2008 British Championship: Coventry – 4th Oct Report

Stuart Smith Jnr wins the British Championship

Stuart Smith Jnr wins the British Championship

Just like his brother Andy the previous year, Stu Smith took some consolation at losing his World crown by winning the British Championship. The Championship was staged over the tried-and-tested five heats format, with each driver racing twice in the heats, with points scored determining the grid for the final. This, combined with Coventry’s addition of marker tyres on the bends to keep cars off the infield, led to what was probably the best Coventry meeting since the British Championship of 2002. All five heats had plenty of action, and the final itself was superb.

Richard Masterson (103) was the first away on the green, but Steve Malkin (308) put the bumper in on the first bend and was up the inside. Russell Cooper (415) was past both and into the lead on the second lap, while after a quick start, Frankie Wainman (515) was wide and back to the rear of the grid. Tom Harris (84) and Murray Harrison (97) had a spectacular coming togetherh on the pit turn, with both cars going skywards, while Wainman was under attack from first Rob Cowley (73) and then Mark Woodhull (335). Cooper and James Potter (146) pulled away from the rest of the pack in the early laps, and by the halfway these two were about ten lengths clear of third placed Dave Nickolls (242). Potter had a dive at Cooper, but missed, before edging up the inside to take the lead just before the lap boards. Further back, Paul Hines (259) had a massive lunge at Woodhull for one of the lower places, while Nickolls slowly got closer to second placed Cooper, taking second place with two laps to run. Potter lost a big lead on the last lap, when he was baulked by the spinning cars of Rob Cowley (73) and Timmy Aldridge (257) in the pit turn. This meant Nickolls was almost in striking distance as Potter entered the final turn, and a massive lunge by Nickolls saw the 146 car spin, and both of them clattering the armco, leaving Ian Noden (306) to come through for the win.

Graham Wagstaff (330) and Steve Malkin (308) swapped the lead a few times in the second heat before Wagstaff tangled with Andy Powell (493). A fantastically over the top hit from James Clement (158) put Ian Brickley (246) and Clement himself firmly into the fence, while Paul Harrison (2) landed a big one on James Neachell (322). The two cars hooked up and slewed onto the infield, knocking one of the new marker tyres onto the track in the process. Joff Gibson (249) had taken over at the front, and he had Andy Ford (13) not far behind. Gibson led past the halfway mark, but he was now behind backmarker Dave Willis (337), who wasn’t for moving over. Gibson spent a few laps trying to shift the 337 car, before Willis retired to the infield. Just before the lap boards appeared, Gibson, backmarker Daniel Wainman (212), and second placed Ford, were almost bumper to bumper. Ford sent Wainman out wide, and then did the same to Gibson with five laps to go to take the lead. Stu Smith (390) was now in second place, with Dan Squire taking third place with a last bend attack on Gibson.

Heat 3 gridded 25 cars, with Les Spencer (98) falling foul of the new infield marker tyres and spinning before he got to the start line, taking Rob Cowley (73) with him. Tim Warwick (307) led the first lap, but he crashed out with Mark Poole, whereupon Mal Brown (34), Steve Cayzer (380), Ed Neachell (321) and Daniel Johnson (4) crashed into them. This left Steve Malkin (308) leading on the second lap, and a composed drive saw the 308 car lead until the lap boards. mark Gilbank (21) and Andy Smith (391) had been quickly up through the field and were now in second and third place, but Gilbank had backmarker George Heppenstall (189) between him and leader Malkin. Gilbank reeled in Heppenstall and fired the 189 car into Malkin as they entered turn three This put Heppenstall out wide, but Malkin held his place. A lap or two later, Gilbank eased past Malkin on the back straight, and into the turn Malkin applied pressure to the 21 car’s back bumper. Smith then reached out and fired Malkin into Gilbank, which put Malkin out wide. Gilbank now led with 4 laps to run, but Smith was only a car length behind. With the leaders now in heavy traffic Smith seemed content to sit and wait, and as they started the last lap, Gilbank found himself behind backmarker Geoff Nickolls (215). Smith didn’t hesitate and put Gilbank into the 215 car to take the lead and the win.

The fourth heat was briefly led by Steve Malkin and James Potter before Noden took over. Smith (390) made his intentions clear early on by smacking Wainman (515) wide. Quickly moving up the order were Nickolls (242) and Harrison (97), and these two hit the front when Noden got it wrong in traffic and clipped a backmarker. Harrison bumpered Nickolls wide around the halfway stage, with Ford then doing the same to take second. Smith (390) was now up to fourth and closing, with Wainman not that far behind. Four laps to go, and Smith planted Nickolls into FOrd and moved into second place, with early leader Nickolls relegated down the order by Wainman on the last lap. Also out of luck was Ford, who ended the race in the fence on the last bend as Harrison took the chequered.

