Dramatic National Champs at Wittle! 2019 British Grasstrack Championships – Race Report and Results
Report and Result Images by Gareth Bemister – Action Images courtesy of Amanda Morrison
Such were the stakes of the event, the meeting ended in a way which will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons. Prior to an incident in the very last race of the day, the event produced superb race after superb race, as riders battled to claim a British title. The 500cc Sidecar Association once again produced an excellent venue and racing circuit for a meeting of this calibre, and have rightly been lauded for their efforts.
The 250cc solo class saw a real battle of the youngsters. Young Devonian Henry Atkins, who was attempting to claim a 3rd successive 250cc crown, was in superb form. He won his first two rides, but failed to finish his third. He had done enough to qualify for the semi-finals, and duly won this also.
Another teenager making waves in the sport is Charlie Brooks. He too was in good form after an exclusion in his opening ride. Just-out-of-youth wild card to the competition, Jake Mulford, was the surprise package, however. He had stormed to 3 fantastic wins heading into the semi-final stage and topped the points list. It wasn’t until the semi-final that he was beaten. This defeat was brought by Brooks.
Luke Harris, who only has a few years over these teens himself, had also scored well heading into the final stages of the meeting. He had won his final heat against relative veteran, Yorkshire’s former British champion David Knowles. Knowles was trying his best to stay on terms with the flying youngsters.
In the final, it was Atkins who took the win, becoming the first 250cc rider since Mark Wadsworth in 1991 to claim a third title in a row. Atkins is only the ninth rider to have won three British titles in-a-row and joins an elite list which includes Wadsworth, Steve Schofield, Alf Hagon and James Shanes.
The 350cc Solo event was equally as competitive, though more experienced heads rose to the fore in this class. Sadly, pre-meeting favourite Mark Giles suffered a heavy fall in his second ride and was put out of the meeting after suffering a concussion. Reigning champion Tom Perry looked determined to hold onto his crown and claim a fourth title. He was unbeaten heading into the final.
Former European and British Masters champion Paul Hurry once again contested this 350cc title and was also in good form. He won two heats and his semi-final, only being beaten by Yorkshireman Andrew Whitaker in their opening ride. Whitaker went on to win another heat later in the day.
2017 champion Rob Finlow was quietly scoring points. He took a win in his opening ride and then finished third and fourth respectively. However, a good ride in his semi-final saw him finish 2nd to Perry.
Another experienced competitor, Dave Mears, had scored steadily also. He won a heat on his way to qualifying 4th for the final. However, disaster would strike the popular Kent racer in the final.
The first running of the final produced some fierce battles. The two front runners, Perry and Hurry, were locked in battle. Suddenly, a collision between the two left Hurry’s machine on the floor. With nowhere to go, Mears collected the stricken bike, throwing him violently over the handlebars and into the fence. A sad end to the day for Mears, who suffered some nasty injuries from the fall.
The rerun was called, but several significant factors came into play. With Mears out injured and Paul Hurry’s machine wrecked, he was forced to borrow a bike for the rerun. In the rerun, Perry got himself in front and led the race, but Rob Finlow rode a terrific wide line to dispose Perry of the lead and went onto win his second British title. Almost immediately after, Perry hit mechanical problems and was forced to retire. Possibly, he was already feeling the effects of a primary belt going and was slowing when Finlow passed him. Andrew Whitaker had got himself into second, whilst Hurry, on board unfamiliar machinery, still rode the bike to an impressive third place.
Up until the very end of the event, the 500cc sidecar competition was simply magical. Two crews emerged as main contenders for the title, though several others could never be counted out. European Sidecar Vice-Champions Mitchel Godden/Paul Smith won their opening two races and looked in excellent form. Equally, reigning British Champions Josh Goodwin/Liam Brown won their opening two rides and looked superb. The two crews would clash twice in the heats. In the first meeting of the two, Goodwin/Brown took the honours, putting in an excellent display. However, the second meeting of the pairing saw the positions reversed, setting up the meeting perfectly for the winner-take-all final. Simon Beard, who had teamed with Sam Heath for the day, had also been in good form. He won two races, but had not been able to get the better of the leading two crews.
The first two laps of the final produced some tremendous racing. Goodwin/Brown got themselves to the front and started to establish their lead. A poor start from Godden/Smith meant that they had an awful lot of work to do to catch up. Former eight-time British Champions Shaun Harvey/Danny Hogg were in the mix also. They were plugging away on the inside, hoping for a mistake. What unfolded at the end of the third lap was unfathomable, as both outfits became involved in an incident which is still being investigated. The decision was made to exclude both of the leading outfits. A series of protests followed and the meeting was drawn to a close. Eventually, Shaun Harvey/Danny Hogg were declared champions after completing 3 out of the 4 laps in the final. This brings an unprecedented ninth British title to the pairing, and a tenth British title for Shaun Harvey.
The Lefthand sidecars saw a welcome return to the class for former British Champions Will Penfold/Ricky Pay, who have been concentrating on the sidecar speedway scene. They won their opening three rides in great fashion. In their final ride, they couldn’t get the better of Rob Heath/Kyle Fish, and had to settle for second. Heath/Fish were riding excellently. They won their first two races and failed to finish their third. A victory over Penfold/Pay heading into the final gave them a psychological edge over the three-time British Champ.
The six outfits produced another superb final. Penfold/Pay managed to get to the front, but Heath/Fish had enough pace to pass them and claim their first British Championship title. It has been a title that has been a very long time coming for Rob Heath, who has been racing in the class for well over twenty years. And for passenger Kyle, it was a meaningful title, twice won by his Great Uncle John in the late eighties and early nineties.
The small 500cc solo support class provided some highly competitive races, with some top class riders. Eventual winner Paul Cooper won four out of the five races, only being bested once by Charley Powell, who duly finished overall as runner-up.
Despite the unsavoury, uncertain end to this meeting, there will be plenty of fabulous racing to look back on over the day. The rise of the youngsters in the 250cc class really showcased the talent that lies in the current teenage Grasstrack contingent. Spare a thought for those injured on Sunday. We all wish them a speedy recovery. A huge well done to 500cc Sidecar Association, who stepped in to run this event for the second season in a row and really did deliver once again.