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  • RACE REPORTS

Aotearoa Production Saloon Cup A Hit

Central Motor Speedway

STORY BY

DARYL SHUTTLEWORTH
Shuttleworth Motorsport Media

Photography by: Scott Freeman

(Disclaimer – results as seen by myself while commentating, results may have changed slightly due to relegations etc. – This article or extracts from it are not to be used by any other form of media without prior permission.) 

While the New Zealand Production Saloon Championship lays extinct, buried and possibly never to be seen again, the team at Central Motor Speedway have performed some sort of resurrection of sorts, hosting the first ever Aotearoa Production Saloon Cup.

While the event sponsored by Fresh Choice Cromwell won’t see the drivers leave Cromwell with a small number on the door, it will lay claim to being the unofficial Production Saloon Championship, and in my eyes a championship that possibly should still be running today, in particular for some of the smaller clubs that don’t get the big events.

When this event was hatched it attracted some big interest and with over forty cars entered from all over New Zealand it does raise the question as to why they dont run a national title when some other grades can only pull together a handful of cars and still be deemed a championship class, we will leave that decision to the decision makers.

This event would run in tandem with the New Zealand Super Saloon Championship and would gain support of sponsors Fresh Choice Cromwell, Creighton Sandblasting And Painting, McDonough Contracting, Versatile, Oakleys Plumbing Solutions, Hiab Crane Services, BNT Cromwell, and Not Just Plumbing, producing a healthy prize pool to attract drivers, it would also be run the same as the Super Saloons, five heats, a repecharge and twenty lap feature final.

Heat one of the Friday night saw Nelson driver Eddie Frans stamp early domination on the event, driving off to what was a win of almost four seconds over Christchurch driver James Westerman in his impressive FG Falcon in second with Liam Gray of Greymouth third, the track favoring the rear wheel drive cars early with both Westerman and Gray in Falcons.

The second race would also see a rear wheel drive car dominate once again, this time Blenheims Sam Martin would get his Falcon to the front of the pack and fight off a very hungry Aaron Brookland of Dunedin in his Mazda. Brookland threatened all race but just couldn’t get a run on Martin to snatch the win. Martin would take victory with Brookland second and Christchurch driver and former New Zealand Champion Matt Sherlock – Bailey third. The official results however would see Brookland drop to forth after a relegation with Andrew Bennett of Christchurch third.

Heat three and again a good clean race with no stoppages at all, surprising as the armchair experts were calling this event a wreckfest before it even kicked off. 

This race would see Aven Erskine of Cromwell wind back the clock, Erskine a driver who raced in the eighties and nineties has made a return to the sport and he would secure his first race win in the class in front of the biggest crowd he has raced in front of, Erskine put in a faultless drive to lead home Nelson’s Vaughan Cornelius in second and Invercargill’s Blake Hamilton in third. 

Frans would return to do battle in heat four and again would simply be too fast for his opponents, the real battle was behind Frans where Brookland and Martin would shadow each other the entire race putting on a thrilling display for the big crowd. Frans would win this by a margin with Martin second and Brookland third.

Heat five would give the local fans plenty to cheer about with local driver Gavin Hurring leading from the outset and claiming a well driven race win, Westerman did look like he would catch Hurring mid race but Hurring maintained a gap that would see him take the win, Westerman second and Hamilton third.

Heat six all got a bit ugly, Bennett would lead early only to make contact with the wall while leading, this then handed the lead over to Invercargill’s Alex Crosbie who was in a real dog fight with Vaughan Fairburn of Christchurch. Fairburn was near unbeatable at Central Motor Speedway over the Christmas break but with some starting spots down the grid he hadn’t really featured at the pointy end of the field until now. Fairburn would take the win but had to work hard to hold off Crosbie who finished second with Cornelius third. Sherlock – Bailey would also suffer damage in this heat that I personally did not see but this DNF would push him down the points table.

The battle between Martin and Brookland again heated up in race seven, the two cars were like magnets, one could not shake the other and it was Brookland who looked to have this race in the bag, collecting the white flag with one lap to go, but Martin was race smart and pulled back going into turn one, then got a brilliant drive out of turn two to slingshot past Brookland and steal the win, Brookland could only sit and watch as Martin took the win, Brookland second with Westerman third.

Heat eight saw the class of Crosbie come to the fore, the two time New Zealand Formula Ford Champion was in a new car he had never driven, in fact he hasn’t driven a Production Saloon for well over a season, doing the majority of his racing in Six Shooters.

