There won't be any second chances when the huge field of 175 cars line up tonight to attempt to qualify for tomorrow's 14th New Zealand stockcar finals at Arena Manawatu.
With the 175 entrants from around the country split into seven groups of 25 and only four from each group qualifying for the three heat final of the Machinery Specialists national champs, just qualifying will be a major success.
Of the 147 drivers who don't qualify, the top 60 will be split into two groups with only the race winner making the big show at the Robertson Holden Speedway tomorrow.
The top three from last year, Peter Rees, Damian Orr (Rotorua) and William Humphries in separate groups, while the record 74 Palmerston North drivers are evenly spread across the groups.
Rees, chasing an incredible sixth title, is the standout driver of the first heat, with fellow Palmerston North drivers Stu Rackham, Gavin Taniwha, Aaron Ironmonger and Brett Lloyd all rating their chances of making the final. Of the visiting drivers Craig Chatfield (Auckland), Ben Smith (Nelson) and David Moore (Huntly) are strong competitors.
There are few standout drivers in group two, with Orr (Rotorua) heading the pack. Many fans will hope Dion Mooney (Wanganui) can make it through. Shane Davis and Dale Robertson (both Wellington) are top prospects along with Shane Simpson, Jordan Dare, Kieran Hines (Rotorua) and Mark Phipps (Stratford).
Humphries will take some beating in group three with Tim Ross (Christchurch), Richard Keijzer (Rotorua), Kyle Lane (Wellington) and Jordan Dare. In group four, Scott Fredrickson and Shaun Stewart (Rotorua), Scott McIntosh and Tony McLaughlin (Wellington) Josh Walsh and Andrew Dodunski (Stratford) as well as locals Rob Miers, Rob Mason and rookie Ethan Rees are set to fight for the four places.
Former champion Paul Gaskin and Blake Ellet head the Wellington charge in group five along with Kyle Heibner (Wanganui), Nic Vallance and Brent Stewart (Rotorua), Brad Rosewarne (Christchurch), as well as Asher Rees, Jay Knight and Taylor Lampp.
Classy Wellington driver Richard Gaskin along with Scott Tennant (Auckland), Keegan Orr and Dale Stewart (Rotorua), Mark Woods (Wanganui) and Chris Knight, Mitchell Hill, Nic Davey and Darrel Wallace make group six the toughest group.
New North Island champion Chevron Taniwha heads group seven along with Josh Prentice and veteran Robbie James.
Racing begins at 6pm tonight and tomorrow rather than the usual 7pm.
- Manawatu Standard
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