The first F1 meeting at Stoke since November 2001 was a trip back in time for many, and it quickly became apparent that the veterans had remembered what it was like and had come prepared. Old hands John Lund (53), Frankie Wainman Junior (515), Mal Brown (34), Tim Warwick (307), and Geoff Nickolls (215) were regulars at the track back in the 1990s, and all of them, especially Lund, drove like they used to 20 years ago. It was however Tom Harris, whose prior experience of Stoke was from Mini-stox, who took the final. Craig Finnikin was fast, but the 55 car appeared to be a touch fragile for the demanding surface and after an opening heat win, failed to go the distance in any other race.
Within a couple of lap of the start of the first heat, there was carnage at both ends of the circuit as the rough and bumpy track caught out a number of drivers, which saw cars spinning and crashing into the fence and each other. When it all calmed down a bit, Ben Hurdman (207) had a decent lead over the pack, but he span out unaided and came to a stop across the track, leaving second placed Richard Bryan (238) nowhere to go. This left Scott Davids (462) ahead and he appeared to be relishing the conditions as he blasted around the track, even planting backmarker Phil Whitaker (88) into the fence on the way. However, the all-important outside rear tyre cried enough, leaving Craig Finnikin (55) to take the win.
The second heat started even more spectacularly than the first, when Mark Poole (276) was spun in turn three and battered by the pack before coming to a stop facing the oncoming traffic at the start of the home straight. Dylan Williams-Maynard (51) couldn’t avoid a head-on collision, but a dip in the track meant the front bumper went underneath Poole’s car and scooped it up, leading to a mid-air spin before landing back on its wheels. There were now cars littered around the track, and Steve Malkin (308) was leading when the yellows came out for a marker tyre on the racing line. On the restart Ryan Harrison (197) eased past Malkin for the lead. Wainman (515) moved up to second when he fired brother Danny (212) into Malkin (308), who went hard into the fence.
Harrison and Wainman were now bumper to bumper as the raced reached the halfway, and as the lap boards came out Wainman edged past Harrison, only for Harrison to knock him wide with a hit on the nerf fail and retake the lead. Wainman’s response came a couple of laps later; keeping the power on into turn one, and letting off a split second before the 197 car impacted the fence.
Most of the white tops went out in a pile-up at the start of the Consolation, leaving Warwick and Garry Fox (48) to fight it out at the front. Fox put the bumper in numerous times, but Warwick was having none of it and doggedly held his ground. Fox eventually got past around the halfway, but Warwick was instantly on the attack and retook the lead after a couple of heavy hits.
With four laps remaining, Davids moved past Fox for second and a lap after that he launched Warwick into a heap of parked cars on turn three. The last lap, and Fox reached out and landed a hefty hit on Davids. The 462 car bounced off the parked 238 and 276 cars and went nose first into the fence. Fox went wide and clipped the parked cars, which was just enough for Mal Brown (34) to sneak past for the win, with Williams-Maynard also getting through for second.
A big push from the back of the pack at the start of the final saw Nige Harrhy (45) spin on the first bend and Geoff Nickolls (215) go straight into the fence. Most of the red tops appeared to be using the car in front to slow down, with Harrison (197) bouncing off the fence, and the spun Chris Bonner (105) being T-boned and shunted down the track.
Fox had led from the off, but he came to an abrupt stop in the turn 3 fence with Brown, which brought out the waved yellows. It was James Morris (463) leading on the restart, but further back Finnikin made a rapid start, as did Tom Harris (84). Finnikin lunged at Morris entering turn three, sending both cars sideways. Morris bounced off the stricken 215 car and rolled over, bringing out the yellows. Finnikin was quick to rejoin behind new leader Harris, with Williams-Maynard third. The restart was only a few laps old when Hurdman went skywards off the fence but fortunately landed on his wheels.
With the lap boards out, Finnikin, Harris, and Williams-Maynard were nose to tail at the front, with Wainman (515) unable to keep up. Finnikin nosed ahead of Harris, who then leaned on the 55 car down the home straight and shoved it fencewards; Finnikin coming to a stop on turn 2. Harris went on to take the win, with Williams-Maynard coming home as runner up, quite possibly his best ever result on shale.
Despite the carnage of the earlier races, 23 cars still made it back out on track for the GN, including James Morris, who span on the first bend and was hit head on by the pack. Warwick raced away from the start, but he managed only a few laps before the first six cars all piled into the turn three fence in the same incident. Luke Dennis (192) was the quickest to recover and he inherited the lead, but Davids and Wainman weren’t far behind. Dennis led a couple of laps before Davids went past, but he too lasted only a couple of laps before a firm smack from Wainman put the 515 car at the front just before the halfway.
Two laps later, Wainman bumpered Bryan aside, but the 238 car span into his path and the bumper burst the outside rear tyre. This put Davids back in front but he now had Lund right behind him. Davids ducked and dived around backmarkers but try as he might, there was no getting away from Lund. Lund saw a chance and went for the inside coming out of turn two, and for a few yards the 53 car was in the lead, but Davids attempted blocking caused the two cars to tangle for just long enough for Mark Woodhull (335) to blast past them both. Around the final turn and Lund was almost pushing Woodhull, but with a load of backmarkers surrounding them there was no way past.
The final event was a New Zealand style team race. Two teams, four cars per team, and the first car to complete the distance would win the event for their team. The teams were Team ‘A’ (55,84,259,338) and Team ‘B’ (53,197,215,515). One team had flags attached to their aerofoils, the other didn’t. The general tactics were as follows. If you’re in the lead or behind the leader, get your foot down, otherwise, slow down and try to block any of the other team. Wainman (515) raced off from the start but after a few laps he was blocked by Harris. Wainman pushed his way past but Harris then pinned the 515 car to the wall. Finnikin emerged as the leader, until an almight lunge from Wainman put Finnikin into the fence, leaving Harrison leading to the flag, and a victory for Team B.