STORY Tony Stuart
PHOTOS Sticky O’Hagan
The build-up to the Elite Mechanical New Zealand Superstock Championship in Wanganui promised two nights of Superstock action.
While the wind did its best to disrupt that, thousands of fans poured into Oceanview Family Speedway, and action was exactly what they received as young Hawke’s Bay driver Randal Tarrant joined the ranks of New Zealand Superstock champions.
The son of Hawke’s Bay Stockcar legend Beatle Tarrant, Randal had until now been seen mainly as a teams racing specialist. But on a slick Oceanview circuit his throttle control was exemplary, and he drove the wheels of his 66B car, taking him to the top of the Superstock pecking order.
As the wind swept in from the Tasman Sea on Friday, Mike Annabell faced an impossible job keeping moisture in the Oceanview clay. Although the track slicked off both night, the surface was flat and even, and all competitors had the opportunity to adjust their setups and driving styles to the conditions.
With the emphasis shifting away from big horsepower, the weekend became a test of driving to the conditions
Shane Mellsop (71P) was the first to fall victim to Oceanview Speedway’s notorious southern bend. Mellsop was turned sideways early in the corner as the pack charged away from the start, and was pushed around 80 metres by Baypark driver Gavin McClinchie (10M).
Just as the cars were losing momentum, Jayme Hemi (571P) was pushed into the freight train and the nose of McClinchie’s car headed skywards as Mellsop rolled onto his side. Neither driver was injured, but the incident set the tone for a torrid evening.
Later on 581P Jordan Dare’s chances of qualifying took a nosedive when he rode over the front of Mitch Vickery’s 26K car, rolling out of contention. Although Dare returned with a win and a top three placing in his remaining heats, the repecharge was as good as it got for him in the Display Associates “Group of Death”.
Asher Rees (126K) also faced a setback in his final qualifying heat. He was neatly slotted up the Turn One wall by Ron Tye (599P), and although Rees tried desperately to get down, amid clouds of tyre smoke from his right rear tyre spinning against the concrete wall, he too was consigned to the repechage.
1NZ Jason Long, Jared Wade (85K) and Brett Nicholls (48N) qualified from the Wanganui Toyota Group, but a three way runoff was required for the last two spots. Todd O’Donnell (69P) broke away as Blair Uhlenberg (28S) and Rebecca Barr (34P) did battle, before Uhlenberg took the fifth qualifying place.
2017-18 champion William Humphries (94P) topped the Sharp As Group ahead of Keegan Levien (5W), Graeme Barr (32P), Jack Miers (88P) and Benji Sneddon (471K), with Wanganui driver Sheridan O’Hara (9V) just missing out. 2NZ Peter Rees was a surprise non-qualifier after he was taken out in the third heat by Darrel Wallace (557C).
3NZ Simon Joblin comfortably topped the Hymech NZ Group, with Damian Orr (81R), Carl Shearer (75S), Gary Davis (31G) and Nelson driver Alex Hill (95N) also qualifying.
Current Wanganui points leader Carl Burns (25V) surprised many visitors by qualifying from the Garmac Engineering Group behind Harley Robb (991C), Ethan Rees (127G), Jayden Ward (971C) and Ethan Levien (46W).
Tarrant gave a glimpse of what was to come by topping the Display Associates Group, seen by many as the “group of death”. He headed off the Joblin brothers Adam (62P) and Scott (52P), Hawke’s Bay clubmate Quinn Ryan (46B) and Gisborne flyer Jamie Hamilton (9G).
The wind was less severe on Saturday night, as thousands flocked into Oceanview in anticipation of a second action-filled night.
There was immediate action in the repechage, where the 25 drivers highest placed on points battled for the final qualifying position.
Rebecca Barr took an early lead, and midway through the race looked as though she would hold off Malcolm Ngatai (19C) and become the first woman to qualify for the finals of the New Zealand Superstock Championship. However she tangled with the 28P car of Ricky Dykstra and Ngatai, and almost rolled as her car went up on two wheels.
Barr and Ngatai’s misfortune was Asher Rees’ chance to redeem himself as he powered through the gap on the inside and held on to take the last place in the finals field.
The excitement was building ahead of the first 15-lap finals race, and the action wasn’t long in coming.
Brett Nicholls was spun on the first corner, and slid sideways with Jason Long pushing, his own start having been impeded. As Nicholls slowed, Long’s car drove right over the front of the 48N, looked stuck for a split second, then continued on, landing on its wheels.
