Forty-two cars ready to race, a good-sized crowd and a thankfully dry evening for the final round of the 2016 National Series Points Championship at Manchester’s Belle Vue stadium. There had been rain and lots of it judging by the back pits but the track looked in reasonable fettle for the meeting that would decide the destination of the silver roof.
A pre-meeting draw put Shootout contenders Green, Harris, Harrison, Sworder and Wainman (1) into Heat One. Nineteen cars set off, Wainman immediately side-swiping Sworder but under attack himself from Harris. Sworder caught the gold top and sent him fencewards on turn three before tangling with a slower car then Wainman took himself and Harris into the pit bend fence. The World Champion freed himself from the wires but Harris stayed put until helping hands came to the rescue.
The steward declared “outside assistance” and excluded Harris, who promptly parked up on the start line and went to the box. Meanwhile a tractor removed the 84 car and racing continued after a lengthy delay for fence repairs. Cozens (76) led from Smith (390) and Sworder until 150 took command, taking the flag by the length of a straight from Smith and Green (445). The Wainman car was cornering like a super-tanker after its visit to the fence, the gold top finishing a lap down and out of the places. Green now on 370 points.
A bigger field for Heat Two with Fairhurst, Johnson, Newson, Speak and Wainman (212) all out for points. Johnson went looking on the infield for them as the green flag dropped, couldn’t find any points there so rejoined the race almost a lap down. Fairhurst got a flat tyre, Newson went fence-testing and Jake Hall (511) led the pack. All eyes were on Speak as he carved his way through the field while Chris Bonner (105) eventually got the better of the plucky Hall.
Speak hooked up with Wilson (502) but recovered, tapping the lap-down 4 car aside to move into second, then taking the lead as 105 slipped wide on turn four. Johnson stayed with the 318 car then audaciously spun him as they rounded the pit bend on the last lap. Speak did a 360, charged down the back straight and launched into the cars ahead, the resulting tangle seeing Bonner pushed across the finish line sideways under the combined power of the 212, 259 and 318 cars. Unbeknown to all but his transponder, Chris Cowley (37) had already crossed the line in first place but even he admitted he thought he was tenth! What a finish. Rob Speak’s seventh place put him on 342 points, 28 behind Green with Johnson still in with an outside chance.
There were 20 cars for the Consolation but all eyes were fixed on just two – Wainman and Harris. From the green flag the World Champion, probably with the shootout final co-sponsor in mind, stood on the brakes as Harris pushed him all the way down the back straight. They both coasted around the bend, Wainman pulling slightly ahead whereupon Harris piled into the back of the number 1 car. Another lap of pushing and two more attempts to cripple Wainman’s car saw this farcical and embarrassing fiasco end with both cars retiring to the centre, neither driver exactly covering themselves with glory but it kept the crowd entertained. While all this was going on Mark Adkins (24), then Eliot Smith (293) took turns at leading with Johnson on a mission, taking top spot when Smith hit the 511 car and spun. Johnson won, from Gibson (249) and Fairhurst to take his tally to 311 – he could still do it.
Twenty-one for the Shaw Tyre & Exhaust and Mintex double point final with Green, Speak and Johnson in with a chance of silver. A pile-up on the pit bend saw Sargent (326) pushed sideways towards the fence and Johnson suddenly through into fifth or sixth chased by Smith and Sworder. Green was on the pace and keeping out of trouble until trouble found him – the 445 car grinding to a halt on turn four with propshaft damage. Johnson led but Smith was quicker and Speak was closing fast, dealing with a troublesome Sworder en-route.
Smith caught Johnson coming off turn four and gave him a little side-swipe as he took the lead with five to run, the defending points champion settling for a safe second ahead of Speak. Sworder finished fourth ahead of Daniel van Spijker (231) with Fairhurst sixth. Sir Robert was now 8 points clear of Green with Johnson a further 19 back – it was going right down to the last race.
Twenty-five cars for the Grand National and the deciding race in the 2016 Shootout. All credit to Team Green for getting the 445 machine back on track – Nigel knew his only chance was to dispose of Speak and keep ahead of Johnson. At the drop of the flag he drilled the 318 car into the third bend with an almighty shove, Speak colliding heavily with Paul Harrison. The 2 car took the brunt of the impact but Green was stuck – the propshaft problem in the final had also damaged his gear linkages and he had no way of backing out of the fence. Speak freed himself from under the Harrison car as the caution flags flew. The restart saw 318 lying third on the track but a lap down with Johnson around sixteenth. As the cars moved single file down the back straight Speak let the two cars ahead go and held the rest of the field behind him as the green flag dropped, then took off. The resultant shambles saw cars everywhere, with at least one stopped against the tyres entering turn three.
Guess who piled into it – Dan Johnson – putting himself to the very back of the pack with the odds now stacked against him. Eliot Smith led from Mal Brown (34) while Stuart Smith entertained the grandstand patrons by climbing all over the front of the 37 car. With the field spread out, Johnson and Speak continued to circulate, the number 4 car passing as many cars as he could in a desperate bid to retain the silver roof but it was all over. Eliot Smith won the race almost unnoticed as Cowley put van Spijker hard into the fence on the last bend. Johnson clawed his way back to sixth by the flag but Speaky was already celebrating, his two place docking for holding up the field at the restart of little consequence in the final analysis.
Speak was top on 388, Green stuck on 370 and Johnson on 369. Congratulations to Rob Speak and commiserations to Nigel Green, lady luck deserting him at the penultimate stage after nine rounds of consistent point scoring and determined yet fair racing from the shootout debutee. Had Dan Johnson won the final he would have been on quadruple points in the national and maybe in with a very real chance of retaining the silver, but it was not to be. Never liked the orange and silver colour scheme anyway!
With Rob ending his career on a high note and taking the points championship with him, how about painting the Skegness grandstand roof silver and putting the 318 aerofoil on top of the commentary box, complete with flashing lights? Or better yet put the complete shale car on the roof – after all he won’t be racing it again, or will he…..?
Words: Mick Jenkins
Photos: Ant Jenkins