“Remember, remember the Fifth of November, numb crowd are freezing or what!”
Coventry brought the curtain down on the 2016 season proper with a three formulae extravaganza of F1s, Ministox and UK Modifieds with a rather splendid firework display thrown in for good measure. Avoiding the brass monkeys in search of a welder, a walk around the pits confirmed car numbers in the high sixties including new, old and Dutch faces (which were neither new nor old)!
Race one on the F1 programme was the Whites and Yellows Championship, open to drivers who had scored points as a C or B grader at Coventry during the year, which is why it contained a couple of blues and a red top (Daniel v. S). Twenty-two for this one and with Joff Gibson (249) on the front row it was no surprise to see him take command and race to a convincing win, despite an early caution for Karl Hawkins (175) whose attempts to fire up his car on turn four got Roberts (313) and Adkins (24) a bit hot under the collar as they were parked close by. They moved as one only to be hit by Tim Warwick (307) as he traversed the infield.
The Coventry Track Championship race for the Percy “Hellcat” Brine trophy was next with Frankie Wainman Junior (1) and Rob Speak (318) on the front row. The gold top never made it past the first corner, Speaky latching onto him and piling Wainman hard into the pit bend fence where he remained for the duration of the race. Dan Johnson (4) slipped by for the lead, chased by Speak and Mark Gilbank (21). Gilbank put 4 and 318 wide on the Coventry bend with a massive hit to take over at the front, narrowly avoiding Pete Hobbs (108) who returned to the track ahead of the leader. Hobbs baulked Johnson, who was hit by Speak who then half spun in front of fourth placed Mick Sworder (150).
Just after halfway Johnson gave Gilbank the slightest of nudges on the pit bend to lead down the back straight behind back-marker Sjeng Smidt Junior (H148). With three to run Speak battered the 21 car wide for second. Unable to respond to the new Shootout Champion, Gilbank, as so often in the past, took his anger out on the nearest Dutchman, sending Smidt to the third bend armco. On to the final lap and Speak closed on Johnson on the pit bend and lined him up for a big one on the last corner – and it was a big one! Somehow Johnson rode it out around turn three and shook off a side-swipe from Speak coming off turn four to take a well-earned victory.
Twenty-two for Heat One including Bouwe Arjen Hiddinga (H17) and Willem Zwerver (H295) from the Netherlands and F2 men Ben Howard (544 in the 502 car) and Dave Massey (354 in a 55 car) and Rebels racer Tom Dayman (389) in the 191 car. Add in V8 British Champion Phoebe Wainman (211) making her F1 shale debut (though no stranger to the loose stuff) driving the 555 machine and the scene was set. Adam Bamford (43) led the early laps until Chris Brocksopp (338), making the most of his yellow roof, took over and held on to win by a good margin from Mat Newson (16), who shifted Gilbank wide on the last corner.
Another 22 for Heat Two including Lenny Smith (185) in the other Finnikin car but the star of the show was Sierd de Vries (H54). He took the lead after Steve Malkin Snr (208) lost it on the pit bend, the resulting tangle involving second-placed Thomas Stephenson (75), Mick Rogers (244) and James Clement (158) bringing out the caution flags. De Vries went early at the restart, pulling a few car lengths over second-placed Green (445) with an understeering Danny Wainman (212) in third.
The Dutch visitor commanded the attention, not least for his wild, wide cornering technique and apparent lack of concern at the superstar Green a couple of car lengths behind him and when the 445 car was baulked by 208 on the last lap he had it in the draagtas – almost. Sierd’s front outside wheel made a bid for freedom on the back straight, clearing the armco on the third bend but thankfully stopped by the catch fencing before it caused serious harm. Green took the flag from Wainman with de Vries powering home on three wheels for third to the applause of the crowd.
