The opening round of the Porter Hire International Sprintcar series at Springs Speedway, in Western Springs was dominated by American professional Sprintcar driver Shane Stewart. Not only did Stewart lead the American test team home to victory and an early points lead in the test race but also took line honours in the 30 lap feature race.
With both the American drivers having competed here last season it was no surprise to see them perform so well. Unexpected was the Australian first time visitors Troy little and Jamie veal outperforming the Kiwis in the test race and in the feature.
The test race format saw the Kiwi pairing of Michael Pickens and Jamie Larsen occupy the final 2 positions of the six man grid. As soon as the green dropped the Americans established a lead followed by the Australians. The 8 lap contest became somewhat of a procession as all cars maintained their positions with Pickens the only one to apply pressure to the car ahead of Little.
Pickens was able to close the gap and pull alongside on several occasions but could not complete the pass and was forced to settle for 5th. Having rear grids for the opening round out of the way the next Kiwi team will be looking to capitalise on front and mid starting positions for the rest of the test series.
It was also revealed on the night that the first 2 New Zealanders home in the Feature race would earn the right to race as the new test team in the following round with that format continuing throughout all 4 rounds of the series.
The test race talent was also sprinkled throughout the Sprintcar heat races which saw Larsen take out heat race 1 with a late pass on early leader American Kyle Hirst in lapped traffic.
Heat 2 was all Auckland’s Jamie McDonald who led from start to finish. Second home was Stewart who picked off several positions to hound MacDonald in the final laps.
Winner of the previous Springs Sprintcar feature Matthew Leversedge won the start of the third 8-lap heat but was quickly swallowed up by Pickens who moved out to a comfortable lead. Little and Hirst then worked their way past Leversedge to finished in the top three.
Stewart won race 4 from the front row followed closely by Veal who was showing great pace for a first time visitor to the narrow oval. Former national champion Rodney Wood was the first local home in third place.
Kihikihi’s Brian Edwards dominated the final heat race and won comfortably by 2.17 seconds over current national champion Kerry Brocas with Little in third.
After heat race action had concluded Shane Stewart was top point scorer over the 22 car field and elected to start from the inside of row 1 for the 30 lap feature.
The smooth slick track provided the Sprintcars with a wide usable surface with the highline being out near the wall and the middle of the track beginning to take rubber. The 900 plus horsepowered monsters offering more than the track would accept.
The initial start resulted in a yellow flag as Paul Sands took a tumble and was unable to restart. When they finally got underway the field spread them themselves across all possible race lines in an effort to advance their position and find the quickest part of the track.
Pickens led the early laps and established a handy lead however as the race unfolded he lost 5 spots and ultimately finished the night on the infield with a flat tyre.
With 4-laps to go working through lap traffic Veal closed in on Stewart and pressed him for the top spot. Veal used lap traffic to position himself close enough to challenge for the lead but was unable to complete the pass and crossed the line 2nd behind Stewart. Hirst was 3rd car home ahead of Little.
At the conclusion of the race officials assessed that Veal, who started 7th, had placed 3 wheels on the grass to complete a pass and was relegated two finishing positions out of second place and off the podium into 4th Place.
When asked about his win Stewart said “I saw Jamie [Veal] sneaking down there around bottom of the track the end of the race and I wasn’t really sure what to do. I struggled in 3 and 4 but felt ok on the top in 1 and 2 and I wasn’t really sure what to do there especially in the closing laps of the race,”
“I had a close call with a lapped car there on the back straight and thankfully we snuck through there unscathed” he said.
Brocas and McDonald , by way of 5th and 6th place finishes will compete as the New Zealand test team during round 2 at Baypark Family Speedway in Mount Maunganui on Tuesday night.
If you missed the action the full nights racing can be found on www.speedshifttv.com