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Seamless Season Opener At Central Motor Speedway

Central Motor Speedway

STORY BY

DARYL SHUTTLEWORTH
Shuttleworth Motorsport Media

Images supplied by: Vanessa Adcock

(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.) 

Labour Weekend usually indicates that summer is just around the corner, it’s time to head off with the family, or maybe stay at home and tidy up the gardens, but if your in Cromwell Labour Weekend means the start of the Speedway season, and if the action that unfolded at Central Motor Speedway’s opener is any indication as to what to expect this race season, the fans are in for a treat throughout 2023/24.

The local club hosted the opening round of the Civil Construction Southern Sprintcar Series as well as the Central Otago Championship across seven different grades.

Drivers from Christchurch south were entered and being a long weekend a number of out of town race fans were trackside, making up a fairly sizable crowd in what can only be described as one of the most picturesque tracks on the planet.

The Southern Sprintcar Series is contested over six rounds, two rounds each in Cromwell, Dunedin and Invercargill. Last seasons champion Adam Evans of Cromwell was entered and eager to get himself off to the best start possible, but would certainly have his work cut out for him with a classy field.

Cromwell’s Mathew Anderson was too good in the first heat, banking maximum points to get his account off to the best possible start, behind Anderson was Evans with Cromwell veteran and original founder of the series Jason Scott home in third place.

Heat two saw the class of the field rise to the top, Christchurch driver Caleb Baughan has spent the winter months in the USA, learning the tricks of the trade off one of the big teams over there. Baughan put some of those tricks to the test and they paid dividends with Baughan claiming the heat two win over Riverside driver Jacob McIntyre and former New Zealand Champion Jamie Duff of Christchurch third. Neither Duff or McIntyre are entered in the so would start the heats from the rear of the field, but could start the feature off the points they had earned.

The third and final heat was as fast and clean as the first two, no stoppages just good hard racing. Local driver Josh Buchanan started up front and broke away early to build up a buffer that the faster guys further down the pack were never going to pull in. Buchanans hard work at the start of the race would pay off with Buchanan winning race three ahead of McIntyre in second and Steve Duff of Christchurch in third place.

With the heat races done and the points collated it was time for the twenty five lap feature final, and this is where I must heap praise on every single driver in this field, as not one heat race or the feature final saw a caution or any kind of stoppage, possible the first time that I have struck this in my ten years behind the microphone.

Baughan and Scott started up front and it was Baughan who got off to an absolute flyer, pulling away from the pack and building up a very hand lead early.

As the race progressed Baughan started to lose his advantage on the field and McIntyre was the first to make a move on the Cantabrian, slipping past and driving off to a handy lead himself. Jamie Duff had also made a move on the early race leader Baughan and was trying to hunt down McIntyre.

McIntyre would be the first to have to deal with lapped traffic and possibly found it a little bit harder to make a move than Jamie Duff did, if anything McIntyre was the pioneer, making gaps that Jamie Duff had the pleasure of following.

With four laps to go Jamie Duff made his move on McIntyre, and despite McIntyre trying to fight back, Jamie Duff was just too fast and would sail off home to claim the Central Otago Championship, McIntyre second with Baughan home in third spot.

The final placings from the feature for the Southern Sprintcar series saw Baughan claim the win with Evans home in second and Steve Duff third.

Riverside’s Harrison Brown was all class in Six Shooters, the young Invercargill driver worked his way to the front early in heat one and his only real challenger in this race, Cromwell’s Blair Smith started down the pack so by the time he reached Brown it was too little too late, Brown claiming the race win, Smith second ahead of Christchurch’s Kane Jemmett in third place.

Heat two and Smith and Brown would go at it toe to toe once more, however this time around Tony Symons who started on the front row was the runaway leader, and with Smith and Brown battling it out for the minors the gap to the lead was getting bigger with Symons claiming the race two win ahead of Brown in second and Smith third.

Unfortunately this would be the last we would see of Smith with him not rolling out for heat three, this almost handing the Central Otago Champs to Brown so long as Brown could place midpack or better.

Brown being the hard charger that he is would work his way to the front of the pack with ease and never look like being challenged, he would bank his second win of the event with Cromwell’s Emma Gordon second ahead of Symons in third place. This result gave Brown the Central Otago Championship, Symons second and Gordon third.

Youth Ministocks had a number of new drivers out on track for the very first time, and a credit to them all, driving well beyond their experience, putting on a brilliant display of good hard, clean racing. 

Invercargill driver Joshua McIntyre who is contracted to Riverside in Youth Saloons, but also contracted to Cromwell in Youth Ministocks was the star of the show. McIntyre had a horror season last year, a number of times being a frontrunner before suffering mechanical dramas race upon race, but race one he was determined to shake those demons, and shake them he did. McIntyre  led from start to finish, doing it with ease and really looking like he will be the man to beat this season, just like he did at Riverside in his Youth Saloon two weeks earlier.

Second went the way of Cromwell’s Cooper Arkell who was a big improver last season while rookie driver Paige McNally of Cromwell raced through the pack to third.

Race two was much of the same from McIntyre, however this time around he had to work to get to the front with Arkell showing he wasn’t going to spend the season watching McIntyre dominate, Arkell threw everything he had at McIntyre but the heat one winner would also take heat two, Arkell closing the gap somewhat but still having to settle for second with Lachie Campbell Tate of Cromwell third.

