Fathers and Sons! British Grasstrack Championships – Race Report & Results
The poetic irony was not lost on many on Father’s Day Sunday at the British Championships, as 500cc Sidecar former European Champions Josh Goodwin and Liam Brown won their sixth British crown, equally the tally of Josh’s father Lester. The day, which saw Britain’s best 250cc and 350cc solos, 500cc and Lefthand sidecars do battle on a near-perfect racing surface, produce some fantastic racing from the very first race.
Report and Result Images courtesy of Gareth Bemister – Action Images courtesy of Martin Ilsley
For Goodwin and Brown, it was by no means plain sailing. The duo under-performed by their high standards in the qualifying heats, managing just the single heat win in their final qualifying heat. Mitchel Godden and Paul Smith looked to be in devastating form, storming to four wins out of four in the qualifying heats. The qualification heats didn’t just see riders into the final, but carried the added impetus of qualification for next year’s European Championships. The top two outfits from the qualifying heats would see them being seeded directly into next season’s Championships final meeting, with 3rd to 6th qualifying for the all-important semi final. With their immaculate showing in the heats, Godden/Smith made sure that they’d be at the Euro Final in 2019. The other crew to do so was host club members Shaun Harvey and Danny Hogg. The 8x British champs were in excellent form, winning two and finishing runners-up in their other two races. Once qualification was over, mindsets quickly diverted back to the task in hand of becoming British champions.
Goodwin/Brown made an excellent getaway from the on-track start, and fended off all challenges. Simon Beard and stand-in passenger Phill Rowlands rode solidly to finish runners-up after some hard-fought dices throughout the programme. Godden/Smith have every right to feel aggrieved with finishing 3rd in the final after performing so well in the heats. A collision during the race saw Shaun Harvey/Danny Hogg leaving the circuit, putting paid to any chances of them winning a ninth title.
Some of the most spectacular racing was seen in the two solo classes as both boasted arguably the best lineups for many years. The 250cc solo class was once again dominated by youngsters as Plymouth Devils speedway rider Henry Atkins went through all of his heats and the semi-final unbeaten. His closest rivals heading into the final were another two of Grasstrack’s hottest prospects; Luke Harris and Charlie Brooks. Both of them had scored up impressive heat wins throughout the afternoon, though Brooks had hit the deck hard in one of his heats. Another notable performance came from a racer at the other end of the race-experience spectrum. 1992-1993 British Champion Graham Thomas had been in amongst the top scorers all afternoon, as had another previous winner, 2004 champion David Knowles.
The final served up a bonefide classic. It was Atkins who led out of an incredibly tight first bend, with Harris giving chance. A mistake exiting the pit turn allowed Harris to gain ground and pass Atkins before a determined ride by the young Devonian saw him regain the lead and defend his British title. Charlie Brooks was never too far from the action in 3rd, with Graham Thomas finishing 4th. An excellent race which can be seen by following this link. Don’t forget to subscribe to the channel.
Equally as enthralling was the 350cc class. In the heats, it was an old campaigner doing all of the winning. Former European Champion and British Masters champion Paul Hurry was in tremendous form. He won all of his heats, including some excellent races with Tom Perry, whom he met three times, including the semi-final. Perry looked to almost have the better of Hurry at times, but the wily campaigner was always able to do enough to hit the finish 1st. The only other rider to go through the heats and semi-final unbeaten was defending champ Rob Finlow. The Midlander looked in great form and had fans licking their lips at the prospect of seeing him join the Hurry/Perry foray in the final.
The final provided plenty of controversy. The first running of the final saw a fall in the first bend as all of the riders leapt for the same piece of Essex turf, skittling each other other. Thankfully, nobody was hurt and all eight could return for the re-run. Then the real drama struck. Maximum man and arguable favourite for the title, Paul Hurry broke the tapes. The inevitable happened and Hurry was excluded from the re-run. Many in the crowd were severely disappointed as a potential favourite left the action.
With Hurry gone, the stage was set for a blockbuster between Tom Perry, vowing to recapture his 350 title, and Rob Finlow, striving to defend his title. Another close first turn ensued, but it was Perry who emerged in the lead. He rode well to lead the pack home, claiming his 3rd British title. Finlow tried hard but could make no in-roads on Perry and had to settle for 2nd this year. Kentish racer Mark Giles finished a strong showing by finishing 3rd in the final.
The Lefthand class provided drama of its own. Sadly, with several key members of the Lefthand fraternity on the injury list, and Joe Butcher/Michael Chittenden suffering terminal mechanical problems in practice, the field was depleted to just 6 outfits, all desperate to win a British title. Due to the rules of ACU championships, the event would still be decided over a straight final, therefore racers rode to get a higher pick of gate positions in the final.
In the final, top-scorers Martin Cuff/Colin Clarke led away from the tapes before contact occurred between their most likely rivals (and another former British championship crew) Tony Penfold/Carl Bell. Sadly, the incident gave Penfold/Bell quite a deficit to make up, leaving Cuff/Clarke to storm home to claim their 2nd championship as a unit and Martin’s 5th title. Penfold/Bell were able to make it back up to 3rd before being excluded from the results for removing their outfit from the parc ferme. Passenger Carl Bell had picked up a nasty injury in the first bend melee and all were keen to leave the field. A sad outcome for the crew who were the only ones to have beaten Cuff/Clarke all day. Rob Heath/Kyle Fish, who’d had a torrid day through the heats, made sure that they made amends in the final by finishing runners-up, with a delighted Chris Berwick/Kayleigh Booth being bumped up to 3rd after the exclusion.
Two weekends of Championship Grasstrack and two weekends of some of the best racing seen for years. The 500cc Sidecar Association presented a terrific day’s racing (and consider that only 6 weeks ago they’d ran their Eastern Centre Championship event at the same venue). The Champions’ names go into the record books now as well look forward to the rest of the season. Congratulations to the club, the riders, but most of all to the new British Grasstrack Champions for 2018.