Huge crowd for 50th Whoppa! Wimborne Whoppa Grasstrack – Race Report and Results
Wimborne MCC staged the 50th anniversary of the Wimborne Whoppa at Merley Hall Farm, Dorset on Sunday, and racing fans came in their droves to witness one of the most famous events in the Grasstrack calendar.
Report and Result images courtesy of Gareth Bemister – Images courtesy of Darren Nokes
And for the massive crowd, the racing action delivered, with race after race of fantastic action, all taking place under unusually sunny October conditions. There really was a special feeling in the air for this meeting. Whether it was the enormous crowd, the excellent line-up of Britain’s best, the October sun or the near-starvation for fans of Southern Centre Grasstrack action, it is hard to decide. But what can be agreed on is that Wimborne Motorcycle Club presented a Grasstrack meeting of a very high standard.
The racing was fierce and fast, and as such, some racing incidents took place. However, it’s pleasing to report that no fallers were too badly injured. Some big names fell foul to accidents, and in many ways these incidents shaped the results of the day. In the 500cc Solos class, former European Champions Andrew Appleton and Paul Hurry both suffered opening race crashes, ending their days before they had even started- Hurry had picked up a nasty knee injury and Appleton had been knocked unconscious and therefore was not allowed to complete the day’s racing. Paul Cooper, who’d been a victim of the Appleton fall, hit the deck hard but bravely fought on through the day. Fresh from his heroics for the local Poole Pirates team, Chris Harris produced a marvellous opening ride, twice overcoming Edward Kennett to lead the race and then the rerun of the race. But in his second ride, Bomber fell heavily whilst fighting with James Shanes and Kennett once again. He stood up quickly, but wasn’t able to remount.
Shanes himself was having a solid day. The local rider, who won his first British Masters title at this very venue in 2015, won his opening ride after catching and passing James Wright, but this was to be his last taste of victory, as Edward Kennett and then Chris Harris showed Shanes the way home in the second and third races. By now, it was clear that the winner of this Grasstrack meeting could be any one of five or six riders. Tim Nobes never looked too far away from the leaders, but was suffering with some poor starts. And perhaps the surprise package of the day was former British Upright Champion Stephen Green. He looked on the pace with the front runners. The top four points scorers were seeded straight to the final and if it hadn’t been for losing a chain in his second ride, Green would have comfortably qualified for the final.
Former Premier League Rider’s Champion James Wright top scored going into the final, with Shanes and Kennett joining him. The fourth qualifier, completing a fine season’s racing, was Dave Mears. The evergreen ‘fifty-something’, who also competed in his first European Final this year, capped off a great year by grabbing the 4th spot in the final. The rest would need to finish in the top 4 in the B Final to keep hopes of Whoppa glory alive.
The 250cc solo class produced some highly entertaining racing throughout, though there was never really a doubt about the winner. Coventry Bees teamster Luke Harris, who was doubling up in the 250s and 500s, won each of the four point scoring races convincingly. He was only troubled in the very early stages of the race, when Russell Little made some fantastic starts and first corners. Harris, however, was able to round Little quickly and never looked back from here. A fine win for Harris. The race for second, however, was a little less clear-cut. In the opening ride, it looked like Little might capitalise on his fast starts to finish second, only for Ben Ilsley to make up several places before rounding Little on the last lap. This pattern continued throughout the day for Ilsley, who made poor starts and first turns throughout before picking his way through the pack. No other rider made as many overtaking manoeuvres as Ilsley. However, both Little and Ilsley’s hopes for second were dashed when, after the opening race, Ollie Stanford got to grips with the circuit and blasted into second. He had no answer to Harris, but equally Ilsley, Little and later in the day Cornishman Lee Charles could stop Stanford from securing three second places. Little managed to get the better of Ilsley in the third ride after Ilsley was once again forced to try and carve his way through from the back, but a third place in the final race was enough to secure a third overall for Ilsley, bumping his old mate Russell Little off of the podium.
