STORY Rob Arnold
PHOTOS Cameron Lee
Cantabrian and current national champion Jeremy Webb made history by becoming the first South Islander to win an allocated title in the North Island since open entry to Island titles was re-allowed last winter, to win the Cooke Roofing North Island TQ Championship at the Huntly International Speedway.
Open wheel racing at Huntly is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. With the exception of the NZ Midgets or the New Year’s Day leg of the International Midget Series that has been part of the Huntly schedule the past two seasons, standalone events for them have never attracted much of a crowd and the light crowd shows the lack of appeal this branch of speedway has to the stockcar oriented core of much of Huntly’s fan base.
Those that went along were treated to a night of excellent racing that exceeded the writer’s expectations with a bit of drama thrown in and an excellent racing surface in spite of the hot dry weather experienced in the Waikato since Christmas. After past experience proving that 7pm starts are too much late when much of the programme comprises of non-key start classes it was great to have a 6pm kick off for this meeting and a 10:30pm finish was still more than reasonable.
Though the 16-car field for the North Island TQ’s was a wee bit light when a field around the 18-22 mark is usually the norm these days, the racing was of a very high standard. The 25-lap feature running flag to flag with no yellows. In fact, this was one of the best TQ races ever seen by this writer. Webb, with a third and a second in his two heats secured pole for the final and though it he led from lights to chequered flag it was by no means a cake walk. 88A Scott Baker hustled Webb every step of the way, often getting along him at the exit of Turn 4, but Webb had enough mid-range acceleration and slightly more pace out of Turns 1 and 2 to stay ahead.
A rollover on the rundown lap showed how hard Baker was trying! 2NZ Ryan Barry was a solid third coming under increasing pressure from 74G Dylan McGregor, 46A Aaron Humble and 36A Cole Morrison in the closing laps. This quartet crossing the line all in close company. 6B Duane Todd, one of the pre-event favourites was surprisingly off the pace having won his opening heat, but made no impression thereafter. Barry and 8A Lawrence Baker were the other heat winners.
While the TQ’s were notionally the headline act, the real excitement lay with the 19 strong field of midgets contesting the combined NZ Machine Tools Waikato Midget Championship and annual 40 lap event. This gruelling long-distance event back after being rained off last season, and the first Waikato title to be run in full. Kihikihi having using such coinage for their local midget title for many years since 2016 as the 2017/18 edition was washed out after one heat.
Traditionally run just prior to Xmas, moving this event to this time of the season proved to be a winner in terms of providing a track surface worthy of such an event with fine and fairly clean action in the heats. 27A Hayden Williams winning two and American based 2NZ Zac Daum also a winner with the likes of 9K Michael Brunt, 91A Hayden Guptill and 25A Aaron Hodgson also prominent in this phase of the competition.
The clean action in the heats initially led to excellent wheel to wheel action throughout the field in the early laps of the 40 lapper with Williams leading with Daum right behind. In light of many crash plagued races at Huntly this was too good to last and indeed it was and true to form this race produced the chaos it’s known for.
The old adage cautions breed cautions certainly applied for this race. The biggest seeing Williams roll over very hard to land up, over and between the two fences after banging wheels with Daum for the lead. Daum led briefly after the restart, and then Brunt had a short spell up front with Guptill then taking charge when cautions with 32 laps run seeing the race declared at this point as the track’s 10:30pm curfew had come. The race had also been flagged off 50 minutes earlier and it’s questionable many had enough fuel remaining to carry on to the advertised distance.
This took nothing away from Guptill’s fine drive, having the best set up for the second half of the race. Brunt a strong second, his best effort of the season with Hodgson a solid third from a fading Daum with 22A James Earl completing the top five despite causing the rollover that saw the race come to a premature end!
Support classes were F2 midgets, youth ministocks and superstocks. The healthy mid teen muster of F2 midgets had racing was livelier than expected with wins going to 81A Leyton Kendall, 7A Ben Matthews and 10A Mitch Osborne. 97H Jayden Dreadon-Manning scoring two wins in another close and clean night of racing from the 23 youth ministocks with 4H Coeghan Van Lieshout also a winner. The nine superstocks racing, while rather low on contact was still fairly acceptable, staying tightly bunched for most of the time. Wins went to 66M Mark Decke, 57H Dylan Marshall and 58K Stefan Roigard.
Overall an excellent night of racing, the track conditions for the night and the New Year’s Day leg of the International Midget Series has restored Huntly’s credibility as an open wheel racing venue.