With seven teams in attendance, it gave the organizers a chance to set out a few challenges, with the decision to hold a draw live on the Friday night at the track and run a points-based format with each team taking part in two races, which resulted in divided opinions among racers and fans. Some felt that the tension hadn’t built as it would when opponents were set ahead of time, while others feared the unknown and lack of time to plan. One consistent theme that came across when talking to the drivers was how different Waikaraka Park is compared to other New Zealand circuits, with two varying corners, and unforgiving walls that are known to hurt when you inevitably hit them in teams racing.
There is so much going on at an event like this that it’s impossible to cover it all, so here is a quick team-by-team rundown in the final result order.
First place: Palmerston North Panthers
In the words of manager Gary Parkes, this is a squad still building and learning to race together. This was a team with a point to prove coming into the event; the resurgent Panthers again looking to be a cohesive hard-hitting unit with the speed to match any rival team. Facing a final with the Gisborne Giants after a tough semi-final battle with the Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes, the Panthers’ team consisted of 88P Jack Miers, 52P Scott Joblin, 72P Simon Joblin, and 94p Will Humphries, while the man who may rate as the best teams racer around — 58p Peter Bengston — sat out as reserve. What eventuated was a final that many were calling the best teams race in recent memory, with the result undecided until the very last lap. The Panthers took a great win, with all eight drivers laying body and machine on the line.
Second place: Gisborne Giants
Anchored by the well-known Rees family (10G Peter, 126G Asher, and 127G Ethan) who in their own words “live to race”, the Giants were heavily favoured and looked to be the strongest team on night one. I asked Peter Rees if knowing the Panthers drivers so well was good or bad, and just got a bit of a toothy grin and the statement “both” as a reply. It really is hard to know where to look when this team is on the track, but you generally keep watching the 10G and wonder who will feel the bumpers first. Pure sportsmen right to the end, the Giants got a massive ovation from the crowd, and Asher Rees topped the night off by stopping his wrecked car on the back straight post race to salute and congratulate the winning Panthers.
Third place: Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes
Looking to backup their Teams Champs win, the Hawkeyes would probably feel that their event turned when 2B Jason Long was sent infield during their semi-final. Facing a Nelson team who was also hungry for the success of third place, the Hawkeyes closed out the event with a bronze. While 87b Tom Stanaway seemed to be in the midst of a number of incidents, his high-speed battle with 58P in the semi-final was well worth keeping an eye on.
Fourth place: Nelson Tigers
Another team with a new line-up for this event, the Tigers lost current South Island and New Zealand Champ Shane Harwood at short notice, yet produced a decent result for a team that hadn’t seen much action together. Jared Gray (186n) looked dangerous, and was in the thick of the action before being another driver to be sent infield for hitting a stationary car.
Fifth place: Auckland Allstars
Perhaps the feel-good moment of the night for long-suffering Auckland fans. The Allstars, who had looked rusty and perhaps outgunned on night one, were able to turn the tables on the Manawatu Mustangs and grab a win to the delight of their back-straight cheering section.
Sixth place: Manawatu Mustangs
Beaten by the Giants in the first race of night one, the Mustangs missed the semi-finals on points difference to the Tigers, whom they actually defeated in their second outing. Richard Hart (67p) made a good go of teams racing, while 581p Jordan Dare was looking to hit anything that moved.
Seventh place: Baypark Brawlers
It was a rough night at the office for the Brawlers despite their never giving up. Perhaps best summed up by the brutal hit inflicted by 88p on 29m Ryan Hunt — who was running his stock car with a set of Hoosiers and extractors — where he was simply picked off as he ran along the wall after hitting another car.
Check out the gallery below for a visual representation of all of the action that went down during the event: