2019 Junior Drivers Championship Competitors

The 2019 edition of the McMillan Equine Feeds Junior Driver Championship, which is always a fiercely contested championship, was staged at Addington and Rangiora Raceways on the 5th and 7th July respectively, with two heats at each venue.

It is a North versus South competition, with each team containing 6 drivers. After a substitution early on for the North Island, when Jack MacKinnon who qualified fifth for the North Island team was unable to attend, he was replaced by Craig Smith.

Then, a few days later the South Island team was to also have a substitution, when Ben Hope had to withdraw due to illness and was replaced by Ellie Barron.

The teams were to be:-

Benjamin Butcher (Captain North)
Luke Whittaker
Alicia Harrison
Dylan Ferguson
Fergus Schumacher
Craig Smith

John Morrison (Captain South)
Mark Hurrell
Sheree Tomlinson
Kimberly Butt
Sarah O’Reilly
Ellie Barron

In the first heat of the series, a mobile trot, northern representative Dylan Ferguson was successful, taking out the race on the favourite Diana Harbour, with southerners John Morrison and Mark Hurrell filling the placings.

The second heat on the night, a mobile pace, was taken out by another favourite in Friend, driven by southern representative Kimberly Butt, with Sarah O’Reilly from the south and Benjamin Butcher from the north finishing second and third respectively.

After the first night of the competition, John Morrison (21 points) from the south was leading after a consistent effort with a second and a fourth, two points clear of Dylan Ferguson (19 points), with Kimberley Butt (18 points) in third place. John Morrison is also the country’s leading Junior Driver this season, having 57 wins heading into this competition. The Inter-Island Competition was led by the South Island team with 92 points to the North Island team’s 76 points.

Two days later, on Sunday, the competition was to head to Rangiora Raceway for the final two heats. The series was set up for an exciting conclusion, with New Zealand’s leading Junior Driver heading the points tally and last year’s champion Alicia Harrison from the north sitting just off the pace with 16 points. She was the star of last year’s championship, producing two wins and a placing from her four drives, to take out the title, but seeking back-to-back wins looked to be a tall order, with the last to achieve the feat being Tony Herlihy back in 1982.

Heat 3 of the competition, a mobile pace, saw Kimberly Butt have a second win with another favoured runner in Ideal Rule, sending her to the top of the leader board. Second was taken out by northern driver Luke Whittaker and third by Alicia Harrison.

The fourth and last heat of the series was a standing start pace and was won by southern driver Sarah O’Reilly behind Flamboyant. Ellie Barron from the south finished second and another southern representative in Mark Hurrell finished third.

In what was to be a very close finish to the competition, the winner of the final heat, Sarah O’Reilly was to take out the championship and be crowned the 2019 NZ Junior Driver Champion. Kimberly Butt finished in second placing, with John Morrison in third, making it a clean sweep for the south.

The South Island team scored a convincing victory over the North Island team, accumulating an impressive 187-point total.


Sarah O'Reilly takes out the NZ Junior Drivers Championships on Flamboyant
Sarah O'Reilly takes out the NZ Junior Drivers Championships on Flamboyant

arah won the championship by just one point, with only four points separating the first five finishers, but it was a deserved and welcome win, with an 11th, 2nd and 6th placing, before her notorious win.

An unassuming 19-year-old who had no aspirations of winning the championship, Sarah said, “I didn’t expect to get anywhere in this competition and it’s just really amazing and overwhelming.” Her aim was just to try and qualify for the championship and to better last season’s tally of 4 wins, but with the support of trainers Geoff Dunn, Dean Taylor, Bruce Negus and others, she has smashed that figure out of the park, to now be sitting on 20 wins for the 2018/19 season to date and be sixth on the national Junior Drivers Premiership.

Sarah said it was very satisfying to have come through the Kidz Kartz scheme and now be a champion and that apart from winning the memorial race named in honour of her late grandfather Patrick O’Reilly, winning the NZ Junior Driver Championship is the biggest thing she has done.

Sarah will now get the chance to take her career to an even higher level, as with her championship win, she now has the chance to compete in the Australasian Young Drivers Championship later in the year.

The final points standings were:-

Sarah O’Reilly 38
Kimberly Butt 37
John Morrison 36
Alicia Harrison 35
Ellie Barron 34
Luke Whittaker 32
Dylan Ferguson 27
Mark Hurrell 27
Benjamin Butcher 25
Fergus Schumacher 21
Craig Smith 15
Sheree Tomlinson 15

CONGRATULATIONS to Sarah O’Reilly and all other competitors, what a great championship it was.

Rob Carr