40 cars signed into Stratford Speedway to contest the New Zealand Midget Car Title. Drivers and crews from Christchurch, Wanganui, Kihikihi and Auckland were greeted by sunny weather and high winds at the quarter mile black clay oval.
The format for the event saw the field split into five eighth-car groups with each group racing a different group in each heat.
During hotlaps previous titlist Peter Hunnibell ended up with a bent chassis after hard contact with the wall that was deemed not to be of a safety concern by officials but looked to be detrimental to the handling and set up throughout the night.
Local favourite Duane Hickman open the meeting winning the first 12-lap heat over Auckland’s Leon Burgess with Christchurch driver and former TQ National Champion Glen Durie in third.
Five time National Champion Michael Kendall had motor issues and pulled infield after the third lap.
Aucklander’s Max Guildford and Chris McCutcheon made contact several times while looking to advance from their mid pack starting spots but clashed several times ultimately leaving an angry Guildford on his head and out of the race.
Hayden Guptill, one of four BSL racing drivers entered into the event checked out to a big lead in Heat 2 winning easily over Wanganui entrant Peter Huijs and Ricky McGough coming home third.
Some of the titles strongest contenders also in this heat race advanced to finish mid pack from their rear grids including Michael Pickens gaining four spots finishing seventh; Shayne Alach finishing fourth with Brad Mosen passing Pickens on the last lap to finish sixth.
Heat 3 was won by Daniel Thomas who started on the outside of the front row and was followed across the line by Scott Buckley and a struggling Michael Kendall third.
Mosen was able to keep in front of form favourite Pickens to win Heat 4 with Wanganui Brent Huijs finishing third.
The fifth and final heat was won by Christchurch’s Tom Lumsden over Auckland’s Brock Maskovich and Stratford local Greg Jones third.
With heat racing complete the top 16 in points were to be placed in the top 16 grid positions for the 25-lap winner-takes-all final. The balance of the field to contest in one of two 10-lap B-Main races where the top two finishes of each would advance to the A-Main and complete the 20-car field for the National title.
When the points were tallied up multiple cars were tied on over multiple positions including six drivers equal on points over the all-important 16th place cusp.
With the electronic lap scoring system on the night yielding glitches and anomalies the format the driver’s had signed up to called for a coin toss to beak the tied points getters. With no six-sided coins available a marble draw was used to break the ties.
The outcome of the six way split marble draw was that 2 drivers would go straight through to start the championship race in 15th and 16th starting grids and the remaining four drivers would occupy the front rows of the twin B-Mains, now tasked with racing their way into the championship.
B-Main 1 was won by Guptill who, after winning his first heat race, did not finish his second. The second car to advance through was Jones who passed four cars to do so.
This race was not without incident as Hamish Dobbyn turned up and over followed in a separate incident by previous 3-NZ place getter at this very track Michael Brunt who attempted a late race outside pass on two cars that came together sending one of them into the path of Brunt who took flight in a fence high crash that left the Taranaki crowd gasping in reaction. Brunt was at first a little dazed but climbed from the car and would watch the final from the side-lines.
The second B-Main had Midget car rookie Brad Hollier, having one of his better nights, starting from pole of the 12-lapper after the disappointment of pulling a marble to miss out on direct championship entry.
Looking to lock his car into the final race his foot responded to the green flag but his car didn’t, bogging down and being frustratingly freight trained toward the rear of the field and out of his transfer position. The race was won by James Earl followed by Jayden Worthington who would grid up from the rear of the 25-lap championship.
The front starting grids for the feature event were occupied by Hickman and 2014-’15 season Champion Mosen with former National Champion Alach and 7 time National Champion Pickens in row two. Thomas, Lumsden, Scott Buckley, Brent Huijs, Leon Burgess and McCutcheon in grids 5 to 10.
The track was slick and dusty but still had passing opportunities for both position and in lap traffic. As the race got underway Mosen took the lead with Hickman in secod with Pickens, Alec and Lumsden close behind.
The race was soon halted for a spinning Taylor Clark. The race was instantly stopped again as more cars ended up facing the wrong way in turn one with Huijs unable to continue.
After the second restart Mosen got into his rhythm as Hickman fell into the clutches of Pickens looking for 2nd position. Alach and Lumsden still there or thereabouts with the lead five cars comfortably ahead of the rest of the field.
By the midway point Guptill had managed to move up from his 17th place starting spot to sixth in a great drive through the back half of the field.
Pickens now second set his sights on Mosen and the lead as things got racy behind them with Alach and Hickman getting their elbows up, both determined to be on the podium with Lumsden looming close behind.
As the leaders picked lines through lap traffic Pickens got by Mosen and slowly began to edge ahead. With laps counting down it looked like all of Mosen’s passing opportunities were gone until the white flag came out and in lap traffic Mosen caught up to Pickens bumper.
The cars ripped down the back straight for the final time and Mosen was forced to settle for second place as Pickens claimed his record setting eighth New Zealand Midget Car Championship now one ahead of Ted Tracey.
The 3NZ number went to Alach over Hickman, Lumsden and Guptill, Thomas, Maskovich, Burgess and Durie who rounded out the top 10.
When asked about his heat race plans for the night Pickens said “We took it super easy in the heats. I wasn’t too concerned about starting on the 2nd or 3rd row but you don’t need to be coming from the B-Main by making a mistake in your heats.”
“To finally get eight New Zealand titles is pretty special and a credit to everyone that has helped me get to this point,” Pickens said.
“I have the best team anyone could ever ask for so really neat to reward them for all their hard work.”