Simply the best – Riverside delivers

Chris Cowling claims the silverware for the NZ Saloon Championship at X Factor Cars Riverside Raceway on Saturday.
Chris Cowling does his victory lap for the NZ Saloon Championship at X Factor Cars Riverside Raceway on Saturday. Photos: Corbyn Shuttleworth

FINALLY the team at X Factor Cars Riverside Raceway has something to celebrate this season, with the running of the SW Finance New Zealand Saloon Championship last weekend.

The club had its struggles with wet weather throughout the season, with six rain-effected meetings putting strain on the club.

This meeting was the key to a turn-around in luck.

Unfortunately, there was to be more heartbreak with Friday night’s racing being rained out after one round.

Frustrations crept in, but the focus soon switched to what could be achieved on Saturday with the forecast looking favourable.

Forty-two cars lined up for the championship and all feedback from travelling drivers, along with fans, was it was simply the best championship they had ever seen, and been a part of. The hospitality was second to none and had really set the bar for how championship meetings should be run was the complete entertainment package on and off the track.

Fans were invited to enter the infield to meet the drivers, grab a poster and see the cars up close.

The Yardmen were trackside to keep the crowd entertained, then the pyrotechnics thrilled the massive crowd as the scene was set for the championship final.

Only 20 drivers made it into the final.

Graham Williamson was the only Riverside driver to make it, having qualified fifth.

Williamson also gave the locals plenty to cheer about with a heat win early in the day, but the final wasn’t to be his, falling deep into the pack early on, unable to recover.

The front row was made up of Dan Cook, of Gisborne, and Chris Cowling, of Meeanee near Napier.

They were the form drivers of the weekend and deserved to be on the front row to contest the final.

Cromwell driver George Phillips qualified third and made the best start to the race, jumping both Cook and Cowling to take the lead early.

Phillips would dominate the final, leading for most of the 25-lap race.

As the leaders caught up on the back markers, traffic would play a factor and this was where the experience of Cowling came to the fore.

Christchurch driver Billie Woodhouse was also in the battle by this stage, briefly taking the lead, but this was short lived as Phillips and Cowling soon wrestled it back from him.

The last lap flag was presented and it was on for young and old as Cowling, a two-time New Zealand champion, had to fend off lapped traffic and Phillips, who was hungry for his maiden New Zealand title.

How the two leaders got through that traffic would be anyone’s guess, but as the chequered flag was presented, Cowling appeared and grabbed what was an epic championship victory just ahead of Phillips, with Woodhouse third.

This led to emotional scenes on the infield as crews and family members scaled the pit gate to celebrate with the victors, the Southland crowd got to its feet and showed remarkable respect to what they had just witnessed play out in front of them.

Six Shooters finally got to run its Southland championship.

Ben Smart, of Cromwell, did enough to take the title ahead of Jacob McIntyre and Emma Gordon, both of Riverside.

Troy Dryden claimed the Spin Belt in streetstocks, while Modified Sprints contested the South Island championship. Jayden Basalaj was too classy for the rest of the field coming home ahead of Vaughan Marshall, of Riverside, and Keiran Harris, of Christchurch.

Club members will get little rest with a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, February 10, the first meeting at Riverside to be run under lights.