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By Rob Arnold

The reborn Kihikihi Kings made their best possible return of the world of superstock teams racing after an eight year hiatus by a dominant display to win the Inaugural Superstock Teams Invitation at the Huntly International Speedway last Saturday.
Since the demise of Rotorua’s Northern Team’s Classic in 2001 many have felt there is room on the calendar for a third superstock teams event on the calendar to join the long running Palmerston North and Auckland events, the increasing number of one off early season warm up races in recent seasons giving validity to this view.
Huntly tested the waters last year to run a four way team events in conjunction with the annual stockcar teams event that has been run since 2004. The huge response by the public 12 months ago gave them the confidence to go for a full eight team event over one night for 2019, and were rewarded by a full entry list, encouraged by the fact a one night deal run with a knockout format is much easier on pit crews and competitors along with the savings on accommodation for those living further afield.
Though the Canterbury Glen Eagles had to pull out and their spot unable to be filled this was overcome by giving Stratford a bye in the first round, and seven quality full strength teams was more than enough to attract a near sellout crowd that saw the bleachers and the car park bursting at the seams. The downside of a one night format was that the stockcar teams which was the original focus of this event had to be rested for this season while the future direction for it is charted. Maybe when the Huntly portion of the Waikato Expressway is completed next February it will make a two night deal which will have room for them financially viable again, the heavy congestion through SH1 on weekdays through the town in recent years putting many off attending Friday night fixtures at Huntly when major SNZ titles require a separate qualifying night.
The teams racing certainly met everyone’s high expectations with plenty of aggression along with a healthy dose of controversy, something no major superstock teams event is immune from, yet it gives a lot of spice and extra intrigue to the evening!! Like many America’s Cup yacht races, virtually all the races were won or lost at the first corner, but don’t take from that that things were one sided, in fact in some cases it was far from it!
Round one saw the Palmerston Panthers overcome an early spirited charge from the Auckland Allstars to advance to the semis, while the Baypark Busters, defending champions made short work of the Waikato Wanderers, 34P Rebecca Barr created some history by being not just the first woman to compete in a superstock teams event at Huntly, but also the first to be a race winner in such an event. 98M Mark Costello was the leader from flagfall, and apart from the first 2-3 laps, Waikato had nothing to respond to the Baypark attack, 38M Ross Ashby doing his usual excellent job in making the way foward for the Baypark runners, while 22M Dean Mulholland impressed in his first outing for the Busters for his Bumper use. The Rotorua Rebels were simply outclassed by the on form Kihikihi Kings, making an excellent first up debut, 126K Asher Rees winning in a canter.
The action ramped up several notches for the second round, seeing the Stratford Scrappers, who drew the bye in the opening round face off against the Panthers. 599P Ron Tye led from the start for Palmerston North, but the Scrappers dished out a lot of punishment. Tye was successfully slowed down a number of times from a very effective Stratford blocking offensive, but equally strong blocking by the Panthers meant the Scrappers couldn’t quite get on terms with the Panthers and Tye hung on to score a well earned win and a place in the final.
The second semi final between the Kings and the Busters promised to be a big one, and sure enough produced one of the of the most controversial incidents of the night. For the second race running Asher Rees took the lead running for the Kings, with 26K Mitch Vickery quickly running shotgun to quickly control the race. Further back 471K Benji Sneddon, repeating his blocking role from the opening race against Rotorua was taken to the wall by Ashby and in an effort to break free from the Busters’ master blocker, moved against the direction of travel, which is a big no-no in teams racing, tipping his Tank in the process. Many reckon the Kings should have been docked of the win, but as Sneddon was hauled off the circuit, the Kings gained no advantage from the incident, they too losing a car in the process. While the move clearly wasn’t kosher the writer felt there was no malice intended, it looked simply as case of being over eager in the heat of battle.
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In any case it didn’t really have any bearing on the final outcome as Rees had a commanding lead at that point which would have been very hard to lose, and indeed didn’t as booked the Kings a date with the Panthers for the final. The idea of an instant on track sanction for the race leader in situations like this is problematic as it is hard to issue a notional penalty in such instances that suits the offence.
