FIRST WHEN THE FLAG FALLS DUFF TIMES HIS RUN
BY PETE MCNAE
There’s only one lap that matters, all the rest are speedway foreplay. When the online report is written and the record books updated, it’s who was first to the flag who gets the kudos.
New South Island sprintcar champion Jamie Duff knows that. So does Ray Baughan, who put in a power of work, only to have to settle for second in the Donaldson Civil-backed championship last night. For 23 out of 25 circuits of the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, Baughan — a staunch and successful supporter of the Nelson club over many seasons in both midgets and sprintcars — looked like he had the title in his reach. He had a front row start, got the jump on Duff, then held his lead through four restarts, often getting half-a-dozen car lengths on the former New Zealand champion.
And then, Duff changed the narrative. Running tight on the track as Baughan edged higher, Duff made his move off turn two on lap 23 in the A Main and, by turn three, he was gone. Baughan tried to close the door but Duff’s pass was clean and that was how they finished, with Steve Duff Jnr completing the podium in third in a fairly handy outing for the ConCut team from Christchurch. Steve Jnr (let’s call him Jnr from now on with so much Duff to report on), had his own challenges to deal with as Nelson teenager Connor Rangi looked at one point like he might slip past after starting from the third row, but Jnr gathered himself, tidied his line for the last five laps and secured third.
The championships drew 20 of the 23 entered starters, conveniently erasing the need for a B Main and creating four groups of five who met in heat races. Winners there were Matt Honeywell, Shaun Ashton, Sam O’Callaghan and Luke Keegan. Predictably, the track was pulverised in the early heats with the sun out, although lap times in the 12.3s range suggested there was grip, if not much visibility. Thankfully, there were no major wrecks although Nelson’s Jason Smith, Paddy North from Blenheim and Andy Erskine (Cromwell) had troubled runs with spins, flats and mechanical issues.
For the 25-lapper that would decide the South Island champion, reigning champ Daniel Anderson (Te Anau) surrendered his sash before the race even began. He made it onto the track, called for three minutes to repair an issue that arose prior to the grid forming up, then had to withdraw when he couldn’t get the car to run. Baughan and Duff had the front row, ahead of Jnr and five-times South Island titleholder Jason Scott and it was Baughan who got the foot up it first to lead to the first yellow, when Erskine spun. He was away cleanly once more but Luke Keegan rode the turn three wall while running in the top six and the yellows came on again. And again, Baughan jumped clear with Duff in his slipstream, sometimes bridging the gap, sometimes dropping back a few metres. When North and Ashton tangled and O’Callaghan climbed the wall in one of Kevin Freeman’s cars, the field was brought back together and this time, when Duff punched, there was no counter-punch from Baughan.
While hard-charging Rangi came the closest of the locals to a place on the podium, fan favourite Alicia Mclauchlan also showed she has arrived in the sprintcar class. She pushed the 6N Jacks Tyres car much harder into the bends than she has in the past and should be well pleased with her seventh place finish on the back of a forceful and poised drive.
Now there are just two meetings — over one weekend — left in the season at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway. Entries from around the country, including national superstock champion William Humphries, are starting to roll in for The New Gate Company Easter Extravaganza. Racing is from 4pm on both Good Friday and Saturday.