Belle Vue, August 26th Meeting Report

Nigel Whalley - so near.... yet so far.

Nigel Whalley in the final – so near…. yet so far.

August Bank Holiday Monday saw one of the best Belle Vue meetings in recent history, with action aplenty in every race, some of which weren’t settled until the last bend.

The first heat was the Under 25s Championship, which resulted in a dramatic victory for Lee Fairhurst. See separate story.

The second heat fielded 21 drivers, all aged over 25, and it began with a hectic scramble around the first turn. Neil Holcroft (496) was the first casualty, being dumped unceremoniously in the fence, while Nigel Whalley (198) clambered over Nigel Harrhy (45) and the pair did half a lap stuck together.

Problems for Aaron Cozens and Rich Bryan.

Problems for Aaron Cozens and Rich Bryan.

A man on a mission in this one was James Morris (463), who seemed intent on hitting every car that came across his path. It was a particularly firm smack that sent Rudi Coleano (177) into the pit gate. The impact was massive, and so was the damage, but amazingly the 177 team managed to weld the back axle mounts back on and get the car back out for the Consolation.

Paul Ford (388) bumpered Tim Warwick (307) wide, before the fast-moving hard hitter Morris eased past. Steve Whittle (183) was in the lead when the yellows belatedly came out for the damaged pit gate fence to be attended to. When the race resumed, Ford weighed in hefty nerf rail shot on Morris that gave Mick Sworder (150) the opportunity to pass. A great drive by newcomer Whittle at the front, but he got it out of shape and Sworder went past. Ever the protaganist, Morris dived at Frankie Wainman at span the 515 car out.

Frankie raced the former Joe Booth car.

Frankie raced the former Joe Booth car.

Mat Newson (16) was up to second, and gained ground when Sworder’s high speed, wide lines technique came a bit unstuck, and the man from Norfolk closed in and bumpered the 150 car wide around the pit bend.

Newson went on to win, while Morris claimed another scalp on the last bend with a well-timed smack on Craig Finnikin, who span and was then collected by the traffic.

Steve Whittle launches himself over a marker tyre.

Steve Whittle launches himself over a marker tyre.

A smaller field for the Consolation, with Rich Bryan (238) racing away from the front before over-enthusiasm got the better of him and he overcooked it. Warwick went past, but Bryan had recovered quickly, and Warwick’s lead lasted less than a lap.

Warwick exited the race in the turn three wires, with Bryan then coming under attack from first Nigel Whalley (198), and then Billy Johnson (169), with Whalley taking the victory.

Bumper action aplenty at the start of the 27 car Final, with Sworder going in hard on Harrison (197), Morris and Ford taking each other into the fence, and Finnikin at the front of a multi-car train that ended with the 55 car hard into a fence post.

Belle Vue isn't wide enough for five abreast.

Belle Vue isn’t wide enough for five abreast.

After the initial scramble, the race settled down a bit, with Nigel Whalley leading. Morris was again in the thick of the action, this time bundling Sworder into the turn one fence. Morris was the first to restart, but with damage he limped towards the infield. The 463 car was however still on the track when Sworder set off at speed and ‘helpfully nudged’ Morris onto the centre green.

As the halfway flag was shown, Whalley was a few lengths clear of Harrison, who had Fairhurst not far behind. Little, if any progress was made by the 197 car over the next few laps and with the appearance of the 5-lap board came the possibility of the long time racer taking a career third main event victory. Nigel’s first ever final came at Belle Vue in April 2008, when he outraced then-World Champion Stu Smith to the chequered, and then passed all the superstars from the handicap in the GN.

The top three in the Final.

The top three in the Final.

But stock car racing can be a fickle mistress, and having done everything right for 16 laps, Whalley then came up behind backmarker Jason Eaton (448). Just a split-second of misjudgement from both drivers was enough to baulk the 198 car, albeit breifly, but it allowed Harrison to get closer, which would prove to be close enough.

In similar circumstances, third placed Fairhurst tripped up over Richard Woods (268), and Finnikin was through.

As they went down the back straight for the last time, Whalley was still a couple of lengths clear. In a near-textbook manoeuvre, Harrison kept the power on until he made contact, sending Whalley into the parked 351 car. The win looked to be Harrison’s for the taking, but it appeared that the impact had knocked the car out of gear and the 197 machine rolled out of the turn at a snail’s pace.

GN winner Mick Sworder took a faster and wider line than most.

GN winner Mick Sworder took a faster and wider line than most.

In the time it took Ryan to put the car in gear and set off, Finnikin and Fairhurst had gone past, leaving Harrison just a third place for such a magnificent effort. Small consolation, it was still a better result than that of Nigel Whalley, who recorded a DNF for such a superb drive.

The GN saw Lee Warner (290) get off to a flying start, while the other white tops seemed to be a little slow to get moving and were collected by the chasing yellow tops. Quite a few cars span, or went in the fence, or both, and of the ones that avoided it the first time, a few more piled into the melee a lap later. The majority of the casualties restarted, although the waved yellows then came out, possibly for assistance to the stranded Chris Clare.

Wainman vs Warner

Wainman vs Warner

The restart had Ford (388) lined up at the front, with Sworder and Geoff Nickolls (215) behind. Early leader Warner was still running, but down the order around eighth place. That didn’t last; the 290 car was launched spectacularly into the pit bend fence by Danny Wainman, who then crashed into his victim and ended in the fence next to him. With apparently no damage, Warner rejoined the race, but Wainman managed only another half a lap with collapsed front suspension.

The highlight of the latter stages of the race was Harris battling with Finnikin over the lower places. Sworder had taken over the lead by the halfway, with Newson second. But this time Newson couldn’t match the pace of the 150 car and Sworder took the flag.

Typically flambouyant celebrations from Sworder brought the curtain down on what had been a very good meeting.

Photos: Colin Casserley
Words: Carl Hesketh

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