Sunday, March 08, 2015

NZ Stockcar Teams Night 1

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NZ Stockcar Teams Qualifying Night
Paradise Valley Raceway, Rotorua
February 27, 2015

There was a lot of hype about this meeting and with 14 teams entered, including 4 from the South Island, no one was surprised when the banks at Paradise Valley filled up to what must be one of their biggest qualifying night crowds ever. Friday night did take a sombre turn when news of a car crash involving Brett Loveridge and his crew on the way to the event filtered through and the weather looked as though it was going to ruin any chance of running the meeting. But, despite the odds, both the weather Gods and the Meeanee Maulers turned up in the nick of time and I can't imagine the feeling in the pits for those guys from Hawkes Bay, and incredibly brave effort to forge on.

The amount of water that pelted the track was obviously going to have a major effect on the racing and it pretty much muted the action for the first 5 or so races, while speeds increased during the night, the major carnage that plenty of the crowd were expecting was never going to happen although there was still plenty to get excited about. Most people in the crowd got their first ever look at the Greymouth Grizzlies in the opening heat against the Wellington Young Guns. Brian Hahn and Tony Stanton in the matching white tanks set the meeting off in style and gave the Young Guns a huge fright only being hauled in late in the race, a lucky escape indeed. Baypark Bulldogs fell to the WanganuiVulcans, 88v Blair Lockett crossed the line ahead of both Ryan Hunt and Keegan Orr who put in a great chase hampered only by the mud. Eastern States Titans and Palmerston North Pumas produced the first race with lots of action as the track dried, Palmy prevailing with 35p Jayden Ward taking the win although a few question marks about the 'invincible' Pumas not looking quite so hard we being murmurred.

Next up was the much talked about Gisborne Gladiators with the Rees family now part of one of the most popular teams in recent years, but a team that hadn't managed a single race this season until now. 8g Bruce Harding finally got his chance to compete in his 100th teams race and showcased his brilliant blocking skills allowing the Rees tanks to come home first, second and third. Dylan and Adam Hall both showed promise in their tanks but Nelson's Tasman Thunder were the first unlucky team to face the new might of Gisborne and like the previous race, there was plenty of comments in the crowd. The Canterbury Crushers were up next and provided the first genuine upset taking on the Auckland Alleycats. A huge hit from 4c Ricco Gray stopped 137a Jamie Fergusson dead in his tracks and once you have reduced a team to 3 cars v 4 at this level, the battle is usually over. 383a Gary Lonergan couldn't catch 9c Josh Prentice who crossed for the win. Title holders and hometown favourites Rotorua Rascals faced off next with the Meeanee Maulers. 538r Brent Stewart was fired off into the mud in turn 3 and could barely get the car out leaving 3 Rascals cars to race. Tony Palmer held the lead for the Maulers but eventually the Rascals hauled him in and took a great win in one of the most even races so far. Waikato Raiders and Stratford Stormers were next out and 98h Justin Hutchby put in a blocking performance that rated as one of the nights best. Ably assisted by Dave Moore in the tank they pair managed to remove every Leading Stormers car while 94h Mark Caldwell picked up the win. A very strong performance for one of the dark horses of the championship. 402s Andrew Dodunski still managed to come home 3rd despite plenty of attention to grab some valuable points.

Wellington came out for their second appearance taking on Wanganui and with the track as good as it could be Dale Robertson showed his class having sat out the first race. He and Richard Gaskin removed danger men Francis Potaka and Dion Mooney while Dale also ran for the team picking up a win. Both teams had won their first heats and the Young Guns picked up good points to qualify although the Vulcans had enough cars finish to probably get through too. A South Island battle between Greymouth and Blenheim left both teams sharing the points and dashing their hopes of a finals night appearance, 154e Jordan Dare taking the win. Baypark and Tasman were in a similar situation with one or other needed a clean sweep to ensure they qualified but they also shared the points 100-95, Keegan Orr grabbing the victory for the Bulldogs. Canterbury and Palmy, two first round winners squared off next with the Mainlanders drawing first blood with the lone rollover of the night, Jayden Ward tipped up right on the start line by Jay Knight. What followed was a valiant effort from Humphries, Wallace and Ron Tye but outnumbered and with Prentice and Lane on fire for the Crushers, Palmy fell to an emphatic loss 130-25. Gisborne carried on from where they left off in round win as 1nz Asher Rees drove a masterclass in how to remove cars without too much damage (or loss of speed!) bulldozing his way to the front and to a win. Rees Snr, Penn and Tarrant followed him home, Meeanees hopes gone while the Gladiators would top the overall points.

The last two races of the night had Auckland facing Stratford, only four Alleycats cars could front after a torrid first race. 404s Todd Duthie would pretty much go untouched with an easy ride to the win, Lonergan again claiming second place. Stratford through to the finals and the Alleycats knocked out. Waikato Raiders and the Rotorua Rascals were the last race and so long as there wasn't a whitewash both teams could get through. Damian and Shannon Orr showed exactly why the holders were one of the favourites for the title taking first and second place against a strong Raiders team. Steve Gray spun the Raiders runner Anthony McNeill but he still managed 3rd place and enough points to tie with Palmy in the finals, a runoff won by Waikato sealing 7th place. So with that we had our 8 finalists, and in my opinion Rotorua and Gisborne were the standout teams. Whereas some of the others struggled with the track conditions both of these teams never missed a beat. Biggest surprise was Canterbury but with Palmy looking a little fragile, Wellington Young Guns were the other notable team that given the track conditions would be ideal on Saturday, they would be a daunting prospect.

Gisborne Gladiators  305
Canterbury Crushers 300
Rotorua Rascals 280
Wellington Young Guns 250
Wanganui Vulcans 215
Stratford Stormers 200
Waikato Raiders 185
Palmerston North Pumas 185
Baypark Bulldogs 165
Eastern States Titans 160
Greymouth Grizzlies 125
Tasman Thunder 125
Meeanee Maulers 120
Auckland Alleycats 115

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