Preview: British Championship 2018

The British Championship often produces some of the best racing and talking points of the season – who can forget last year’s shenanigans between Dan Johnson and Tom Harris, or Stuart Smith Junior trying (and failing) to launch Paul Harrison out of the King’s Lynn with a last-bender in 2012?

To win the black and white checks, drivers must race in a set number of heats – likely to be three out of five – with the results used to generate the British Championship grid. The top performers start at the front, those who only just scrape together enough points start at the back. Since the heats are gridded in graded order, lower-grade drivers often make the most of starting further forward, although last year at Sheffield was an exception – the first three rows were taken up by red tops.

Belle Vue has hosted the British Championship eight times, but only twice since the new stadium was built to replace the old Hyde Road one. Those occasions saw two famous rivals take the title: Frankie Wainman Junior in 2003 and Andy Smith in 2009.

 

The defending champion:

Frankie Wainman Junior is looking to make it into double figures and win his tenth British Championship. No other driver comes close to matching that – the next closest is John Lund with six titles. Perhaps Frankie has been so successful in this format because he seems to be able to drive consistently in the heats to qualify well then give it all in the championship race. The top scorer on shale so far this year will be confident of winning the title a third year in a row, but there will be no shortage of rivals who see him as the biggest threat and will look to hang him off one of Belle Vue’s notorious posts.

 

The challengers:

Stuart Smith Junior started the year in amazing form – he took the meeting final in two out of his first three meetings and had a points-per-meeting average above 50. Things have calmed down a little since then, but he’s still scored more race wins than anybody else. SSJ will probably start as the pre-meeting favourite and few will want to get in his way if he’s on a charge.

The top points scorer in the first four meetings at Belle Vue this year might come as a bit of a surprise, but Lee Fairhurst is shaking off his reputation as a tarmac specialist and really getting to grips with the loose stuff. He has two Belle Vue race wins and some consistent high places – exactly the kind of thing that will get you a good slot on the championship grid.

In his one Belle Vue appearance since returning from a six-month racing ban (the causes of which stem back to last year’s British Championship), Tom Harris scored a whacking 57 points by taking the chequered flag in the consolation and final. Tom feels he was robbed last year when Dan Johnson sat on his brakes with the 84 car stuck behind, so he’ll be up for right the wrongs done to him this year.

 

The dark horses:

John Dowson Junior is something of a Belle Vue track specialist and took the honours in the season opener in March. He has moved up to red grade since then, but Dowson’s experience both in Manchester and in the British Championship – he started the 2014 race on the second row – means that he’s a driver the big names must be aware of.

Paul Hines knows how to win pressure races at Belle Vue – he romped home first in his World Semi Final there in 2011. He’s also scoring considerably better on shale compared to tarmac this year. Paul won the British title in 2010 and was the first driver to paint black and white checks on his roof to celebrate the win – can he go greyscale again this year?

The British title hasn’t been won by a star of superstar driver since 1994. If that streak is broken this year, what are the chances that Mal Brown is the one to take a shock victory? He may have only won five finals in his 37-year career, but four of them came at Belle Vue – most recently in 2014. Mal is one of the bread-and-butter drivers who are the backbone of stock car racing. Racing on a budget, usually with a yellow or blue roof, he is used to congested grids and isn’t afraid to use his bumper.

Words: Scott Reeves
Photos: Colin Casserley and Ant Jenkins

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