Wangaratta has a new Victorian champion; a new local hero and that man is Brendan Harper as he went on to win the Speedway Sedans Victoria Production Sedan Victorian title on Saturday the 4th of February whilst also on the program Queenslander Matt O’Neill crossed back over the border with the prized Victorian title after winning a twenty-lap super race with a margin less than .2 of a second between first and second.
Wangaratta has long been Sedan land when it comes to their dirt track racing and the premier class is Production Sedans, the only national class that is also a club class in the area with Wangaratta man Chris Lack a former national champion, Howlong racer Jacob Mills a former national champion and Trevor Mills from Corowa twice a national champion in the class.
This year’s Victorian title attracted not only the three drivers just mentioned but another twice Australian champion Stephen Laidlaw from Morwell and a number of New South Wales competitors. Over nine heat races Trevor Mills won the first, with Craig McAlister representing the Canberra club and Laidlaw the other winners in the first round of three heats.
Laidlaw then doubled up with a win in round two, with Brendan Harper winning as well as New South Wales driver Jaiden Healey from the Portland NSW Club. In round three Chris Fitzgerald representing Wangaratta was a winner as was McAlister and Harper again for their second heat race victories.
For a thirty lap state title race, McAlister and Laidlaw started from the front spots with Healey, Jacob Mills, Stuey Robinson, Harper, Fitzgerald, Scott Hawkins, Brendan O’Farrell, Chris Croker, Brett Norman, Wayne Bourke, Jacob Croker, Kenneth Mankey, Jack Bear, Zoey Salau, Felicity Roycroft, Rodney Anderson, Ray Ussher, Tom Barnard and Toby Carmichael making up a twenty one car field.
McAlister would assume the race lead for lap one before Laidlaw shot into top spot the next time around. First of the fancied competitors to exit the race was Fitzgerald on lap six whilst on lap nine Jacob Mills hit the front. Two laps later Mills was out of the race and McAlister moved back into the lead. More favourites started to drop out of the race with Laidlaw and then Healey in successive laps twelve and thirteen and at lap fifteen McAlister led Harper, Hawkins, Robinson, and Norman.
McAlister whilst the leader was the next to exit on lap twenty-four and Harper took control from there ahead of Hawkins, Robinson, Norman, and Bourke. When thirty laps finally reached its end Harper took the win by .946 of a second from Hawkins from Leeton, Bourke also from Leeton, Anderson from Albury ad Barnard another local Wangaratta member. Laidlaw set the fastest one lap of the night in the final with an 18.555 lap time.
The popular Compact Speedcar open wheel class was the second of the two main events also holding their Victorian title race with drivers from Queensland, New South Wales, Canberra and Victorian clubs amongst the twenty six nominations and it would be Queenslander Matt O’Neill twelves after finishing second in the Australian title at Wangaratta who would go one better this time as he took the title race victory ahead of Trevor Perry and Michael Conway from the home state.
Nine qualifiers determined the starting line-up for the twenty five lap title race with Perry, Shaun Robinson from New South Wales and Conway winners in round one. Conway back up for a second victory in the second round passing Robinson on his way to a win whilst defending champion Justin Paull also won a race as did Mark Heaton. Paull won the fastest heat of the night in a time of 2 minutes 42.677 seconds whilst Conway set the fastest one lap time of the evening in his win of 15.687.
In the final round of heats O’Neill, Conway to make it three wins from three starts and Paull were the winners, and the title race field was set with Conway from the top spot then Robinson, O’Neill, Heaton, Glen Wiles, Perry, Cheyne Williams from Sydney, Joe Lostich, Andrew Parkes from Queensland, Rod Saville from Sydney, Tania Hallett, Mark Cecil, Louis Rodriguez, Aaron Stubbs, and Terry Brown.
The title race didn’t last long for Williams as he exited on lap one whilst five laps later O’Neill took the lead from Conway and led the Victorian and Robinson, Heaton, and Perry. Rodriguez who had a horrible qualifying night was the next to exit the main event on lap nine with O’Neill on lap ten now leading four Victorians Conway, Perry, Lostich and Cecil.
Robinson was the next of the favoured racers to exit the race with O’Neill still leading at lap fifteen and then again at lap twenty. At the twenty-lap mark pressure for the victory was coming from Perry as Conway dropped to fourth.
At the chequered flag O’Neill claimed the win from Perry, Conway, Cecil, and Lostich as the Victorian title headed to the Sunshine state whilst his teammate Parkes holds the Queensland title.
Hunter Carey from Melbourne’s southeast won the Junior Open Sedans whilst Chiltern’s Warrick Howie won the Standard Saloon final.
Carey who had travelled up from Melbourne numerous times already this season finally had a floorless night of racing winning all three of the qualifying heats in a tight tussle with Riley Balins from Albury before Carey went on to win the feature event from Balins, Zac Barwise from Colac, Cooper Lack and Toby Parks.
Warrick Howie a Wangaratta member also competed in the Standard Saloons a week after his partner Jaimi Barber won the Victorian Ladies Standard Saloon title in Bairnsdale and he doubled up the wins in the household taking the feature race victory against strong competition. Howie, Wayne Sheerman from Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs and Bradley Hill from West Gippsland all won heat races on the way into the final before the three had a ding dong battle through the final swapping places along the way and finishing with Howie the winner from Sheerman, Hill, South Australia’s number one Standard Saloon driver Mark Jennings from Mount Gambier, and Shane Stewart from the Latrobe Valley.
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