CHASE IS A RACE

By Pete McNae

 

“Here’s the plan,” said four-time New Zealand three-quarter midget champion Jeremy Webb. “Just follow me and use my lines.”

“That worked until turn 2 on lap one and he was gone,” laughs Nelson TQ pilot Dylan Bensemann. But while it is no easy matter mimicking Jeremy Webb, Dylan Bensemann is doing a pretty decent job of being Dylan Bensemann.

The fourth-season competitor had been a longtime fan of Nelson’s Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway then started hanging out with Hayden Mortimer, a frontrunner in the TQ class at the time. Bensemann thought he could give the class a crack and he and Mortimer went looking at what was around, eventually purchasing a locally-built car out of Simon Crawford’s shed. TQs, with their light weight and precise handling, aren’t an easy car to learn in and Bensemann spent his first season mid-pack to nearer the back as he tried to learn his lines and not create too much bother for anyone else.

“Simon’s car was really nicely built and we did the air-cooled, water-cooled switch — it was a great way to get started but, at the end of the season, I wanted to push things a bit further so I started looking at designs online,” Bensemann, a machinist with Ansco Engineering, said.

The package that stood out was the Harris chassis. Proven over the years and hugely successful, they answered some of the issues Bensemann struck in his first season. Need a part? Call Harris. Help with a set-up? Call Harris. Instead of trying to create spares for the homebuilt, everything was available off the Harris shop floor. An Auckland competitor with a handy track record was selling his entire operation and Bensemann was in, race boots and all.

It’s that car he will be driving in Nelson on Saturday night when the club hosts the Baby on the Move South Island TQ midget championships from 6pm. Covid-19 and rain have played merry hell with the speedway season and previously advertised meetings have had to be adjusted, squeezed together or rescheduled. Saturday night will also feature the crowd-pleasing Jack’s Tyres and Performance demolition derby and support racing from superstocks, stockcars, production saloons and quarter midgets.

The inclusion of the quarter midgets, a learning open-wheel class for 8- to 15-year-olds means a Bensemann bonus, 9-year-old Bailey will be competing alongside his dad. When Nelson talked of bringing in the class to give younger children a speedway option rather than heading off to karting or motocross, Bailey was a keen starter in a car borrowed from Chris Webley. After season one, a similar deal was done to the one that secured Dylan’s TQ, with an Auckland competitor selling a quarter midget package deal. Now, dad and lad often end up in the same programme.

“It’s awesome, just the best feeling seeing the two matching cars lined up,” Dylan said. “Often our races are close together so I don’t always get the chance to see him go but, a couple of Saturdays back in Greymouth, there was Wog (Nelson Speedway Association president Wayne Martin) and me up on the fence as Bailey and Locky (Martin) went at it, side by side for lap after lap until Locky got his first win and Bailey was right there in second. Us two old boys had the hearts bursting with pride, I’d say.”

Bensemann’s participation in this weekend’s South Island champs had a little bit of a hiccup when the car was damaged at the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting at Ruapuna. A rival competitor hit the rear of the 23N car and bent a couple of bits, specifically the rear axle. He missed a heat to repair that damage and another when the gear selector popped out, yet still made the B Main off the results from three out of five heats. He started fourth and finished second to transfer through to the feature race — pretty pleasing progress given that the car was “rattling itself to pieces”, Bensemann said.

The damage around the rear was more severe than thought and despite running the car at Ellesmere the following day and finishing second behind Kyle Glover, more bent bits began to appear, the closer they looked. “I wasn’t going to travel all that way and not race but, when we finally got it home and took it apart, there was too much to fix and I had to pull out of the New Zealand champs.”

Bensemann’s itching to get back on track this weekend. Like many competitors, he feels the season has been cut short and he’s keen to keep building on the progress made through three seasons in the Harris car. He feels like he is getting on top of it, thanks to help and advice from Webb and fellow Nelson competitor Jayden Corkill, has banked race wins and experienced his first feature flag.

“That first season was just about getting laps, trying to pick another car and chase it so I could learn how to get around the track smoothly — smooth is fast in a TQ. Then when MTF Finance (Nelson) came on board in the second season with the new car, it was time to step everything up; the presentation, the performance and the results,” Bensemann said.

Saturday’s meeting will be a great test of his growing confidence and competence as a competitor. Webb is a confirmed entry, 2NZ Liam McCoubrey is on the list and there’s a good roundup from Ruapuna, Greymouth’s Greenstone Park and the local list, with Corkill and Alicia Hill consistent performers. There’s also been rapid improvement from first-season drivers Jonti Austin and Cambell McManaway, who brought their momentum-style of flowing race lines across from the youth ministock ranks.

Corkill is another TQ rival who has been happy to help with advice and setup although his willingness to run out by the wall hasn’t been passed on to Bensemann. “He’s got a big concrete friend, I’m not sold on that yet.”

Mostly, Bensemann just wants more track time, more experience, more results and more moments sharing the pits with his family.

“I’m actually into this sport so much — should have done this way earlier but the family loves having the two cars there and we both learn a bit more each time we race,” he said. “Both cars do the job pretty well and driving is the area we can keep chipping away at.

“Jeremy (Webb) is just always on the ball, he’s the next level. That’s where we all aim and then the bugger finds another gear!”

  • Dylan Bensemann is grateful for the support of wife Kelly and crew Steve and Lynz, his major sponsor MTF Finance (Nelson) and backing from A.D. Bridge and Sons Builders, Lift n Shift, Waterblaster Solutions, Ansco Engineering, Chemz Products, GTR Developments, Krammer Mechanical, Soper Painting and Decorating and HiRev.
  • Saturday’s Baby on the Move SI TQ Champs meeting will wrap up with the Jack’s Tyres and Performance demolition derby. After this weekend’s race night, the Nelson Speedway Association has just three meetings left in the 2020-21 season, an Easter Saturday programme featuring the New Zealand Sidecar Grand Prix and a sprintcar double-header marking the return of two-day meetings to Nelson on April 17-18.

Photos: Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography