Keegan on Top of the World | From March ’20 Issue

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STORY Daniel Neville
PHOTOS Graham Hughes

Just how good was the 2020 TWS World Invitation Superstock Champs held on January 24/25 at Rotorua’s Paradise Valley Speeedway? Well if you weren’t there then ask one of your friends because they probably were in attendance to witness one of, if not the greatest display of Superstock racing seen on that track for some time. As mentioned in my previous sentence, I was among the massive crowds on both nights and will now proceed to tell the tale of how young superstar Keegan Levien became the first Wellington registered driver to win the coveted championship since Wayne Hemi in 2003 back when Palmerston North used to host the event.

A hot sunny weekend was forecast and it certainly delivered that with temperatures reaching the high 20’s both days but thankfully it cooled down as the nights progressed. The meeting drew 114 Superstocks for qualifying which was whittled down to just 20 after 15 races on the Friday. Divided into five groups, it was the top four on points from each who made the cut for the finals. Joining them were last year’s winner (471K Benji Sneddon) the second-tier champion from 2019 (23R Lance Ashton) and 3 from Great Britain (515GB Frankie Wainman Jnr, 446GB Joe Booth and 166GB Bobby Griffin)

The red group was led by none other than the Red Waka pilot himself 591P Wayne Hemi who amassed 73 points from his three heats. Next was 5W Keegan Levien on 70 followed by 118R Bryce Steiner with 64 while 75S Carl Shearer was the final to make it through on 60 points. Green group honours lay with 10G Peter Rees with the next three in the finals all in the 40’s and they were 44P Brendan Sharland, 45G Nick Vallance and 48N Brett Nicholls, who outsmarted 581P Jordan Dare in a run off for the last spot when they were tied on 60 points each. Next was blue group which was won by 41B Jason Long who totalled 72 points just 2 ahead of 4V Chad Ace, the next two making it were 85K Jared Wade and 136V Maddie Wise on 69 and 66 points respectively. Yellow group saw a tie for first as 32P Graeme Barr and 127G Ethan Rees both finished with 70 points each then it was back to 98B Quintin Butcher on 69 and 19C Malcolm Ngatai who accumulated 65 points from his three heats. The fifth and final group was closely contested with and another tie at the top featuring 126K Asher Rees and 94R Dale Stewart locked on 66 points apiece then 2 back to 88P Jack Miers with 64 and another tie saw 72P Simon Joblin beat 9P Brett Hyslop in run off after they both scored 62 points each over three heats.
As it often is, the qualifying night was mainly concentrated on drivers going hard out to get as many points to make the top four in their groups and this year was no exception. There was just the odd first lap pile up in some heats with a few deciding the outcome in the third heats by putting the bumpers in where required. Overall it was a great appetiser with the main course delivering awesome racing once again.
As sun was blazing across Paradise Valley, a huge crowd poured through the gates and packed themselves in to witness a massive action filled night of racing. Throw in the second and third tier for Superstocks, the Aotearoa Ladies Stockcar Crown, the Bay of Plenty Modified Champs and a Stockcar teams race and well, what more could a petrolhead ask for in a weekend of speedway.

The repechage started the night off with just the winner of that race joining the other 25 in the big race for the championship. As per previous years this race became an all-in war but unfortunately 2020 didn’t deliver the carnage many expected with 971C Jayden Ward skipping out into the lead and was never passed on his way to the win the 26th qualifying spot. Close behind Ward, and unlucky not to get through, was 2019 runner up 87B Thomas Stanaway who raced well all weekend but had to settle for tier two this time round.

Frankie Wainman Jnr led the troops out as they all lined up on the back straight for driver introductions and chats before heat one began. Then came the hush before Barry Brown assumed the call of “gentlemen, start your engines!” and the magical sound of all the cars firing up at once echoed across the valley which really set the scene for 45 torrid laps to find a champion. Three-time winner of the event Wainman Jnr in 515GB had it all his own way, leading from flag to flag and maximum points after heat one. Long, in 41B, came home second closely followed by 88P Miers, 75S Shearer and 5W Levien. A massive 10 cars did not finish the opening race including three-time winner 72P Simon Joblin who was fired into 127G Ethan Rees who in turn had picked up and crunched sole Nelson qualifier Brett Nicholls.

