Saturday, January 11, 2014

Penn Again

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NZ Superstock Title
Meeanee Speedway, Napier
January 3 & 4

I was going to say now that the dust has settled, but perhaps lumps of mud would be more apt! The NZ Superstock title held in Napier was a meeting that will more than likely be remembered for all the wrong reasons, which is a pity as Shane Penn managed to retain his 1nz title and join a very select group of drivers who have achieved this feat. Most of the controversy was swirling around the state of the track presented on Qualifying night, which rutted up to such a degree as to prove dangerous to spectators who were being pelted with lumps of track surface while drivers who had travelled far and wide to compete were battling just to get their cars home in one piece. It was disappointing to see and one of a number of issues that ruined the night for me, including a lack of seating space - which would be even worse on finals night, programmes sold out before 4pm, and of course the racing that followed which required long breaks to fix the track surface which seemed beyond repair. As the three of us left on Friday night, we heard there was a runoff, but after a night of being sardined in our seats and coated with mud we carried on walking to the car. My two traveling mates decided not to return on Saturday night, choosing rather to swim and get takeaways instead of Speedway, another two fans lost to the sport.

Overnight the internet was abuzz with how bad the track was and what would happen if it was the same for finals night and even threats from drivers who said they might not be returning. I made my feelings known on Facebook and got abused for "turning up 3 hours before the meeting started and expecting a seat!" I thought it was a joke at first but this guy was serious, and if our sport is that sad that you have to be at the track more than 3 hours before a qualifying night then we need to seriously look at the seating issues for a title that is growing in statue but not in professionalism. It pissed me off and as far as NZ titles go, it was the worst one I've ever been to at that stage. Fortunately the track surface was completely transformed for night two and whoever was involved in that process deserved a massive amount of praise. Many people thought it was a goner but they provided a smooth and fast track for the finals. Unfortunately nothing could be done about the seating and so over 4 hours of sitting in blistering sun was the price most of us paid to get a seat in the lower third of the stand I was squashed into the night before. Security guards started asking people to remove tarpaulins that were taking up massive amounts of space if nobody was sitting on them and then the guards were getting abused and in the end the place was oversold, people were dangerously close to the fence, the stands were over capacity and the grassed areas were uncomfortable with little or no access ways. Through it all we were constantly asked over the PA to "just squeeze up a little bit as more people are coming in the gates!"

So that paints a fairly unpleasant picture of the facilities but what about the actual racing? Because it was near on impossible to write about, let alone watch and enjoy the qualifying, I didn't bother on Friday night but most of the usual suspects made it through the four groups to make up the initial 24 finalists with repecharges to find the final two qualifiers on night two. It was great to see 92m Kyle Fraser qualify in what would be his last shot at the crown, but another former champion 591p Wayne Hemi had a horror night and would be consigned to the repecharges. Both of the repecharges were great with locals grabbing the final spots much to the delight of the crowd. In fact, I think these two races were probably better than any of the 3 final heats. In the first race, 37b Garry Foley benefitted when the entire lead group of cars spun and ended up in the wall in turns 3 & 4 and then the focus was on how close Wayne Hemi could get to that one qualification spot moving from grid 16 up to 2nd before 84b Mike McLachlan ended his run as he closed in on Foley. Another take-out in the other race too as an impressively fast 71p Shane Mellsop was running away with the race before club mate 112p Shaun Pearson took him out in his efforts to support 88p Jack Miers. 16b Steve Jude took over the lead and held it well, an excellent block by 9b Adam Groome stopped 2nz Dale McKenzie from a last lap chance at removing Jude. Two local Bay cars completing the final 26.

Finals Heat 1  8.46pm
A tentative start by 32p Graeme Barr from the rear of the field was a lucky break as the huge squeeze into turn one took 5 cars out of the running immediately, 52p Scott Joblin, 19c Malcolm Ngatai who was tipped over, 23r Lance Ashton, 72p Simon Joblin and 135r Scott Hewson all involved. Ashton and Ngatai would not make the restart and for Ashton it was the end of the night with gearbox issues. 581p Jordan Dare took an early lead, pinned his ears back and went for the win making a huge statement to the competition. 7n Craig Boote came home in second and looked every bit the champion while 10p Peter Rees made a great start coming home in third with the fastest lap of the race, but it was the next two home that had made the biggest moves, 1nz Penn making up 14 places and 52p Joblin despite the bad start picking up an incredible 18 spots.
Top 10: 581p, 7n, 10p, 1nz, 52p, 37b, 87m, 62p, 58p, 18n

Finals Heat 2  9.55pm
A long 3 minute bell for 19c Ngatai who was starting on grid 1 delayed the start and eventually he would retire for the night with the damage sustained in heat one. 87m David Elsworth lead out early but 1nz Penn would take over before our first major attack by 126p Asher Rees forcing 7n Boote into the wall and tipping the Nelson driver over and out of the contest. A dnf in heat one always meant Rees would be on the prowl and once again the 3 time champion fell at the hands of a Palmy car. Penn carried on to win the heat ahead of Elsworth and 31p Andy McCabe, putting himself on top of the points and as the current champion, a sure target in heat three. Some confusion over where 52p Scott Joblin finished had caused some drama as many people watched him almost roll on turn 2 and yet he was credited with a 5th place finish. A situation the Joblin team handled well informing the officials it wasn't possible although after heat three he would be temporarily crowned 3nz!
Top 10: 1nz, 87m, 31p, 72p, 32p, 581p, 58p, 18n, 66b, 62p

Finals Heat 3  11.05pm
24 Cars fronted for heat three with Penn on 49pts, Dare 47, Elsworth 45, Peter Rees 40 and the only other real contender Peter Bengston on 38pts. Barr and Harwood were a bit further back on 36 points. Now in normal circumstances you would think that the reigning champ who was also leading on points wouldn't see out the final heat, that Dare might sneak a podium finish if club mates protected him while Elsworth would be hard pushed to survive with little or no support. In my mind Peter Rees and Peter Bengston were in the box seats. 32p Barr would lead from start to finish in a fairly tame race. As I thought, 87m David Elsworth was taken out but surprisingly by a HB car, 41b Jason Long and 135r Hewson made sure of the fact with an extra shunt for good measure although both Elsworth and Hewson were removed. Craig Boote got a revenge shot on Asher Rees bringing on the reds but in the process damage to the diff of his own car ended his race also. Peter Rees hopes nosedived when he shreaded the right rear tyre and his elusive 1nz title hopes were dashed for another season. 1nz Shane Penn followed Barr home in second ahead of 18n Shane Harwood and 72p Simon Joblin. With barely a scratch on the car, 1nz Shane Penn had successfully retained his title and the fist pumps out the window as he waited to cross the line during a late red light stoppage were a joy to see.

Finally, I don't know if this meeting will go down as a classic, but Penn's achievement certainly should. The dominance of Palmerston North cars continues with seven of the top 10 cars coming from the Manawatu track. 18n Shane Harwood the fly in the ointment, coming home in 5th, an incredible result in its own right. Next season this meeting will be held in Wellington and I hope they have some plan for the crowds that will descend on Te Marua Speedway. I've never been to Wellington Speedway and if the arrangements for the meeting are similar to this one I wont be going, I'd rather save my money and watch online and that's a pretty bad indictment on the sport I love.

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