First and foremost I'll say this, the Mods are flying this season and certainly worth a look wherever they go.
After much speculation about how many cars would front, 14 Modifieds greeted the starter for the first round of the North Island Modified Series at Waikaraka Park on Saturday night. Current 1NZ Tony Galbraith and 3NZ Tama Arapere were there along with last years champion Jamie Fox and the early season in form drivers, Brain Jesen, Paul Blakely and Allan Haigh. Notable omissions from last year were the recently retired Murray Gorge and current 2NZ Ricky Martin. Other out of towners to show were 71S John Jackson, the Ward brothers 55s and 77s and Rotorua registered but Auckland domiciled Scott Lane, making his debut for the season.
5 hot laps a couple of races before the first heat gave all the drivers a look at the surface, which was quite drivey, but being newly laid no-one was really sure how many laps it would hold before the big tyres slicked it off.
Heat one saw almost all the title favourites starting near the front. Paul Ward was off pole with Brian Jesen on 2, followed by Foxy, Tama and Tony Galbraith. Historically the first corner on the first lap of these Mod races has the potential for a lot of carnage, and tonight was no exception, although the cause of it was most unexpected. The engine in the no 11 car of Jamie Fox just up and died going through the turn and with everyone else under full power, there wasn't too many place to run to. In the ensuing chaos, Scott Lane rode over the front of John Jackson's car, with Jackos' front end getting all bent out of shape. So 11 and 71 joined 66A Chris Picknell (misfiring engine) on the infield and a full restart was required. This time the first corner was negotiated successfully but the initial shunt must have damaged something in Scott Lanes car because going into Pit bend the first time the car speared straight on into the wall; another on the infield and another restart. Third time lucky was the go and Brian Jesen leapt out to a lead he would hold comfortably until the end of the race. During the race the crowd of "spectators" on the infield grew by two more, Allan Haigh with a front axle problem and 36A Phil Crumpe when his right front wheel came adrift mid turn. The car spun and the loose wheel very nearly cleared the top of the catch fence. Final placings, 6a, 1NZ, 3NZ.
Heat two saw a reduced field, Jamie Fox, magneto, Phil Crumpe, sheared wheel hub, Chris Picknell were all trailered for the night, Tama Arapere was pushed out onto the track but the car wouldn't fire (a faulty fuel pump saw the end of his night too) and John Jackson started the race but the Heat 1 damage saw him fail to finish and retire for the night too. This time the other BJ Racing car of Paul Blakely, 56A, off Grid 2 jumped out to lead and was never headed in a race that was free of yellow lights. Surprise package in this heat was 69A, Hayden Scheffer. Having his first start for the year, he drove well off Grid 1 to hold second from a very fast but rather erratic Scott Lane debuting his new car.
Heat 3 saw a clean sweep for cars starting off the front of the grid with Allan Haigh leading from go to whoa off Grid 1. 9 cars started but only 8 finished with 16A Gary Parker coming off second best in a tangle with Paul Ward in Pit bend. 77S Craig Ward held 2nd and 3rd place to Paul Blakely gave him enough points to win the round from team mate Brian Jesen and Tony Galbraith.
An entertaining nights racing but diminished somewhat by the loss of both Jamie Fox and Tama Arapere. The format of the season allows for drivers to drop their worst round. With circumstances dictating this right from the start for some, expect some fierce racing in the rounds to come. Looking further ahead, any one of at least 6 drivers could feasibly win the series and if I was a betting man (and as chance would have it, I am), I would be having a quiet wager on one of the BJ Racing cars, not only for the series but perhaps a podium finish at the NZ Champs as well. These two cars are really flying and will be right at the sharp end of any contest and if I had to pick it in one, the experience of Brian Jesen coupled with the brand new Harris built car may well be the one.
(Thanks to "Tear-Off", An Auckland regular for writing this report).
* Please Note: More information about the other classes that raced at this meeting, will be available shortly!!