From the very beginning of Speedfest’s existence, it has showcased the very best talent from all over New Zealand in each category that has been programmed, and the eighth edition of Speedfest promises to be no different.
End of year attrition, a problem the sport suffers with the season running a month longer than of yore together with relatively few rainoffs has meant not all the drivers given a start in this invitation only event are on the entry list. Fields nevertheless are still very impressive given that Speedfest this year for various reasons has to run several weeks later than its usual mid April timeslot. This is a time of year when fields in many classes drop away as competitors embark on winter rebuilds, get dog tired of speedway or are busy with winter sports.
In fact they are the strongest seen for a Speedfest in three years and belies the fact that this is the very fag end for the season, a point in the season that Huntly very seldom runs to.
We start first with what will be the drawcard for many and that is the mighty fire breathing Superstocks and though the current 1, 2, and 3NZ are not on the entry list, the field still oozes of quality. Heading the entry list is current 240 Champion Bryce Steiner in the rapid 118R in the form of his life with the three Joblin brothers from Eltham looming as real dangers, Adam in the 62P winning the NZ Grand Prix here last year, Simon in the 72P is a former NZ Champion while Scott in 52P is a former 240 champion. Defending Speedfest title holder and 2009 NZ Champion Malcolm Ngatai again makes the long haul from Christchurch and has run very well at Huntly over the years and again looks having every chance of keeping his crown.
16B Steve Jude and 87B Thomas Stanaway fly the flag for Hawkes Bay and have the ability and the machinery to be in the fight, as too does 46W Alan Levien, whose talent has taken the Wellington Young Guns to so much success in the past. Rapid Nelsonian Shane Harwood in the green 18N could be considered a potential dark horse, likewise Nick Vallance in the 45R tank, who is not afraid to use his front bumpers when the need arises. 38M Ross Ashby and his well prepared tank, while not quite on the front running pace is a contender for a top five finish, which he achieved last year, something his club mate Kerry Remnant, a very capable teams racer and NZ Grand Prix winner is also in contention for.
While not expected to be fighting for victory, also keep an eye on 11A Carl Hodge and 14V Dion Mooney, both well known teams racers and not afraid to create some mayhem and should they be on full form they alone will be well worth the price of admission…
Their less powerful but arguably more entertaining cousins, the stockcars, a class that sees thrills and spills on a week in week out basis has a line up that on paper may lack the really big names of the grade but still contains a roster of well regarded performers.
Like the Superstocks there are quite a few that are in genuine contention for the gold, and the locals do have a reasonable chance of keeping the trophies in the Waikato. 22H Les Hepworth has run strongly all year, as too has 27H Brett Aiken while 218H Aaron Alderton is the current Waikato champion and is a true class act knocking on the door at big success. 88H Justin Hutchby while only having a limited season has still shown the speed and stirring ability that has taken him to Waikato and King Country titles that have made him a valuable asset to the Waikato Raiders and might well assist his club mates if the need arises come heat three…
Auckland’s big chance is Gary Lonergan, the black 95A being always in the thick of action, knows how to lead a motor race and is a valuable member of the Alleycats.
Moving south to Mt Maunganui’s Baypark we find a few good hopefuls starting with
Rotorua Easter champion North Island Champs runner up Ryan Hunt in the rapid 29M. He’s shown good speed in the past at Huntly and goes incredibly well despite the lack of back up from his club mates at major events, with club mate Keegan Orr in the 47M is a young lion who knows how to move plus do some real damage and may even sneak onto the podium if he has a good run, something the underrated 18M Simon Carter, almost did last year had he won a coin toss for third is also capable of. 92M Caitlin Hayward is one the very few females in the class, and this young lady has shown on several occasions that she’s not afraid to get in the thick of the action. Heading the Rotorua charge is 32R Nick Johnson, who is a solid campaigner, the Taupo based runner also an accomplished teams racer in a well prepared car Ministock graduate 92R Josh Fraser has quietly impressed in his rookie season and with his father Kyle, a former NZ Superstock Champion as a mentor he could well shine tonight in a big way while 82R Darcy Meurant is one that is slightly underrated and having showed good speed on home soil, he could well sneak under the radar.
33S Tyler Walker and 84S Hayden Barker fly the flag for Taranaki and are real title contenders, both having finished on the podium in Speedfest in the past while 10P Josh Prentice, who came within an ace of being a NZ Champion in 2011/12 will be one to watch, while fellow Manawatu resident Zac Harris impressed in the 119P at the PN season finale a week ago and could surprise a few. Wellington’s sole representative is Keegan Levien, whose father Alan is in action in the Superstocks,
and will be keen to build up a solid reputation in established both teams racing and individual combat in the blue 46W. Another young hopeful is Hawkes Bay’s Randall Tarrant in the 66B the sole entrant from the province and though something of an outsider for outright contention is still a strong chance of a top ten finish.
Rico Gray in the 222C is the sole South Island entrant, and the former Eastern States [Blenheim] Titans kingpin, who now lives in the quake scared Garden City ranks as the quickest and hardest hitters in the South Island and is very much the dark horse going into this event.