The final heat and a handy grid start for McIntyre made life easy, and McIntyre would make it three wins from three starts for the perfect night out, claiming the Central Otago Championship. Second in race three was again Arkell while McNally claimed third, that duo also claiming those results in the overall championship.

James Woods of Cromwell made the opposition look silly in heat one of Production Saloons. The local driver drove through the field and you would almost think that the rest of the drivers were out there with their handbrakes on, that how dominante Woods was. The only driver to really test Woods was clubmate Sam McKenzie but even he couldn’t really apply enough pressure to bother Woods. Wood would win heat one by a handy margin with McKenzie second and Gavin Hurring third after starting from the rear of the pack.

Heat two and the second race to be dominated by Woods, this race would also bring out the first yellow flag of the entire meeting, ten races in, a rarity at any speedway. The yellow came out for Cromwell’s Liam Ballantyne who was limping on the outside of the track.

At the restart Woods would have to work hard in a battle with early leader Blake Murdoch of Riverside. Woods would soon make the move to give him the win ahead of McKenzie again second with Murdoch settling for third.

If you were a betting man you would bet your house on Woods to win the last heat two, and this looked to be the case a few laps in before mechanical dramas put the championship leader out of the race. From here it was an epic battle up front with a number of cars including Murdoch, McKenzie, Hurring, Riverside’s Alistair Green, and Cromwell drivers Ballantyne and Steven Nicholas all fighting for the race win.

This race had the feeling that it would come unstuck and sure enough it did, Hurring would spin in turn four, now from the commentary box it was impossible to tell if Hurring had a helping hand from Murdoch, or if he spun on his own accord, or was it a racing incident, I couldn’t tell, hence why i get paid to talk not make the big calls.

Once Hurring got back on track he stopped on the main straight bringing out the yellow flag, Speedway New Zealand officials told the drivers to grid up but Hurring would join the field only to stop and debate with the officials the call that had been made, this would lead to Hurring being put to the back of the grid.

Once the race went green again it was McKenzie who got off to a flyer and would remain in the lead to capture the race three win with Murdoch second and Green third.

As the race ended the gates would open and Hurring would leave the track at haste, racing through the pit area obviously rattled by what had taken place, this  would now see drivers in and out of the protest room before a result could be called.

At the end of all the back and forth protesting McKenzie was awarded the Central Otago Championship ahead of Woods with Murdoch in third place.

Stockcars are always a crowd favorite and they did not disappoint at the opening meeting. Cromwell’s Brodie McDonald only in his second full season of racing in the adult division showed the same form that seen him win the round in Dunedin just a week earlier, taking out a solid race win in heat one. McDonald had a good battle mid race with Trazan Ryland Annabell of Dunedin but once he slipped past he was unstoppable taking the heat one win, Ryland Annabell second with Cromwell’s Jacob Boulton third.

Boultons good result in heat one would not be repeated in heat two with his car expiring in turn four leaving fluid all over the track. McDonald would start up front in this heat and remain untouched to bank two wins from as many starts, second went the way of Luke Fallow of Riverside with Steven Thompson of Dunedin home in third place.

McDonald would now have a target on his back for the final heat race, he would start well down the grid and got some early attention from Fallow and Thompson while trying to make a move past the pair, McDonald then decided to tuck in behind them and consolidate points where he could.

Up front in heat three it was Cromwell’s Casy McEwan who would control the race, building a handy buffer that would see him take the eventual race win, Ryland Annabell would come home in second with Thompson third.

This placing would put Ryland Annabell into a run off for third with Thompson with Ryland Annabell taking the win.

Overall placings were McDonald first from McEwan in second and Ryland Annabell third overall.

Graham Williamson of Invercargill was the standout performer in Saloons, Williamson got to the front early in heat one and was pressured the entire race by Dunedin driver Stu Millar who was hot on Williamson’s heels the entire race. Williamson made it home by a car length to take the win with Millar second and local driver Ivan Murdoch showing good early season form in third spot.

Heat two saw Cromwell’s Phil Burgess start from the front and build an early buffer on the field. Williamson again was fast coming through the pack and heading off to round up Burgess but ran out of laps to really make a challenge for the lead. Burgess never slipped up or even invited Williamson to challenge for the win getting home to claim race two, Williamson second and Pierre Leyser of Cromwell third.

The final heat was also a great battle, this time around Barry Taylor of Cromwell was quick out of the blocks to build a lead while Williamson, Murdoch, Millar and Burgess battled hard behind him.

Taylor was faultless charging off to a commanding win ahead of the battle pack behind him, Williamson backed himself late in the race and made a nice move down the back straight to grab a couple of spots and get home second with Millar in third place.

The Central Otago Championship would go the way of Williamson with Burgess claiming second ahead of Millar in third place overall. 

The final grade to race was Super Saloons and just a field of four cars made it possibly the toughest grade to watch on the night. Hopefully more cars will start to come out of the woodwork before January where the club will host the showcase of the New Zealand Super Saloon calendar, the New Zealand Championship.

Dunedin’s Ricky Boulton would win two of the three races run, with local driver Ray Stewart winning the other. Boulton would claim the overall Central Otago Championship ahead of Stewart with Dunedin’s Alister Lister third.

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