Monday, February 18, 2013

What a stunner!

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North Island Stockcar Title
Waikaraka Park, Auckland, Feb 15 + 16

If you were one of the poor souls who endured Friday nights less than spectacular qualifying night and then decided to give finals night a miss, stop reading now - you are only going to get more upset as Saturday night was an absolute stunner and probably good enough to vie for best meeting of the year! Yes it was that good, it was everything you love about Stockcars. Who would have thought as we left WP on Friday night what a complete and utter turnaround this meeting would take.

I was one of the many who was less than satisfied with qualifying night on Friday. Long gaps between races (due to lapscoring problems) no points or information given to the crowd and some fairly tame racing from a field of nearly 120 cars, this meeting had lemon written all over it. The only saving graces were in the form of 137a Jamie Fergusson who provided some good stockcar action and showed 119 other drivers how you can stop 1nz Peter Rees from qualifying without having to destroy your car and Malcolm Sines who provided the only commentary worth listening to and two of the best interviews ever with Peter Rees and Rod Smythe who are not the easiest to get much info from. He didn't settle for yes no answers and had them talking freely. Apart from that it was dire.

Twenty four hours later and I'm not quite sure what happened, but the difference was like night and day. Excellent commentary, points updates, interviews, quick turnaround of races and most importantly some of the best Stockcar racing seen anywhere this season. The Waikaraka Park wall was tested to  the limit and was in a sorry state come meeting's end, the crowd had been treated to an awesome spectacle. There was a bit of work to do before we had our finals field and a run-off between 18m Joseph Carter from Baypark and 62p Cameron McDonald was won by the Palmy driver.

The repercharge had a massive field of 30 cars and most eyes were on the 1nzp and 3nzp who had failed to qualify on Friday - Rees failing to start in heat two of his group and Humphries deducted points for hitting a car after a race had finished I believe. Humphries would qualify along with 122r Alan Corcoran, 51h Alistair Van Amsterdam, 22m Les Hepworth and 98r Mark Costello, but Rees night ended here and the tank was retired for the night, Rees Snr becoming part of son Asher's pit crew. The finals field had a good mix but as expected dominated by Palmerston North and Rotorua cars suggesting a big teams race between the two clubs might follow.

Heat 1
68r Keith Spanhake was first to be spun on turn 1 but he really did get off lightly as just before turn 3  22m Les Hepworth would be launched over the rolling 62p Cameron McDonald in a very nasty end for end roll destroying the roll cage on the car and bringing the race to a sudden halt. At the same time 509p Chris Knight was rolled and 52r Mike Herbert had been forced up the wall on the back straight and we hadn't even completed a lap. It set the tone for the whole night - action aplenty! On the restart 3nz William Humphries was leading local 95a Gary Lonergan while Spanhake's race would get worse, spun by clubmate Herbert. 218h Aaron Alderton crashed into the wall in turn 1 with steering issues while the damaged 62p cried enough and pulled to the infield. Asher Rees was spun in turn 4 while 122r Alan Corcoran slowed with a flat tyre. 52r Herbert's race ended with two big hits into the wall in turns 1 + 2 and 2nz Damian Orr would spin twice dropping well back. 33s Tyler Walker and 47r Keegan Orr battle with each other for most of the race, Walker getting the upper hand. Asher Rees focus on the race changed at this point and running for the flag was no longer on the agenda, 24m Ian Daniel on the receiving end of two massive freight train smashes into the walls at either end of the track. Red lights came on for the stranded car of Alderton to be removed while 15p Rob Miers also retired. One more big hit for 35m Eben Young into turn 1 and that about ended a great first heat!
Top 10: 3nz, 510p, 29a, 95r, 95a, 74p, 98r, 8r, 33s, 23m

