Changeable weather conditions throughout the meeting made tyre choice crucial for drivers at Ballymena Raceway on Friday evening.
The track never dried up completely to allow the drivers to reach top speed and any mistake on the varying track surface proved costly indeed.
Main event on the race card was the opening round of the National Hot Rod World Qualifying Series for the National Hot Rods, which has received backing from Hankook Peformance Tyres for the new campaign.
Before the action got underway newly crowned World Champion Adam Maxwell paraded his title winning Vauxhall Tigra and the Crumlin based racer received a warm welcome from the local race fans.
When the track action got underway Maxwell almost recorded a fairytale win in his first race as World Champion, but had to settle for second place behind eventual winner Simon Kennedy in the opening heat race.
2005 World Champion Keith Martin took the honours in heat two which earned the Dungannon driver pole position for the final. Martin never put a wheel out of place in the feature race to record a flag to flag win in his Vauxhall Tigra and collected the Richard Turtle Memorial Trophy.
It was a very fitting win too, as Martin had raced regularly with Richard in the National Hot Rod class during the late eighties and early nineties.
Derek Martin followed his uncle across the finish line, but received a two place penalty from the steward for an incident on the last lap which promoted 2015 winner Adam Hylands into second place with Shane Murray in third.
Richard Turtle Memorial Trophy: 1st. Keith Martin, 2nd. Adam Hylands, 3rd. Shane Murray, 4th. Derek Martin, 5th. Gary Wilson, 6th. Adam Maxwell
Race of the night however was provided by the Stock Rod class, which contested their Irish Masters event. A four strong entry from Scotland, which included World Champion Michael Bethune and British Champion Jim Pitcaithly, travelled over for the event and their presence inspired the locals to produce a breathless final that sizzled with action from start to finish. Ballymena’s Jason Clyde had split the qualifying heat wins with Pitcaithly to earn pole position for the final with the Scotsman alongside on the front row.
It was Clyde who slipped into the lead at the start while Pitcaithly dropped down to sixth during the feisty opening exchanges where no inch was given by any driver. Clyde continued to hold sway under intense pressure until lap fourteen when Sam McKinstry jumped from fourth to first after the leaders tripped over each other at Fisherwick bend. Pitcaithly worked his way back to challenge the new leader and eased ahead just two laps from home to snatch victory at the end of a pulsating race. McKinstry claimed the runner-up spot and Ryan Murphy secured one of his best championship results to date in third.
Stock Rods Irish Masters: 1st. Jim Pitcaithly, 2nd. Sam McKinstry, 3rd. Ryan Murphy, 4th. Aaron Moody, 5th. Jason Clyde, 6th. David Kempton
Races for the Group Two Lightning Rods and Super Saloons completed the programme of events at the meeting, which was jointly sponsored by Townparks Car Sales and Greers of Antrim VOLVO. The GP2 racers contested their Irish Grand Prix and it was Karl Smyth who took the trophy in his Vauxhall Astra. Smyth had to be on his guard throughout a keenly contested final however as Nigel Doherty from Garvagh put the winner under intense pressure for much of the race. Broughshane’s Matthew Curran made good progress through from the fourth row of the grid to finish in third, with David Reynolds in fourth. The qualifying heats brought victories for Smyth and Irish Champion Andy McLeister.
GP2 Irish Grand Prix: 1st. Karl Smyth, 2nd. Nigel Doherty, 3rd. Matthew Curran, 4th. David Reynolds, 5th. Andy McLeister, 6th. Kenny Carson
Meanwhile Aaron McGraw enjoyed a convincing win in the Super Saloon Gold Roof Trophy. Michael McMinn set the early pace in the final, but was quickly demoted by a fast moving Trevor McFaul. McGraw was right in the leader’s tail however and eased ahead on lap five to control proceedings from the front in his powerful Honda. Earlier on returnee Colin Clifford had claimed the opening heat in his Toyota and Steven Elder took the honours in heat two.
Super Saloon Gold Roof Trophy: 1st. Aaron McGraw, 2nd. Colin Clifford, 3rd. Trevor McFaul, 4th. Bobbie Johnston, 5th. Michael McMinn, 6th. Steven Elder
The next action at Ballymena Raceway takes place on Friday 12 August where the F2 Stock Cars will compete for the Moffett Shield. Group Twos, Stock Rods, Super Salons and Round 3 of the Junior Rod Gold Roof Series complete the programme of events.