There were a few missing from the grid for heat two and notably pole position empty as Joblin was gone for the night with terminal damage. The action came thick and fast in this heat with opening winner Wainman Jnr picked on by a few, as was Ngatai in 19C who copped a blow from 126K Rees with payback coming swiftly. Amid the mayhem 5W Levien got the win from 45G Vallance, 971C Ward, 23R Lance Ashton and Wade in the 85K car. The points were close with a heat to go and it was Levien leading with 48 followed by Vallance on 46 then a tie for third between Long and Miers with 45 each then another deadlock involving Wainman Jnr and Shearer who totalled 42 points each.

As predicted, it was on for the deciding with attacks coming in all directions and plenty of damage. From the flag Peter Rees targeted Miers while Sneddon got stuck into Wainman Jnr and Ward cut the pole line to take Asher Rees to the wall which resulted in the 971C being removed from the track after his misdemeanour. Miers and Peter Rees clashed which damaged both cars and again Wainman Jnr was under attack, this time by Ethan Rees. The action kept coming as the laps went by with Wayne Hemi grabbing the win from with Long, Vallance, Levien and Ashton the next with many more who failed to finish. The final tally saw Levien clinch his maiden World 240’s title by a single point from Long who beat Vallance in a run off with Ashton and Shearer completing the top five finishers overall.
The second tier was closely fought and eventually won by 77R Lance Elsworth from 581P Jordan Dare and 14R AJ Axtens. The win gives Elsworth automatic entry to nexts season’s finals along with main event winner Keegan Levien. The third-tier competition went to 1NZB Randall Tarrant who had a much better Saturday night then he did Friday. Second was 98M Mark Costello who had to earn his runner up spot via a run off and did that well dispatching opponent 64R Jeremy Sinclair up the wall and onto his side before a lap was completed.
The Stockcar teams’ race was between the Rotorua Rascals and the Palmerston North Pumas for the Rees Shield and it remained in the local cabinet when the Rascals blockmen turned on a masterclass, efficiently protecting 19R Sam Pearson all the way to the flag and wrecking a few Puma cars along the way. Another title that didn’t change hands was the Bay of Plenty Modified champs which was retained by multiple national champ 11A Jamie Fox from new 1NZ Brad Lane with 4H Paul Hodson in third.
Rounding out a very busy and enjoyable programme was the third running of the Aotearoa Ladies Stockcar Crown which again saw a great bunch of female drivers battle it out over six heats across the two nights for the title. There was a fair amount of contact as the heats progressed and it was no surprise to see 28R Alex Jones the main instigator and having a crack at random competitors. Night one race winners were 85GM Brittany Carpenter, 33B Kareena Annan and 75P Katelin Prescott. Night 2 saw the flag shared between 69S Carol Podjursky, 4W Lexi Hendrikse and 681R Kirsten Keijzer. After the first five heats it was Carpenter who had driven so well despite just the one win and was 11 points clear of Podjursky so only had to finish heat six to claim the title. Sadly though, gearbox issues prevented the 85GM from starting the deciding race which allowed Podjursky close the gap and win overall from 18V Hailey James, who had flown under the radar the whole weekend and amazingly Carpenter had enough points to complete the podium in third overall.

In closing I’d like to say congratulations to everyone involved with the Rotorua Stockcar Club Inc. for putting on an excellent weekend. Also, to the drivers and crew for the effort they put in and of course to the patrons who filled the valley both nights to witness the show. Finally, well done to the team from The Pits TV who provided an excellent live stream for those not fortunate enough to be there. Make sure you don’t miss this awesome event next year which will take place on January 22nd and 23rd 2021 at TWS Paradise Valley Speedway in Rotorua.