Privateer Peter Hunnibell won the 43rd running of the Midget Grand Prix held at Nelson Speedway, fending off factory driver Hayden Guptill after an early race duel.
The 26 cars on hand had not only this race but the National Title two-day event the following weekend on their minds as they checked in to the hot Nelson pit area under typical perfect Tasman skies.
Cars present including previous podium placers Hayden Williams who was second to Brad Mosen at seasons’ GP at Kihikihi Speedway with Guptill third.
Five-time National Champion Michael Kendall who has five minor placings in the GP stretching back as far as 28 years ago but looking for his first win and 2015-’16 season GP winner Duane Hickman from Stratford.
The conventional format had the field divided into five groups with each group racing two heat races against different groups to ensure a varied grid. This would find top 16 in points for the 30-Lap title race with the rest left to fight for the remaining four spots in a 15-Lap Semi-Main.
All cars performed hot laps to reveal the dry thin crust, once watered, had moisture beneath it. As heat races got underway the first heat races was won by BSL Racing driver Hayden Williams who was hounded by Hunnibell with local Brian Barclay third.
In Heat two Local veteran and former 2NZ Nevil Basalaj going on to be was a clear winner of Heat 2 on his familiar clay with Christchurch flyer Glen Durie home second and Kendall third.
Hayden Williams had uncharacteristic car problems in Heat 3 causing him to spin fist into his teammate Guptill, then again catching up to the field, then again to put him out of the race.
Heat 3 was won by James Cossey with Hickman second and fellow Stratford driver Mark Willans third.
Christchurch registered Tom Lumsden Heat 4 by a good margin over Hunnibell from grid 10 and Mitchell Hill third on a track slicking off that was mostly flat with no cushion to lean on. Kendall suffering terminal motor issues and out of the event.
The last heat was won by Guptill over Jayden Dodge and 18-year-old Max Guilford.
The Semi-Main was an eight-car affair with Palmerston North registered Chris Bargie, Whanganui driver Ben Hujis, Christchurch’s Jay Chadwick and the 55A of Hamish Dobbyn all advancing to the main event.
When points were tallied Hunnibell had most with Guptill starting beside. Durie and Hickman in row two and Cossey and Dodge on row three. Dave Kerr, Jack Low, Basalaj and Lumsden all inside the top 10 grids.
At the drop of the green Hunnibell and Guptill fought for position with Guptill ahead then Hunnibell would slide past only to have the favour returned. This went on for several laps to the delight of the Nelson crowd. Hunnibell eventually gaining the lead.
As the race approached the halfway mark Low found himself cartwheeling along the wall and out of the race. He was soon joined on the infield by Chadwick.
As the race resumed Hunnibell maintained his lead over Guptill as Basalaj and Kerr, two of the most experienced open-wheel drivers in the South Island put the knowledge to good use and made their way towards the front.
Hunnibell kept a decent lead and went on to take the victory with Guptill second and Basalaj third. Kerr was the fourth car home. Williams had started 11th and moved forward passing Dodge and Lumsden in the closing laps to make the top 5, Lumsden, Dodge, Guilford, Durie and Hickman in the top ten.
After waving to the crowd Hunnibell made his way to the fence and gave his gloves to a wide-eyed and grateful fan.
When asked of how he got the lead a pleased Hunnibell explained: “After losing the 3rd race start I got myself into a rhythm and 5-Laps in started to make an assault for the lead.
“At lap 7 I was able to complete a slide job in Turns 1 and 2 which left me with enough overlap to cover myself on the entry to tTrns 3 and 4 which by then had cemented me the lead for the remained of the race.
“I feel as a team, we’ve been building momentum up to this weekend. So consider ourselves in strong contention. However, it also takes a good chunk of luck and fortune for it to play all into your hands, as I already know too well myself.”