Story by Tim Savell
Photos by Go Slideways & @teamspeedwaynz
With action from start to finish and six cars involved in the run-offs to determine the podium positions, it’s not a stretch to say this was the best Grand Prix in the 42-year history of the event.
The Superstock Grand Prix has often been viewed as a lesser member of the allocated title family, with car counts that reflect this perceived lack of status when compared to the NZ and World 240 titles. Even the North Island title has outshone it on occasions, but the event received a turbo boost in 2019/20 with a sensational night of racing in Palmerston North on December 7.
Qualifying took place at the start of the night at the Robertson Holden International Speedway, with three groups of 20+ cars having two heats to accumulate points. The top eight from each group progressed, along with two from the repechage. Racing was frantic, but done and dusted by 7:30pm so the programme could commence as planned.
Nine local drivers made the cut, with Hawkes Bay getting four through and three each for Gisborne, Kihikihi and Wellington. Christchurch had two make it through (although Malcolm Ngatai wasn’t one of them), with Nelson, Wanganui and Stratford a sole qualifier. Others to miss included Jordan Dare and the Rees brothers, Jayden Ward.
The first heat of the finals saw two relatively low profile drivers on the front row, 28s Blair Uhlenberg and 44p Brendan Sharland. They both got away cleanly and managed to hang in there for the entire race on a track that was beginning to slicken up. As it turned out he only driver in the first handful on the grid who failed to feature highly in the results was the winner of this event exactly 40 years prior, 95p Clive Elliot. He was rolled on the third lap, with two fence posts on the main straight proving problematic to fix.
Recent Gisborne convert 9g Jamie Hamilton profited best in the conditions, taking the flag in the second heat from grid eight. 46b Quinn Ryan qualified via the repechage and was second home ahead of Sharland, with 2nz Peter Rees fourth from grid 15. Uhlenberg was fifth ahead of current World 240s champion Benji Sneddon. Graeme Barr and Jason Long made ground from the middle of the pack, with Josh Prentice and Dale Robertson doing so from the rear.
Heat two saw 23 cars start, and a first lap incident in the same spot where Clive Elliot rolled in the opener. This time it was 8p Scott Miers coming to a sudden stop, and again the fence was in the firing line. Once things were back underway it looked like 2nz Peter Rees would have the race to himself, until Benji Sneddon began slowly reeling him in and made the pass with two thirds of the race gone. His lead was short lived as the 471k headed infield to retirement, with Rees grateful to head to the flag and take the 26 points.
Thomas Stanaway was second but had failed to finish race one, with Keegan Levien third from five and the impressive Stefan Roigard fourth. 9g Jamie Hamilton progressed from 22 to fifth, making some late passes including one on 15w Josh Prentice. Others in difficulty included 32p Graeme Barr who headed infield earlier in the race.
Peter Rees was aiming for the Grand Slam of allocated title wins, achieved only by Dave Evans, Wayne Hemi, Shane Penn and Simon Joblin. He placed second in this event in 2016/17, and by leading the points chart here after two heats had “target” written all over him. His 49 points was one clear of clubmate Hamilton, with a massive nine point gap back to Levien and Ryan on 39. Josh Prentice had 38 and 1nz Jason Long 36, meaning there were two Gisborne, two Wellington and two Hawkes Bay in with a chance.
The first local after two heats was 88p Jack Miers in eighth (17 points adrift), but he made his intentions clear early in the third heat by attacking both Gisborne cars from the get go. Once 8p Scott Miers had seen off 89w Dale Robertson he joined the fray, with the two identical cars trolling the poleline and the additional barrier for Hamilton of having 112c Shaun Pearson aiming for him too.
A mid race red light for 58p Peter Bengston saw Scott Joblin leading and thanks to the commentary we all knew there was now a three-way tie for the title with cars just behind him – Jason Long, Josh Prentice and Keegan Levien. Rees and Hamilton were well back in 16th and 17th and really only likely to profit if the attrition rate grew. Both took plenty more punishment as the laps ticked away and were a number of laps down, but with that big buffer were still in the hunt.
Up the front Levien had caught Jason Long who was lying second, which meant the Wellington car was certifiably ahead of 1nz on points. And that was about the only certainty as Scott Joblin took the flag to win the third heat, from Long, Levien, Prentice and Ryan. Had Levien done enough? Rees and Hamilton both made it to the flag, avoiding the PTS blockers for long enough to survive.
The call went up, Rees and Levien were first equal on 63 points. 13th place was enough to see Rees into a runoff for the title..and an unprecedented double Grand Slam as he’d already achieved the feat in the Stockcar class. Levien is a former Stockcar 2nz and one of the Rosing Stars of the class, so if he won then it would be a “changing of the guard” moment. And so it proved. Rees lined up on pole, got the jump and stormed away, only to drift wide in turn two and be spun around by the Hutt Park Racing machine. With the change to the runoff rules the 2nz was unable to stop and wait, and when Levien came upon him again he merely spun Rees around like he was swatting a fly. The title was Keegan Levien’s!
A four-way runoff for third was also necessary, with Long, Prentice, Hamilton and Ryan all ending up on 61 points. Having two Hawkes Bay cars in the group would make a difference you’d think, but the star was new Superstock convert 15w Josh Prentice who nailed two but found himself in second and fourth overall. Quinn Ryan took the podium spot, thanks mainly to Prentice’s efforts.
Based on this outing and the teams racing from Huntly two weeks prior, this looks like being the most epic season of Superstock racing yet. Car counts are high, the presentation and performance is exemplary and the new guard is ready to challenge the established stars. Hold onto your hats at Whanganui!