Twenty-four for Heat Three with overseas interest in the shape of Harmen Zwerver (H195) and Smidt (H148) but most people were probably just watching Wainman (1) and Speak after their earlier clash. A very early caution to move a wayward marker tyre saw Russell Cooper (415) in the lead, then John Wright (348) until Speak, having shaken off the number 1 car, closed on the white top just as another caution occurred. Speak passed for the lead within a lap of the restart, just before halfway and seemed to have left Wainman behind when another caution for Moore (127) and Dennis (192) on the back straight closed the field up again.
The top five were 318, 348, 1, 4 and 2. Wainman was delayed by Wright at the green, allowing Johnson to have a nibble on every bend but Harrison was also coming into the frame. Wainman closed on 318 inch by inch until the last bend when a full power, long range attack from the Golden One saw Speak out towards the armco. Harrison took full advantage of Wainman’s handiwork so 2 became 1 and 1 became 2 at the line with 318 in third.
Star driver in the 26-car Consolation was white top Peter Allin (331), leading for a long, long time until a caution for the 389 car ruined his chance of a win. Lee Fairhurst (217) sat in second place, bumpered Allin wide for lead at the restart and led the last few laps despite close company from Tom Boyer (28), but the 331 car held on for a fine sixth spot and a place in the final.
A full 36 car field for the Ray Tyldesley Trophy Final, with Allin on pole. Fireworks crackled overhead as the green flag dropped and the green 331 car spun onto the centre. Stuart Smith (390) and Gilbank tangled and a caution for a loose wheel saw the 390 car take his place behind Speak. Cooper led the restart from 244 and H54 while Wainman (1) tried to stay with Speak but another caution, to move the Geoff Nicholls (215) car to safety, brought things to a stop. Cooper again led the restart until a mess on the back straight saw de Vries take over, until he tangled with Hines (259) and Fairhurst took the lead. Chris Bonner (105) decided to liven things up by climbing the home straight wall and rolling over, bringing out the red flags.
The restart (how many is that?) saw FWJ’s race end in a tangle with 28 and H148 while Harrison, Speak and Johnson traded paint, until, that is, yet another race suspension was called to separate the 28 and 1 cars on turn four, which took rather longer we’d hoped – even the penguins and polar bears on turn three were feeling the cold. Fairhurst got a flyer at the green, while the grandstand patrons were treated to the sight of Speak, Johnson and Harrison tearing down the home straight side by side. Speak eased into second, Harrison moved Johnson for third but the 217 car was untouchable. Harrison shifted Speak, Speak shifted Johnson and that’s how they finished. Danny Wainman took fifth ahead of Hines and Gilbank.
Another packed grid saw at least three cars locked out of the Grand National and FWJ’s race lasted all but a lap as he ran into the back of Phoebe’s stalled 211 car on the City bend. Speak, also involved, gallantly push-started Phoebe out of harm’s way shortly before the yellow flags flew for another tyre trackside. Allin again set the pace but another caution for the stationary Howard car saw Paul Hines elevated to lead position at the restart, a lead he was to retain to the chequered.
Main interest was Harrison’s removal of Sworder on the pit bend as the race neared its conclusion. Sworder rejoined, intent on revenge, but Paul wisely kept right behind 150, both creeping around turn one until Harrison made the break, Sworder unable to catch and dispatch the number 2 car before the final flag of the official 2016 season rose and fell on Hines.
So ended what we all thought a few months ago would be the very last season of racing at Brandon. The back cover of the new Stock Car Annual lists the 2017 F1 dates at Coventry, April to November, but Jeremy Heaver states in the final programme of 2016 that 2017 “could be a rocky ride”. A press release dated 3 November from Brandon Estates Ltd, the new owners, says they have agreed a one year contract with the Coventry Bees speedway team from January to October 2017 with a possible further two years, “subject to conditions”. No point in speculating about what this means for stock car racing but just a bit concerned that the 2017 Coventry season starts on April 1st!
P.S. Don’t forget the Gala Night at Brum on November 12th. Yes it will be cold, yes it could be wet but there are currently 65 F1 cars booked in with some very interesting names amongst them. Go on, you know you want to!
Words: Mick Jenkins
Photos: Colin Casserley