Belle Vue – September 25th 2011 Meeting Report

A Sunday afternoon in Manchester saw another Belle Vue final win for Andy Smith, and with his retirement from the sport now imminent, this may well have been his last ever final victory.

BriSCA F1 stock car driver Andy Smith 391. Photo Colin Casserley

The Under 25 Championship was the first race on the programme, and it was a career-first title victory for newcomer Rob Tunnah (505). Driving the car built by Rob Lintern in New Zealand and shipped over for last year’s World Final, Tunnah led from start to finish, and handled the tricky track conditions with a maturity that belied his lack of experience.

The U25 race gridded 15 entrants, with Mike Williamson and Liam Brown on the front row, and Matt Newson at the rear of the grid. Heavy rain in the area had subsided only about an hour before the meeting started, and had left the track in a state of deep wet shale. Ryan Harrison (197) seemed to cope with the tricky conditions better than most, and in the early stages the 197 car made the most progress and might have been a likely candidate to re-take the title.

BriSCA F1 stock car U25s Richard Bryan 238 and Ryan Harrison 197. Photo Colin Casserley

BriSCA F1 stock car U25s Matt Newson 16 and Tom Harris 84 tangle to the infield. Photo Colin Casserley

Tom Harris and Matt Newson, both potential winners, tangled up and took each other onto the infield. By the halfway, Tunnah was the length of the straight ahead of Harrison, but he was gradually losing time with some interesting racing lines through the loose shale on the outside of the bends. With five laps to go, Tunnah had Matt Newson behind him. The 16 car was a backmarker, although it’s possible that Tunnah didn’t realise this, and when he came up to backmarker Brown (90), a skilful tap with the bumper put the borrowed Tony Smith car into the wires. Two laps to run, and Tunnah ran wide with Newson going through, which let Harrison get closer.

BriSCA F1 stock car U25s Champion 2011 Rob Tunnah 505. Photo Colin Casserley

The 505 car still had a few lengths advantage, with the chasing trio of Harrison, Joe Booth, and Dan Johnson almost bumper to bumper. Johnson forced his was past Booth, and as Tunnah took the chequered, Booth weighed in with a big hit that fired Johnson into Harrison, who then bounced off the fence. Booth and Johnson then sprinted to the line, with Johnson claiming second place by a matter of inches.

BriSCA F1 stock car driver U25s Champion 2011 Rob Tunnah 505 receives his prizes. Photo Colin Casserley

The track had dried somewhat by the first heat, but it was still slippery, which meant the opening laps were hectic. Mike Heywood, Tony Smith, Mike Williamson, John Weldon, and Phil Whitaker all had brief spells at the front before Mark Woodhull took up the running. Paul Hines and Ryan Harrison had a heavy coming together, with possibly a touch of the red mist afterwards. Woodhull was untroubled on his way to the chequered, with Nigel Whalley second for most of the distance. However, as the last lap board was shown, Whalley found himself behind backmarkers Harrison (197) and Weldon, and the two cars hooked together. Whalley gambled on an outside line, but all three of them crashed into the fence.

BriSCA F1 stock car driver Nigel Whalley 198 finds the fence. Photo Carl Hesketh

There were waved yellows in the early stages of Heat 2, when John Frost (351) and Neil Holcroft (496) clattered the back straight fence in a big way and were then hit by the passing traffic. Chris Clare (394) led early on, while Andy Smith appeared to be struggling.

BriSCA F1 stock car drivers John Lund 53, Dan Johnson 4 and Andy Smith 391. Photo Colin Casserley

Perhaps it was frustration that led to a bungled challenge on John Lund, after which Smith bounced off the 53 car and hit the parked 88 machine side-on. As in the previous heat, Mark Woodhull appeared to be the only driver capable of lapping the demanding track surface at anything like race winning speed, and once again the 335 car was the first to cross the line.

BriSCA F1 stock car driver Mark Woodhull 335. Photo Colin Casserley

The third heat saw Williamson first away, but Tunnah took over when the 111 car was baulked by Richard Bryan (238). Williamson was back in front when Tunnah ran wide under pressure. These two were then joined by Dave Russo, with the 111, 505, and 49 cars bumper to bumper. Just a carefully timed nudge was all that was needed to put the first two wide, and Russo was in the lead. Tunnah came back at Russo, but managed only to half spin himself, and was then collected by Gary Fox, which was the end of Tunnah’s race. Russo steadily opened up a decent lead, and went on to win, squeezing past backmarker John Lund on the way.

BriSCA F1 stock car driver Dave Russo 49 takes his lap of honour. Photo Carl Hesketh

The race format meant the final was open to all available cars, and Tunnah led away the large field. Some of the star grade drivers tripped each other up, with Johnson, Newson, and Lund all crashing out in a heap on the exit of turn four. Newson was left facing the wrong way, and was hit head on flat out by an unsighted Russo. No sooner had Russo got out of the way than Booth piled into the unfortunate 16 car, with a big pile up then ensuing.

BriSCA F1 stock car driver Paul Hines 259 ploughs into Ed Neachell 321. Photo Colin Casserley

The waved yellows came out for assistance to Nigel Harrhy, with Tunnah leading them away on the restart. The bumpers were going in thick and fast further down the order, with Andy Smith now looking more like his usual self after his rather subdued drives in the heats. The 391 car made rapid and seemingly effortless progress through the field and was up to second place by the halfway.

BriSCA F1 stock car drivers Mal Brown 34 and Ed Neachell 321 side by side. Photo Colin Casserley

But as the laps ticked by, little if any further progress was made by Smith, with Tunnah maintaining his lead. Lee Fairhurst provided some distraction from the leading duo when he launched Ed Neachell into Gary Fox, putting the 48 car into the fence.

With the lap boards out, Smith started to edge a little closer, and with the yellow and silver car getting bigger and bigger in his mirrors, Tunnah misjudged the exit of turn two, allowing Smith to get on the inside. But with a masterful moment of car control, Tunnah used his momentum to its full potential and raced Smith down the back straight and dived into turn three still in the lead. This would be an impressive manoeuvre for an experienced star driver, so for a white top newcomer to pull it off demonstrates a raw talent of vast proportions.

BriSCA F1 stock car driver Andy Smith 391 challenges Rob Tunnah 505 for the lead. Photo Colin Casserley

But it was unlikely that he would hold Smith at bay for long, and with a short, sharp tap, Tunnah was sent wide and Smith took up the running, after which the result was a foregone conclusion. After a stellar drive, Tunnah was denied podium finish two laps from the end, when he couldn’t avoid ploughing into the tangled cars of Lee Fairhurst and Mal Brown.

With the 391 car running hot, Smith declined to take part in the GN. Chris Clare (394) led from start to finish, chased most of the way by Nigel Whalley and Neil Shenton, before Finnikin forced his way into second place.

BriSCA F1 stock car Grand National winner Chris Clare 394. Photo Colin Casserley

Carl Hesketh

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