PLACEMAKERS NORTH ISLAND STOCKCAR CHAMPIONSHIP
1st 4W Keegan Levien
2nd 46W Ethan Levien
3rd 9R Sheldon Arapere
Te Marua’s amazing track record in allocated titles for stockcars at the McDonald’s Kihikihi Speedway continued as brothers Keegan and Ethan Levien delivered a 1-2 for the harbour capital at the Placemakers North Island Stockcar Championship on Dec 13 and 14, continuing Wellington’s unbeaten record in such events following Dale Robertson winning the 2007 NI Championship and Josh Prentice the 2017 NZ Championship.
While the class of the Leviens could never been underestimated, it appeared going into this event with just three cars carrying a W that fronted up for Friday night qualifying that they lacked the firepower required to carry them through the heat three chaos with the big numbers from Stratford and Rotorua entered for this event.
These two powerhouses dominated the 109 cars that showed for Friday night qualifying, down on the 123 originally entered but still an above average field for a North Island title. Qualifying saw a reasonably good sized crowd for a Friday night fixture that saw a good, if not quite a great amount of action, unusually a good portion of this taking place in the early heats.
A few of the expected front runners had nights to forget, an early rollover put 2NZ Mark Duthie out of the running, an early DNF also paying to 3NZ Richard Keijzer’s hopes while 6V Dion Mooney was another surprise omission after his car caught fire in his final heat following an attack by 992P Taylor Lampp as payback following a rollover by Dion the previous race for a payback for an incident at Palmerston North a few weeks earlier. Happily the fire crew were well up to scratch and he was back for the consolation races 24 hours later. Taylor was able to make amends by securing a finals berth in one of the repechages the next day and also being in the thick of the action in the third heat was arguably the driver of the weekend. 735A Keegan Orr had a horror run while 89V Blair Lockett, 5B Regan Penn, 98M Johnny Morley, 95R Gary Lonergan and 82P Roydon Winstanley all fell a wee bit short but the latter two got in via the repechages as did 98S Corey Sutton.
Conversely there were a few names in qualifying that surprised, 208A Josh Brooks punching above his weight to qualify, as was 34S Lawrence Barr, having had practicallyzero reputation outside of Taranaki likewise 138S Anthony Lewis. 14B Jemma Palmer rediscovered the pace that took her to a World of Stocks podium to make the cut in a allocated title after a long absence, 9S Carol Podjursky by way of a run off made her first appearance in a SNZ title, while from a local perspective we finally saw a Kihikihicar qualify for an allocated title on home turf when the 11K of Ben Ellis bet the 45R of Shane Wepa in a run off for the final spot in his group. Sadly Ben had a horror run in the finals but it was still great to see a K car in the finals at long last.
A bright warm and sunny evening bought the public in their droves, slightly down on what was seen for the opening night fireworks and also down on what the Kihikihi club expected given that with the NZ Championship and Grand Prix both in the South Island this was going to be for many a de facto NZ title. However this was still very respectable given the surfeit of end of year functions at this time of year that compete for the interest of the casual punter. Rambunctious action in the two repechages set the tone for the evening’s action with the first two championship heats that featured plenty of close hard running, measured aggression and a few bingles here and there. This brewed things nicely going into the final heat with 26V Kaelin Mooney, the real surprise package of the meeting as few if any expected him to be a championship factor of the leaderboard with 56 points, one ahead of 4W Keegan Levien on 55. 9R Sheldon Arapere, again showing real class through the weekend was another point back on 54, with the Stratford due of 99S William Hughes and Lewis tied on 49 with 517S Mark Woods next on 45 with 4W Ethan Levien and 15P Luke Miers next tied on 43, the last with a realistic shot of a top result.
With Mooney having no allies and Miers having his work cut out with a back of the grid start, it seemed that Stratford was in the box seat but as Arapere was the only Rotorua car in serious contention he had plenty of backup to support his challenge, while Keegan’s big ace up his sleeve was a relatively handy grid slot.
As expected the action unfurled thick and fast, so much so it was hard to keep track of it all without the benefit of an ELS monitor. Arapere was taken to the wall early on and delayed sufficiently to out of contention for the win as was Mooney, who for a brief moment looked like bowing out of the hunt full stop but lived to fight another day. Woods’ chances of a strong result ended with a big one way shunt into the Town Bend wall a few laps earlier, and Miers’ chances quickly faded as he was constantly in the thick of the mid field chaos and as the laps rolled by the Stratford-Rotorua raged on, so much to the point that the Levienscruised at the front of the field with little drama, Keegan cruising in third to win the title with 80 points and a whopping 10 points ahead of a three way tie for second, Ethan’s win in this race vaulting him into podium contention.
He beat Arapere and Hughes in that order to cement a perfect weekend for the Levien household, Keegan adding the NI title to the NZ Grand Prix ,whom he is the reigning champion and the 2NZ he earned in 2018. What odds for grabbing the Grand Slam at Greymouth and just what is it about Kihikihi that sees Wellington drivers go so well? This was also a breakthrough weekend of Ethan and one senses more success will come. Great to see Arapere on the podium for an allocated title after knocking on the door several times the past two seasons while Lewis will be pleased to post a career best fifth on 72, Miers on 70 rounding the top six, Mooney, Brooks, 29M Ryan Runt and Palmer completing the top ten.
In the weekend’s other features 981R Steve Grey won the second tier Rosetown Rumble from Wepa with Morley beating 73R Andre Runmey in a runoff for third. 242P Ashleigh Halcrow won the Rosetown Saloon Series ahead of 66K Skinny Colson and 2NZ Cameron Roigard, run over four heats and a 15 lap reverse grid feature with excellent racing to amply support the main event, while 8K Lee Patrick won the Reymer Ag King Country Production Saloons, both the event and the class back after being absent last ahead with 2NZ Wayne Warrenderand 63R Peter Craddock completing the trifecta.