National champs joy for O'Brien


Sober drivers will be in huge demand at the Hawke's Bay Speedway Club's meeting on Monday night.

Serious celebrating will be going on in the wake of stockcar driver Regan O'Brien's third placing in the 167-car national championships that ended in Rotorua on Wednesday night.

A self-employed aluminium window and door repairer in Napier, O'Brien is the Bay club's first driver to podium in the 11-year history of the championship and also the first from the club to podium in a nationals, North Island championship or New Zealand Grand Prix for the class.

"Words can't describe the feeling," O'Brien, 32, said shortly after returning to Napier yesterday. "We had an engine specification check this morning and when I got the all clear there that was a brick off my shoulders. I knew 3NZ was officially mine."

A veteran of nine years in the class, O'Brien, finished five points behind Palmerston North's Peter Rees, who won the title for a record fourth time, and two points behind runner-up Bernie Fox of Auckland.

What made his feat more significant was that he was the only Hawke's Bay qualifier and that often makes the going tough when clubs apply team tactics.

"I knew I was okay with the Mount Maunganui and Rotorua qualifiers but the Palmy blokes were always a concern. Two of them halted my progress for a little while in the last heat," said O'Brien.

The 167 drivers were divided into seven groups and the top four, after three qualifying heats on Tuesday night, qualified for three championship heats on Wednesday night. O'Brien was the fourth qualifier from his group.

"I was one of the few in the top 28 with a homebuilt chassis and Dad, who helped me build the car, has to take a lot of the credit," O'Brien said, referring to his father, Chris, who is a former 2NZ in the streetstock class.

On Tuesday night O'Brien finished fourth off grid 20 in his first heat, a huge boost to his confidence. In his second heat he was eighth off grid nine and in his third, fourth off grid seven.

On Wednesday night he was 10th off grid 14 in his first and when he was fifth off grid 28 in his second he knew there was a serious chance of a podium finish.

"I was happy with qualifying but after that fifth placing everyone told me to go for it and the seventh placing off grid two in the final was enough to put me up there."

The East Coast champion and former Hawke's Bay champion is confident he can shake off the euphoria of his success for the Meeanee Maulers' assault on the national teams championships in Palmerston North on January 6 and 7.

"I'll get the necessary repairs done before racing at Meeanee on Monday night and then the focus will be on Palmy."

O'Brien intends to go to next year's Christchurch-hosted nationals in an attempt to improve on his third placing.

"Winning the Huntly Speedfest and finishing third at the World of Stockcars in Rotorua last season were big boosts to my career and the car has got better and better.

"Thorough preparation was another key to my success. We had the car up on blocks for three weeks prior to the nationals and everything got a thorough going over," O'Brien said, before rejoining his jubilant crew for another ale-assisted post mortem.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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