English solo bike rider Richie Worrall had every right to be feeling apprehensive in the countdown to his first heat at Saturday night's Meeanee-hosted international meeting.
It was his first outing since recovering from a broken leg collected in June and the main track at Meeanee, which he was racing on for the first time, had not had solo bikes on it for seven years. However it didn't take long for 20-year-old Worrall, who races for the Lakeside Essex team in the top league back home, to shake off his apprehension.
Worrall won his first four-lap heat on a dusty track and then his next two to secure his berth in the final of the 12-rider David Jones Motors-sponsored International Cup event. The four-bike final featured two Englishmen, Worrall and eight-time New Zealand champion Jason Bunyan, and two Kiwis, Aucklander Sean Mason, who finished third in this month's nationals, and 17-year-old Palmerston North rider Brady Mudgeway who booked his final berth with a victory in the B final.
Worrall took an early lead which he never relinquished on the way to winning the cup. Bunyan, who along with Worrall reached speeds around the 112km/h mark on the straights, was second and Mason third.
"I was happy and relaxed out there. I just enjoyed it and could not have asked for a better meeting back from injury," Worrall said.
A former motocross rider, Worrall, is only in his third year as a solobike competitor.
"With all the snow back home at the moment we're unable to race. So I decided to come out to New Zealand for a month of racing and hopefully after this I will be in top shape when we return home and racing is under way," he added.
Bunyan, Worrall and fellow English rider Ashley Birks drove to Auckland after Saturday night's meeting so they could compete at an Auckland meeting which began at 1pm yesterday.
Saturday night's sponsor and Hawke's Bay-based Speedway New Zealand president David Jones was full of praise for the calibre of racing produced in the International Cup.
"That was true speedway by true international riders," Jones said.
Hawke's Bay veterans Craig Ramsay and Nathan Murray can be proud of how competitive they were. Ramsay's second placing in the B final was of three podium finishes he collected in the heats while Murray also had three podium finishes in the heats.
Another Bay veteran Graham Wedlake won all three heats in the support group which were raced on the Bullring, the smaller track which is regularly used by the solo bike class.
Track promoter Brian Strong was quick to apologise to fans for the postponement of the Hawke's Bay stockcar championship which will be restarted at the next Meeanee meeting on February 16.
"Obviously the dust made it too dangerous for the stockcars. We did what we were asked to do by the solobike riders who only arrived in the Bay on Friday afternoon. They asked for a dry track and then they realised it needed water," Strong explained.
"Had we known their requirements we could have flooded the track two weeks ago," he added.
Just one of three races in the championship was raced before it was postponed and race highlight saw Mike McLachlan roll Bay clubmate Brett Loveridge.
Sidecars, kiwilites and streetstocks were the other support classes which managed to see track time. The third sidecar heat saw a spectacular crash involving two Bay crews on the first corner.
Mike Zachan and swinger Simon Bethune, who won the first two heats, and Dave Millar and swinger Louis Cox were all fortunate not to be seriously injured. Hawke's Bay champions, Kim Johnston and swinger Clinton Durbin won the heat after the restart.
Justin Power, David Wilson and Adrian Kramer were the respective heat winners in the seven-strong kiwilite class. Their Bay clubmates, Richard Houston and Ben Yeoman, had turns at victory laps after the two heats for the 10-strong streetstock class.