Springs Speedway hosted the 38th running of the North Island TQ Midget Championship. The three-quarter size Midget Cars perform some of the closest wheel-to-wheel racing seen in New Zealand Speedway. In a class where half a car width can look like a gap, every hesitation is costly and every advancement in position precious.
Without possessing the horsepower often used by Sprint and Midget Cars to get themselves out of trouble, the momentum style TQ racing and short wheel base lends itself to quick reactions and on a sticky track a tendency to tip over on the outside wheels as if flung from a centrifuge.
Cars from as far afield as Gisborne and Napier joined the large field of Auckland regulars. Among them was current 2NZ and back-to-back defending North Island Champion Ryan Baker who already has four wins and two second place finishes at the hallowed venue this season.
The heat races were conducted over 10 laps with 14 cars in each, leaving drivers desperate for a strong points accumulation to lock themselves into the 24-car 20-lap title race.
Heat 1 started on a greasy track with defending champ Baker starting from grid 10 advancing a couple of positions and lasting till lap six where he was involved in a multi-car incident that left him with damage and a result of last place.
Aucklander Kaleb Currie’s last start in a race car was in a full size Midget Car in Tulsa, Oklahoma when he competed in the world famous Chili Bowl Midget Nationals and was the prime mover in this heat advancing from seventh to second.
Young Auckland driver Harrison Martens show great pace and contested hard fought third place finish.
Ryan’s older brother Scott Baker, himself the 2013-’14 season TQ North Island champion, also with four wins so far this season was only able to advance one spot from fourth to finish fifth.
Pole sitter Chris Lane mastered the slippery surface in an excellent Drive to win the opener.
The quickest lap of that race was sent by Danny Keene in his custom built family car. The only driver to record a lap in the 15-second range.
Heat 2 saw Ryan Barry look to go three-wide for the pass in town bend however he found himself flying towards the wall after climbing over the right rear tyre of Cieran Rose, also having made contact with the wheel of the car in front. A former three-time TQ North Island podium recipient Barry was dejected as his car was pushed in field unable to complete the race.
Rose was adjudged to have caused the incident and was sent to the rear of the field. Coming off the back of a winning weekend at Meeanee Speedway in Napier Rose restarted from grid 11 and knocked off six spots to finished fifth.
Second generation driver Jakeb Le Cren finished fourth just behind Cole Morrison who started second. The go forward driver in this race was 3NZ Peter Hunnibell who started from grid 8 and brought the car home in second place behind pole sitter and race winner Aaron Humble.
In Heat 3 Hunnibell took the lead ahead of outside front row starter Warren Sare as the quickening track surface now with enough tackiness to send the small cars lurching in twisting through the turns as drivers fought to keep all four corners on the ground.
Ryan Baker who was now firmly on the back foot of his points accumulation plans after is Heat 1 DNF passed Hunnibell with two laps to go for the win. Third across the line was Ryan Barry with Morrison finishing fourth from grid 8 and Keene maintaining his starting position to finish fifth.
The fourth and final heat saw Heat 1 winner Lane and Morgan McHugh infield early. Upon race resumption starting out of fourth place Sam Smith clipped the wheel of early leader Shaun Cooke. Smith performed a violent set of backward end for end roles across the start finish line coming to rest on his wheels with methanol seeping from the rips in his crushed fuel tank. As the crash crew soaked up the fuel spillage Sam climbed out of his bent car to the warm applause of the sympathetic crowd.
Scott Baker seized his opportunity on the restart as several cars drifted high he turned under them and gained four spots in one turn then picked leader Cooke off at the other end of the track to take the lead in the win with Cooke home second. Currie was third and Hawke’s Bay driver Duane Todd was fourth.
The 12-car 12-lap semi-main went non-stop green to chequered and was led start to finish by father of Scott and Ryan, Lawrence Baker.
Stable mate to Lawrence and engine builder Gina Harris was second. Shane Minchington was third and Ben Morrison fourth after a brilliant drive from 10th including a late race pass for the transfer spot gaining him entry to the title race.
With grids now set Scott Baker and Hunnibell occupied the front row with Currie, Cole Morrison, Cooke and Humble completing the top six.
Scott Baker led the field into the first corner followed by Hunnibell and Currie. Keene’s car slowed and retired to the infield as the rest of the drivers stuck close to the pole line for the opening lap.
Several small bumps that had developed on the pole line were enough to upset the handling on a few cars, costing them and the cars directly behind a moment and just enough momentum to give a driver venturing to the outside line the opportunity to complete the pass and tuck in behind or venture high again in the hopes of picking off further spots.
On lap five Martins and Todd came together in Turn 4 just as defending champ Ryan Baker, who had started from 15th, ducked beneath the colliding cars as a caution came out. Ryan now restarting from ninth.
Cole Morrison use the restart to get past Currie up in to third place. Currie set about working the highline in hopes of reclaiming third but found himself in a side by side battle with humble for fourth.
Ryan Baker also wanted fourth and made it three-wide down the inside as Currie’s topside jaunt paid off he finally cleared Humble to resume is hunt for third.
With 10 to go Ryan Baker threaded the needle between Morrison and Currie and looked as though a podium was on the cards when all of a sudden his car slowed and he was forced to pull infield after passing 11 cars.
Soon after Currie also retired giving third to Morrison and a comfortable three-second gap back to Todd.
Scott Baker went on to win becoming a two-time North Island TQ champion by a healthy 4.7 second margin over Hunnibell who was also driving his Midget Car in the next race. Morrison was delighted with his third place finish. Todd, Rose, Humble, Barry, Martens, Cooke and Lawrence Baker completed the top 10.
A happy Scott Baker said: “When we got out front there I was just hoping that no one found a faster line then what I managed to find. We got a bit of lap traffic and managed to cut through that pretty good so we’re really stoked with that result.”
With the TQ National Title only weeks away at Ruapuna Speedway in Christchurch Baker said: ”The Nationals is its own beast and I have an affinity with ending upside down there so we will see what we can do.”
If you missed the action the full nights racing can be found on www.speedshifttv.com