Up against Tauranga's Cowling brothers, current 1NZ saloon champion Chris and equally hard-charging Steve, Cromwell contracted driver Peter 'Dutchy' Schouten held off the pair for 25 laps, taking the chequered flag at Queenstown Roofing Central Motor Speedway on Friday night to elevate himself to third overall in the 8 round DHL Saloon Speedweek.
However, with rounds 7 and 8 still to race, and with Willie Woodhouse nominated by Dutchy to be his stand-in driver on Saturday while he was at his sister's wedding, anything could happen. And it did. While the experienced Willie achieved a creditable 6th place in a car he'd basically never driven, back at the wheel for the final round at Ashburton, Dutchy said he had a night he'd prefer to forget. But with consistent top five finishes in earlier rounds, his points tally was enough to clinch third in the series and be the highest placed South Islander. The last time a South Island driver stood on the DHL winners' podium was in 2010 when another Cromwell speedway driver, Daryl Ainsley, came third in the series.
The 8 Round DHL Saloon Speedweek for is an annual invitational series with a 50/50 split between North and South Island competitors. One of those behind the series is high profile golf caddy and experienced saloon competitor Steve Williams who saw this as a way for top saloon drivers to race hard and fast without untidy drivers slowing them down or crashing them out. He also saw the DHL sponsored series as an opportunity for South Island drivers to improve skills through competing against such North Island drivers as the Cowling brothers, current 3NZ Nigel Ross and others.
Humbling and Very Special
"To finish third in a field of 26 of the country's best speedway saloon drivers is pretty special," said an understandably very happy Peter 'Dutchy' Schouten who in last year's DHL finished 7th. "Obviously Friday's first place on my home track gave me a good points lift and I knew the home crowd was right behind me. Their reaction when I drove the chequered flag around the track was very humbling, very special. And of course I couldn't have done it without my crew during the series, Craig Beduhn, Reon McPherson, Reon's partner Vanessa Power, Phil and Damian Burgess and Ivan Murdoch. A great crew."
While Dutchy's Friday night was memorable for all the right reasons, his closest rival, Nigel Ross of Auckland, had a night when if something could go wrong, it did. During the heats a steering breakage sent him into the wall and then after his crew repaired the damage, his engine developed problems. A non-starter for Friday's feature race, his 3rd place in round 7 on Saturday at Christchurch's Woodford Glen wasn't enough to make up the points to beat Dutchy into third overall.
Dutchy(34) is also very proud of younger brother, Arjen(33), a partner in the family's Rangiora dairy farm, who in a car he'd only raced a few times made huge improvements over last year.
DHL A Family Affair
Of the 26 DHL competitors there were two sets of brothers, the Cowlings and Schoutens, a Taranaki father and son, Craig and Thomas(26) Korff and in keeping with the family theme, Jackson Lovelady, son of racing legend and speedway chassis maker John, was at 17 the youngest competitor. As Jackson explained after putting in a blinder of a race at Cromwell where he was 4th over the finish line, his dad launched him into the deep end of speedway racing getting behind the wheel of a super saloon just two years ago and more recently splitting his racing between super saloons and saloons. To be rated among the country's top saloon drivers says a lot about this hugely talented young man who only turned 17 in August and whose game plan is racing overseas as a professional driver. Cromwell speedway will again see Jackson on Waitangi Weekend where he's a competitor in the Elf Cup Super Salon Series.
Other Cromwell contracted drivers put in very good DHL performances with overall mid-field places for veteran Pete Walsh and the steadily improving Pierre Leyser.
Friday night also included exciting races from sprintcars, six-shooters and other classes.
Speedway action continues at Queenstown Roofing Central Motor Speedway on Tues, December 30 with Round 5 of the Sprintcar War of the Wings and then on New Year's Day, the South Island Sprintcar Champs and the Southern Saloon Slam. As with all meetings there's lots of variety with support classes also racing. Both meetings start at 6pm with gates opening at 4pm.