The 49th running of the New Zealand Sprintcar National Championship was held at Heavy Trax Hire Central Motor Speedway in Cromwell, Central Otago.
The 36 cars on hand were split into six groups. The six-car groups would race in pairs over 12 laps with every group competing in five heat races. Having one chance to race each other group and accumulate enough points to avoid the repo-charge by making the top 16 and qualify directly to the 25-lap winner-take-all final.
The Civil Construction 2019 New Zealand Sprintcar Title is the finale to a well-coordinated run of races throughout the South Island including the Salute to Goodie and Gold Cup features back to back at Ruapuna Speedway in Christchurch followed midweek by the Grand Prix in Invercargill then two more days at Cromwell for the National title.
Penngrove California’s 17-year-old Sprintcar sensation Michael ‘Buddy’ Kofoid had won all the aforementioned races, winning the five in a row.
With the South Island Sprintcar contingent having several cracks at him without success there was talk that the North Island cars would come down and things would be a different story.
The North Island brought quality not quantity in the likes of former National Champions Jamie Larsen, Jamie McDonald and two-time champion at this very track Rodney Wood. Kofoid having already beaten them all at the Grand Prix in Invercargill there was only one other main contender towing into Cromwell he was yet to face, Michael Pickens.
After holding court over the Midget scene for years, a few seasons ago Pickens wheeled his gun sights towards the Sprintcar division. In some circles his first Sprintcar title almost spoken of as an eventuality.
The T.A.B betting had Kofoid over Pickens followed by mostly the previous National Champions in attendance.
At this track Turn 1 and 2 are tight and Turns 3 and 4 make for a broad sweeping turn all the way beyond the start finish line where momentum built and carried all the way from Turn 2 must now be shed to make it through the sharp about face back into 1 and 2.
Good brakes made for good passes at the hairpin, a tidy exit out of the tight end and keeping your momentum made for good passing in the sweeper and the curved front straight.
Nine of the 15 heat races were held on Friday and started in hot dry conditions on the wide egg shaped oval.
Heat races were won by Christchurch drivers Steve Duff, Jamie Duff, Matt Honeywell, Luke Keegan, Nelson’s Corner Rangi, Palmerston North registered Larsen, Mount Maunganui’s Wood and Kofoid winning two of his heats, lapping in the mid 13 second range and finishing 10.4 seconds ahead of his nearest rival and his first heat.
In the second heat race 18-year-old Rangi managed to hold off Pickens for half the race however brushed the wall and Pickens, current 2NZ, passed him. As they approached lap traffic spinning cars ahead left Pickens with nowhere to go.
Pickens receiving a flat left front tyre but was able to continue and drove well to finish second.
In the fifth heat Wood hit the wall and suffered driveline damage and did not finish.
In the eighth heat McDonald clobbered the wall crushing his right rear rim with only a few laps remaining. His tire soon blowing apart as the race concluded.
In the final heat of night one Sprintcar rookie Rangi drove from 12th to second to go with his earlier heat race win over Pickens, the two now tied for second place behind Kofoid with Honeywell and Wellington driver Stephen Taylor were top five in points.
In the first heat of day two at Pickens and Kofoids’ groups raced each other. Kofoid starting seventh, Pickens 12th. After a few laps Pickens past Kofoid for fourth and pulled ahead to a clear advantage. The Pickens car looking more dialled in than the previous night. Taylor winning the heat.
The following heat was won by McDonald who also set a new lap record. The track having had fresh sawdust added overnight helping to store the moisture in the hot afternoon conditions working well.
Wood, Larsen, Rangi and Ray Baughan or winning heats.
The four remaining spots in the 20-car field were to be decided via a 12-lap semi main. After a mid-race caution Christchurch driver Shaun Ashton was leading with two lapped cars behind him followed by Daniel Anderson, Tony Uhlenberg, Whetu Taewa and Steve Duff Jr in fifth.
At the restart Anderson lost ground, balking those behind and Duff seized the moment passing several cars for position to finished second behind Ashton with Anderson and Uhlenberg all transferring to the back of the championship race.
Kofoid as Highpoint man chose to start on the outside of the front row which gave Rangi pole position in his first National Championship. Starting behind them were Larsen, Pickens, Taylor, Sam O’Callaghan, McDonald, Jayden Dodge, Honeywell and Jason Pryde starting in 10th.
As the race got underway Kofoid took the lead and Pickens dove in front of Rangi into the first turn however the race was stopped when Pryde made contact with McDonald and spun in front of Keegan, Wood, Matthew Leversedge who all ploughed in with Jamie Duff continuing on after a glancing blow. Wood and Keegan retiring.
At the single file restart Kofoid led Pickens who pushed across turn twos apex and out to the wall as the Larsen and Rangi went by for second and third. Kofoid put in a new lap record of 13.1850 seconds.
As the leader hit traffic Larsen drew closer at times up to the American’s bumper but unable to complete a pass. Pickens recovered and passed Rangi for third.
The high line was working best at both ends but some cars still stuck to the bottom making for lane changes in traffic by the leaders. Cars slapped the wall coming onto the straights in the dust green flag run to the finish.
Larsen and Pickens chasing the 17-year-old foreigner but to no avail as Kofoid won by over a second and a half becoming the 3rd American to be the New Zealand Sprintcar National Champion alongside Sammy Swindell and Jonathon Allard (2).
Rangi came home just shy of the podium with Taylor finishing in the top five. Dodge, Jamie Duff from 14th, O’Callaghan, Leversedge and owner of the Kofoid car Daniel Anderson driving from the back row to finish in the top 10.
Kofoid was elated. “I’m kind of lost for words now. We get to take the 1NZ back to America!”
“Every time we hit the track we put together good laps and that’s partly why we’re standing here. We were just able to capitalise on the points every single time,” he said.
“This is pretty badass, 6 wins in a row is crazy.”
Now a 2NZ to go with his previous 1 and 3NZ, first Kiwi home Larsen said; “It was definitely a pretty tough track out there. We had a couple of looks there at Buddy and in lap traffic we caught him up then he pulled away. It’s pretty awesome to have the 2NZ on the car”.
Pickens stating after the race; “It was not our best run but we’ll take it. I just got tight there on a restart and shoved the nose across and got passed by a couple.
“All in all it’s good. Obviously disappointed with third but it is what it is. We’ll come back next year and hopefully win that number one spot back.”
If you missed the action the full nights racing can be found on www.speedshifttv.com