It’s time for the biggest race in the F1 stock car season – the World Final. It’s the biggest prize in the sport, the one that all the drivers want to win. The driver who takes the chequered flag at the end of the race will carry the gold roof for the next twelve months and cement his place in the history books.
Drivers collected World Championship qualifying points over 19 meetings. Their total points designated their position on a World Semi-Final grid, from which the top ten qualifiers progressed to the World Final. Two of those who didn’t make it through the semis will have a last chance in the Consolation Semi-Final. Craig Finnikin is the biggest name currently absent from the grid, but even if he gets one of the final places, it’s a big ask to win from the back.
The British qualifiers will be joined by drivers from abroad: as well as the regular visitors from the Netherlands and New Zealand, possible entrants from America and the Ukraine may make it a truly international grid. The foreign entrants will be seeded onto every third row, the drivers’ positions chosen by time trial on World Final day.
Coventry has hosted more World Championships than any other track – this is the 22nd and presumably the last before the grand old dame shuts her doors for good. A roll call of previous Coventry winners is a list of the greats of the sport: Johnny Brise, Doug Cronshaw, Dave Chisholm, Stuart Smith, Peter Falding, Frankie Wainman Junior, John Lund, Andy Smith… Who will add their name to such the salubrious list?
The defending champion:
Rob Speak has announced that this will be his final season in F1. What chance he ends on a high with back-to-back World Final wins? Good news: he starts on the front row. Bad news: he starts on the outside. Whether he stands a chance depends on whether he can get round the first bend in one piece. Whatever happens, whether he leads into the first bend only or until the last, there’s little doubt that Speak will finish the World Final with a big grin on his face.
The front rows:
Alongside Rob Speak and sitting pretty in pole position is another former F2 star, Nigel Green. He has built on a promising first season to become a force to be reckoned with and a major challenger for titles. Green will be hoping to replicate Speak, who won from pole position last year, but his chances largely rest on whether the guys behind him give him a chance at the end of the first straight.
Mat Newson is the driver directly behind Nigel Green on the inside of the second row, the slot that many drivers say is the best place to be. Newson still hasn’t won his first major championship but has come close many times. He added to his record of five major championship podiums with another one in 2016 when he claimed third place in the British. Is he the best driver never to win a major? Can he do it this time?
Frankie Wainman Junior is the only person on the grid (at least until after the Consolation Semi) who has won a World Final at Coventry. That said, he doesn’t have a great success rate there – he has won one World Final out of the eleven he has started at Coventry, along with two second-place finishes to arch-rival Andy Smith in 2006 and 2010. He is the best performer on shale by far this season, but there’s a chance that his niggles with Rob Speak over the course of this season may come back to haunt him.
The middle of the pack:
Stuart Smith Junior is one of a clutch of big names on rows four and five who’ll be eager to pounce on any mistakes the front rowers make. Smith won the last Coventry meeting final in impressive style to lay down a marker and may be secretly pleased that he’s a little removed from the expected carnage of the front rows. One World Final win isn’t enough in his family and he’ll be keen to add to the Rochdale roll of honour.
Last time the World Final was held at Coventry, Craig Finnikin slipped through from the outside of row eight to win. Paul Harrison sits in that position this time. Harrison has already won two shale finals this year, including ‘that’ race at Coventry in June, so he knows he can win the big races. This will be Harrison’s 28th World Final appearance, which is odd, because he still only looks like he’s 27 years old!
Will Hunter starts his first World Final from the rear half of the grid. After a strong Novice of the Year campaign in 2014, Hunter has picked up a few podium places over the last year and a half, although race wins have been harder to come by from the back of the grid. His father, Warren, made two World Final appearances in the 1990s – Hunter will probably be happy if he beats his dad’s best finish, seventh in 1992.
Charging from the back:
If you’re starting from near the back, you’re probably going to need some experience to help you through the field. Experience is something that Will Yarrow has bucket loads of. Primarily a shale driver, not shy to use the front bumper, making his fourteenth World Final appearance: it all adds up to a tempting each-way bet that’ll pay out handsomely if Yarrow can make it to the podium.
Currently last on the grid is John Dowson Junior, although the Consolation qualifiers and some overseas drivers will park up behind him. Dowson doesn’t have the budget of some of the other drivers and concentrates his racing on shale, but don’t let that fool you – he’s as keen to win as anybody, something he demonstrated by dumping FWJ in the wires at Belle Vue earlier this year.
Did you know?
Just missing out on the podium by finishing in fourth must be agonising. Paul Harrison holds the unenviable record of most fourth-place finishes, with three (1989, 2001 and 2007). However, he does share the record with another driver – his dad! Willie finished fourth in 1956, 1973 and 1975.
Words: Scott Reeves
Photos: Colin Casserley