What a night!!
Saturday was race night for the 2012 Fastening Solutions Dirt Cup.
Leading up to the event we had 28 cars lined up, and confirmed, to take the starting gun but the entries were subject to guys surviving the North Island title last week. Our worst fears were realised when this meeting resulted in carnage and the impact of this on the Dirt Cup was that we lost 7 cars. This left us with only 21 for the start line.
Big thanks to Brian McPhee from Wellington for putting in the hard yards during the week and fixing as many of their cars as they could. They ended up sending 3 of the “young guns” up which given their situation the week before was better than we could have expected. Thanks Brian. Also thanks to the Stratty boys who made the trip up as well. Guys like Bunter suffered massive damage at Stratty so to even make the start line on Saturday was an achievement and I thank you all for your efforts.
No one travelled further than Luke Keegan to make the start line. The current 2nz hauled up from the South Island for the meeting and he was the only mainlander in the field This in itself is disappointing but we know times are tough so maybe it isn’t a surprise. With last year’s event being rained out, Luke is the first guy to go back to back titles (2010, 2012) since Foxy did it 2006 and 2007. Well done mate!
The 21 guys who fronted were 1nz, 2nz, 4s, 6a, 7w (17w), 11a, 12s, 15w, 17a, 19a, 22a, 29a, 31s, 36a, 55s, 64a, 77s, 78a, 81a, 91w and 226s.
These guys were split into 2 groups for heat races. Each group had 3 x 10 lap points races (front/middle/back).
Group 1: 1nz, 4s, 6a, 7w, 15w, 19a, 22a, 36a, 77s and 226s.
Group 2: 2nz, 11a, 12s, 17a, 29a, 31s, 55s, 64a, 78a, 81a and 91w.
Foxy drew grid 6 for heat 1 which gave him grid 1 for the 2nd race and grid 11 for the last. We expected the main competition to come from Luke in the 2nz machine. Luke drew grid 7 for heat 1 which gave him grid 2 for the 2nd race and grid 9 for the last. With Foxy and Luke starting 1 and 2 in the 2nd heat we knew things were going to get interesting real fast!
Heat 1 for us was a doozy. The track was great and was very fast offering guys the opportunity to run high and wide. Foxy used this to his advantage, quickly using the high line to move into 2nd behind a very fast 78a Ray Chatfield who started off the front row. Luke seemed to get boxed in a bit down low and found himself having to fight it out for every position he gained. On about lap 4 Foxy found a way past Ray by going around him in turn 3, on any other given day the track would not have been good enough to even attempt this pass but on Saturday it was and the move stuck. Once in front Foxy started quickly pulling away, setting a new lap record in the process (14.52 sec). Back in the pack Luke was having a battle with the 91w machine for 3rd and 4th. Eventually this became a battle for 2nd and 3rd after Ray, who looked a safe bet for an easy 2nd, had to pull off with mechanical issues. A late yellow didn’t help the rest as Foxy again just waltzed away on the green leaving the others fighting over the minor placings. Foxy won by the length of the straight away. 91w Jordon Arapere held on for 2nd and Luke came home 3rd. A great start for us on the night consistently running in the 14 second bracket while the rest were in the low 15 sec range.
Heat 2 and it was the first chance to go head to head with Luke. Luke had the favored starting position of grid 2 and pacesetter. We knew this race would be important as Luke would be starting in front of us in the last heat and if we wanted to win the group and get ourselves high up in the pole shuffle order we had to win here. The start was clean and fair. Luke pulled a wee wheel stand and this was enough to give Foxy the advantage into turn 1. Coming off turn 2 Foxy had increased this advantage to 4-5 car lengths and this lead slowly increased lap after lap. Luke closed in a few times when Foxy started lapping the backmarkers but once he got clear again he re-established the gap. Foxy again was the fastest on the track in the high 14 second range. Again no one else went under 15 seconds.
Heading into heat 3 we knew what was required as we had the results from group 1 and knew that Bunter had topped that group with 28 points. We already had 22 points from 2 wins so a top 5 finish from our grid 11 start would be enough to top the points as long as we finished within 3 places of Luke who was leaving from grid 9. This proved to be more difficult than it should have been. The start of the race wasn’t easy as a light smattering of water had been put down prior to the start and this made the track slippery. Foxy got boxed in a bit when we went green and Luke took advantage of a few lucky breaks to quickly move his way into the top 3. Guys in front of us looked to be struggling to keep their lines on the greasy surface and this made trying to pass them near on impossible. A few hairy moments presented themselves in the early laps but Foxy slowly made ground to get into 5th. By the time he did however the 4th place car was too far in front for Foxy to mount any challenge and although he closed the gap significantly in the last lap or so, he had to settle for 5th. Luke meantime had worked his way into 2nd. This mean’t that both Luke and Foxy had tied for points at the top of the field with 29 points each. A marbledraw was done between these 2 and Luke was the lucky one on the night drawing 1. This meant he would be the last to go in the shuffle and have lane choice while we would have to firstly beat another car on the 2nd to last shuffle before progressing to challenge him.