Crosbie would take a well driven race win ahead of Ray Jaggard of Wanganui with his clubmate Brent Hackett third.

The final heat for Friday and again it was a good clean fast race, Dunedin’s Tyler Kelk had to this point had a fairly quiet night by his standards but would produce an epic battle with Sherlock – Bailey at the front of the pack. Sherlock – Bailey looked as if he had the car to make a move on Kelk but with a lap to run Kelk placed his car nicely on track and defend his spot up front to claim the race win, Sherlock Bailey second and James Woods of Cromwell third.

The top five placings after night one of the Aotearoa Production Saloon Cup saw Martin lead then Frans, Crosbie, Westerman and Cornelius.

Night two and again some impressive battles set to unfold, a few cars not returning to the event suffering mechanical issues the night prior.

First heat of the Saturday night was fast and Cornelius continued his strong run taking a win first up, Jaggard second with Westerman third.

Heat eleven saw Sherlock Bailey given an early tap from Cromwell’s Laura Heads spinning him, Hackett would also hit Sherlock Bailey with nowhere to go, they would manage to restart but Heads would be sent to the rear of the pack for the restart.

Sherlock Bailey would then power off from the outset and take this race Kelk in second with Hackett third.

Heat twelve was straight forward, Brookland got to the front early and was faultless from there taking the win from Erskine with Greymouth’s Ian Clark third.

The final round of heats for the Aotearoa Production Saloon Cup also provided some great action, first up Westerman dominated heat thirteen, winning by a margin that would also give him pole position for the twenty lap feature final, Sherlock Bailey was second with Kelk again consistent in third place.

The heat races were clean with no cautions in the last round of races, a credit to all drivers involved in the event, the second to last heat saw an upset with Beachlands driver Ricki Pilley too good for the guns, taking a well deserved race win by almost six seconds, Cornelius was second putting him on the front row of the grid with Brookland third.

Heat fifteen the final heat saw Erskine bag his second win in as many days, giving him a solid points haul and a position on the second row, Hackett was second with Hamilton of Riverside third.

The top ten going into the twenty lap final would look like this, Westerman, Cornelius, Erskine, Brookland, Frans, Hackett, Martin, Kelk, Crosbie and Sherlock Bailey.

Four spots remained open to join the twenty four car feild and this would come via the repecharge, top four cars advance, up front Cromwell’s Steven Nicholas and Heads traded paint for the first couple of laps, the pair threatening to take each other out of a race they only needed to finish fourth or better in.

Nicholas would eventually sneak ahead of Heads both cars getting through, Riversides Blake Murdoch was third ahead of Matt Cox of Christchurch fourth.

Now as Ive reported on a number of times in this article, this event has seen some good clean fast racing, but that was all about to change, we were about to be dished up a thirty-one minute twenty lap feature final, a marathon that had everything including nine restarts, now I won’t go through these restarts one by one as we have a limited amount of page space along with a limited amount of time, and to unpack what happened in this race would blow your mind, anything from bumpers falling off, to flat tyres, to motors blowing up, to crash damage to a car going on fire because someone left a rag in the boot that fell onto the exhaust, it really had it all, but god damn it was awesome.

I think in this instance its easier to tell you some of the big names that were more than capable of winning this event, that were now parked up, we have Sherlock Bailey, Crosbie, Brookland, Hackett, Kelk, Erskine, Woods, Hamilton and Fairburn, a tonne of talent just in that lot alone.

So in the final Westerman was outstanding, leading lap upon lap until eventually during the caution periods he would have to starve off Brookland who attacked hard, Cornelius threatened most the race then Frans also threw the challenge at him.

It was Frans who would get the elbows out and get to the front of the race, there was so much biff and barging going on that at one stage I was confusing myself with a Streetstock race, Westerman was bouncing off cars, Martin was now involved and he was taking a hammering, poor Cornelius was like the ball in a pinball machine, it was mayhem but the fans loved it.

Early race leader Westerman was under attack and trying to get back to the lead as well as defend from behind, in doing this he made contact which saw him relegated after the race from fourth to sixth, the big mover late in the race being Pilley who saw the red sea open in front of him and he drove straight through it.

Frans would charge on to win the Aotearoa Production Saloon Cup with Cornelius second ahead of Pilley, fourth was Martin with Jaggard fifth.

In support races wins went the way of Kelan Keith of Christchurch who won all six races in Youth Ministocks, while in Youth Saloons Dunedin’s Max Kemp would take two wins and Cayden Race of Riverside one. 

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