By Rob Arnold
10 months ago, Keegan Levien had a weekend to forget when he checked out of qualifying for last seasons North Island Stockcar Championship at the Huntly Placemakers Speedway. Fast foward to 2019, the Wellingtonian found Huntly to be a happy hunting ground when he took out the Huntly Door Systems NZ Stockcar Grand Prix on Feb 8 and 9, but needed a little help from younger brother Ethan and a little dose of luck in the dying moments of the final heat.
The week following the PN Teams Champs is a hard sell for any North Island venue planning to run as the general public and racer alike as many have had their fill of speedway and like to have a small breather, which is not helped with children now back at school and many having used up their summer holidays.
This plus the aversion many have towards attending Friday night fixtures at Huntly, in part to the weekday traffic jams through SH1 in the town meant it was mainly a light assortment of seasoned fans and those connected with the racing seeing the 69 cars that assembled for qualifying that night. Action was relatively tame, but there were a few niggles here and there to keep things interesting.
A reasonable sized crowd fronted for the finals 24 hours later, and by and large the action was pretty good considering the NZ Champs and Teams Champs were on the next two weeks on a hot and sticky summer’s evening that saw the track dust up a fair bit, not surprising with temperatures in the Waikato north of 25 degrees recently.
Unusually for a major SNZ championship the battle for championship was solely a two horse battle between Levien, the reigning 2NZ when this was written and 9R Sheldon Arapere, surprise package at last years North Island Championship.
Keegan showed form and dominance rarely seen in a field of this calibre to win the heats one and two, Arapere very impressive to finish second from 23rd on the grid in the opening heat, backing it up with another second next time round. Such was the dominance of this pair they were a whopping 10 points ahead of third placed 33S Tyler Walker going into the final heat, which meant a DNF was the only sure way they would not be sitting on the podium. Basically whoever finished first would be the winner and for much the race, Levien held the upper hand but only just as Arapere was right behind him. The pair was generally left alone by the rest of the pack, much of the hitting passing them by. A late race stoppage for a stricken 88H of Justin Hutchby tipped the balance in Arapere’s favour as Keegan wasn’t able to restart and briefly his hopes of glory seemed like going down the drain until younger brother Ethan in the 46W had the good sense to bump start him back into life.
With a lap to go, Arapere seemed all but assured of the championship, but in stockcar racing it’s never over until it’s over. To everyone’s amazement, Sheldon was rolled over in sight of the chequered flag after getting wedged between Aucklanders 66A Hayden Hart and 735A Keegan Orr exiting the pit turn in a breathtaking manoeuvre that even stunned the pair that executed it as one doubted they intended this to happen! For the second year running, Arapere was denied a strong result at Huntly when it seemed close at hand but his time will surely come with driving like this, while Keegan’s triumph launched him as the pre event favourite for the NZ Champs the following week. Arapere’s demise allowed 52H Sam Van Amsterdam to be second, a superb effort after having to qualify via the repercharge with the consistent 33S Tyler Walker, who has the knack of getting solid top five finishes regularly at this level completing the trifecta.
Also on the programme was the Waikato Stockcar Championship, held over from the rained off fixture from Dec 15. As it was added to the programme only a few days prior to the event, the field was down on what is usually expected, what with many exhausted after the PN Teams and Baypark running an event for the class that was long pencilled in the calendar. Still the dozen or so on show was still enough for a reasonably good show, with 97H Aiden Eustacse taking his first big success in the category and indeed his career to claim the Waikato title, ably assisted by this clubmates who repelled the challenge of 118R Bryce Steiner, who was looking like a real threat going into the final heat.
|HUNTLY DOORS SYSTEMS NZ GP CHAMPIONSHIP|
|Heat 1||Heat 2||Sub Total||Heat 3||Total|
|52H||Sam Van Amsterdam||20||23||43||22||65|