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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