Motorsport: Dishing the dirt at Western Springs

By Eric Thompson

North Island titles ensure some hard and fast racing

Alastair Wootten is showing up as a force to be reckoned with in only his second season of speedway racing. Photo / Supplied
Alastair Wootten is showing up as a force to be reckoned with in only his second season of speedway racing. Photo / Supplied

Western Springs Speedway lights up again tonight for the North Island Midget championship and the New Zealand TQ Midget championship.

The speedway circus is back up north after the New Zealand Midget championship last weekend at Ruapuna.

Hawke's Bay-based cousins Craig and Duane Todd have dominated the TQs, holding the 1NZ and 2NZ tags respectively.

They will, though, have a host of Western Springs-based competitors chasing them down.

The Todd pair has raced several meetings at The Springs this season in preparation for the national title meeting and, while they have run near the front, they have by no means dominated with six winners from eight feature races so far this season.

There will also be a fair amount of interest in the Midgets. Although a national title is not up for grabs, the North Island trophy still carries a lot of cachet.

A few eyes will be on a relative newcomer to the sport of speedway, Alastair Wootten (pictured), who is starting to impress in only his second season on the dirt. Wootten comes from a circuit-racing background, where chucking a vehicle around and getting radically sideways with a wheel in the air is generally frowned upon.

He came up through Formula First, Formula Ford and then spent three seasons racing in the Toyota Racing Series where he podiumed on numerous occasions.

Always open to new adventures, Wootten got into a discussion about speedway with an old family friend and hasn't regretted a moment of it so far.

"We'd been speaking with Geoff Harper from HLR Racing for some time, he's been trying to get me to go down the speedway path," said Wootten.

"We starting talking more as the single-seater thing started to wrap up and I went for a skid in a speedway school car and everything seemed to click really well.

"I totally love the speedway racing. Most of our heats are three minutes long and it's quick-fire stuff before you get to the final.

"A lot of the single-seater stuff takes so long, by the time you get into your kit, get into the car, sit on the grid and all the rest of the stuff, it's an hour-long exercise.

"This [speedway] is more like back to my roots of racing where you'd go to a kart event, do your four heats and a final all in one day. Speedway is very much like that - a full-on adrenaline rush."

Wootten is at pains to acknowledge how much his circuit career, and all the help he had along the way, has enabled him to make an early impression in his speedway career. He put all his on-track and off-track experience to date to good use, picking up rookie of the year in 2012.

"There were a lot of rookies in the series last year and it's reflective on the Toyota Racing Series that you need to associate yourself with successful team.

"The TRS made you realise you need the right gear, the right set-ups and a professional outlook to be successful, allowing you to just get into the car and drive the best you can. That's what I've found at HRL."

Speedway is not a natural thing for circuit racers to do. On tarmac, you spend most of the time going straight and being smooth, and if the weather doesn't change nor does the track to much degree - comparatively.

A dirt track can change radically not only from race to race, but during the event regardless of the weather. Drivers have to make decisions on the fly whether to race high up on the cushion or take a punt and go down low on the pole.

"Racing the TRS taught me the basics of how to adapt to changing conditions and I've taken that thinking into speedway. In single seaters, it's either wet or dry, but in speedway there are way more variables," Wootten says.

"At the start of the race, it can greasy and slippery and, at the end of the night, it can be really fast and dry. You have to adapt quickly."

Wootten went on to say the Elite Motorsport Academy, of which he is a graduate, also helped in his approach to racing and how the skills learned there have allowed him to look at things analytically to come up with the best solution.

With clear thinking and his understanding of the machinations of motor racing, Wootten may just carve out a top career in speedway racing - time will tell.

- NZ Herald

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