Preview: World Championship Semi-Finals 2017

After sixteen qualifying rounds, the points have been totalled and the drivers have been designated their World Championship Semi-Finals. It’s another step on the road to the gold roof and nobody wants to crash out at this late stage.

Finishing top of the World Championship qualifying points for the first time gave Nigel Green the choice of which semi-final he wanted to compete in. He chose the first race at Skegness on 29 July, leaving second-placed Dan Johnson to take pole position at Stoke on 12 August.

Single-surface shenanigans

Nigel’s choice of semi-final meant that the rest of the drivers on the qualifying list shuttled into place in one of the semis. Some have been drawn on their less-favoured surface – Luke Davidson on shale is the stand-out name in that regard – but most drivers have luckily been given their best track. Mark Woodhull and Mal Brown will be particularly pleased to be getting dirty at Stoke.

A few drivers will be checking their mobile phones every few minutes as they wait to see if they get a spot as a lucky loser. We’ve heard that Eliot Smith and Shaun Webster have already withdrawn, giving Rob Cowley and James Morris a chance at Stoke. Next in line to take the place of any withdrawals are Paul Carter, Matt Armstrong and Luke Dennis.

Talking tactics

A World Semi-Final is one of the hardest races to plan for. The primary aim isn’t to win, it’s to finish in the top ten and qualify for the World Final at Ipswich on 16 September. Having said that, the better you finish, the better a place on the World Final grid, and the long tarmac oval at Ipswich is likely to favour drivers on the first few rows. So should you go all-out for the win, or play it safe and make sure you finish?

The drivers towards the front are likely to take it easy. Those at the back of the grid are the ones with less to lose. They might try to put the pressure on the front runners with a big push into the first corner – if they time it right, they can sneak up the inside while everybody else fights for traction.

Line up for the last Semi-Final at Stoke in 2014

Ones to watch: Skegness, 29 July

New European Champion Nigel Green has been steadily moving up the semi-final grids: fifth row in 2015, third row in 2016, now pole position in 2017. Chances are that one of the drivers around him will need to act if Nigel isn’t going to have a flag-to-flag victory and a front row start in the World Final. Is the first corner at Skegness the best time to put Green out of the running for gold? We’ll have to wait to see whether Stuart Smith Junior or Mat Newson think so.

New European Champion Nigel Green will be hoping to qualify well

Rob Speak ended the will-he-or-won’t-he rumours at the Skegness speedweekend when he confirmed that he will take up his place on the grid at his home stadium. Speak missed all of this season’s qualifying rounds but still earned enough points at the end of last year for a grid slot on the inside of the fourth row. That won’t faze him – in 2012, during his comeback to the sport, he earned enough points to start a semi-final on the twelfth row and finished the race in fifth place. If Speak does qualify this time, let the rumours begin again – will he or won’t he race in the World Final?

Rob Speak confirmed that he will be taking his place on the grid

Chris Fort is looking to follow in the footsteps of Andy Smith and Stuart Smith Junior by becoming a World Champion in both Formula 1 and V8 Hotstox. Fort has been quick when starting near the front of the grid with a yellow roof, but starting near the back amongst the red roofs will be a tougher task. Getting on the World Final grid will be considered a good result.

Chris Fort will start on Row 10 at Skegness

Ones to watch: Stoke, 12 August

Let’s lump the big names together in this one: Dan Johnson, Frankie Wainman Junior and Tom Harris make an explosive first couple of rows. Frankie braked in front of Tom at the National Points Shootout finale last year, then Dan did the same to Tom at the British Championship – a move which helped Frankie win. Each of the three will be looking to give a bit of payback – but who will get in position and deliver? Chances are that at least one of this trio won’t finish the race!

Defending World Champion FWJ will start on the second row at Stoke, behind Dan Johnson

Mark Gilbank will be drawing on 27 years of stock car experience in an attempt to make his 18th World Final appearance. A shale specialist, Mark will be looking to improve on his fourth-row start and is a good bet for a podium finish. That’ll give him an outside chance at Ipswich, as Mark continues his quest for his first major championship title.

Mark Gilbank always goes well at Stoke

Every podium spot except one went to a star or superstar at the first meeting at Stoke this year, suggesting that it’s the more experienced drivers who are best on the bumpy shale track. That doesn’t bode well for Todd Jones, Drew Lammas and Ashley England, all young drivers who have yet to score a shale point this year. Chances are these three won’t make it into the top ten, although they may well have a bearing on the result if the quick men at the front need to pick their way through traffic.

Tar specialist Drew Lammas will have to try his luck on the loose stuff if he wants to make it into the World Final

Words: Scott Reeves
Photos: Colin Casserley

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