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Canny and fast: Insley wins NZ Midget crown

 

Insley clinches 2008 New Zealand Midget Car title in measured drive amongst drama

Aucklander Shaun Insley did what only five of his rivals could do at Western Springs Speedway last Saturday night. He and the #77 Midget Car survived the 30-lap, yellow flag-heavy, feature race on a bumpy and rutted track – and in doing so, clinched the 2008 New Zealand Midget Car title.

Only five other cars were credited as finishers and one of them, Scott Buckley’s, coasted across the finish line with a broken driveline. The bulk of the 24 cars, including title favourites like Shayne Alach and defending champion Michael Pickens, fell victim to incidents or – less commonly – mechanical failures. The grid for the 30-lapper was set by a complicated formula which started with two-lap time trials, won by former champ Michael Kendall with a best lap of 14.040 seconds in the Hell Pizza car.

The time trials determined the starting order for three heat races. Out of those, the top 12 finishers were split into two groups of six for six-lap dash races. The first set the starting order for the left side of the grid; the second determined the right side. The upshot was Dickies/Auto Trader-backed Brad Mosen on pole, with former TQ Midget star Lance Beale on the outside of the front row. The 12th starter would be Graham Standring in the Wendy’s-backed Lendich Midget.

Standring was racing after a near-fatal accident at work. He had swallowed a small amount of caustic soda-based chemicals and had been rushed to hospital where he was put into an induced coma and treated in intensive care. He raced at Huntly last Friday night and showed at the Springs on Saturday just what he’s made of, turning in a very quick time trial lap and driving to a brilliant win in his heat race. Initially speedway officials stripped him of the win, saying his car had exceeded permissible noise levels, but he was later reinstated.

The final eight places on the 20-car grid were decided by a B-Main race whose illustrious starters included Alach, who had been “pushed into the wall by someone” in his heat race, and Pickens, who had had a difficult run during the early part of the evening. In a trackside interview with Clint Brown, Pickens slammed the state of the track, describing it as “just terrible. It’s just tearing up equipment.” Pickens won the B-Main by a big margin from Alach, and the two fancied runners were in the title-deciding 30-lapper, albeit starting from near the back.

Mosen grabbed the initial lead in the feature, with Beale right on his hammer. Then Worboys hit the pit straight wall in a big accident. Alach, trying not to get involved, was hit by another car which ripped a brake calliper off the #11 Midget, and Alach’s race was over. At the restart, Mosen and Beale resumed squabbling over the lead, Mosen opening a small gap before Beale came back at him.

The yellows flew again after four laps. By now Pickens had moved from 13th to eighth. After the restart Beale got the upper hand, but Pickens’ race was about to end. The motor blew on lap six and he was out. At the restart, Beale led from Mosen, Insley, Buckley, Kendall and Townsend. Mosen was hot on Beale’s heels when in a near-unbelievable turn of events, both cars flipped after hitting a rut in Pine Tree Bend, the Midgets looking like synchronised swimmers as they leapt into the air and crashed down almost in formation. A philosophical Mosen later described the incident as “just bad luck”. “I got in there and hit the exact same hole as Lance. I’d been hanging in there and was just starting to work on (passing) him when I saw him bicycle.

“I went to make a move and the next thing we were going over the top of him. It just didn’t work out for me tonight.”
Like Pickens, Mosen criticised the racing surface: “the track was just terrible.” Insley now led from Buckley, Kendall and Townsend. At the restart, Buckley shot into the lead, and Townsend went on the charge, running the high line to try to avoid the big, ploughed earth-like rut that ran along the pole line through Pine Tree Bend.
He almost hit the wall in Town Bend, just managing to keep the yellow HPM car away from danger, but disaster was about to strike.

Townsend’s race finished with an end over end crash on the start/finish straight and a huge impact with the Pine Tree Bend wall. Standring, who had moved in onto the tail of Kendall’s Midget, was now running – at undiminished speed – with a flat left-front tyre, and soon parked the orange car on the infield. By now only nine cars were still running. Buckley had opened a comfortable lead over Insley, but the #77 was soon right on his tail.

Later Buckley said that earlier, as he’d accelerated off Town Bend, trying to preserve his advantage as the track was declared yellow, the gold #25 car had leapt in the air on a rut and come down heavily, knocking the engine on to three cylinders. From running fast and comfortably on the high line he had had to move down to the pole line, driving as gutter rat. Worse was to come on the final sprint off Town Bend when the driveline failed just when he was looking set to finish second behind Insley.

“I just made one mistake,” he said ruefully of the late-race bid to preserve his track position. It was a mistake that may have cost him the title. As Buckley’s car lost drive off Town Bend on the final lap, Bill Clarkson Junior, Tony Fabish, Wayne Green and Chris McCutcheon surged past, relegating Buckley to sixth.

Insley had driven a superb race, always at the sharp end of the field and keeping the #77 clear of the ruts.
It was a champion’s drive – smooth, fast and considered. Luck may have ridden with him but he showed racecraft aplenty, not to mention a good turn of speed.

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