The United Truck Parts International Midget Series headed to Huntly Placemakers Speedway, an hour south of Western Springs for round four and the final away meeting of the six-round series.
The last time the Midgets raced at Huntly was for their National Championship. For a multitude of reasons that meeting needed some redemption via an international quality Midget meeting and that’s what was delivered.
Having replaced the track surface with fresh clay at the start of the season with clay gouged out of a nearby hillside as part of the motorway works in the area the sticky brown stuff offered all the traction the meeting needed, and more.
New Zealand fall behind in Tri Nations Test Series
The penultimate nine-lap Tri Nations Test Series race was all important if New Zealand was to close the gap on America who led by 15 points with Australia 10 points behind New Zealand.
As with previous rounds a driver from each team would marble draw grid position for their front starting team member. They would also select which team member started from which position. Michael Pickens drew the number two marble and selected himself to start foremost for the Kiwi contingent.
American NASCAR startKyle Larson jumped to the lead as Pickens and Australian champ Kaidon Brown banged wheels for second off the start. Pickens pulled multiple epic wheelies down the straightaways but spun himself out in pursuit of Larson.
At the restart, Pickens at the rear of the field, Larson once again establish a healthy lead with Brown and teammate Matt Smith in third at the midway point.
Oklahoma native Christopher Bell held his car down better on the low line in Turn 2 passing Australia’s Scotty Farmer for fifth position.
Despite that positional loss the Aussies enjoyed the best test race performance of the series as Brock Mascovich and Brad Mosen for New Zealand found themselves occupying the rear of the field along with a trailing Pickens.
Bell was able to pass Courtney for fourth place but unable to gain position on Brown and Smith who finished second and third to Larson.
The significant American point’s hall all but securing the series for America with only four points needed for the series win only one car need cross the line to make this a certainty.
The big movers in round four were the Australians who clawed to within a three-point gap behind New Zealand and poised within striking distance for the series conclusion on Thursday night at Western Springs Speedway.
Grid shake-up sets up showdown for the final
International drivers forced to start the semi-main were Larson America’s Chris Wyndham and Farmer. Larson won the first heat race but did not finish his second after making contact with the car ahead during the race start.
This put Larson into the semi-main from grid three. Farmers seventh and ninth Place heat results also put him into the semi but off the front row. Continuing his mixed bag of results he was forced to pull in on lap two.
Windom’s high point of a podium at baypark seemed long ago as his woes continued at Huntly where a dnf and an eighth place result put him mid pack of the semi Main in his third car used in the series. He was unable to advance through to the feature race.
Young Travis Buckley made a great start from grid one in the semi and held a substantial lead over the rest of the chasing filled with Larson heading the charge.
The sense of inevitability became reality when highly experienced Larson got passed Buckley to win the semi-main with the other three cars to transfer through to the 40-lap final being Buckley and Auckland’s Shayne Alach and James Earl.
Part-time Waikato Midget driver Daniel Thomas had a pair of second place finishes in his heat which started him from pole position for the feature alongside Courtney who tide with a pair of twos with quicker lap time advantage going to the local.
Row two was occupied by and Maskovich who was in his back up Esslinger powered car for the second round in a row. The outside row proved to be the place to start as Maskovich followed Courtney round the outside of Thomas. The new surface holding oceans more moisture than the previous.
The cars spread themselves across the track utilising any line they saw fit. With a full fuel load and an excess of group front wheels appointed skyward on cars throughout the field as Bell made his way into second to chase down Courtney.
The fading brakes on Thomas sending his car into the back of Maskovich spinning Maskovich out onto the infield. The driver experienced enough to keep the motor going pull the car out of the spin and parking it on the pole line to wait for a push truck, his restart and adjudication over the incident which transpired by way of Thomas being sent rear of field for the restart.
Courtney stayed ahead until just before the halfway point when traffic became a factor and Bell managed to slip ahead for a few laps but was overtaken by Courtney.The front spote remained the same throughout the last half of the race as even Larson stopped progressing when arriving in ninth from his 15th place starting position.
Bell launched several major assaults on Courtney in lap traffic, pulling alongside several times at the expense of track position and unable to convert the manoeuvre into an advancement of position.
On the Final Lap Bell once again got down the inside of Courtney but not far enough and it was Courtney taking his first win of the tour and first win at Huntly after last year’s race was rained out.
Pickens finished third with Hayden Williams fourth and Zach Daum fifth. Logan Seavey, Leon Burgess Hayden Guptill, Kyle Larson and Shayne Alach rounded out the top 10.
The series now heads back to Western Springs for the final two rounds with this Thursdays race being the Clausen 39 lapper in honour of the former United Truck Parts team driver.
Bell now driving for the team said; “We have been extremely close multiple times in the Midget. The Sprint car has been great but that was expected after the results Shane Stewart had put up in the car. Winning a Midget race is much needed on this trip driving for Brian and Shaun the Clausen race obviously means a lot to this group of people so there wouldn’t be a better race to win.”