Scott Tennant Slams NZ Stockcar Grand Prix

It’s rare to see such domination as that seen from Scott Tennant at the Placemakers NZ Stockcar Grand Prix at the McDonalds Kihikihi Speedway on March 23 and 24.

The reigning 2NZ put in a performance for the ages at the meet, sweeping all three qualifying heats and backing it up 24 hours later with two more wins and a third to secure the Grand Prix title in grand style, claiming an astonishing 87 points out of a possible 90.

It was arguably one of the best displays of individual driving in a category where tribal alliances count more than solo endeavour. Even after allowing for the fact that the Aucklander had numerous track mates to help him if required, there’s no denying that his superlative performance came from his own effort.

This has been an event a long time in the making, postponed from last season due to Covid, then postponed twice more because of a terrible run of weather. This time, the weather finally played ball, allowing such a breathtaking display of racing to take place.

Like so many events impacted by the weather this season, the continual postponements took much of the pre-event enthusiasm. However, there was still a good turnout, with all North Island venues, except for Wellington, represented.

Tennant won five out of six heats over the Grand Prix weekend.

A generous seven qualifiers from each group make the finals, plus two from the repechage, meant that Friday night qualifying was relatively tame for the light crowd in attendance. There were a few big hits and a couple of rollovers, but banking the points was the name of the game.

The most significant talking point from Friday’s qualifying was the large Auckland armada that had qualified for the final, with no fewer than seven Aucklanders making the final 30. Stratford had five, including national champion Josh Walsh who showed the confident pace that took him to the 1NZ and NI titles.

Huntly was next best with four, while Rotorua, Palmerston North and the host track saw three qualify. Cody Lockett was Wanganui’s sole qualifier, with nobody from Meeanee or Gisborne able to make the cut.

A far bigger crowd fill the banks of the Kihikihi Domain on a slightly nippy Saturday afternoon, anticipating a fine evening’s entertainment. They were not to be disappointed. Pole-sitter Keegan Orr narrowly emerged from opening lap carnage to add a fourth Rotorua car to the finals, taking the race win. Runner-up Alex Maule gave Palmerston North a fourth car in the finals thanks to Orr’s track mate Joel Steiner, who spun Maule’s clubmate Cody Hodge, who was in that spot, to protect Orr’s lead.

Tennant quickly moved into the lead from P3 in the opening heat and stayed there, shepherded from potential attacks from track mates Josh Simpson and Logan Peat, who finished second and third.

With fellow Aucklander and defending GP champion Gary Longergan in fourth, it was clear, even at this early stage the championship was going to stay in the Super City, with the nearest non-Aucklander being Palmerston North’s Kyle Rowe, who was sixth, and Rotorua’s Brent Stewart who was seventh.

Tennant capitalised on the early mêlée in Heat 2, quickly vaulting into third. He then diced with race leader Lowe for several laps following a stoppage, eventually taking the lead and winning over his rival. Third-placed Simpson and fourth-place Peat cemented their title chances, while Lonergan remained in the hunt with sixth.

Tennant had a perfect score of 60 at this stage, giving him a massive five-point buffer over Simspon, Peat and Lowe, all tied for second. Lonergan was next on 52, with Stewart completing the top six on 48. Dion Henderson was the best local on 47; he and Stewart needing something exceptional to happen to score a podium.

With the rare luxury of a five-point buffer, all Tennant had to do was cruise and collect. By his admission, he wasn’t pushing hard in the finale. Nevertheless, he took advantage of his car speed and early skirmishes ahead in the pack to finish third and claim the Grand Prix title by a whopping seven points.

This is not to say there was no attempt to give him a run for his money as Kyle and Taylor Lampp tried to assist Lowe, but the Auckland armada and their allies were far too strong.

Fourth place for Simpson in the finale was enough for him to claim second overall, on 81 points, with Peat, who ran shotgun for Tennant for most of the race, third on 79 for his first podium in an allocated title. Lowe was a solid fourth on 77, while Stewart was fifth on 75. Henderson gave the best performance by a Kihikihi driver to finish sixth He was one ahead of defending champion Lonergan, who lost ground in a skirmish in the final heat. Kyle Lampp on 63, Brad Simspon on 58 and Cody Lockett on 50 completed the top ten. Lockett did well to make the top ten after not starting the opening heat, a win in the finale vaulting him up the order.

Locals had something to cheer for when Cameron Taylor won the Rosetown Rumble for the non-qualifiers, with Rotorua’s Riley McDonald and Auckland’s Matt Stone completing the trifecta.

A Night Of Champions at Kihikihi

The Andrew Edwards Sprintcar Memorial returned to the McDonald’s Kihikihi Speedway on April 15 following a one- year Covid-inflicted hiatus. It was a night of fantastic open- wheel racing, with three of the five classes competing boasting the 1NZ and 2NZ. The entire NZ TQ Midget podium were also present.

Adding spice to proceedings was the final round of the Midas Midget Allstars series, while the Sprintcars were also racing the final round of the Auto Super Shoppe Sprintcar Master Series. It was no surprise to see a big crowd along the banks of the Kihikihi Domain expecting first-class action from a top-drawer programme. That’s precisely what they got.

The Andrew Edwards Memorial boasted a massive field of 22, minus defending champion Stephen Taylor who chose to contest Ruapuna’s Salute to Goodie that night. Despite his absence, there was still plenty of A-list talent on hand.

The Heats were competitive, with four different winners in as many races, being Rodney Wood, Dean Brindle, Michael Pickens and Brad Mosen, in a rare Sprintcar outing.

