Shane Stewart has won the opening round of the Porter Group International Sprintcar Series at Western Springs Speedway in calculated fashion.
The Indianapolis, Indiana resident won his seventh International Series event in New Zealand in eight starts in a race that started with a bang.
Stewart’s form and performances in New Zealand have been of the highest calibre. This continued last Saturday in front of a sun-warmed crowd that sat on dry terracing, some unaware of the short but violent rainfall earlier in the afternoon that threatened to affect the event.
The 30-lap series opener saw the Palmerston North registered 2NZ of Jamie Larsen start alongside Stewart on the front row after a dominant first heat race, finishing a time zone ahead of all rivals and making good ground in his second heat.
The second row was filled by two-time Australian Champion Dave Murcott who also ran away with his heat race win and looked to show good pace early in the night. Joining him alongside was fast father of three, Daniel Eggleton.
The only other Australian, Jamie Veal, sat inside row three with fan favourite Jonathan Allard outside him. The American driving the Kiwi Sprintcar of 3NZ Michael Pickens who was racing Speedcars in Perth.
Last week’s North Island title winner Stephen Taylor, ‘The Crowd Pleaser’ Craig Dolllansky, Hamilton’s Dean Brindle and Cromwell competitor Jayden Dodge filled out the rest of the first five rows.
Dollansky who has driven previously for local Salter Motorsport drove for Rowen and Jackie Geck. Dollansky arrived in the country scrambling to put his new car together with it turning up at the track with only moments to spare having never been bought to life until wheel-pack.
As the green flag dropped Stewart rocked down the front straight as a clear leader. Clear enough for the local officials to deem the start worthy of a second attempt. The restart was closer with Larsen able to stay level with the professional down the straight and set his car on the high side of Turn 1.
Travelling inches away the Kapiti Coast Kid fed the power down from foot to track and motored around the outside in a tone-setting move. Larsen had the lead but all eyes left the front of field battle when 2017-’18 Champion Kerry Brocas made contact with another and flew towards the fence striking it hard and bending one of the posts.
A relieved crowd applauding the seasoned driver as he walked away from the mangled broken wreck. The NAPA Autoparts car was dangled like a used teabag by the Porter Hire Manatu vehicle as it was taken infield as the race continued.
The Brocas crash had interfered with the safety fence and the race was halted while repairs were made. The experienced safety crew quickly dealing with the situation as racing resumed with 29 laps remaining.
This time Larsen won the start outright and put several tidy turns together to open up a decent gap to the fast American.
Eggleton was behind Stewart, Veal in pursuit, with Murcott and Allard following. Using all parts of the track the cars began to space themselves out as the leaders came upon the tail of the field with 10 laps completed.
Larsen got past the first few with Stewart following, his right front wheel having attracted a cod of clay that had centrifugally stuck to the inside of the fast rotating rim. The shaking wheel seeming to have little effect on car speed as the United Truck Parts 2USA car began to make net gains in traffic.
As the crossed flags were shown, Stewart was right on Larsen’s bumper. Both cars ran around the pole line where possible. Stewart looked to work-in the high side of Pine Tree Bend, the high side of Town Bend with seemingly little to offer.
With seven laps to go the right rear tire of Kihikihi driver, Brian Edwards blew apart and the cars were once again bunched up into a two-wide restart formation. Stewart pacing the outside for the restart tested the Town Bend lip for viability with small squirts of the throttle.
The green dropped and Stewart having sampled the top of Pine Tree bend set his car on the cushion and railed the outside groove to pull alongside the lower running Larsen. Stewart’s car slamming the backs straight wall jumping back across the track to barley glance Larsen.
As they entered Town bend Stewart gained position on Larsen and his momentum carried him clear as he opened up a healthy lead over the next few laps and onto victory.
Veal was able to pass Eggleton with 5 laps to go to secure 3rd with Allard, Mucott, Taylor, Brindle, Dollansky and Dodge all finishing in the top ten.
“I felt like I had one shot at him [Larsen],” Stewart said.
When examining the clay inside his rim he exclaimed “That did not help! Honestly, I thought I knocked the Jacobs ladder.”
off from hitting the wall.”
Larsen, happy to finish second only to a world-class wheelman, said: “A bit of a negative side about running first the guy behind you can see where you are running and he’ll pick your weak points and judge where the tracks going.
“It did go through my mind to go to the top on the restart but I wasn’t too sure and I had run so much of the race on the bottom.”
Other winners on the night were Zach Daum in Midgets, Travis Buckley in F2 Midget and Scott Baker in Three Quarter Midgets.
The series now heads to Mount Maunganui in Tauranga on Thursday for Round 2 with the series finale on Saturday at Western Springs Speedway.
Catch all the action from this meeting on demand and the next Western Springs Speedway meeting on www.speedshifttv.com
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