Whitelam wows Leicester. British Sidecar Speedway Championships Round 1 – Race Report & Results
After all of the hype through the winter, and feelings of somewhat of a resurgence of the sidecar speedway scene, the ACU Events British Sidecar Speedway Championships was back with a bang on Saturday night at Leicester. Eighteen adrenalin-fuelled, heart-pounding heats were witnessed by a sizeable crowd at the home of the Leicester Lions, not to mention some tremendous racing full of thrills and spills in the 500cc sidecar support class.
Report and Result images by Gareth Bemister – Action images courtesy of Darren Nokes
The qualifying heats served up several interesting tussles. Even in heat one, with a line-up of Cave, Wilson, Whitelam and Mogg, action was seen throughout the four laps. This cracking opening heat really did set precedence for the rest of the evening as outfits battled to adjust both bike set-up and riding style to get round the tricky venue as quickly as possible. In the early heats, almost every outfit struggled to get out of the tight turns as the outfits all thundered into the corners. As the night progressed, so did the racing, with races becoming more and more difficult to predict.
Paul Whitelam/Alan Elliott, after finishing 2nd in that tough Heat one, were never headed again. The Nottingham crew went through the rest of their heats winning convincingly. The only outfit to have beaten Whitelam, Mick Cave and Bradley Steer, were also in great form. Fresh from their racing trip Down Under, they too would have gone through the card unbeaten, but for a spin in their third ride, leading them onto the in-field.
Reigning Champions Mark Cossar and Carl Blyth had a frustrating night by their high standards. However, they did win three of their four qualifying heats by quite some margin, but a thrown chain in their second ride meant that they dropped points.
The format for each meeting remains unchanged from last season. The top three point scorers (Whitelam, Cave and Cossar) would qualify for the final, with the next four outfits racing in the Semi Final Repercharge. Only the winner would progress to the final- the stakes are high!
In the Repercharge, it was the ever-improving outfit of Will Offen and Josh Russell who took the lead, closely traced by Rod and Billy Winterburn in second, with returning Rob Wilson and Terry Saunters dicing with the impressive team of Mick Stace and Roddy Stirling over 3rd. But as Lap 2 began, drama unfolded. An incident occurred exiting the bend which resulted in the Winterburn outfit sideways and stationary on the circuit. They did exit the circuit, but the referee had put the red lights on and the race was stopped. The referee decided that it was the leading crew of Offen/Russell who were the cause of the stoppage, and they were excluded from the re-run. The decision proved highly unpopular with the crowd as many in attendance questioned the decision. However, the referee’s decision was final. Offen and Russell had deemed to have caused the Winterburns to spin when they turned hard in the apex of the corner in front of them. Controversy aside, it was a shame to see the new combination of Offen/Russell’s evening to end this way after several excellent rides. Rod and Billy showed their credentials as a world class outfit by duly winning the rerun and taking their place in the final itself, though Rob Wilson/Terry Saunters pushed the Yorkshire crew hard for four laps.
More drama was to follow in the final. As the tapes went up, it was Mark Cossar/Carl Blyth who leapt into the lead and looked to have the meeting won. But more mechanical gremlins struck the title holders, putting an end to their race on Lap 3. However, just seconds before Cossar’s retirement, the Winterburn crew had also retired from the race. These precious seconds gave Cossar 3rd on the night and the Winterburns 4th. Paul Whitelam/Alan Elliott inherited the lead and, try as they might, Mick Cave/Bradley Steer couldn’t quite find a way past Whitelam/Elliott. The pairing raced at close proximity for the rest of the race until Whitelam/Elliott took the chequered flag, bagging 15 points on the night for his championship campaign.
New driver Jack Penfold and passenger Kizz Ivy gained precious laps throughout the evening with four-lap demonstration practice sessions in between heats. Penfold/Ivy look tidy and fast and will hopefully find a place in the meeting itself soon. Only one race came to the line without a full complement of four outfits. Sadly, Jack and Kizz had their carburettors off the machine when the moment came, and missed out on the ride.
The 500cc sidecars put on some fantastic racing in the support class, with plenty of heart-stopping moments of their own. New crew Chris Hay and Karl Hocaniuk looked very quick throughout the night, often having to race from the back. Experienced campaigners Barrie Bennett/Eifion Hughes scored highest of the crews, with James Hogg/Scott Goodwin and Shaun Hughes/Louis Bennett all tussling over positions all evening. In their final heat of the night, several crews came together causing a collision which saw the departure of Shaun Hughes/Louis Bennett. They’d already dropped points earlier in the night when they had had a coming together when leaving the start with Hay/Hocaniuk, causing significant enough damage to the outfit. The event ended with James Hogg/Scott Goodwin hitting the air fence at the top of the circuit in an incident occurring during yet another race-long battle. The racing in this class was fantastic on the night and fitted in the event perfectly. The four outfits on show did the class proud and certainly wowed the crowd!
The next round is due to take place in a month’s time at Somerset’s Oak Tree Arena Circuit on Friday 1st June. If this first round is anything to go by, the sidecar speedway this season is going to be unmissable. Make sure you get yourself to Somerset for the second round to see what all the fuss is about!