Stoke Semi-Final – meeting report and photo gallery

“I don’t think that could have gone any better!” – that’s how Mat Newson described his victory in the World Championship Semi-Final.

The first of the World Championship Semi-Finals was staged on a hot sunny evening at Stoke on 26th July; the venue being moved from King’s Lynn due to a major speedway event being staged at the Norfolk venue.

Two drivers had declined to take their place on the grid, James Lund and Carl Pickering, and were replaced by reserves Paul Carter and Mark Poole. The blisteringly hot weather meant that the track was heavily watered prior to the race, and so it was on a wet and slippery track that the rolling lap commenced.

When the green dropped Mat Newson powered around the outside and over the start line in first place. Pole position man Frankie Wainman Junior gave the 16 car a nudge going into turn one but Newson took the faster outside line and held the lead.  Lee Fairhurst went wide in turn three, allowing Ryan Harrison to come up the inside, Harrison having just bumpered Dan Johnson wide.

All the field got around turn one, but it wasn’t long before a few came to grief. Lee Robinson, on possibly his first ever visit to Stoke, span in turn three, with Colin Goodswen (372), Robert Broome (41), and Chris Cowley (37) tangling, and the 372 car being left stranded in the middle of the track facing the wrong way. Fairhurst gave Harrison a smack into turn three and the 197 car flew backwards into the fence, bouncing off into the 372 car and then being collected by Danny Wainman.

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The grid lining up for their World Semi Final.

The waved yellows appeared to remove Goodswen from the track and on the restart it was Newson, from Wainman and Fairhurst. Johnson was immediately past back marker Broome when the race resumed and then squeezed past Fairhurst to take third.

Going well in the early stages was Will Hunter, who had combined a good start with the carnage in front of him to make a lot of progress up the field and into the top six. But that was before Mal Brown caught him, and a typical Brown manoeuvre fired the 220 car into Broome.  Newson was now opening up a lead at the front, but Wainman had Johnson snapping at his back bumper. Frankie held him at bay for a couple of laps before Johnson got the inside line and edged the 515 car wide.

By the halfway, Newson was in amongst the back markers and Johnson was getting closer. Further down the field, fans-favourite Nigel Harrhy was still going and not far off being in a qualifying spot. Also going well was reserve entry Mark Poole, who was into the top ten from the back of the grid.

The top five at the start of the second half of the race read Newson, Johnson, Wainman, Fairhurst, and Brown, and this did not change until the chequered. Hunter lost a couple of places and was relegated by Neachell and Harrhy.

Newson was untroubled on his way to the chequered, but second place Johnson had Wainman not far behind and back marker Mark Woodhull to contend with. Entering the last turn, Johnson went in fast and threw his car into Woodhull’s, to counter a possible attack from Wainman. But Wainman seemingly had other ideas and held back a little before making a big lunge at Johnson. A good effort, but he connected more with Woodhull than Johnson, and finished the race third.

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Newson will be starting on the front row of the World Final grid, with Johnson behind and FWJ behind the highest overseas competitor.

The meeting started with a 23-car opening heat, which almost immediately descended into typical Stoke carnage when Steve Malkin clipped a marker tyre and span across the track. Half of the field piled in, with Colin Nairn going skywards over another marker tyre. Turns one and two were now a parking lot full of dead cars.

Paul Spooner (104) led until the halfway when the waved yellows came out for reasons not clear. Craig Finnikin, Tom Harris, and Paul Harrison were all soon past Spooner on the restart, with Finnikin taking the win. Spooner was under pressure from Josh Smith on the last bend, but a big challenge saw the 191 car hitting a marker tyre.

The Consolation race fielded 18 cars, including Lee Robinson who made it onto the track with seconds to spare after a lot of work in the pits after severe damage in the Semi-Final. A massive effort was rewarded initially with a strong second place, subsequently upgraded to a victory after race winner John Dowson fell foul of post-race scrutineering.

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Lee Robinson (H107) kept out of trouble in the Consolation, inheriting the win as 94 failed scrutineering.

Ricki Finney was the only white top to make it into the Final and for the first half of the race he battled with Steve Whittle (183) for the lead in what turned out to be a very lively race. Whittle appeared to be slow to get going after the first waved yellows, for a fire on the Mark Woodhull car, and Finney barged past as soon as the green dropped.

Finnikin caught the leading duo just after the halfway, and hit Whittle into a half spin where he was clattered by Harris. The 183 was left stranded across the track in turn 3, bringing out the second lot of waved yellows.

Race order for the restart was Finney, from Finnikin, Paul Harrison, Danny Wainman, and Dan Johnson, although Finney pulled onto the infield before the green and then rejoined the race at the back. During the caution period, the track had been watered and this proved to be crucial in the outcome of the race. Although it kept the dust down, the track was now slippery, and when the race resumed the cars were racing at perhaps three-quarters of their dry track speeds.

Danny Wainman seemed better suited to the wetter conditions and by the 4-lap board he was on leader Finnikin’s back bumper. Wainman took over at the front as Finnikin dropped down the order with a flat tyre. But Josh Smith was also gaining ground, and within a couple of laps, he was right behind Wainman.

As they started the last lap Dan Johnson was now within striking distance. A big hit from the number 4 car planted Smith into Wainman and all three went wide around turn one. Johnson then led down the back straight with Wainman and Smith behind.  Smith hit Wainman wide entering turn three and then took a tight line around the turn. Johnson was expecting a hit in the last bend and took it fast and wide, which allowed Smith to make up some ground. Johnson saw him coming and cut across the front of the 191 car as the entered the home straight, and took the win by the narrowest of margins.

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Final Top 3: Dan Johnson, Josh Smith and Danny Wainman.

After an action packed start to the GN, John Dowson emerged as leader and he stayed at the front until after the lap boards when he was caught by Robinson, Wainman (515), and Harris.

These three were bumper to bumper down the home straight with a couple of laps remaining, but Robinson was dumped firmly into the fence. This produced waved yellows, the third lot of the race, but only after leader Dowson crashed out after tangling with back marker Whittle.

The restart had Wainman at the front, with Harris and Finnikin behind, and just two laps to run. This had the potential for a thrilling end, but it turned out to be something of an anti-climax; Wainman judged the start perfectly and simply drove away from Harris to take the win.

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Frankie Wainman Junior took the last win of the night.

Words: Carl Hesketh
Photos: Colin Casserley
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