Auckland’s Michael Pickens won his 7th 50 Lap Classic at Western Springs Speedway in the final Round of the United Truck Parts International Midget Car Series as American star ‘Sunshine’ Tyler Courtney claims the overall series.
The large crowd on hand were greeted by an ominous and foreboding sky painted a red hue as a reminder of the ongoing fires in Australia. In sympathy of their plight drivers walked through the crowd with helmets in hand collecting donations for the cause. $12,800.00 raised.
The 50-Lap format differs from previous rounds. Drivers perform to two qualifying laps in groups of up to 3 cars spaced out around the track. The 8 fastest drivers transfer directly to an 8-lap A-Dash with qualifiers 9 through 16 to an 8-Lap B-Dash.
The balance of the field gets a start in the 12-Lap Semi-Main last chance race where the first 8 drivers make the big race. The top two drivers in the Semi and B-Dash earning the right to join the back of the next race in hopes of advancing up the 24-car grid.
The track was vastly different from the previous dry iteration of 2 days prior. The mid brown clay now sticky, thick and pliable yet greasy where surface water was yet to penetrate.
After all 35 cars had qualified winner of round 4 at Huntly, NASCAR talent Kyle Larson driving the Golden Homes King Chassis – Toyota topped the charts with a time of 13.763 seconds just 0.058 ahead of rounds 1 & 2 victor Pickens and 0.223 faster than Courtney, winner of rounds 3 & 5.
Hayden Williams, Logan Seavey, Aaron Hodgson in his first ever qualifying laps, Ryan O’Connor and Max Guilford all within half a second and inside the top 8. Zach Daum and Travis Mills rounding out the top 10 qualifiers.
The 19 cars in the semi were all vying for 8 spots and had 12 laps to achieve this. As the race started 2nd In 2019 USAC National Midget points Chris Windom drained every bit of bad luck he could from his New Zealand racing experience as he found himself banging wheels with locals. The Canton Illinois native once again 1st race, 1st Lap, 1st corner: out.
Rarely has a world class driver with this much talent and pedigree endured such a bad run of race results. Often a victim of circumstance, Windom has the ability to win every race and the series outright yet found himself once again dragged off the track on the hook shaking his head at his position.
When the race restarted Nathan Howard had no chance of avoiding a car that slipped up the track over the greasy turn 3 entrance and into his path. Howard also out on the 1st Lap. Jayden Worthington winning comfortably with Brett Jnr Morris also transferring to the back of the B-Dash.
Others to make the 50 Lap race were Travis Buckley, Breyton Davison, Hayden Guptill, previous 50-lap winner Shayne Alach, James Cossey and Matthew McCutcheon.
The B-Dash was won by Australian Kaidon Brown with American Daum home 2ndWith both joining the rear of the A-Dash. Wise the prime mover advancing to 3rd from 6th with West Aucklanders Brock Maskovich and James Earl in the top five.
1USA and 1NZ lined up on the front row of the A-Dash. Pickens in the 1NZ took the lead as 1USA Larson had Williams pass into 2nd. Larson then over rotated and spun to a stop and restated at the rear of field. Ryan O’Connor then tipped over on the next restart and joined Larson at the rear.
Pickens finishing ahead by a good margin setting his intentions for the next 50 laps. Williams was also a clear 2nd with Hodgson advancing to earn grid position 3 with Courtney alongside. Brown, Daum, Larson and Guilford setting the front 4 rows of the 39th running of this classic race.
The drivers paraded round the track each joined by a child Quarter Midget ‘Kiwikidz’ competitor in their race suits. As the drivers walked beside their cars it was a chance for them to test the track conditions underfoot and an opportunity for the large crowd to catch a first-hand glimpse of anticipation on the drivers faces before pulling down the helmet straps an belting in for 50 laps.
On a track with plenty of grip and a distinct high and low line formed the race started with a 1st lap flip for 1999-2000 race winner Alach on the front straight.
Brett Jnr Morris bought out a caution and left the track with a flat right rear tyre.
Wise was forced to start dead last as the on-track fitting of the mandatory wheel cover considered an illegal adjustment to the Foytt Shipping car. The Seamount Racing 4USA car next to end the night parked on the infield.
Yet another early caution stifled the races flow as Guptill, Davison and Hunnibell all stopped with Guptill retiring.
At the restart Pickens led until he half spin and saved it ending up in the path of 3rd place Williams though not before allowing Courtney through to the lead. The mistake by Pickens sending the Williams car skidding sideways on the verge of the infield slipping all the way to 2nd to last.
Semi winner Worthington then rubbed along the wall with a broken front end unable to exit the race surface.
The 5th caution period in 6 laps was for three cars that stopped when the leader Courtney powered ahead but those behind did not. The rest of the front of field bunched up on the restart resulting in Guilford with front and rear damage. O’Connor also out with Earl restarting.
Courtney once again jetted ahead as Hodgson and Pickens switched places for second. Pickens got ahead as Hodgson got caught by Seavey. With a run to the outside onto the back straight Seavey filled the gap that Hodgson intended using.
Hodgson flat-wheeling the Californian who was bounced off Hodgson into the wall and back into the Aucklander as both entered Town bend. The Greenway Racing Seavey car made contact with the Terra Racing Hodgson car mid bend resulting in Hodgson on his lid.
As the cars past the mid race point Larson had gotten to 3rd around Brown. Courtney chased by Pickens who looked to be conserving and staying in touch. The duo encountered traffic and Pickens ceased the moment to stay low when the American drifted to the high line.
Pickens in the lead put quick laps in the books and Cortney responded following the home town hero. Smoother through traffic the 8 time NZ Champ coming home 4.1 seconds ahead of Courtney.
After a disjointed start the last green flag run an exhausting 41 laps.
Larson, Brown and Daum in the top 5. Williams rebounding well to 6th ahead of Seaver, Maskovich, Dobbyn and Travis Buckley making the top ten.
“I made a few mistakes early and then settled down into a groove”
Pickens looked back at Courtney and Larson remarking to the crowd “With these two cats behind you, you have to push on.”
Courtney was a clear series winner with 26 points over Daum in second and a 31 over Pickens. Brown, Larson, Guptill, Maskovich, Williams, Seavey and Hunnibell the only driver in the top ten to finish every round.
“These are the guys that deserve it. They are the ones who do all the hard work. I just get the pleasure of driving it.” Said Courtney appreciative of his crew’s efforts.
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