Last but definitely not least is 6V Dion Mooney who is on double duty with his Superstock which spells double trouble for his rivals in more ways than one as not only he can show good car speed to be a strong second in the feature at the PN closing night last week, he can do the damage like no other and its likely we’ll see more of the latter…
Saloons are back on the Speedfest programme after a year’s absence and it’s a field that wouldn’t be out of place for a North Island title or even a NZ Grand Prix. Heading the line up are current 1 and 3 NZ Steve and Chris Cowling, who are really in the top of their game and have to rank as joint favourites. 24M Dan Corin, who gave Chris a run for his money on his way to second at the King Country Champs a week ago and won the Waikato title back in November also ranks as a big danger. Track mate Bodie Abrahamson in the 49M is a young hot shot who has done many miles here in the past and is one to watch as is 74A Scott Lansdowne. Veteran Phil Towgood, the first NZ Champion in the category hasn’t done much racing recently but the way started from the back to finish 10th in the King Country title suggests there’s still some life left in him and the ancient 48A, with 46A Nigel Ross arguably the best of the Aucklander’s if the troubles he encountered at Kihikihi last week can be licked. 166H Geoff Webb is the best hope of the two locals on the grid, having finished second in the 2012 edition, and has every chance of equalling if not bettering that result. Also representing the Waikato region well is Kihikihi’s Ross Creswell has who has punched above his weight at Speedfest, being placed in 2012 and 2013 and could well do so again.
77G Daniel Cook is a young up and comer who already has a North Island title to his name and has been quick at Huntly in the past, while heading south the father and son duo of Craig and Thomas Korff lead the Taranaki charge, Craig in the 8S and Thomas in the 16S scoring an impressive 1-3 at the Manawatu Champs last week with 7S Richard Dreaver and 27S Joe Ingram big improvers in the Stratford ranks this season. This pair could well surprise a few if they can maintain their recent form. Rounding out the serious contenders is 24W Gary Marshall, who makes his first visit to Huntly in a saloon, having raced here many years ago in his Streetstock days, and was a handy performer in that category. He’s also been a solid runner in the tin tops, in fact regarded as Wellington’s best, evident with a solid second in the Manawatu Champs last week and will certainly make his presence felt.
Their spectacular big brothers the Super saloons are traditionally a class which sees very few cars left running at the season’s death throes so it’s a great sight to see an impressive sixteen cars on the entry list. Reigning NZ Champion Steve Flynn heads the field with 2NZ Cantabrian Mark Grocott also on the grid as the South Island’s sole representative. It is arguably the strongest of all the fields for this year’s Speedfest with former NZ Champions Steve Williams and Brent Emerson, the spectacular Ben Harding, the evergreen pensioner Lance Jennings, the hard charging Martin Halcrow, big improvers Nigel Mouat and Grahame Strong, the up and coming Terry Corin not to mention Flynn’s younger [but just as quick] brother Grant and defending Speedfest champion Kristin Vermeulen all in the line up, its going to be very difficult to pick a winner out of this lot. With the top drawer racing they have displayed at Huntly in recent years, they could well be the ones to steal the show.
Modifieds make their first appearance at Speedfest with a strong field of fourteen, and with Christchurch based 3NZ Mike Gourley and his classy compatriot 4C Hayden McKay on the grid at Huntly for the first time, it will be interesting to see how they fare against the eleven North Islanders present. 2NZ Jamie Fox, arguably the most success driver in the class currently racing, has to rank as the favourite purely on historical form, but he has got a fair bit of opposition led by the Taranaki pairing of 71S John Jackson, a former NZ Champion and a good hard charger and 31S Farron Lowry, who has become a strong performer in recent years. Rising star 119A Brad Lane, the son of former front runner Scott has quietly matured over the season, evident with his superb drive to win the Ginge Hayward Memorial at Rotorua at Easter and will be out to replicate that effort. 6A Brian Jesson is a handy enough performer and is a top five prospect, while 18R Paul Ferguson has impressed in machinery that lacks the grunt of his peers and is last of the late brakers.
Midgets haven’t had quite the depth seen in previous years, but nevertheless there is still good quality evident in the 14 car field. 2NZ Brock Mascovich leads the charge, having enjoyed his best year to date with the 2NZ to his name plus winning the Tyre Plus 40 lapper here before Christmas and though on paper looks like the one to beat he has plenty of tough opposition in the form of former 3NZ Hayden Williams, 96A Chris McCutcheon, both NZ team members in the International Series over New Year, 95S Duane Hickman, who arguably the best driver in the class outside of its Western Springs powerbase, the up and coming 87A Leon Burgess and 81A Dwayne Maxwell, who enjoyed much success at Huntly in his Minisprint days.
98A Chris Gwilliam is the defending Speedfest champion and surprised many last year to beat a number of big names while doing so and has the speed to do it again, while 39A Peter Hunnibel is another who has done some giant killing to post some strong results in the past two seasons. 82A Zahn Turner, a graduate from the TQ ranks has gallantly run with the front runners on occasions this year with a budget that’s absolutely petty cash relative to his rivals and with the nature of the Huntly track could well do so again, while 85A Jared Wade is the final one to merit serious contention, the 2003 NZ Superstock Champion while lacking the equipment to match the big boys, is still a solid consistent performer and with Huntly tending to equalise the gap between the top guys and the rest has a good chance of a decent result.
Last but certainly not least is for the first time in New Zealand under full race conditions for some years and certainly the first for Huntly is wingless 410cid Sprintcars. This will certainly be unchartered territory not just for those behind the wheel but for everyone reading this. As no one has raced these beasts in this configuration it will level the playing field considerably and because of this and that the entry list isn’t fully confirmed as this is written there is no analysis of the field but it’s a given that its going to be spectacular!
All in all a fantastic way to conclude the season here at PlaceMakers Huntly Speedway before we go into the depths of a long hibernation for winter, so sit back relax and let the racing begin!!