Round one of the United Truck Parts International Midget Car Series took place at Western Springs Speedway on Boxing Day where a large crowd enjoyed superb weather and racing to match.
With a large accumulation of rain falling in Auckland in the preceding days the track was surprisingly firm, although turn 3 had decidedly more drive than the rest of the track that slicked off throughout the night and provided plenty of passing opportunities.
The nights only Tri Nations test race saw USAC Midget champion Logan Seavey stand in for Christopher Bell who tipped his car over in the gripped up turn 3 entry point. His car tumbled several times resulting in too much damage to make the test race as his team worked to make repairs in time for his second heat race.
The front row was occupied by American Tyler Courtney with Matt Smith of Australia starting outside the front row. Number 1 Australia Kaden Brown starting behind Smith. Courtney seized the initial advantage and was first in to turn 1.
Smith and Brown worked the unswept to the high line through Pine Tree Bend and lost several spots to Maskovich from inside row two and fellow Kiwi Brad Mosen followed him through into third position. Mosen and Brown then set about disputing third as Kyle Larson joined the fray from starting sixth.
That battle gave Courtney and Maskovich and extended lead over the field as all cars found themselves circulating on the faster pole line. Seavey who had past Pickens by lap two was able to advance further and finished seventh ahead of Pickens and Australia’s Scotty farmer who started from the rear of the field and remain there.
In the closing laps Larsen was able to pass Brown for third. Courtney crossed the line first for Team America followed by Maskovich, Larson, Brown, Mosen, Smith, Seavey, Pickens and Farmer. America on 54 points now holds a 4 Point advantage over New Zealand (48) and Australia have 44 points.
In Midget heat race action American Chris Windom suffered unrepairable chassis damage and was unable to compete for the rest of the evening the same fate befell local stable mate Max Guilford.
The aforementioned Bell crash force him into the 15 lap semi-main race with 16 cars vying for the top four spots an entry rights to the feature. Others internationals starting this b-main due to a variety of insufficient heat race performances were Maskovich, Farmer, Brown, Seavey as well as the locals.
Bell and Seavey used the outside to pass multiple cars early in the race and work their way to the front while Maskovich and Seamount Racing driver Taylor Clarke were able to secure the four transfer spots on offer.
With the field now set for the 30-lap race Kyle Larson was top qualifier and drew marble number one from the inversion lottery giving himself no inversion and claiming his front row start alongside Pickens with Mosen and Hayden Williams occupying the second row.
The drama started before the green flag when Tyler Courtney’s car refused to come to life and a battery change was hastily done as the rest of the field circulated in anticipation.
Pickens lead into the first turn with Larsen close behind working the low line. Pickens managed to establish a small but comfortable lead as the action heated up deeper through the field.
Drivers from the B Main made short work of the back half of the grid with Bell up to fourth by lap 10 and Seavey 6th by lap 12.
Taylor Clarke found a line and a rhythm and said about picking cars off using the highline to great advantage and finished a credible 11th from grid 19 but not before engaging in a ding-dong slide job battle with former national midget champion Peter Hunnibell.
The two exchanged positions throughout the last half of the race with Clarke finishing ahead. As the race entered the final 10 laps Williams who had sole rights to third the majority of the race found himself being reeled in by Bell and then Seavey with Seavey passing Bell to take third in the closing stages.
As the checkers fell it was Pickens crossing the line 1.4 seconds ahead of NASCAR star Larson, the race having gone for 30 laps green to chequered but still 26 seconds shy of Bryan Clauson’s 30 lap win in 2014. Some of the gear was pushed to the limit with Larson’s car bleating an audible monotone sigh as heat escaped anyway way it could.
William’s finished fifth ahead of American Zach Daum. The lone Australian Smith finished in seventh. Shayne Alach, Courtney and Mosen rounded out the top 10.
“My crew chief Justin Insley did a hell of a job and made it easy for me tonight. The car was just on point and it’s absolutely awesome it makes me look pretty good,” Pickens said of his win.
When asked of is hot car Larson said; “I was running pretty hard trying to keep up with Michael there I feel like we’re on a similar pace and I just tried to push it a little harder behind them and knew it was a fine line getting too high and into the marbles everything.
“I’d make up ground then make a little mistake and he’d pull away .I feel like we really even and obviously Logan must have been pretty good to come from the back.”
We were committed to the top I think around the top the whole race it was a fun track. It’s always a lot of fun when the track gets real slick like this.’ said Larson.
Logan was happy to make the podium and identified what took him out of contention for the win.
“I got into some trouble in the heats and you can’t do that here in New Zealand and that put us into the b-main and then starting in the back of the feature, but luckily I’ve got an awesome race car and we were able to drive up to third.”
The series now heads to Baypark Family Speedway in Mount Maunganui tomorrow night for round 2 where the wider track may suit the tourists a little more.
If you missed the action the full nights racing can be found on www.speedshifttv.com