Today's sixth and final round of the Jetpro jet sprint championship lived up to its cliff-hanger predictions as teams chased for New Zealand titles under grey skies at Wairarapa's Tauherenikau J & S Aquatrack.
Headed by Whangarei's Denis Crene in the Jetpro Lites category, Taupo's Reg Smith in the Whitepointer Boats Group A and Wanganui's Leighton Minnell in the Hydraulink supported Suzuki Superboat, they each had work to affirm their placing.
For Minnell, his almost insurmountable points lead meant he and navigating wife Kellie secured their back-to-back season titles early in the day's elimination heats. The pair's main target was to then set fastest time and win the round outright for the sixth time this season, even in the face of touted opposition intent on keeping them from setting a new series record. Chased by title podium contenders Steve Bron (Wanganui), Rob Coley (Wanganui) and Ray Ferguson (Lower Hutt), the Minnell's final time of a 46.158seconds kept them alone in the 46sec bracket with neither Bron nor Ferguson able to get below 47sec in the final run. The round win caps off their securing of back-to-back New Zealand titles to go with the Wanganui.com Superboat World Series crown they won in February.
"Six out of six - it's just been a dream year," said Minnell having clean-swept the series. "My first goal for the year was to repeat the New Zealand championship title and give myself a good shot at being a world champion. We've done all that - the only thing we haven't won this year is Lotto!"
Expecting a number of their peers to throw it all away in the quest to better their times, the
Minnell's stayed composed, leaving the best for last: "I knew the boys were going to come charging; they'd been calling me during the week saying they were out to beat me, and that's cool - the camaraderie has been awesome. Even Peter Caughey (former world champion) has said it would have to be the fiercest Superboat racing he's witnessed today. So I believe the sport is in good nick and leaves me excited about next year."
However it was the single point separating Whitepointer Boats Group A leader Smith from past front-man Sam Newdick (Hamilton) that had the mathematicians abuzz. Having announced his retirement would start after the final run, Smith needed to finish no worse than second should Newdick win the round. Breaking in to the 49sec bracket in the top-five eliminations that preceded the top-three run-off, the pair was joined by potential championship wedge-lock Richard Murray (Wanganui).
For the final run of the year Newdick set a time of 49.205 - 0.340 faster than Smith to collect enough points to tie the championship position. However on superior placing count-back, Smith and wife Julie broke the tie to secure back-to-back titles along with the Wanganui.com Group A World Series title the pair won recently.
"We won the battle but not the war," said Newdick of the round victory. "Sometimes that's the way things go. The boat always had the goods to perform but unfortunately we had technical difficulties throughout the season that has been our Achilles heel. To end up on the same amount of points as Reg in the end is a big achievement, so we're pretty happy given how things have turned out."
For Reg and Julie Smith getting in to the top-three along with Newdick meant the overall title was on the line right down to the final run.
"My first reaction was probably slight disappointment because I wanted to clinch my last round in fine style; that would have been the dream finish," described Smith of the final result. "But Sam went out and did his best and at the end of the day we were only fractions of a second off him.
"Then it all dawned on me that we'd won back-to-back championships and that's not an easy feat in this class. Then I looked over to Julie and said we should be pretty bloody happy.
"All-in-all it was a pretty good effort by the whole team and we go out on a pretty good high."
Converting his ten point advantage in to a New Zealand title, brothers Denis and Steve Crene were running a close second to Australia's Paul Gaston in the top-five eliminations. Managing to pull enough of an advantage in the final for Crene's third round win of the season, the pair finished well clear of title runners-up Brett Thompson and Megan Brodie. The Piopio based rookies finished third for the day, in the same boat driven by father Ray in to the top-five heat.
Savouring the win with a 'long drink', the Crene brothers become the only new champions for the 2012 season: "It was a pretty good feeling - that's for sure. The aim was to get the championship but to also go out on a win - so to get there was very very difficult actually, it's fierce competition. So it was a good battle all day, it was great.
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