HEAVY rain the night before racing looked like cancellation number five of the season for X Factor Cars Riverside Speedway last Saturday afternoon, but the team had a ‘never give up’ attitude that, in the end, rewarded them with a long but enjoyable opening meeting.
Three Southland championships were on the line as well as the Best Pairs Championship for Production Saloons.
Reigning Saloon champion George Phillips, of Cromwell, was always going to be the man to beat in this grade. He was the benchmark of the class last season and was red-hot favorite going into this event.
The opening race saw Phillips waste no time showing his dominance, a commanding race win after early pressure from Riverside’s Scott Williamson, who would eventually finish in second with clubmate Dan Black a solid third place.
In race two, it was Riverside driver Graham Williamson who got a great start and was unthreatened throughout the race to take a win.
Dunedin’s Aaron Andrews fought hard to claim second, just ahead of a fast-finishing Phillips in third.
The winner-takes-all final would see a Southland Saloon champion crowned, Andrews beat Phillips into turn one and led a couple of laps before Phillips pounced and charged off to claim his second Southland Saloon championship.
The battle behind was intense with Graham Williamson and Andrews fighting for the minors. Graham Williamson was kept at bay by Andrews until he backed himself and made the move to second, just a couple of corners from the chequered flag. Graham Williamson claimed second, with Andrews in third.
A major upset was about to unravel in the Youth Saloon Southland Championship. Favourite Alex Crosbie, of Riverside, was cruising to an easy race-one win, and was expected to claim the title when a flat tyre put him to the back of the field, costing him any chance of a maiden title.
Shannon Simon, of Dunedin, would take the win ahead of Invercargill drivers Kahu Moxham in second and Riley Henderson, third.
Race two saw Crosbie mount a comeback, driving hard through the field to try to give himself an outside chance of getting back into the title fight. Crosbie managed a strong second placing behind Henderson, who claimed his first race win at Riverside, with Dunedin’s Maddie Stewart third.
Race three would decide the title; it was a hard-fought affair with all the frontrunners running panel to panel, Simon would once again take the top spot just ahead of Henderson with Crosbie third. This would give Henderson the Southland Championship overall, with Simon second and Stewart third.
Ben Smart, of Cromwell, was looking to repeat his win in last season’s Southland Championships and got off to a solid start, finishing second behind clubmate Adam Evans, who had also won the title two seasons ago. New Riverside driver Nigel Marshall had an impressive debut on his home track, coming home third.
Race two saw Smart turn the tables and take victory in commanding fashion. Marshall was impressive again in second, with patient Evans back in third collecting solid points for the overall championship.
Race three was going to be the decider, with three cars very close on points. Evans had a prime starting spot and took advantage of it to win heat three ahead of Riverside’s Harrison Brown who ran the race on a flat tyre, and Cromwell’s Tony Symon in third. That race win would give Evans the Southland Championship, Smart second and Marshall third.
Production Saloons best pairs was run in a blind pairs format, so drivers did not know their partner until the end of the meeting. Three races were run and the winners of those races were Shane Prestney, of Dunedin, Tony Jones and Stephen Clements, of Riverside. At the end of the three heats, Jones and fellow Riverside driver Blake Murdoch had the best combined points to win the best pairs.
Streetstocks were also on hand in support, race wins went to Steve Dryden who claimed two wins with Steven Thompson, of Dunedin, claiming one, while only two Stockcar races were completed. Brian Taiwha, of Cromwell, claimed one race while Casey McEwan took a win in the final race.