Written by Pete McNae
It’s game on. With one round left to run in the Hydraulink War of the Wings Sprintcar Series, what could have been a one-horse race is now a definite dash to the finish between two drivers harnessing more than 800 horses each
Last night’s penultimate round, presented by Dowie Construction, at Nelson’s Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway saw teenager Connor Rangi take big chunks out of Jamie Duff’s lead with the quick time of the night, a track lap record, a trifecta of top three finishes in the heat races, and a flag-to-flag win in the feature.
It’s not that long ago that Rangi was getting into trouble on a mate’s 50cc scooter at Nelson College. It’s hard to reconcile that slightly wild child with the composed young pedaller who carved up the field last night. What Rangi didn’t know – father and crew chief Andrew decided the information should be shared on a need to know basis – was that the 57N car was running on a dodgy diff, damaged in the final heat race. A few Rangi repairs and Connor was sent out onto the front row of the grid in the A Main alongside Sam O’Callaghan in the Freeman Motorsport 75N car, rebadged as 75T for the meeting. The reason for that was that a second Freeman car was also up the front of the grid, the spare white car running as 75N with Greg Teece at the controls.
Series leader Duff started the feature further back, having found the turn four wall twice in the heats, once a brush, the other a slap that saw the series leader register a rather discontented DNF. Once the flag fell in the 25-lapper, it was diff damage be damned, Rangi got the leap on O’Callaghan and drove the field into the dust. Despite Nathan Astle (twice) and Nigel Colvin making contact with the wall, the race went its full 25 laps without a caution, Rangi building a two-and-a-half second margin on the polished O’Callaghan with Teece completing a top Nelson night in third.
The Duff brothers, Steve Jnr and Jamie, were fourth and fifth, class stalwart Jason Scott ran sixth while Nelson’s Alicia Mclauchlan continued a strong run of late-season form in seventh.
Rangi was happy with his night’s work. “The aim was to make some ground on Jamie and I think we might have halved the points lead tonight,” he said. “The quick time and feature win will really help before we go to Cromwell, I hope we can put Jamie under some pressure down there and see how that works out.”
While the feature win was comprehensive, the Christchurch-based Nelson driver’s best result was his charge from 12th on the grid to second behind Steve Duff Jnr in heat three. An irresistible surge through the field came up 0.1sec short. Other heat wins went to O’Callaghan, who is so smooth he appears to have all the time in the world while lapping in 11.6sec and Scott, who nipped Teece in heat two. Heat racing also saw former series winner Matt Honeywell make hard contact with the wall coming off turn two but the car made it back for the feature and a top 10 finish.
The Nelson Speedway Association dipped deeply into its bag of promotional tricks for its second to last meeting of the season, with the Richmond Mall-E’stel Water bike race for kids slotted in at race 7. Even the most cynical speedway observer (me) had to accept that 40 tykes on bikes were a couple of minutes of innocent fun, the littlies on their balance bikes stealing the show. While there were prizes for best dressed riders and bikes, it was hard to go past 2-year-old Axel Drake (son of sidecar champion Adie and wife Angela) who just didn’t want to quit turning laps.
The other additional promotion was the Waimea Weekly Wind Off with a cash bonus for the stockcar stirrer of the night. In the end it will be the easiest $300 Levi Collier has ever made, as he simply needed to stand on the brakes off the startline and tangle a couple of times with Keightley Teece and Hamish Carter to earn the payday. John Everett could have collected for rolling himself in heat three while Paul Perkins made a welcome return to bolster numbers. Braden Russ also looked handy in Stephen Cooper’s 33N Holden. Race wins went to Teece, Ben Smith (back in action after a major wreck at Woodford Glen) and Dylan Clarke, the top pointscorer overall on the night. It’s just a shame that there were so few wind-offs for the crash starved crowd.
Unless you count TQ midgets, of course. Rollover victims last night were Greg Teece (doubling up on his sprintcar drive) and Alicia Mclauchlan (doing the same). Teece got speed wobbly in turn three and flipped, taking Mclauchlan with him. Darkie Armstrong had the quickest car in the class until the motor filled its nappy when he was leading the feature by a wide margin, handing the win to Jayden Corkill.
The sidecar class had top billing at Nelson’s last meeting but fronted last night with seven bikes for the Brett Lusty Memorial Trophy. And, in a plot twist, the all-conquering combination of Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley didn’t win it – but were the first to acknowledge the new holders, Brent Steer and Wade Thorn. The 17N swept all three heats, with a little help from Nippy Ching and Shaun Solly in round three, but Steer and Thorn got no favours in round two when they had to wrestle their way past the 8N Ching-Solly bike. Darren Cook and swinger Scott Bowler had a hectic heat one, initially getting tangled in the start tapes, then Bowler getting tipped from the chair on the restart. They made it through the meeting without further mishap.
Ryan Musgrove came right out and said it before the meeting. He had the car and the form – he wanted a club streetstock championship. Box ticked. Wins in heats one and three and a second behind Thomas MacLeod in the other race were worth 59 points, a clear four-point buffer over MacLeod, with Matt Watson third on 52. Watson and MacLeod both showed good speed but the Musgrove Falcon wagon is fast and fun to watch.
The sixth class on the card was the production saloons who started the night with the Nelson leg of the Mike Inwood Trophy teams race against Eastern States before backing up in three open races. Some standard argy-bargy at the front of the teams race saw both Eddie Frans (Nelson) and David Allan (Blenheim) relegated two places, promoting Nelson’s Vaughan Cornelius to first. Open wins went to Nelson drivers Kaylim McNabb and Tony Diedrichs (neither were in the teams race) while Blenheim driver Jeff Stanton was brave as he chucked his big Nissan around on the high line for the heat three win.
There’s just one meeting to come in the Nelson speedway season, the Easter Extravaganza happening this year on Good Friday, April 19, from 4pm.
Photos, Tom Laney, www.imagepress.co.nz