front of the pack before a big impact with 57p Dave Tarrant brought on the reds. 82p Scott Joblin was spun early and left at the rear of the field trying to make up for the spin all race while 23r Lance Ashton took an aggressive approach spinning anyone in his way which worked on 31p McCabe but cost him dearly when he tried the same with 61a Kerry Remnant both losing many spots 3 laps from the finish. 14n Dale Ewers never looked comfortable for the entire race finishing almost last. Heat 2 had 282s Phil Ogle on pole and he lead for the whole race while 31p Andy McCabe's hopes faded while slowly circling just to pick up last place points. Ashton's aggressive approach worked better in this heat finishing 2nd. Another half spin for 82p Scott Joblin was made up for with a determined run to finish 5th. Heat 3 in this group may have been the race of the night as Ewers decided Fabish was not going to qualify! From an almighty hit in turn 2 of lap 1, which almost had Fabish over on his side, Ewers was like a heat seeking missile hunting down the 95k who to its credit just kept on going. Unfortunately for Fabish the three successful attacks left him running last and failing to qualify by 3pts, 126p Asher Rees the lucky benefactor giving the Palmy fans another car in the finals. A terrible last lap also cost 23r Ashton his chance of qualifying too. Shane Penn had almost been invisible during qualifying but clocked up the most points while Scott Joblin's win in the last heat guaranteed his place in the finals.
Qualifiers: 3nz Penn 49pts, 82p Joblin 45pts, 282s Ogle 44pts, 118r Steiner 42pts, 186n Gray 41pts, 126p Rees 38pts.
Heat 1 featured a great tussle between 71p Shane Mellsop and 48n Brett Nicholls with Mellsop grabbing the win on the last lap after a number of lead changes. 37b Gary Foley and 28h Glen Drabble had a tangle ultimately costing them big points while 434r Richard Mahy was out for the night. 1nz Faram had a pretty good first heat coming home 6th in a field of 18 cars. Nicholls had pole for heat 2 and continued his good form taking the win and leading on points. Faram was pushed wide early in the heat and dropped well back but made remarkable strides forward including the fastest lap until the right rear wheel collapsed for a DNF. 8p Scott Miers and 87n Thomas Stanaway put on a great battle for second, Miers taking the points. Only 15 cars for heat 3 and with Nicholls off grid 17 he was always going to be a target and 146w Alan Levien had a go by spinning him early in the race and almost getting a shot in on the last lap but Nicholls able to get Drabble's car between them. Stanaway, 591p Hemi and 8p Miers taking the top three places in the quietest of the four groups final heats. 92r Kyle Fraser sneaked home by 1 point over 75v Kyle Heibner for the last spot almost inseparable in the heats finishing 8th-7th, 8th-9th and 6th-7th.
Qualifiers: 87n Stanaway 50pts, 48n Nicholls 49pts, 8p Miers 48pts, 591p Hemi 46pts, 71p Mellsop 44pts, 92r Fraser 34pts
By the time the Higgins group came out for their first heat there was big groove developing in turns 1 and 2 which would start to catch a few drivers out and give the crowd a few hairy moments too with flying lumps of track! 19c Malcolm Ngatai's lead was gobbled up pretty quickly by 5n Nick Fowler who took a commanding win in this heat and prove to be one of the best drivers of the weekend. 85n Dale McKenzie was spun along with 861n Ricky Boulton and 25r Laurence Christini would add to McKenzie's woes by holding him up late in the race finishing near the rear of the field. 62p Adam Joblin pulled off with 1 lap to go, his part in this championship over. Heat 2 was a shocker for Ngatai, pulling to the infield for a few laps when the gear shifter broke, 99w Dale Robertson held up by the mess of cars avoiding the 19c. Nelson cars took a hold of this race and at one stage were running McKenzie, 46n Cunningham, 18n Harwood and 5n Fowler before 4p Chad Ace would pass Cunningham for 4th. A little side battle in this race between clubmates 32p Graeme Barr and 88p Jack Miers - in my notes I've got "no respect for age!" as Miers pushed the elder driver aside at one stage but Barr would muscle his way back ahead of Miers on the last lap for a 6th place finish. Shane Harwood leading the points going into heat 3. The last heat was everything you love about a NZ title, there were hits for Africa, controversy, red lights and big names fighting for survival! 17 Cars made it out and from turn 2 it was all on as 99w Dale Robertson smashed 88p Jack Miers into the wall ending his race. 51v Darryl Taylor rode over the front of 76r Will Morris and 5n Fowler was spun and we were only up to lap 3. Red lights came on again for 94c Noel Inns and then the biggest hit of the race as 861n Boulton put in a huge hit on Robertson. The wing fell to pieces on the 99w car and appeared to fall off as the red lights came on and Robertson was removed from the race to the annoyance of many in the crowd. 135r Scott Hewson was passed by 4p Ace while a 4th placing would make 16b Steve Jude the 6th qualifier. A number of big names had missed the cut and would go into the repercharge including Ngatai, Barr, Miers, Dare and McKenzie.