Heat 2
95b Jason Penn required the 3 minute bell before the green flag dropped on another torrid heat. Asher Rees made his intentions clear putting Keegan Orr up the wall in turn 1, lap 1 while 510p and 122r spun in turn 4 on lap 2. Keegan Orr retired while 95b Penn went into the wall on turn 1 as 95a Lonergan retired infield. Rees put 25m Nick Chatfield up the wall while 8r Scott Fredrickson went hard into the wall before the red lights were activated to remove 95b, Fredrickson also retiring. 74p Chev Taniwha was having a great race and spun the 24m Daniel tank out of his way, Eben Young had a flat right rear making him an easy target and he was rolled by a combined effort from 122r Corcoran and 509p Knight bringing on the reds again. The 35m was checked and the smoking wreck was allowed to continue. 24m Daniels rode his luck and rode over the bonnet of 7w Shane Davis before the biggest hit of the race as Chris Knight took 29a Scott Tennant who had been circling below speed into the wall between turns 3 + 4 removing huge chunks of concrete in the process. An array of battered cars crossed the line for valuable points with 2nz Damian Orr picking up the win ahead of club mate 72r Michael Rumney, Taniwha and Spanhake giving the Rotorua cars the upper hand in this heat over their Palmy rivals.
Top 10: 2nz, 72r, 74p, 68r, 33s, 3nz, 66p, 81h, 95r, 741a

Heat 3
Points after two heats had 3nz William Humphries leading on 55, 74p Chevron Taniwha on 53, 72r Michael Rumney and 95r Dale Stewart tied on 49 and 33s Tyler Walker (lucky to survive the Les Hepworth carnage in heat 1) breaking the Palmy/ Rotorua stranglehold in 5th place on 48 points. The first local, Scott Tennant was on 45 points along with 510p Jay Knight. This race promised a lot and boy did it deliver. I'm going to make a big call here and say that 66p Graeme Peter was the driver of the race. Although he was in contention on 43 points, he absolutely laid waste to any car he considered a threat to the Palmerston domination. 29a Scott Tennant was first to get spun on lap 1, but Chevron Taniwha was first to be eliminated taken up the wall in turn 2. Rob Miers and Ian Daniel went in hard to turn 4 ripping out the biggest chunk of concrete I think I've ever seen fly at WP. Bits of concrete flew everywhere and amazingly both cars continued. 66p Peters took Keegan Orr up the wall ripping off the bonnet on the front straight - red lights to remove the 47r. 15p retired next then Peters attacked his next victim very nearly stopping Rumney. 2nz Damian Orr caught and drove Humphries into the wall in turn 3 but Peters was able to push the 3nz clear to continue. Next Peters had another shot at Rumney, but the 72r drove up and over 66p ending Peter's spectacular cameo. Reds came on to remove the 66p and points at this stage had 510p, 33s and 3nz tied in first place. 8r Fredrickson joined the Rotorua effort by holding up the 3nz before 35m Young ploughed into the back of them forcing all cars and the unlucky 51h Alistair Van Amsterdam who was passing on the outside in the wall. Young would lodge the Palmy car into the wall for the remainder of the race. Fredrickson then spun Walker late in the race costing him valuable points. Dale Stewart's forth place finish enough to pip Jay Knight by 1 point for the title.
Top 10: 510p, 7w, 95a, 95r, 33s, 68r, 72r, 23m, 126p, 52r

There will be lots I missed in that review but it really was one of those awesome nights when you just couldn't take in everything that was happening. The Tier 2 and Tier 3 racing was equally as good and the bonus of $100 to roll a car must have been the catalyst for the orgy of good racing we saw. Special mention to 7k Dave Moore who was one of the best entertainers of the night - that car got such a beating and also gave as good as it got. Take a bow everyone involved in Saturday nights meeting - it was everything you hope for in a title and congrats to Dale, Jay and Tyler for their podium placings. Surviving and winning at this meeting was something special.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Are the Panthers too good?

