Gisborne driver Regan Penn slipped under the radar to win the Sharp As Linehaul New Zealand Superstock Grand Prix after a stellar night’s racing on Saturday night.
But for Whanganui drivers Max Holloway and Zane Dykstra, it was a case of what might have been, as each gave the title a mighty shot.
There were plenty of surprises on Friday night during an outstanding night of qualifying at Fast Lane Spares Oceanview Family Speedway.
Several highly fancied drivers failed to qualify for the 26-car finals field, including past New Zealand champions Wayne Hemi and Randal Tarrant, well-performing Scott Joblin and Quinn Ryan and leading local hopes Max Holloway, Trent James and Gerry Linklater.
They would face a repechage on Saturday night where two drivers in a 26-car field would round out the top 26.
There were no such worries for local up-and-comer Kaelin Mooney, who was the highest point-scorer overall with two wins and a very close second placing where he was beaten to the line by 2NZ driver Josh Prentice by a mere 14 thousandths of a second, a margin of a couple of inches.
A total of seven Whanganui drivers qualified directly for the finals, with Shaun Smith, Dylan Marshall, Zane Dykstra, Josh Kahui, Scott Duncan and Zac Harris joining Mooney.
With a cool but stiff southeasterly wind blowing across Oceanview on Friday night, it was a battle to keep moisture on the track, and many drivers struggled with traction and handling.
The track crew led by former Wanganui Superstock legend Mike Johnston worked hard on the track immediately after the meeting and throughout Saturday.
When high cloud rolled in late on a warm, calm and humid Saturday afternoon, Johnston and his crew were able to produce an outstanding racing surface.
First up on Saturday night was the 12-lap repechage, which gave a hint as to the action to come.
Rotorua’s Kyle Ashton and Kihikihi driver Darryl Williams were on the front row of the grid, but their respective races were over almost immediately.
From the outside of the front row, Williams was swept up by the pack going into the southern bend for the first time and his car was squeezed up the wall before it gracefully dropped down on its side, while Ashton shredded a rear tyre in the same incident and retired to the infield.
From the restart, Whanganui driver Max Holloway made the move of the race, blasting around the field through the southern corner and past Rotorua’s Paul Vazey into a leading spot he would not relinquish.
Chad Ace threaded his way through the field to take the second and final position in the top 26.
There was a real sense of anticipation in the air as the championship field lined up at the grid.
After a frantic 15 laps, Dale Robertson took out the race by five hundredths of a second from his Wellington teammate Keegan Levien. With the cars locked together going over the finish line, Robertson just managed to turn right hard enough to stop Levien passing him along the wall.
Holloway, fresh from his repechage win, was the big mover of the race, picking up 17 places to finish fifth, while Todd Hemingway (up 14), Dylan Marshall and Regan Penn (up 11) and Ace made up 10 places.
And the pace was exceptional, with veteran Peter Rees breaking son Asher’s Oceanview lap record with a scorching 15.902-second lap time.
Holloway joined Peter and Asher Rees in the 15-second bracket with a fastest lap of 15.985 seconds, making him the first Whanganui driver to record a sub-16-second lap in his Rees-built car.
Zane Dykstra won the second championship race ahead of 1NZ driver Asher Rees, Penn and Holloway, with local driver Mooney coming within 0.009 of a second of joining Holloway and the Reeses in the 15-second bracket.
After two heats, Dykstra topped the points on 47, with Holloway, Robertson and Jayden Ward all tied on 45 and Penn a further point back.
With five drivers within three points of one another (and nine drivers within 10 points of Dykstra), the third heat was shaping up to be a classic race.
Sometimes the final heat of a championship falls flat, but not this time, as Keegan Levien was rolled on lap three with the help of Mooney.
By this time, Holloway was the on-track leader in points, but his outstanding night came to an end when Ward picked him up in the first turn, took him up the wall then dumped the 81V car unceremoniously on to its side.
Dykstra inherited the points lead with Holloway’s demise and was driving brilliantly until he was taken into the wall on turn three by Penn’s Gisborne teammate James Clarke with just a couple of laps remaining.
He recovered quickly, but couldn’t make the one pass he needed as Rees took the race ahead of Hamish Booker, Penn, Peter Rees, Marshall and Robertson.
When the points were tallied, it was Penn two points ahead of Robertson, with Rees and Dykstra tied for third two further points back, necessitating a run-off which was won by Rees.
Penn was ecstatic to take a maiden SNZ title victory and very grateful to his clubmate Clarke for showing Dykstra up, while Robertson was equally happy to be on the podium again.
Former New Zealand Superstock champion Randal Tarrant got something out of the weekend, winning the second-tier title from Quinn Ryan and Kihikihi’s Matt Picard.
There was also a Best Pairs championship, with 26 invited Youth Ministock drivers teaming up with the 26 Grand Prix finalists.
Asher Rees and Ashton Mooney took that title ahead of Jayden Ward and Fletcher Hoskins, with Kaelin Mooney and Ethan Linklater taking third place.
So ended a brilliant weekend of Superstock action on the Oceanview Track, and the Wanganui Stockcar and Speedway Club team, under the leadership of club president Daryn Smith, can take immense pride in the running of another highly entertaining national event.
The quality of the racing and the action associated with it was first-class, and spectators were treated to some of the best Superstock action seen at the venue for many years.
It was a weekend to remember.