The Tri Nations test race series between New Zealand Australia and America is run over five 9-lap races with 1 race on each of the first five nights of the 6-round United Truck Parts International Midget Car Series
After round 1 the points were America 22 New Zealand 18 and Australia 14
For round 2 the Midget cars and stars made the three-hour haul South East of Auckland to Baypark Family Speedway in Mount Maunganui.
Australian Matt Smith, American Tyler Courtney and New Zealand’s Michael Pickens met before the meeting and marble drew their team’s first grid spots. Notably all three drivers selected themselves to occupy the front most grids.
The cars formed up on a track that was a torrential lake the day before but after pumping water out around the clock now only resembled a swamp in places. The six previous races run on the track had carved out and established race line and there was something to work with as Courtney and Pickens received the green.
First into the first corner can mean everything in these high pedigree shorter races. Pickens used his grid starting spot to New Zealand’s advantage and he rocket ahead to take the initial lead as Matt Smith slipped under Courtney as the opening lap concluded.
Elk Grove California’s Kyle Larson was in 4th followed by Auckland’s Brad Mosen who got sideways beyond the point of return and beached is car mid track. Young Australian champ Kaidon Brown had nowhere to go and ploughed into the stranded Mosen. Brock Maskovich for New Zealand and Scotty farmer for Australia also sliding into the incident.
With Mosen and Maskovich out for New Zealand Pickens won the restart and the lead followed by Smith and the trio of Americans. Farmer the only car able to restart nursed car home to chip away at the Australian points deficit.
The Americans battled amongst themselves as Courtney ran his front end through the slurry and washed up the track allowing Larson through briefly as the 3 Americans explored the track and change position several times. Pickens won the second test ahead of Smith, Larson, Christopher Bell for America, Courtney and Farmer in 6th.
With all three cars on track America were able to extend lead and points total to 43 with New Zealand second on 36 points and Australia with 32.
Pickens ever the optimist stated “It ain’t over till it’s over and we’ll be doing our best to get back on top.”
As the night continued the format began haemorrhaging time. As a consequence the semi-main was cancelled in favour of all 28 remaining cars receiving a start in the scheduled 40 Lap race.
Mosen was top qualifier by way of a heat race win and a 3rd place and drew a number 2 marble inverting the front 2 rows and placing him off of grid 3 alongside Bell who also won a heat.
Two other drivers having a better second round of the series were Aucklander James Earl who outperform expectations qualified third and was awarded pole position via the invert. Outside front row starter Chris Windom of Canton, Illinois didn’t survive the first lap of his first race in round one at Western Springs doing significant enough damage to necessitate the Spartan racing entry bolt their potent Toyota power plant into a new chassis this time a brand change to Terminator. The new car and driver combo performing well in the heats with 2nd and 4th placing’s.
As the race got underway Earl found himself in the lead with a who’s who of midget racing on his tail. Windom looking inside on occasion but unable to complete the pass for several laps as Earl held the highline, momentum and his nerve until Windom, Bell then Pickens, working his way up from 9th, eventually broke through to the front.
By this stage the track had a patch of tacky clay in the bottom of turn 4 leading on to the front straight that stood cars on end launching them down the front straight tipped skyward with only their rear wheels on the ground and their rear bumpers dragging.
Some drivers were able to use this traction to great advantage while some were caught out and lost positions if their car was not pointed in the right direction when the front wheels left the ground.
In contrast to turn 4 turn ones lower portion was still swampy and sending a car through it was risky business. A quarter of the way through the race Earl was forced to take the risk when he found himself inside and 3 wide as he attempted to pass Larsen in lap traffic for the second time and wound up parking his car on the track and using up one of two restarts he would receive for the night.
Just prior to the caution Bell had completed the pass on Windom for the lead and assumed control at the restart with Pickens and third.
Several cautions brought the field back together which added Larson to the leader’s battle. Several more cautions interrupted the race that was moments from hitting curfew. Nine of the 28th starters would ultimately end up parked on the infield and out of the race.
During these cautions Bells left rear tire began to deflate and this put him in the sights of Pickens who took advantage of the situation and the lead as Bell was forced to retire out of the race. Even with the 10-minute extension to 10:10 p.m. the race was still very much in danger of running out of time and the decision was made to stop any further cars receiving restarts.
With 17 laps remaining and only two minutes on the clock by which to complete them the race restarted with Pickens and Windom on the double wide front row restart. Pickens led chased by Windom as Courtney from grid 11 worked on Larson for third.
Larsen made a mistake entering 2 and 3 and Courtney was able to pass him with lead Australian Smith following him through into 4th. The white flag came out with 14 laps remaining and when the chequers waved it was Pickens followed home by Windom and Courtney who crossed side by side to take the remaining spots on the podium.
Smith, Larson, American Zach Daum, Christchurch’s Jeremy Webb, Hayden Williams, Shayne Alach and Farmer rounded out the top 10.
“We got told under caution that the race may be shortened due to time constraints, but it was definitely shorter than expected which it worked out well for us” Said Pickens of the time effected race.
The series now heads back to Western Springs Speedway for round 3.