Before we review the final, there was juicy match ups to decide the minor placings. Baypark faced up against Stratford in a carbon copy of last years final for third and fourth. While Costello led from led to flag for Baypark, it was by no means a cakewalk, as the Scrappers again put up a very torrid fight every step of the way, and with more track time they will pose as a real threat come Palmerston North Teams Champs time. The action continued beyond the chequered flag, as Blair Ulehenberg took rolled over the unlucky Ashby after the chequered flag came out for the second race on the trot!! Blair received an enforced holiday for this illegal act, and amazingly there was more to come! As an aside if you are wondering why drivers still run at full pace after the chequered flag until the lights turns yellow there have been cases in the past when race leaders have pulled over to the infield having seen the white flag a lap earlier only to find the chequered flag didn’t come out and as a result keep racing hard in case of such lapses.
Next we had a very race occurrence in teams racing, a four lap run off between Waikato and Auckland with two cars each which was required as both sides scored zero points in their first race, and some way of separating them was needed to find an opponent for the Rebels for fifth and sixth.
95A Gary Longergan led the dash from flagfall to win, but the real drama, which was the most controversial of the night took place straight after as 422H Blair Ashton, annoyed with himself by not able to make an attack with Longergan connect in the final dash to the flag, took Gary hard to the Turn 1 wall immediately afterwards, and if that wasn’t enough 33A Robbie Mabey, incensed by such an act proceeded to take Ashton to the wall! Guest announcer Paul Hickey was speechless, as was some of the crowd as never before in a teams racing event we have seen such blatant attacks after the race like this. It goes without saying Ashton got an enforced holiday for this, and one can safely say that Mabey would have been penalised too.
Now to the battle between Rotorua and Auckland for fifth, Auckland initially leading, but Rotorua, now showing more of their true ability with some track time under their belt, with a series of hard hits, which the Allstars matched at times like for like got their way into the race lead, and there they stayed to claim fifth in a far better effort than their first.
Now to the final between the Kings and the Panthers, the former with a handicap before flagfall as they were down a car. That said you write off the Panthers at your peril as they have come back from huge setbacks like this time and time again over the years.
While Asher Rees again led a merry dance at the front, the Panthers put up a very brave fight in the circumstances, 94P William Humphries and Tye in particular doing enough blocking to keep the Kings honest and themselves with some hope of victory. That chance came suddenly brighter when Tye successfully blocked Rees with one and a half laps to go and momentarily got on two wheels, almost set to land on his side and take another King at close quarters along in the backwash. This would have drastically changed the complexion of the race, but Rees survived that moment and cruised to the chequered flag with no further drama to claim a dream debut for the newly reformed Kings, and for the record their first ever tournament win since their original formation in 2006. While not quite a home town victory, I’m sure many otherwise partisan Wanderers supporters will see it as a local win of sorts, Kihikihi also in the Waikato region, albeit only a few miles south of the King Country’s traditional northern boundary.
While Sneddon’s manoeuvre on Ashby may have taken the gloss off their triumph, in light of far more illegal hits seen over the night this was at the lower end of the scale and takes nothing away from a superb display of speed and aggression all night from a brand new squad which will be a threat at every event they enter. The Panthers weren’t disgraced in second, and given this was not a full strength squad, there is clearly a lot more to come from them. Of the rest Stratford impressed this writer the most and look on the up and as for Wanderers, the night’s cellar dwellers they will need to regroup before their next outing as while the talent is there, they need to work a bit harder off the track to connect on it.
The night other feature was Stockcars at the Coalface, a highclass field of 30 stockcars assembled from all over the North Island producing a solid if not quite spectacular night’s racing. 6V Dion Mooney, 2NZ in 2016 and 2017 gave a driving masterclass to grab the gold in a near perfect display of driving to score 88 points of a possible 90 with two wins and a third. It was daylight to runner up 3NZ Richard Kiejzer with 5B Reagan Penn and PN track photographer 174P Brendon Learmouth both producing the best results of their career to date to be equal third.
Overall a fantastic night of racing, and judging by the public support, there’s a very high of doing it all again in 12 months time. Can’t wait!!
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