Guys in the shuffle in order of highest to lowest points were: 2nz, 11a, 1nz, 19a, 55s and 64a.
55s accounted for 64a.
19a accounted for 55s.
19a accounted for 1nz.
This meant we would be up against Scotty in the 19a machine in our first shuffle. Scotty had looked to be a man on a mission in his first 2 shuffles so this was going to be no cakewalk. Foxy picked grid 2 to give him the advantage of being the pacesetter. On the first attempt to get underway Foxy was pinged for a jumpstart. There wasn’t much in it but we wanted the shuffle to be handled 100% fair and looking at the tape Foxy did have a half wheel in front at the line. On the 2nd start they got away clean and Foxy got to the lead entering turn 1. Scotty gave chase to the end but Foxy was pretty fast and smooth and won reasonably comfortably.
This bought us to the last shuffle. We had already gone up against Luke one on one in an earlier heat race; Luke again had the advantage of lane 2 as he had had the choice. The first attempt at a start it was all on. It looked pretty clean from where I was watching as both went full noise into turn 1 with neither backing out. Luke had the better line through the turn and Foxy hit the rut that had formed on the poleline in cemetery bend, this allowed Luke to get his nose in front coming off turn 2. Foxy didn’t back out and re-passed Luke on the back straight and led into turn 3 when the yellows were thrown. Luke was deemed to have jumped the start and had his one warning. On the restart it was all on again and they got away clean. Foxy got his nose in front and led through turn 1 and off turn 2. Foxy slowly pulled away as the race continued and eventually came home with a comfortable win. This would give us lane choice for the 30 lap final.
Although extremely happy with the way the car was going we were very nervous as Foxy headed back to the pits as there was obviously an issue with the car. A loud clunking noise could be clearly heard the whole time Foxy was on the track in the shuffle and we had heard this noise before. We held out hope we were wrong about what the issue was but unfortunately we were bang on the money. A quick inspection confirmed our worst fears, the crown wheel in the diff had lost a few teeth and this meant our night was over. The car may have done a handful of laps before completely crapping out but there was no way it would do 30.
This season seems destined to be one of “if only if’s” and “maybes”. We were quick on Saturday night; in fact we were the quickest. The car was hooking up really well and we went 2-0 up when we went up against Luke head to head on the unfavoured side of the starting grid. We don’t know if we would have made the right changes for the 30 lapper but we had a plan and looking at the times set down by the others we think we would have stood a better than even chance of taking the title, especially given we would have been starting off grid 2. At the end of the day to “finish first, first you must finish” and we didn’t so we have to accept we weren’t good enough on the night.
Congratulations to Luke for taking out the title, he looked to have the measure of the field in the final and fully deserved to take the cup back to Christchurch for the second time (although I have since found out that in all the post race celebrations he forgot it and left it in the clubrooms…. Ha!!!). The good thing about this is that he will now feel obligated to come back next year to try and defend it. Hopefully we can find a date that allows for more of the South Island boys to front and one that won’t be impacted so much by other events leading up to it that hammers our entry numbers. Big congrats to both Paul Ward in the 55s machine and Bunter in the 1nz for rounding out the podium. Given this race is 30 laps just finishing on the podium is an achievement to be proud of.
I was impressed again with the young Wellington boys and there is no doubt that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the seasons ahead if they keep going like they are. They are extremely lucky to have someone as generous as Brian McPhee helping them all out as without him I am sure they couldn’t be doing what they are doing. Hopefully next season they will front again with even more numbers and we will once again get up to the 30+ cars we know we can get for this event.
Big thanks to Bruce Robertson, Frank, Phil and the rest of the team at the track. It ran smoothly on Saturday which is always appreciated. The track guys did an awesome job and because of this the crowd got to see some great racing. The noise from the grandstand during the shuffle was impressive and you couldn’t help but get excited watching it. Let’s make it bigger and better next season!
Now we move on to next week. We are back at Waikaraka for the NZGP for mods. Again we have lost even more cars due to Dirt Cup issues. At the moment we are a 50/50 possibility and it will depend on the progress we make sorting out the diff. The GP is an event we have never won (in fact the only main event we have never won) so we are keen to make the starting line. Numbers mean that qualifying will likely not be required so it will be straight into 3 x 20 lap points’ races for the title. Hopefully we make it!
See you at the track!