In the 500cc sidecar class, a traditional class for the Whoppa with their inclusion being a maintain in the meeting since 1982, it was British Champions and former European Champions Josh Goodwin and Liam Brown who dominated the event. Several of the other top-class outfits tried to match the pair for pace, but they simply looked unstoppable. Closest to them, and finishing as deserved runners-up were European Number 2 outfit Mitchel Godden and Paul Smith, though Godden suffered throughout with a work-based injury, and Smith continued on despite picking up an injury himself in practice. Young Welsh-border pairing Shaun Hughes and Louis Bennett continued their rapid progress in the sport, winning two out of the three qualifying heats. And eight-time British Champions Shaun Harvey and Danny Hogg delivered a typically wily performance, not winning a single race all day but always doing enough to ensure their route to the final.
The rest of the riders had to compete in the B.Final, with the top 2 joining the aforementioned four crews in the big A Final. With their sons safely in, retiring crew Barrie Bennett/Eifion Hughes produced a masterful race, gating well and getting away from the squabbling pack behind them. The other five outfits fought ferociously for the last spot in the final. Yorkshire brothers Chris and Aaron Hay had looked fast all afternoon and found themselves in second place. They produced a ragged four laps which just about did enough to fend off attacks from James Hogg/Scott Goodwin, Natasha Bartlett/Curtis McAlinney and later Aaron Vale/Ciara Southgate who were all over the back of them. A hard luck story which should be told must be for Hogg/Goodwin, who suffered a heavy impact from another crew in one of their heats which brought them to a stop. The crew had been riding well all afternoon, but this DNF put them out of the A Final and into the B.Final, where they narrowly missed out on the all-important second place.
In the final, it led from start to finish by Josh Goodwin/Liam Brown, with Mitchel Godden/Paul Smith holding second and Shaun Harvey/Danny Hogg fending off early battles to establish themselves in third. A fine title for Goodwin to win, and one his father Lester only won as a passenger.
The 1000cc sidecar class boasted four heats, with 24 outfits entered altogether. As expected, racing was fierce and fast from the get-go with an incident in the very first race bringing the event to a pause. Welshman Neal Owen and passenger Jason Farwell, who have been in very fine form recently, led the race with Matthew Fumarola/Gareth Williams tucking in for second. But the race for third developed into an absolute combat. Guernsey pairing Clint Blondel/Kev Bennett locked horns with Simon Heal/Rowland Broomfield and returning rider Nevill Penfold/Chris Wall with none of the trio giving an inch. As the three outfits hurtled three abreast down the finishing straight on lap 3, the inevitable occurred. The outfit of Penfold/Wall was tipped by one of the other outfits, throwing experienced passenger Chris Wall off the outfit hard. A real shame to end a battle in this way. Wall suffered some nasty bumps and scrapes and this saw the end of the day for Penfold’s return- the outfit which he was riding, however, would come into play again later.
By the end of the third leg rides, Several outfits had taken heat wins. Gareth Winterburn/Liam Brown, who were aboard father Rod’s outfit, had won two out of three races and looked very fast. But an excellent race between them, Colin Blackbourn/Carl Pugh and Neal Owen/Jason Farwell saw them awarded third after moving the Godden over forcefully entering the pits turn. Blackbourn/Pugh won this race and had looked fast throughout their heats. Owen/Farwell had had some highly entertaining races and a heat win. This third heat battle with Blackbourn/Pugh and Winterburn/Brown was an instant classic. And prior to that, in their second ride, they’d been involved in an absolute slog-fest with Mark Cossar/Carl Blyth and Tom Cossar/Wayne Rickards. Although Owen/Farwell were clearly one of the quickest outfits in the heats, they had not managed to accrue enough points and would need the B.Final to secure a final place. They’d been involved in some magical races, but what was coming next was an outright barnstormer!
Mark Cossar/Carl Blyth won their opening ride convincingly, as we’ve come to expect from the multi- British Masters Champions. Owen/Farwell had given them a bit to think about in their second ride, but there was no doubt that the Suzuki-powered Cossar outfit looked quicker. And all seemed to be going to plan in their third ride as they once again led by a country-mile, before a puff of blue smoke, a horrible noise and a dramatic spin by the pit box spelled disaster for them. The GSX-R Suzuki had given up in spectacular fashion, leaving Cossar/Blyth with just 14 points, and the B.Final loomed.
In comparison, Paul Whitelam/Alan Elliott’s route to the final had been relatively straightforward. Back to back wins in the opening two rides were backed up by a second place in their third, after a fine ride by young Cornishman Kieran Hicks and Kieron Ivy kept Whitelam/Elliott at bay. But two wins and a second were enough for them to secure a seeded spot. Fumarola/Williams had also ridden well to claim the last automatic final spot, with a win and two seconds.
