Following the dominance of interstate driver Lee Nash in the previous night’s Darwin Title, the local drivers got one back, when Chace Karpenko came out on top in last night’s third running of the Pitlane Liquor / Bullseye Trading Pope 65 Bob Ekins Memorial at Darwin’s Roller Door Services NT Northline Speedway.
In what was the second night of the iFind Pipes ‘N’ Cables Chariots of Thunder, Karpenko was able to use his vast Northline Speedway knowledge to his advantage and lead the 30-lap Pope 65 Bob Ekins Memorial feature race from the drop of the green flag through to the fall of the chequered flag.
Heading into the feature race, the form driver was another local in Ben Atkinson. After a disappointing run the previous night, Atkinson was on a mission, which was coupled by getting more familiar with the Xtreme Motorsport team car, and managed to come out on top of points at the completion of the heat races and went on to win the pole shuffle. However, in the feature race, where he had opted to start from the outside of the front row, things didn’t go according to plan. At the drop of the green, Karpenko, who had finished second in the pole shuffle, powered straight to lead from his pole position start, while Atkinson struggled in the early laps and consequently dropped back down the order to fourth.
As Atkinson struggled in the early stages of the feature race, Karpenko was locked in a battle with the inaugural Pope 65 Bob Ekins Memorial winner McIver. Despite McIver’s best efforts, he wasn’t able to take control of the race lead. Throughout the feature race, Karpenko and McIver fought it out, which saw Karpenko in control out in front, but then in lapped traffic McIver managed to close in on numerous occasions and apply pressure on the leader. In a race that saw a handful of stoppages, Karpenko was able to power away on every restart and that turned out to be one of his biggest advantages and set up his solid win.
At the fall of the chequered flag, Karpenko took out a popular win ahead of McIver, who finished in the runner-up spot for the second night in a row, while the podium was completed by South Australian Glen Sutherland. Unlike the previous night, Sutherland wasn’t hampered by mechanical woes and therefore started the feature race from position four and was rewarded with another satisfying performance.
Just outside the podium finishers in fourth was Western Australian Ben Ellement. After a third-place finish in the pole shuffle, Ellement elected to take up the Pope 65 Bob Ekins Memorial challenge (which was a bonus $4,000 if a driver could start from position 11 in the field and go on to win the $5,000 winner’s cheque). Despite Ellement’s best efforts, he was unable to move forward in the early stages of the feature race but was able to work his way forward in the latter stages and ended up just one spot shy of the podium.
Local Danny Porter greeted the chequered flag in fifth, but his run in the feature race certainly wasn’t without its fair share of challenges. Following a position five starting spot, Porter was in the wars early on in the race and had a massive ‘bike’ going into turn four on lap seven, which saw him collide with the wall. The contact with the wall damaged his jacob’s ladder, but the experienced racer was able to stay in the race and brought home a credible result inside the top five.
The top-10 finishers were completed by Western Australian teenager Mitch Wormall, another youngster in Victorian Rusty Hickson (the highest placed 360 Sprintcar finisher), Jason Gebert, Troy David and Chris Harrison. The remaining finishers were Nick Halkitis, Caleb Gotts, Keith Phelps and David Ling.
Despite the feature race displaying plenty of hard-fought racing, there were a number of casualties as the drivers fought for positions around the 400-metre Northline Speedway track. The first retirement was Mark Robinson on lap four, due to a mechanical issue, but just three laps later, Robinson was joined on the infield by NSW’s Kyle Caunt and local Steven Ling. After impressively qualifying for the pole shootout, Caunt had his feature-race brought to a premature end, when he crashed out in between turns three and four. Ling also caught up in the accident and picked up a flat right-rear tyre as a result. Another driver who suffered damage in the accident but was luckily to be able to continue was the previous night’s Darwin Title winner Lee Nash (WA). Unable to avoid colliding with Caunt while he was crashing, Nash suffered both front and top wing damage; however, he was able to continue on.
On lap 18, as the leaders worked their way through lapped traffic, the lapped car of Luke Robinson crashed out in spectacular fashion in turn three. The Kununurra-based racer flipped multiple times, and it resulted in Atkinson, who was strongly running in fourth at the time, being unable to avoid contact with Robinson. As result, both cars were towed to the infield. Despite the massive crash, Robinson’s car wasn’t extensively damaged.
The final stoppage of the feature race occurred on lap 26, when Nash and Sutherland were fighting over the final spot on the podium, and it saw Nash crash into the main straight wall, which brought Nash’s night to an end.
Prior to the pole shuffle and the feature race, the heat races resulted in wins going the way of Nash, Ellement, Sutherland and McIver. In qualifying time trials, Porter managed to come out on top with a best lap of 12.470 seconds ahead of Caunt (12.990) and Atkinson (13.062).
Local Simon Spitzbarth was unable to take his place in the feature-race field, due to an accident earlier in the night. Following a crash the previous night, Spitzbarth and his team built up a new car. However, while running strongly in second in his final heat race aboard his 360 Sprintcar, he crashed out in between turns one and two and it saw his night come to a premature end. Another driver to encounter problems at the beginning of the night was Daniel Taylor, who was struck down by mechanical gremlins in hot laps.
The support-class action saw the feature-race wins were shared between Hayden Brown (Formula 500s), Dale Roberts (AMCA Nationals) and Lance Carew (Junior Sedans).
The final two nights of the iFind Pipes ‘N’ Cables Chariots of Thunder will be fought out this Friday and Saturday night at Roller Door Services NT Northline Speedway, which is going to be the two-night Northern Territory Title. The Wingless Sprints (NT Championship) and AMCA Nationals (NT Title) will join the program on both nights. The Junior Sedans are scheduled for Saturday night’s program only.
For more information about Darwin’s Roller Door Services NT Northline Speedway, visit their website: www.darwinspeedway.com.au. You can LIKE them on Facebook by searching Northline Speedway or find them on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat by searching Northline Speedway.