Rotorua's Darcy Hunter joined the elite in stockcar racing when he secured his second world crown after a commanding performance in front of 8000 fans on his home track on Saturday night.
The quietly spoken logging truck driver used all his skills and local track knowledge to shake off the challenge of another local driver, Stan Hickey, and Englishman Frankie Wainman junior respectively in the Colin Hardie Volkswagen Spares and Services World Invitation 240s event at a jam packed Paradise Valley Raceway.
Hunter, nephew of Rotorua's legendary driver Barry Hunter, finished third, first and second in the three-race championship 15 lappers to head Hickey by six points and recapture the title he won in Palmerston North in the 2001/02 season.
Hunter is the only Rotorua driver to have secured the title and joins Wainman junior, Barry Podjursky and Royden Collingwood as the only multiple winners.
It was a closely run deal at the weekend with the 29-year-old holding a narrow two-point lead and chasing a runaway Hickey during the final race of the night.
Hickey, who was holding close to a half lap lead on lap nine, got pinned on the wall and a grateful Hunter was able to get by and finish a few car lengths behind Simon Jobland - four spots in front of Hickey who is now a two-time world 240s runner-up. Last season Hickey finished second to Palmerston North's Gary Parkes.
Wainman junior was a constant threat throughout the night but he couldn't find the speed of the first race when he finished second to Brendon Rowlands and clocked the night's fastest lap of 17.0866 seconds.
After a victory lap in front of the partisan crowd, Hunter was a humble champion as he was swamped by many wellwishers in the pits.
"Awesome - this is definitely special ... extra special winning it here, on the home track, the first time here," a smiling Hunter told The Daily Post.
The seven season driver had been among the local favourites expected to give the championship a nudge and he didn't disappoint, driving his Ford-powered Murray Gordge built 37r car to the title, seven days after limping out of the New Zealand championships with a bent axle.
"We had a bit of luck. Last week at the New Zealand champs we didn't have any but this weekend's obviously my weekend," he said.
"I saw Stan [Hickey] go through and there were a couple of cars in between us, I knew I had to finish a place behind him ... I saw what happened to him - unlucky for him, lucky for me".
Hunter's win gains him an automatic entry to September's F1 Stockcar World Final in Northampton, England.
Hunter, and many of the other competitors from the weekend, will head to Gisborne this weekend for the North Island Championships.
Hunter wasn't the only local winner on the night with the Rotorua Rascals beating the Waikato Raiders to secure the annual Ross Orr Memorial Standard Stocks Team Race.
Meanwhile, Rotorua's Paradise Valley Raceway will again be the venue of the World Invitation 240's next year.
New Zealand Stockcar officials were thrilled with the organisation of the weekend's meeting which earned the venue the thumbs up for a repeat next January 13-14. Palmerston North had been the event's previous home for 18 years.
Rotorua Stockcar Club secretary Sonja Hickey said the weekend's event had been very successful with about 14,000 packing into the venue to watch top drivers race on a tight track in perfect weather over two nights.
About 4000 attended Friday night's racing while Saturday night saw the crowd doubled and every vantage point was filled by young and old.
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