Perhaps most fittingly of all, in the final round of sidecar heats, Ringwood’s John Hiscock and passenger Terry Madley threw off the shackles of ageism to take a great heat win. Hiscock, who will be 71 next birthday, has competed in many Wimborne Whoppa’s over the years on both two wheels and three. And it was a fitting conclusion to see Hiscock take a win. And passenger Madley, who will turn 73 next year, has competed in plenty of Whoppa’s himself.
With qualification heats over, attention turned to the dramatic B.Finals. The top four 500cc solos and top 2 1000cc sidecars would progress to the finals in what had been a dramatic day already.
In the 500cc solo B.Final, Chris Harris showed his world class status by making an excellent start and never looking troubled. Several riders squabbled over the remaining places. Once again, Stephen Green showed great class to establish himself in second, Nobes fought doggedly for third, and Paul Cooper rounded Stuart Mears on lap 2 to take the final place in the big A Final.
A fairly straightforward race for the 500cc solos was matched by a complete thriller in the 1000cc sidecars. Welshman Neal Owen and Jason Farwell went head-to-head with Mark Cossar/Carl Blyth for four incredible laps of three-wheeled entertainment with neither willing to give an inch. Owen, no doubt frustrated by his very presence in the B.Final given his speed that afternoon looked as determined as ever. And Cossar, who must’ve been feeling very aggrieved having blown his own outfit’s engine up whilst leading, was equally as determined. Cossar had been leant the outfit of Clint Blondel, which earlier had seen Nevill Penfold campaigning on. It took half a lap for Cossar/Blyth to get to grips with the unfamiliar machinery before they were right on the pace. This race was a thriller and even the result produced controversy. Although Cossar/Blyth went over the finish line in first, their contact with Owen/Farwell heading into the pit turn was deemed to have given them an unfair advantage and the result was reversed. The point was moot, however, as a top two finish would see both of these outfits in the final. Farwell, however, had sustained an injury in the collision and would not be able to campaign the final.
The winner-takes-all finals produced drama of their own, albeit in less-contented circumstances. James Shanes looked like he was going to produce his best race of the day as he led the final. However, on lap four he fell from his machine and was collected by Paul Cooper, who was following on at speed. At this point concerns quickly turned to the well-being of the fallen riders. When it emerged that both riders had miraculously avoided serious injury, the race was declared and Edward Kennett was announced as the Wimborne Whoppa champion. James Wright’s solid day’s racing was rewarded with a runners-up spot, and Stephen Green had done enough to secure a third place and his greatest result to date. Chris Harris, who was a lot of people’s pre-meeting favourite, had not switched the fuel on his machine and therefore didn’t leave the line with everyone else. He rode round at the back and was even able to catch up with the tail enders, but was never going to trouble the front runners from the handicap.
The 1000cc sidecar final saw Gareth Winterburn and Liam Brown (who had already won the 500cc sidecar final by this point) emerge from a tight first bend in front and then they never looked like being caught. Whitelam/Elliott had to battle with Cossar/Blyth and Blackbourn/Pugh to hold onto second, but as the outfits entered the third lap, Blackbourn/Pugh came to a grinding halt right on the finish line in the centre of the circuit. The rear tyre had blown and had jammed the rear wheel, meaning that the outfit was unmoveable. The reg flags signalled a stop to the race and results were declared. Yorkshire’s British Masters Champions had capped off an excellent 2018 by winning the Wimborne Whoppa. And a great achievement by Liam Brown to take both the 500cc and 1000cc titles in the same day- a feat which has never been matched in the event’s 50 year history.
This event really did have it all, and does go to show just how special Grasstrack racing can be. We wish all of the very best to the fallen riders and wish them a speedy recovery. Many legends of the sport from yesteryear were in attendance for the event- Steve Schofield, Ken Lane, Steve Smith and many many more. Judging by the display at this event, they must feel proud of the legacy which they have left. And to Wimborne Motorcycle Club and all that brought big-time Grasstrack back to the South of England in October, we must all congratulate you heartily. Let’s all hope we see more meetings of this magnitude in the future.