Slight rain meant the track was slippery for the last of the heats, which was a factor in Shenton, Willis, and Brocksopp getting tangled up on the back straight and hitting the fence in the opening lap. Tim Warwick (307) led the opening lap and then span out with second placed Mark Allen (301). This left James Clement (158) leading, and he put on a great show of throwing the car wildly into the bends. Clement led for about five laps before he was slowed by backmarker Ed Neachell (321), which let Nigel Whalley (198) and Ian Brickley (246) get by. Smith (391) was flying through the field, and as the lap boards came out he was second and getting closer to leader Whalley, but Gilbank was never far behind. A mistake by Whalley put the 198 car into a half spin, which let Smith close right up to the leader. Gilbank then fired Smith into Whalley, putting both wide, and the 21 car took the lead. Smith wasn’t far behind, but he was baulked by the spinning Steve Jacklin car, which gave Gilbank some breathing space for the final few laps.
After the five heats, Mark Gilbank and Andy Smith were the joint top scorers, with a win and a second place each, and Gilbank won the toss for pole position.

Gilbank was first away when the green dropped as they came around turn 4, with Smith (390) tucking in behind, and Smith (391) third as they crossed the start line. Behind them, the carnage started immediately. Noden, Smith (185), Gibson, Cooper, and Harrison (97) all came to grief on the home straight, while Scriven (12), Squire, and Nickolls crashed into the turn two fence, with Kevin Shinn (121), Mick Rogers (244), Neil Shenton (35), and Clement piling in.

Second placed Smith (390) was dumped into the pile-up as the yellows came out to assist Gibson, who was stranded across the track. The 390 car was deemed to have gone out while the yellows were out, and Smith re-instated himself for the restart.

The hectic opening laps had seen cars going in all directions, and making the most of it had been John Lund (53) and Dan Johnson (4), who had started on rows 12 and 13, and were now in the top 8 after just two laps. Race order for the restart read Gilbank, Smith (390), Smith (391), Wainman, Ford, Harris, backmarker Noden, Lund, and then Johnson. Lund passed Noden as soon as the green dropped, with Noden forced onto the outside down the homestraight and then too fast into turn one, putting himself into the fence.

Wainman made a decisive move on the next lap, when he reached out and hammered Smith (391) into the turn three fence. The 391 car bounced off the armco and rejoined the race well down the order. Ford crashed out of 4th place when he went into the spun 158 car, with Finnikin also going in.

The leading trio of Gilbank, Smith (390), and Wainman were now among the backmarkers, and Smith put the bumper in on Gilbank at the earliest opportunity. Gilbank held that one, but Smith then shoved the 21 car wide and into the parked Ford and Malkin cars on turn three to take up the running.

The yellows came out to attend to Malkin, and as they lined up for the restart race order now read 390, 515, 21, backmarker 446, 53, and 391. Booth went wide before the green was dropped and Lund and Smith were past. Wainman landed a big hit on Smith (390) into turn three to take the lead, with the 390 car dropping to fourth place, with Smith (391) and Harris (84) then squeezing past and dropping Smith down further.

Smith was quick to retaliate and smacked Harris wide, while Smith (391) went past Lund, who looked to be struggling a little. Wainman and Gilbank had now pulled about three lengths from Smith (391) and Smith (390). Wainman started to pull clear, and by the halfway the 515 car was about three lengths in front of Gilbank, who in turn was maybe four lengths ahead of Smith (391) and Smith (390). The Smiths caught Gilbank, with Andy going past after the slightest of nudges on the 21 back bumper. But his second place didn’t last long, as Smith (390) then launched Gilbank into the 391 car, which was sent into the fence.

There was a minor distraction as Chris Cowley (37) came to a stop on turn three with the car on fire, but up front Smith (390) was quickly gaining on leader Wainman. With a couple of laps left, Smith caught the 515 car and immediately went in with the bumper. Wainman held this one, only to be planted into the turn two fence on the next bend as Smith took the lead.

Meanwhile, Lund gave third place Tom Harris (84) a big one into turn three, but lost time clambering over the 84 car’s front wheel. This put Lund in third, but up front Smith was now clear and he went on to take the win, with Wainman finishing as runner up and Lund an impressive third from his row 11 start.

The meeting ended with a Helter Skelter race, which, for the benefit of younger readers, is a race for no points and negligible prize money. The new British Champion didn’t take part, but 21 other cars did. Gibson hit the front after a couple of laps, and from then on, there was no stopping him.

Carl Hesketh. (originally published on Hard And Fast .com)

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