By Pete McNae

All the talk leading up to qualifying night for the Walkers Engineering New Zealand TQ Midget Championships focused on the Attack of the Killer Bs … brothers Ryan and Scott Baker and Auckland clubmate Ryan Barry, who had filled the podium at the North Island champs a fortnight ago.

And they were good, very good at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway last night. But before anyone calls this championship early, don’t write off three Canterbury drivers who know the best way around the Richmond oval. Six-times South Island champ Jeremy Webb led all qualifiers with Kyle Glover and Liam McCoubrey solidly in the top five.

It doesn’t end there – Meeanee’s Duane Todd, twice 1NZ, did what he had to do to make the A Main for tonight’s 30-lap decider, past New Zealand midget champion Peter Hunnibell is adjacent and three of Nelson’s ever-improving TQ class (Alicia Mclauchlan, Jayden Corkill and Darkie Armstrong) sit comfortably in the top 20.

Last night’s racing saw five groups race 10 crossover heats with every driver getting the chance to face each of the others. Mechanical failures and nine rollovers (infield commentator Jody Scott was on the verge of taking off his shoes to keep track) pruned the field but there will still be a B Main (that’s repechage in TQ terms) to come tonight, maybe even a C Main if numbers demand it, to allow non-qualifiers to crack the final field for the 30-lap title decider.

The rolls ranged from gentle Tommee Tippees (Nelson’s George Crosbie went over twice yet still fronted for his final heat) to the RocketLab launch that saw Canterbury’s Daniel Jenkins hurtling down the back straight near the top of the catch fence. His chassis was wrecked while both Aaron Humble (Auckland) and Greymouth’s Sean Brown lost engines to fiery explosions. Humble hopes to be back today, the news wasn’t as hopeful for Brown while Jenkins’ car was being cannibalised for parts in the hope that Tyler Warnock (gearbox) can race again tonight.

The quality of the field saw nine different winners across the 10 heats with Scott Baker the only driver to back up with two victories. Among the other heat winners were Nelson’s Shane Robertson (his first TQ class win coming at a national title event – not too shabby) and Mclauchlan, 13NZ last season and looking in good shape to improve on that tonight.

Webb, who will tonight attempt to race both his TQ and his midget (in the South Island champs) had broken the track one-lap record in practice in the heat of the afternoon and won race 10 while adding a second and two thirds to lead all qualifiers on 67 points. Ryan Baker was one behind and won race 17 while Ryan Barry took out race 6 and amassed 64 points. Glover and McCoubrey each scored a heat win and filled out the top five with the wily Todd right in the hunt despite a best heat finish of second.

Current 2NZ Kaleb Currie looked all at sea on the testing Nelson oval in his early races but came on strongly with track time with all drivers praising the race surface, especially once the sun went down and the water stayed in the clay. Currie had his TQ sliding in style as he made up plenty of places in the last five laps of his final heat. Hard luck stories included Robertson, who broke a chain and missed automatic qualification by a point and Nelson’s Morgan Frost, quick but unable to start his last heat after also looking the goods for a spot in the A Main. Crosbie got caught in everyone else’s kack and Canterbury class veteran Mike Moulin was another with pace but tough luck.

If the weather holds tonight, the format will see four cars advance from a C Main to the B Main, the first four cars from that race progressing to the feature for the national championship.

Last night’s support racing included a youth ministock best pairs, stirrer’s money for the stockcars and an abbreviated production saloon programme as the TQ crashes and a few too many laps under a yellow flag challenged the club’s curfew.

The ministock pairs were kept a secret until after the three races in a bid to prevent any teams racing. It almost worked. In a sequel to the last meeting’s problems, Brayden Nell was handed a 25-day stand down for a turn 2 hit. The ongoing feud is becoming old and tired – with a feature meeting coming up in the near future, the opportunity is there to show the class in a better light. Other contact was accidental, Aleisha Oakly clouting the wall with Connor Blackbourn but there were impressive efforts from race winners Brayden Skurr, Wade Sweeting and Troy Cleveland, the latter a popular result as the young Blenheim driver held off a charge from clubmates Sweeting and Riley Keen. There was a delay in the naming of the overall pairs champions with Caleb Jessop taking over Nell’s car when his own broke but, eventually, Jessop and Blenheim’s Hadley Boyce took the honours from Raiden Hearne and Jonti Austin with the pairing of Riley Eathorne and Max Baker in third.

The stockcar class eased up on the stirring, only Paul Perkins and Troy Currie really looking to use their bumpers. Perkins took a few and gave some back, Currie decided it was better to give than receive. Michael Paynter won twice, Brad Neiman once and Willie Simpson and Josh Nell logged good laps just behind the leaders.

Two races was the production saloons’ lot with Eddie Frans three seconds clear in the first and Tony Diedrichs back to form after a major wreck and an engine fire put a couple of major blips in his season.

Racing tonight, from 6pm, includes the conclusion of the Walkers Engineering New Zealand TQ Midget Championship, the Jacks Tyres and Performance South Island Midget Championship and races for superstocks, sidecars and production saloons. The weather forecast changes by the hour. At this stage, the club will do all it can to run tonight but advises fans to watch their Facebook page for any updates.

TQ qualifiers: Jeremy Webb 67 points, Ryan Baker 66, Ryan Barry 64, Kyle Glover 62, Liam McCoubrey 59, Duane Todd 58, Peter Hunnibell 54, Shaun Cooke  53, Rodney Thompson 53, Scott Baker 53, Lawrence Baker 52, Kaleb Currie 52, Alicia Mclauchlan 52., Morgan McHugh 50, Darkie Armstrong 48, Jayden Corkill 48, Gareth Bindon 47, Jayden Busch 47, Brett Booth 43, Kris Gillies 42.

Race images, Tom Laney,