Last night saw the final meeting of the 2015/16 season here at WXC Speedway – Western Springs and although it has come around far too quickly, it has been a season packed with drama and excitement, plus the unique opportunity to send off the greatest Sprintcar driver of all time.
With huge growth in the F2 Midget ranks and a new Sprintcar Champion of Champion series to look forward to, there was plenty of excitement amongst teams and fans heading into opening night, however it was the Midgets that stole the show, with Shayne Alach making a welcome return to form before problems let Brad Mosen lead home Ben Drummond and Hayden Williams, setting the scene for a hugely competitive season. Also in the spotlight were the sidecars with the opening round of the Bill Buckley series, which saw plenty of action and fantastic side by side racing.
Next up was the Porter Hire International Sprint Car Series. In the past, big names of the sport such as Donny Schatz and Sammy Swindell have contested this series, but as part of his farewell tour from Speedway, 20 time World of Outlaw champion Steve Kinser made his first visit to WXC Speedway – Western Springs, giving Kiwi race fans a chance to farewell the man many consider to be the greatest ever to drive a Sprintcar.
A field of 25 cars turned up to take on ‘The King’ as well as Brad Loyet, while Jonathan Allard also joined the USA team. In what would turn out to be a dramatic opening night of the series, Kinser would be on the infield after just one lap when he got caught up in an incident. But it was Allard who stole the show and proved he is the king of Sprintcars at The Springs, heading home Jamie McDonald and young gun Daniel Thomas.
The following weekend would see the third and final round after a mid-week meeting at Palmerston North. The night represented potentially the last time Steve Kinser would get behind the wheel of a Sprintcar and in the end The King would go out on a winning note, leading home Allard in the feature race. The night was not without its drama for Kinser though, who was caught up in a controversial incident with Daniel Thomas, resulting in the young Kiwi getting upside down in the ‘Salute to the King’ race.
From the international Sprintcars, it was straight into the International Midget series starting with the traditional Boxing Night meeting. A total of six Americans and three Australians came to The Springs to take on New Zealand’s finest. Boxing night also saw the traditional Test Racing, with Brad Mosen, Hayden Williams and Shayne Alach taking on Americas Bryan Clauson, Tyler Thomas and Tracey Hines and the Australian team of Nathan Smee, Brett Thomas and Aidan Corish. In the end, the Americans took the title by three points over the Kiwis.
Come the feature, it was a two horse race as Clauson and Michael Pickens cleared away from the field and when Clauson dropped onto three cylinders in the dying stages, the Kiwi would take the honours much to the delight of the huge crowds, with Mosen completing the podium.
Two nights later, the internationals bought their A-game as Clauson took victory ahead of his young team-mate Spencer Bayston. Pickens held on for third ahead of Hines and Smee.
On top of the 30 lapper, the TQ Midgets were also fighting for the 1NZ, with Ricky Brett claiming that honour in a hard fought race, heading home young Hayden Guptill and Christchurch’s Liam McCoubrey.
While the 40-lapper fell victim to the awful weather around Auckland on New Year’s Day, the 50-Lapper went ahead on January 3rd after plenty of work on the track to overcome two days of torrential rain.
Pickens took the early lead and the pressure came off when first Clauson and then Bayston fell victim to the same hole in pine tree bend, leaving Hayden Williams to battle Pickens for the lead. In the end Williams would have to settle for second while Michael Brunt had his best run of the season for third. With that, Pickens would also claim the international series, not to mention perform the best donut display of the season.
With less than a week to catch their breath, everyone was back again for Rolling Thunder, which saw Super Saloons return to WXC Speedway – Western Springs after some 20 years. And it was the big bangers that put on a great show, with Steve Flynn and Mark Osbourne running side by side to the chequered flag, Flynn taking the win by half a car length.
Following on from Rolling Thunder was another new event, the Eliminator. With cars getting knocked out every two laps the racing was intense with plenty of desperation moves being pulled, but in the end only two remained and when Chris McCutcheon suffered the embarrassing mistake of running out of fuel, it was Brock Maskovich who took the win.
An air of anticipation fell over the stadium for the New Zealand Midget title, but no-one could have expected the drama that clouded the title race. While two title favourites, Maskovich and Alach, failed to make the feature, Williams, Pickens and Mosen held the top three spots with five laps to go, when Mosen jumped the cushion and tipped over. From the restart, an ambitious move for the lead put paid to Pickens’ chances as well as four others, then a huge slide job from Michael Brunt damaged his car and took Williams out of the race. Peter Hunnibell picked up the pieces to take the 1NZ, leading home Dayne Maxwell and Lucas Scott, before Maxwell was excluded for being underweight. That gave Scott the 2NZ and Jared Wade, who was a lap down with five to go, to take the 3NZ.
When it came to drama, there was little that could top the Barry Butterworth classic, with each class running fastest from the back. After an F2 midget race that saw the best part of half the field eliminated, the TQ’s provided a car builders dream, which ended up with Rachel Melrose becoming the first female to win a feature race at WXC Speedway Western Springs. Michael Pickens took out the Midget feature, but found the fence in the opening corner of the Sprintcar feature, leaving Keaton Dahm to take the top step of the podium.