Following on from round two at Baypark in Mount Maunganui, competitors and teams returned to Auckland’s Western Springs Speedway for night three of the United Truck Parts International Midget Car Series.
A consistent forecast leading up to the event assured the good crowd in attendance of fine weather and the track preparation team more control over their clay. Their efforts resulted in a track that gained width throughout the night but not without a serious cushion of heavy clay chunks developing in places.A cushion that stood up tall catching out several cars throughout the night whose placement against the tricky curb was not precise enough.
Going into round three of the five Tri-Nations test race series America were seven points ahead of New Zealand with Australia trailing New Zealand by a further four points.
New Zealand also had a driver lineup change after Brock Maskovich was forced to use his spare Esslinger-powered car after the Baypark feature 48 hours prior where his Toyota engine suffered damage. The replacement selected was Hayden Guptill, a former TQ Champion now driving a Midget car for BSL racing team.
As with the previous tests race, Michael Pickens started from the front row and resumed the lead over American all-rounder Kyle Larson by performing a wheelie mid-corner and onto the straight and at one point was up on only one wheel.
Indiana’s Tyler Courtney started from grid three and explored the track high and low, at one point passing Larson for second however was unable to catch the top three and finished in fourth. Hot knife Christopher Bell made butter of the back half of the international nine-car field and was fourth by the third lap.
The Australians Trio struggling in this race on a track Larson described at very technical with Scotty Farmer and Kaidon Brown plummeting through the field from their mid-pack starts. Matt Smith once again Australia’s top performer climbing from grid eight to cross the line sixth.
New Zealander Brad Mosen yo-yoed from his seventh starting position to a low of last and a high of fifth, his finishing position, Pickens with his second test race win in a row.
When the points were tallied the American’s remained in the lead with 67 points, New Zealand in second with 52 points and Australia trailing with 42 points.
NASCAR star wins the 30 Lap World Derby
As the 34 entrants vied for 20 starting spots the top 16 in heat race points advanced directly to the big money race.
The heat race points were hard earned. Witnessed by several drivers leaving the racing track in the attending Doctors car after hard crashes throughout the heat racing.
Christchurch driver Jeremy Webb (pictured below), the lone South Islander, suffering engine damage in his heat race and withdrew from comptitition in hopes of assessing the damage before the following round of the series.
The 10 remaining drivers that had operational cars fought it out over 10 laps to be in the top four of the semi-main. Pocahontas, Illinois’ Zach Daum won the semi with Farmer, Brown and local driver Leon Burgess transferring through to the rear grids of the 30 Lap World Derby.
As the race got underway Mosen moved into the lead using the middle of the track while Larson worked the pole line from his grid one starting position. Mosen missed the cushion in Turn 4 and handed the lead to Larson as the opening lap concluded.
Unimpeded, Larson set sail on the high line and began to click off laps conserving and waiting for a challenger. Something the springs fans had seen him do the while winning all three international races at the hallowed venue the previous season.
From his fourth Bell gained position on Seavey who started from grid three then dispatched with Mosen and worked the outside line behind Larson.
The position of second ranking Kiwi in the field was a dispute between Pickens and Waikato driver Daniel Thomas for sixth spot. Courtney starting out of grid five made it to fourth for a few laps but slipped back several spots by the end to finish in 7th.
While in fourth on lap 11, Pickens came dangerously close to spinning out.
He pitched his car into the turn on an extreme angle across the face of cushion costing him distance to the leaders but no positions as Seavey slid past Courtney for fifth.
By this time the leaders had spaced themselves out as Larson hit lap traffic and set about lapping all the way up to 10th position before the race was over.
Meanwhile Daum was putting on a passing display after qualifying in grid 19 for the feature race via the semi-main. Damn wasted no time getting into his work passing five cars in the opening few laps then leapfrogging to ninth by the midway point before exchanging positions with Aucklander Breyton Davison.
Daum’s Green Way Environmental-backed car was going forward in a big way and once past Davidson he set his sites on Mosen who had had just conceded third to Pickens in a five-lap exchange.
With six laps remaining Scott Buckley found himself stationery above the cushion. His belly pan stranded on the rough unusable outer portion of the track. Safety Crew struggling to drag the car through the thick clouds of clay. With the field now bunched together for a double file restart participants’ knew it was time to give it everything they dared on the tricky track.
The race was once again halted as Davidson banged his car off the cushion sending it out of shape and across the face of the wall landing luckily and safely on all four wheels. The same fate did not befall Australian first time tourist Scotty Farmer who flip several times and out of the race.
On the next restart Larson once again ran around the bottom line in Turn 1 and 2 before building enough momentum to move the car to the optimal higher line as Bell followed suit.
Behind them Pickens, Mosen and the Greenway racing teammates of Daum and Seavey contested third. In the closing laps Bell was unable to make up the car lengths needed to position for a ‘slide job’ and it was Larson first followed home by Bell, Pickens, Daum, Mosen, Seavey, Courtney, Thomas, Guptill and Jaden Worthington completing the top 10.
Larson performing his now signature steering wheel-less donuts on the infield.
Larson assessing his race afterwards said; “It felt like I ran a good smooth race changing my line-up through traffic. I don’t know where Bell was running behind me before those cautions came out. I felt like I had a good rhythm going.”
“Bell was able to get to my inside a couple of times there for a couple of laps and I just knew I just had to not make any mistakes there; the cushion was getting really thick,” he added.
“I’m glad to get a win and always glad to race in front of you fans,” a grateful Larson addressed the appreciative crowd, showing signs of relief.
“It’s so much fun to race in New Zealand. I look forward to the rest of the week and hope we can come back next year.”
Second place getter Christopher Bell was happy with his car speed and must consider himself a contender for future wins in this series when on par with the winner.
“Kyle did a good enough job of blocking turn one to where I couldn’t get inside of him. I feel like if I was out front he would have had a hard time passing me and that’s just how it was.”
Pickens while strapping into his Sprintcar said; “We had a tough run. Started fifth, finished third. I had a good car I just made a couple of mistakes. My fault.
“We don’t have to go balls out to win one of these when we’ve already won two. We’re happy with a podium every night and our points tally will be looking alright.”
The series now heads to Huntly Placemakers Speedway for round four on New Year’s Day with the final two rounds at Western Springs on the third and fifth of January.
If you missed the action the full nights racing can be found on www.speedshifttv.com