In a first for a New Zealand motorsport team, the Synergy Racing New Zealand team took two midget speedway race cars to race against the world’s best midget racers, and both cars have finished the Chili Bowl main feature race in very credible positions
Never before have Kiwi-built engines and midget race cars been shipped from New Zealand to race at the Chili Bowl.
The two Kiwi drivers – Michael Pickens and Brad Mosen – and their CRC-backed cars, contested their competitive qualifying races strongly and both went into the starting line-up for the Chili Bowl, regarded by many as the Indy 500 of speedway racing, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Of the 260 entrants, only 25 make it into Saturday’s Chili Bowl feature race.
Pickens finished 11th and Mosen 20th, the top-placed Chili Bowl rookie.
“It was a great achievement to do what we did,” says the team’s co-driver and designer of the Synergy V8 engine which powers the team’s cars, Simon Longdill. “But, you know, it’s still a shame knowing that we really did have a chance to win it. Up until the night, it was only something we had dreamed of, but when Michael got up to second place within a few laps of the 50-lap race starting... well...what might have been."
The 260 entrants practice on the Monday night, when Pickens was among the quickest on the nearly quarter-mile (0.4 km) clay oval circuit, which is undercover at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds. They then go into a draw for one of four nights of qualifying races. On Tuesday Pickens went through his initial qualifying races very strongly, and for the main 25-lapper, he started in sixth. Charging to the front, Pickens then swapped the lead backward and forward with young American star Zach Daum, until Daum took the lead on the very last corner to snatch the win. However Pickens’ second place still earned him and the Synergy Racing team a direct slot into the Chili Bowl starting line-up.
Mosen’s performance in Thursday’s qualifying was equally impressive as he won his first heat from World of Outlaws speedway star and NASCAR regular Kasey Kahne. Mosen was second to Kahne in the second qualifier and then went on to secure third place in the night’s 25-lapper main race and, like Pickens, earn a direct place in Saturday’s feature race.
“Brad drove a magnificent final qualifying race to earn his automatic starting place in the Chili Bowl, the only rookie this year to do so. The field was very tough with, I think, five past Chili Bowl winners and guys of Kasey Kahne’s ability, so the result is a real credit to Brad.
“It’s amazing how tough the racing is here,” says Longdill. “When we were rolling the cars out to the feature race, we noticed how many of the big name teams and drivers had their cars sitting in the pits or even back in the trailers; they’d failed to make the main event. There were lots of top-class, big budget, five car teams with only one or even no cars in the final and here we were; a team from down-under on a very modest budget with both our cars in the final... that was an amazing feeling.
“Both Michael and Brad showed they really are world-class drivers, and but for that little bit of luck, the actual Chili Bowl result could have been very different – mind you, no doubt about 22 other teams think that too!”
Longdill summarises the Chili Bowl race: “The first part of the race was great, Michael ran up to second place, and Brad was following him all the way to fifth. I think maybe we were too good early on, and then the setup went away a little at the end as the track got slicker and slicker. Mike said he felt really good at the middle of the race, and was really just cruising along in the lead pack with plenty of speed left in the car. Hs exact words for that point were, ‘we’ve really got something here’. He got contact with another passed car that put him into the wall pretty hard, and bent something in the rear end. He was able to continue but the handling and speed of the car suffered and he did very will to keep it together and finish eleventh.
“Brad was unlucky to spin while running fifth or sixth; he’d pulled a nice pass on another car to move up a spot, but the two made contact on the corner exit and he was turned around. He had to restart from the rear of the field and made up a couple of spots, but by then the track was very much one lane and slick, so passing was very difficult.”
Apart from the racing incidents, Longdill says the cars ran flawlessly and showed the speed that they have in them.
“At one stage, both our cars were running together only inches apart in fourth and fifth, and looking good to go forward – quite an exhilarating sight!”
Longdill, business partner Luke Fisher and the rest of the team have now packed up the two CRC Synergy midgets to be shipped back to New Zealand where leading American midget racer Davey Ray aims to defend the Australian midget title he won in the Synergy Racing car last season. The cars may also appear at the last two meetings of the 2009-10 Western Springs speedway season.