Before Nicholls could recover, Keegan Levien ploughed into the side of Nicholls’ car, having had nowhere to go. The race was stopped, and Nicholls’ car was removed to the infield, where he was able to exit the car unassisted although shaken. His car was not so lucky however, and the Nelson driver’s night was over.
From the restart Damian Orr led, but he was run down by Asher Rees, and eventual race winner Quinn Ryan. Randal Tarrant gave a glimpse of what was to come, recording the fastest lap of the race on the final lap, as the track slicked off.
It was clear that Tarrant and his crew had got their set-up right.
Heat Two was a much cleaner race, with drivers jockeying for position ahead of the vital third and final heat. Scott Joblin took the race win ahead of Tarrant, with Harley Robb in third place and the third Joblin brother Simon in fourth.
After two heats, Robb sat on 46 points, one ahead of Tarrant, with Asher Rees and Quinn Ryan tied on 44, then the three Joblin brothers.
There were some hurried but furtive meetings around the transporters of various drivers as plans were hatched and alliances were formed. And it was alliances and friendships formed through years of Youth Ministock racing that were to prove decisive
A replay of last year’s Superstock Teams Champs final between Hawke’s Bay (Long, Tarrant and Ryan) and Christchurch (Robb and Ward) was one possibility, whilst in the Gisborne pit in the far corner of the pits, a huge amount of work was going on to get Gary Davis back on the track to play a spoiler role.
Notably, Peter Rees had declined an offer of a place in the repechage field, choosing instead to act as crew chief for his Gisborne teammates, including his son Ethan.
Heat Three kicked off to much anticipation, but it didn’t take long for things to go pear-shaped, as Graeme Barr only got 70 metres before being parked on Jared Wade’s bonnet, eliminating both cars.
A second red light was activated after four laps to remove the stricken car of Ethan Rees from the track, Robb’s car only completed six laps after a valiant championship bid whilst Asher Rees slowed markedly in the latter laps of the race with a flat tyre.
Through it all, Tarrant calmly made his way to the race lead, and held his nerve as the laps counted down.
A third red light with four laps to go saw Tarrant in the lead with teammates Ryan ahead of him and Long behind riding shotgun, but neither made progress from the restart, leaving Tarrant vulnerable to an attack. However the attrition rate had told, no attack came, and Tarrant stormed to the line through a melee of cars right on the finish line, smashing his way past the Asher Rees car to win the race and the title.
When the dust settled, Tarrant had won the Elite Mechanical New Zealand Superstock Championship by a comfortable seven points from Adam Joblin, with Scott Joblin taking the third place on the podium.
A jubilant but humble Tarrant accepted the New Zealand Championship Cup from his friend and teammate Jason Long as his family and crew celebrated. At a second presentation in the Charlie Berntsen Clubrooms the celebrations were less muted as Tarrant began to come to terms with his achievement.
After receiving the winner’s trophy from Mike Mooney, Managing Director of Elite Mechanical and Engineering, he thanked his family, his crew and his sponsors, but reserved his warmest words for father Beatle Tarrant, and for his fellow Hawke’s Bay drivers.
Beatle Tarrant was elated as his son enjoyed the spoils of victory, including the Championship cup filled to overflowing.
Joblin family patriarch Russell, himself a former New Zealand champion also wore a broad grim as sons Scott and Adam received their trophies. This was the fourth successive season that a Joblin had stood on the podium, and the second time in four years that two Joblins had done so.
There’s a Wanganui connection to Tarrant’s win as well. His car was originally built by Karl Jurgens, then sold to Hawke’s Bay, then to the Levien family in Wellington where it was christened Barney, and finally to Tarrant.
Tarrant has recently sold the car to his friend Puneet Gill, having agreed to be the pilot for the rest of the season. However with Barney now carrying the 1NZ sticker, those plans may yet change.
As the celebrations continued into the night, the Wanganui Stockcar and Speedway Club, under the leadership of Daryn Smith, can reflect on a job well done. Thousands watched the event at the track, and it was live-streamed around the world to fans in Australian, the UK and the USA.
Smith and his clubmates and volunteers have certainly proved that small club-run tracks can successfully manage one of the sport’s most prestigious events.
It takes a huge amount of work to organise an event of this size, but in true Wanganui fashion WSSC members rolled up their sleeves, and delivered a championship that will live long in the memory of those who watched it.
No one however will remember it for as long as Randal Tarrant, as he announced his arrival amongst the ranks of the best Superstock drivers in New Zealand. He is, and will be for the next twelve months, an outstanding ambassador for the class, and will carry the 1NZ with pride and aplomb.