Michael Pickens is looking for his ninth New Zealand Midget Championship crown this weekend, but some of the world’s best are flying in to try and take the title offshore.
The Racecourse Hotel & Motorlodge Ruapuna Speedway in Christchurch will host the 78th running of the annual event.
The format divides the 45-car field up into six groups with each group having the chance to both accumulate points to earn entry to the Championship race and rate their pace alongside every other driver entered.
Seven drivers flew out of a wintery Tulsa, Oklahoma after the Chili Bowl, bound for a summer clad South Island. Two ‘Kiwis’, four ‘Yanks’ and one ‘Aussie’. Speedway New Zealand rules requiring foreign drivers to do five race meetings to meet eligibility and all of these drivers meet the criteria after the International Midget Series in the North Island over Christmas and New Years
2018 USAC National Midget Champion Logan Seavey placed fourth in the 359-car pecking order of this year’s Chili Bowl. He was one sport short of a podium after driving his way up from a B-Main start and from 11th in the final. The Californian will be driving the Green Way Bullet-Toyota he piloted in the International Midget Car Series.
Tyler Courtney of Indianapolis, Indiana won the International Series and came home 11th in the Chili bowl 55-Lap final and his Yale – S.G Equipment #7USA ride is southbound from Auckland.
Zach Daum was 16th in Tulsa after starting on the back row and was second in the International Midget Series and a 2NZ in 2017-’18. The Pocahontas, Illinois driver will once again be racing for Green Way Racing with Seavey as a teammate.
17-year-old Zeb Wise heads back to New Zealand after a D-Main exit and his first time driving offshore in the International series. The Angola, Indiana native is once again in the Seamount Racing #4USA King-Toyota.
None of the above drivers have experience at Ruapuna, however, they’ve raced on such a vast variety and quantity of tracks they will not be daunted by the task at hand.
Kaidon Brown is the lone Australian in the field and will drive the United Truck Parts car he stepped into when Christopher Bell fortuitously vacated the seat just as his car had troubles. He put that car on the podium and returns to New Zealand fresh from his first Chili Bowl only nine spots out of making the A-Main.
Current Champ Pickens made the Chili Bowl final and came home 20th. He won three of the six-round International Midget Series races and the eight titles under his belt and 1NZ on the tale tank represent an expectation of the West Auckland driver to be in the spotlight.
Jeremy Webb has numerous wins at Ruapuna Speedway and now a taste of Chili Bowl action under his belt as he returns home to use his home track experience to give him an advantage. The three-time and current Three Quarter Midget Champion will leave the T.Q in the shed and concentrate on the title race.
Other South Island notable locals include Harrisville Midget winner and pedal stomper Tom Lumsden who came home sixth in last weekend Midget GP and current South Island Champion. Dave Kerr is an eight-time South Island Champ and former 3NZ place getter at the Nationals when last held at Ruapuna.
Auckland driver Brad Mosen won the 2014-’15 Title at Ruapuna and has only raced once this season carving his way from near the back to the podium at Western Springs. Driving for Seamount Racing again as he did when earning the current 2NZ.
Hayden Williams and Hayden Guptill of BSL Racing have a pair of house Bullet-Esslingers for the two-day event and have mixed form. Guptill claimed second in the GP and Williams struggled in Nelson yet having won twice early in the season at Western Springs and International Series podiums.
Williams is more than capable of winning this title and should not be written off by any means.
Add to the list last weekends GP winner and former 1NZ Peter Hunnibell and 2014-’15 Title 2NZ at Ruapuna, Brock Maskovich who was crewing for Pickens at the Chili Bowl.
Adding flavour to the chassis variety in the field is the Terra chassis of Travis Buckley and Aaron Hodgson who is the North Island Champion and showing the potential.
The other former winner is five-time champ and veteran Michael Kendall who has shown moments of pace but had an engine go bad in Nelson with a replacement on its way from Auckland.
Whoever claims the title at this event will have bested one of the strongest fields ever assembled for a National Midget Championship. Many hoping it is won by a New Zealand driver with patriotism coming to bare and the prospect of the 1NZ number headed overseas and not to be seen by New Zealand fans at New Zealand tracks.
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