Qualifiers: 5n Fowler 46pts, 135r Hewson 44pts, 4p Chad Ace 42pts, 18n Shane Harwood 42pts, 46n Blair Cunningham 40pts, 16b Steve Jude 37pts.
At the end of racing on Friday the commentary team mentioned that the repercharge for the last two places would begin at 6pm Saturday, followed by driver interviews and presentations before the meeting proper which seemed like a great idea. Having stood for the whole night on Friday as there were no seats available on the back straight I thought you'd have to get to the track pretty early to secure some space. I arrived at 3pm on Saturday and the sight as I walked through the gates was a completely full back straight, deck chairs the length of the track. Not being a regular I'm not sure if there was any extra seating but I'm guessing not and for a title this big that's a major aspect to overlook. I was fortunate enough to squeeze in with someone I knew and met in the pits who had managed to grab some rare real estate about halfway down the track but not long into the meeting the stairway access next to us was completely full and a number of people were tripping going up and down the stairs. After a child fell and nearly hit his head on the concrete one of the party I was with went and got security to clear at least one side of the stairs. It wasn't comfortable, specially Friday night and it does impact on the enjoyment of the event if you have to spend hours sitting in the sun to get a half decent seat. How many people were expected for this meeting and does the Nelson club believe 6,000+ people can sit comfortably at their track?
Anyway, rant over, on to the repercharge. As last chance races go, this one was about as star studded as you can get. Dale McKenzie and Graeme Barr would start the race on the front row ahead of Tony Fabish and Lance Ashton. Ngatai on grid 5, 1nz Faram would be back on 11, Miers on 15 and Dare on 17. Lap 1 was complete mayhem with basically the whole front section of the field pushed wide and with 23r Ashton attempting to spin Fabish leaving them both stuck in turn 4, Joe Faram briefly found himself leading going into turn 1 on lap 2 before being spun and ending his defence of the 1nz. By lap 3 Ngatai lead before Dale McKenzie wrestled the lead off him and apart from Dave Tarrant having a go he sailed through to the final winning ahead of Ngatai who grabbed the final spot. 14n Ewers hunted the Barr car for the entire race leaving the 32p in third spot ahead of 75v Kyle Heibner and 52w Paul Fairbrother. 2nz Kerry Humphries hopes also dashed as he went into the non qualifiers championship.
NZ Title Heat 1
Now it was the stage for all the big names to really step it up as things became serious for heat 1 of finals night. A chaotic first lap, turn two squeeze put 118r Bryce Steiner up the wall, 18n Shane Harwood damaged and 16b Steve Jude who spun. Harwood would spend the rest of the race dragging around the collapsed front of his car to secure any points he could. 5n Nick Fowler lead early and was chased hard by Dale McKenzie for the entire race. 4p Chad Ace was spun by 186n Jared Gray in turn 4, while 282s Ogle, 71p Mellsop and 126p Rees would all suffer the same fate. Mellsop nursing the car home in 24th with a flat right front tyre. Fowler drove the wheels off his car to send a message out that he was a major contender. Our two repercharge drivers had finished in 2nd and 4th.
