FOR years, many speedway clubs throughout the country pushed to make the production saloons class a recognised championship grade with Speedway New Zealand, but always lacked the support to make this a reality – until now.
Last year at the Speedway New Zealand annual meeting, Riverside Speedway put the suggestion forward, got the support and has now been awarded the first New Zealand production saloons championships, which take place on Friday and Saturday at The Rock FM Riverside Speedway, at Sandy Point.
The event, sponsored by Invercargill Tractor Servicing and Repairs, Otatara 4 Square and Bakers Beyond, has attracted a field of 40 cars from throughout New Zealand, with Rotorua’s Shaun Heron travelling the farthest.
The event is really going into the unknown, with most the drivers coming up against each other for the first time.
Southerners will have plenty of reason to be trackside with Riverside drivers making up 14 of the spots on the grid for Friday night’s qualifying. Forty cars will then make the cut for the winner-takes-all final on Saturday.
Southland champion Asha Clements, who placed second at last year’s unofficial national title, is one of the top contenders, along with younger brother Tam. The Clements family have had a solid grasp on the Southland championship for the past three years and will want to make the most of home track advantage. Another frontrunner, Tony Jones, will debut a new car for the event.
Shane Carson, of Balclutha, will be a dark horse and is certainly the most travelled driver in the field, having raced at the majority of tracks throughout New Zealand in the 2016-17 season, and this experience can only help in a championship event.
Cromwell’s Whetu Taewa will also be one to watch, the former New Zealand Warrior is “Mr Cool” when it comes to pressure and if he manages to get a spot up the grid for the final he will be tough to beat.
The event kicks off at 4pm today for qualifying, with the New Zealand championship also a 4pm start on Saturday.