Motorsport: National title at first tilt

New Zealand Saloon Car champion Rob Flood, of Blenheim, said the adrenaline was still pumping an hour after his win at the Central Motor Speedway in Cromwell on Sunday morning. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.
New Zealand Saloon Car champion Rob Flood, of Blenheim, said the adrenaline was still pumping an hour after his win at the Central Motor Speedway in Cromwell on Sunday morning. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.
His goal was just to make the New Zealand Saloon Car Championship final at Cromwell but Rob Flood aced that by winning his first national title.

''I'm shaking ... I can't really believe it's happened,'' the Blenheim driver said, an hour after winning the race at the Central Motor Speedway, early on Sunday morning.

It was the first time the national event had been held in the South Island and also the first time a South Island driver had won the title and the right to race with 1NZ emblazoned on his car. ''I came here with the ambition of qualifying and being in the top 20 cars through to the final,'' Flood said.

The final was a stop-start affair and only eight cars were left on the track after six stops as competitors crashed or had mechanical problems. Flood took the lead in his Ford Mustang after the sixth stop, with 16 laps of the 25-lap race to go, and was soon the length of the straight ahead of his nearest rival. Steve Cowling finished in second place and Brent McClymont, who was runner-up last year, finished third.

Flood (35) is in his fifth season of competition and it was his first attempt at the national title. He said the interruptions to the race did not distract him.

''You just concentrate on what you're doing, as well as keeping an eye on the others. Once I got into the front, I just went with it, but I honestly expected, every time I turned a corner in the track, to have someone else come powering through from behind.''

This year was already shaping up to be a special one for the self-employed painter and his wife Nikki, as they are expecting their first child in June. Mrs Flood was in Cromwell to watch her husband race and admitted she shed ''a few buckets of tears'' as he won. The support of his wife, parents and pit crew, all contributed to his success, he said.

It was special to win the event in the South Island. Cromwell, together with Nelson, were his two favourite racetracks in the country, Flood said.

Central Speedway president Andy Erskine, of Arrowtown, said the feedback from drivers about the track and organisation of the event was very complimentary.

''It was a big deal for a small club like us, with a small volunteer base, to host an event like this but the drivers, especially those who travelled so far, were impressed with how well the track stood up and they loved the race meeting.''

Countless hours had been spent preparing the track and volunteers and the club's sponsors had ''worked hard to make this happen,'' he said. Erskine estimated between 1500 and 2000 people attended the two nights' racing at Cromwell.