Top 10: 5n, 85n, 72p, 19c, 58p, 7n, 10p, 82p, 591p, 48n
NZ Title Heat 2
Chad Ace was the only driver not to front for heat 2 but the most memorable bit of this race was the complete and utter dustbowl the track turned into! It was pretty hard to keep up with what was happening with clouds of dust coming off the track but early in the race Craig Boote got his first taste of what was coming as 8p Scott Miers had a go at him. Spins for 46n Cunningham and 74n Clayworth retiring to the infield midrace after a failed attempt on Peter Rees. 3nz Shane Penn had the lead from his grid 3 start but Harwood reeled him in and took the win. 58p Benston had a good go at 5n Fowler while 82p Joblin was the next to slow Boote. 85n McKenzie and Ogle had a coming together while Jude and Fraser retired, Scott Miers tank struggled home with a flat right rear. Despite a few attacks, Boote posted the fastest lap of the race.
Top 10: 18n, 87n, 135r, 82p, 3nz, 186n, 7n, 591p, 126p, 5n
NZ Title Heat 3
Heading into the last heat, 5n Nick Fowler had a 1 point lead over 82p Scott Joblin with 7n Craig Boote a further point back. In fact the top 10 going into this heat were separated by a mere 8 points. Four were from Nelson, four from Palmy and 135r Hewson and 19c Ngatai making up the top 10. Fowler was starting on grid 26, Joblin off 15 and Boote from a handy grid 5. What played out was another of those fantastic final heats that has everyone guessing who the hell was leading on points as car after car was taken out of contention. 118r Steiner was first to show his colours and have a dig at Boote while 71p Mellsop did the same to 87n Stanaway. In the chaos of the first lap, the 591p appeared to be the first casualty sitting stationery mid track on turn 3, the Palmy team first to lose a player. Rees was next to attack and Boote was the target with a massive shunt on turn 2. Both 82p Joblin and 58p Bengston were spun and although Boote restarted he was once again spun and the hit by Fowler completing a 360 degree spin. Fowlers car began to smoke and his grip on the title fading. 48n Nicholls took out 135r Hewson while Fowler attacked 72p Joblin. Bootes race ended at this point in turn 4 while 186n Gray attacked 82p again. Bengstons hopes had finished with a flat right front and Hewsons race was also over retiring. Cunningham and Rees cancelled each other out while 72p Joblin made a crucial block on the Stanaway car holding him up until a red light for a rolled 74n Clayworth. On the red light it was 48n Nicholls leading Penn and Dale McKenzie sitting in third. On the restart Mellsop spun Fowler finishing his title hopes. With four laps to go 126p Rees fed Stanaway into the wall in turn 2 and Joblin completed the Palmy team work stopping Nicholls. Penn coming home with the win and the title ahead of McKenzie, Ngatai, Ogle, Mellsop and Stanaway.
Top 10: 3nz, 85n, 19c, 282s, 71p, 87n, 46n, 48n, 8p.
As Shane's father Bryce Penn commented in the post race presentations "the Panthers put on quite a sideshow" and that they certainly did. Often accused of not working together, this time the Palmerston North drivers' planned who they needed to eliminated and picked them off one by one. It was almost clinical, despite this, two of the locals survived the onslaught and finished in 2nd and 3rd places. Dale McKenzie who qualified by way of the repercharge and Thomas Stanaway who looked a strong chance from night one topping his qualifying group. But the real success was finally seeing one of the best drivers of the modern era finally realise his potential and take the one title that had eluded him for so many years. For the last two championships we have seen a couple of fairytale endings for two drivers who have always been oh-so-close to winning. Its great to have been there when it finally happened.
3nz Shane Penn 64
85n Dale McKenzie 6387n Thomas Stanaway 61
19c Malcolm Ngatai 59
82p Scott Joblin 54
48n Brett Nicholls 51
58p Peter Bengston 51
18n Shane Harwood 46
72p Simon Joblin 45
5n Nick Fowler 43
7n Craig Boote 41
282s Phil Ogle 40
126p Asher Rees 40
10p Peter Rees 39
8p Scott Miers 38
135r Scott Hewson 37
591p Wayne Hemi 37
71p Shane Mellsop 36
46n Blair Cunningham 34
118r Bryce Steiner 32
186n Jared Gray 28
89c Jason Smith 19
92r Kyle Fraser 10
16b Steve Jude 9
74n Ian Clayworth 5
4p Chad Ace 0