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Superstock Teams Champs
Feb 8 + 9, Arena Manawatu

Done and dusted for another year, heavy on the dusting this year with the Modifieds racing. A few more names added to a long and illustrious list of legends who have outdone themselves in entertaining us at what is simply the best meeting of the year bar none. Asher Rees, Jack Miers and Mike McLachlan certainly enhanced their reputations and thrilled us with their antics. The Baypark Busters made a welcome return that could only be matched or bettered by Jesus or Elvis! Forth place after an absence of 8 years was far better than most realistically thought they would achieve. We had 13 teams with barely a weak link amongst them, and some of the closest races that I can remember in a long time. In fact it took until the much anticipated 'race 9' between the Rotorua Rebels and the Baypark Busters before we had our first complete capitulation, the Rebels well and truly bounced out of the competition.

Along with many in the crowd, I was hoping we wouldn't get a Panthers v Mustangs all-Palmerston final but you cant deny they were easily the best two teams and provided us with a fantastic final. The Great Britain Lions were savaged in their semi-final with the Panthers, barely able to form a team to face the Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes in the 5th & 6th place runoff aferwards. The managers agreeing to run a 'gentlemen's flag race' to at least provide the fans with a result, something better than a forfeit. Baypark's fairytale run came to an end at the hands of the Manawatu Mustangs and they faced off with Nelson in a brilliant battle for 3rd place, the Tigers prevailing. Nelson's night one performance a shadow of the team that turned up on finals night.

And so it was a final that had three Joblin brothers, father and son combos from the Rees and Miers clans, and Shane Penn rounding out the eight competitors. If you wrote it in a script you'd be accused of being fanciful or that no one would believe it. But happen it did, and the record books will show that the mighty Panthers reigned supreme once again. They withstood a ferocious onslaught and they also got reminded that their time as the most recognised team of Panthers is coming to an end. The Penn, Miers, Bengston, Rees, Joblin and Hemi combination that has essentially laid waste to allcomers for a decade has done all that can be done, and a group of Mustangs are chomping at the bit to be the next generation of Panthers. This leads me nicely into the point of the title of this posting, "are the Panthers too good?" As we sat in our seats in the grandstand on Friday night, one of us remarked "the Panthers are gonna win again aren't they?" and we hadn't even finished the qualifying night. Can a team be too good for the sport? How many times can Palmerston North win the event before it actually isn't fun to watch? The fact that the members of the Mustangs will most likely take over the mantle and be blooded into the Panthers fairly soon is frightening in itself, the wealth of talent shows no sign of weakening and when all the competition can really muster is the always good Nelson Tigers, a group of talented F1 Stockcar drivers from the UK and a reformed 'superteam' from Baypark's glory days to provide the only real competition, you do have to wonder what it will take to bring some real surprise back to the meeting, because at the moment its really about who will come runner up. Thats not a dig or being pessimistic or simplistic, its just a fact.

Of course we'll all still keep coming and cheering on our favourites. The racing is still worth every penny and its the highlight of my speedway year EVERY season, but I do wonder how long it will be before we have a semi final without a 'P' team involved, and it's hard to even imagine. They are just a class above everyone else at present - a well-oiled ruthless machine that shows no sign of overconfidence, weakness or mercy! While clubs like Waikato, Auckland, Rotorua, Wanganui and even former powerhouses like Stratford and Wellington are rebuilding or struggling to get teams together, the Panthers machine will march on.

Best driver of the weekend: Asher Rees
Biggest Surprise: Baypark Busters
Unbeaten... but came 5th: Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes
Back to the drawing board: Rotorua Rebels
Hard Luck: Peter Bengston missing the final
Wildest Ride: Jayson Palamountain's wall ride courtesy of Dale Robertson
Ouch: Allen Levien

1 Palmerston North Panthers
Manawatu Mustangs
Nelson Tigers
Baypark Busters
5 Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes
Great Britain Lions
7 Canterbury Glen Eagles
8 Waikato Wanderers
9 Wanganui Warriors
10 Stratford Scrappers
11 Auckland Allstars
12 Wellington Wildcats
13 Rotorua Rebels

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