THE Rock FM Riverside Speedway had the honour of hosting the 2017-18 New Zealand Production Saloon Championships in Invercargill last weekend.
The event was the first official New Zealand championship to be run for the production saloon grade.
Forty cars were entered, but, with several withdrawals in the build up to the event, 33 cars took to the track for Friday’s qualifying with the top nine cars in both groups making it through directly to the finals, with another two cars entering via a repechage race held on Saturday.
Only one qualifying race was held before before the sky opened up on Friday night, dousing the circuit before officials decided it was too wet. The rain never let up and club members were at the track from 6am on Saturday to attempt to drive the water from the track. They turned out a good driveable track which stood up to 29 races in one day.
The finals were decided over three races, the first two to build up points to determine where the drivers would start in the 20-lap winner takes all final. After the two heats it was Cromwell’s Whetu Taewa who claimed from pole position, with Blenheim’s Anthony Gane starting alongside him on the outside of the track.
The best of the Southlanders was Asha Clements, who qualified fifth. She was joined by Daniel Rolton and Tam Clements. Acaia Mitchell also made the top 20, but was unable to make the final after a nasty incident in race two put her out of the event, while Tony Jones was excluded after suffering damage in race two.
The final was exciting and had it all for the big speedway crowd in attendance.
Gane led early before mechanical issues led him to the infield. This gave Taewa a clear run, but he started to come under pressure from Matt Sherlock, of Christchurch, and Eddy Frans, of Nelson, with the latter also having to retire early with problems.
As the race drew on, Taewa held his nerve until he got tied up behind lapped traffic. This allowed Sherlock and the only North Island competitor, Shaun Heron, of Rotorua, to pounce.
This three-way battle continued for several laps before Taewa also suffered mechanical issues, ending his race with the finish in sight. Heron made the most of the situation and took off to a handy lead, a lead that would not be relinquished, and became the inaugural New Zealand production saloon champion.
The battle for second was only decided on the home straight on the last lap, when Asha Clements passed Sherlock to secure second place. The crowd erupted as the locals celebrated.
Rolton finished a credible seventh, while Tam Clements retired on the warm up lap with engine failure.
The club was praised by the travelling officials and drivers for the efforts which were put in to the event
The event was sponsored by Bakers Beyond, Invercargill Tractor Servicing And Repairs and Otatara 4 Square.