The feature was arguably the best Sprintcar race seen at Kihikihi in recent years, with excellent racing from start to finish, coupled with rarely-seen slide jobs as the race progressed. Dean Brindle grabbed the lead from pole and gradually pulled away in the early laps, only for O’Conner to pile on the pressure trying to lap Baypark’s Holly Williams, the pair running side by side until Dean cleared the young lady. The battle for second became just as fierce, with Cooper, Thomas and Pickens looking to make gains after a cautious start.

Dean Brindle celebrates in style following his historic Andrew Edwards Sprintcar Memorial win.

A caution for a stationary Lance Beale with ten laps to go made it a sprint to the flag, with Brindle checking out and Pickens quickly moving to second. With Brindle taking it easy approaching traffic, Pickens made a do-or-die lunge in the final turn that saw him clip the wall and roll. The restart saw Brindle grab the win, the first for a Kihikihi driver in the event’s six years of running at the venue, having previously been held at Baypark.

Brindle has placed in all but one of the Kihikihi editions of the event, making this victory that much more special.

Making it a Kihikihi one-two was Thomas, who got past Cooper in the final dash to the flag, the latter showing he’s no longer an up-and-comer but a regular front-runner. O’Connor and locals Brian Edwards and Keaton Dahm completed the top six.

The final leg of the Midas Midget All Stars saw a full grid of 20 on tap, with heat racing showing some of the best midget action seen at Kihikihi. Series leader Brad Mosen started the night with a DNF, though he bounced back to finish second next time out, but still had some work to do in the feature, starting from tenth.

Newly crowned 10-time NZ Champion Pickens only had a middling run in the heats, stalling in the first while leading but recovering to sixth. A fighting fourth in the second heat put him in an unusually low P9 for the feature, which few pundits expected going into this event.

Cantabrian Jack Low, Jayden Worthington and local Mitch Fabish were heat winners, but the most consistent were Aaron Hodgson and Hayden Guptill, who claimed the front row for the feature.

After a couple of early cautions, the race came alive with a long spell under green that saw Hodgson and Guptill have a big joust for the lead until Aaron got the upper hand to pull away. Further back, Mosen and Pickens were having a real fight, exchanging slide jobs for several laps until Mosen got the upper hand and clawed his way to third, albeit some way off the leaders but showing the pace to bridge the gap.

Another caution was the break Mosen needed, and within a few laps of the restart, he’d cleared Guptill and then Hodgson to win the race and the series. Hodgson was second, with Guptill delighted to grab a podium at his favourite track. The promising Jordan McDonnell, who has impressed this season, was a gutsy fourth ahead of Pickens, with Leon Burgess completing the top six.

The Dusty Rhodes TQ Memorial does not, as some may think, honour an overweight 1980s US professional wrestler, but instead, a man who not only did so much for Kihikihi on and off track but also did much to establish Meeanee after moving to Hawkes Bay.

A quality field of 21 put on some blistering action, with 2NZ Kayden Barker looking impressive with two heat wins, with Cole Morrison the other heat winner. So evenly matched was the field that there were no other standouts, apart from national champion Aaron Humble who started next to Barker in P2 for the feature. Barker led from flag fall, with Humble in hot pursuit, creating the possibility of a battle royal between the NZ’s best for the entire race. Unfortunately, Humble soon became unstuck with a spin that put him to the rear, followed by a flat tyre.

Barker, unfazed by several restarts, maintained an edge over the rest to win in a manner seen in his time in Youth Mini Stocks. Barker aside, Dylan Cooke was the driver of the race to finish second, compensation for a torrid season filled with bad luck, with defending champion Reagan Tyler finishing third. Hawkes Bay’s Duane Todd, Troy Pennington and 3NZ Terrance Dorrell completed the top six.

With the NZ Saloons coming to Kihikihi next season, the King Country Saloon Championship served as the first real step in the build-up towards it. Three amazing races, typical of the racing seen by the class, gave the crowd a taste of what to expect next summer.

It was clear from the first heat that title honours in the 14-strong field would be between national champion Jarrod Fletcher, 3NZ Trent Armein and national Super Saloon champion Chris Cowling.

Fletcher and Armein reeled in local Aaron Tonks, who led the early laps to be one-two in Heat 1, Tonks holding on for third over Cowling, who flew fourth after breaking clear of a fierce midfield battle. Cowling comfortably won the second heat, with Fletcher and Armein having another fierce battle to be second and third.

The 15-lap feature was another superb battle, with front-row starters Fletcher and Armein streaking away from the pack. Cowling struggled for pace in the early laps, possibly with brake issues, until he found his rhythm, clearing third-placed Tonks and trying to reel in the lead pair. Time looked to be against him until a yellow worked in his favour. He took the lead off Fletcher with a stunning outside pass to claim the King Country title. Defending champion Fletcher had to settle for second, who again had Armein right behind at the chequered flag. Tonks was best of the locals in fourth, followed by Huntly’s Reece Clements and Baypark’s Dan Hickman.

Also on the programme was a light field of Superstocks, with drivers either saving their cars for the Waikaraka Teams Nationals, the postponed second day of the Easter meeting at Rotorua the following evening or competing at the U26’s at Stratford that night.

It could have easily been a chance to grab a coffee. Still, to their credit, the quartet chose to play cat and mouse with each other to keep things entertaining, creating an amusing sideshow to the more serious business of the evening. Trevor De Malmanche scored two wins, with Mitch Vickery, back after sitting out much of the year through injury, the other victor.