Preview: World Championship Semi-Finals 2018

Birmingham or Northampton? It’s the question that kept cropping up all season – where would Incarace host the second World Championship Semi-Final? Birmingham seemed to be the first choice, then it became Northampton. But Northampton became shale, and the tradition over the last decade or so is that the two semi-finals are held on different surfaces. Then, two weeks after the final qualifying round, it was finally announced the venue was Birmingham again. A lot of confusion and rumour could have been avoided if the decision was made earlier, but it’s normal for this sport’s authorities to fudge a solution with minimal communication to the fans.

Whatever has happened, after 21 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 gave Stuart Smith Junior the choice of which semi-final he wanted to compete in. He waited patiently until the tracks were finally confirmed and chose the first race at King’s Lynn on 4 August, leaving second-placed Frankie Wainman Junior to take pole position a week later at Birmingham on 11 August.

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. Next in line to take the place of any withdrawals are Shaun Webster, George Elwell, Sam Makim and Eliot Smith.

Single-surface shenanigans

Since the World Final will be held at Skegness, the decision to host the second semi at Birmingham means it’s possible for a tarmac-only driver to win the World Final without a single race on shale during the campaign. We’re looking at you, Luke Davidson and Stuart Shevill. Meanwhile, the shale specialists will now be forced to race on tarmac to qualify for Skegness – John Dowson Junior, James Morris, Billy Johnson and Russell Cooper would have probably preferred the semi-final to stay at Northampton.

In the other race, Ashley England and Michael Scriven are the two drivers who would have been more comfortable on tarmac rather than shale – but no doubt they will still be raring to get going!

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 on 15 September – especially given that the only other World Final there saw Lee Fairhurst take the win from the back of the grid. So, should drivers go all-out for the best possible position, or play it safe and be happy just to get on the World Final grid?

The drivers towards the front are likely to take it easy. Those at the back of the grid who are pushing to get into the top tenare 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.

Ones to watch: King’s Lynn, 4 August

Mark Sargent had an excellent start to the 2018 season and won the final at the double-points King’s Lynn meeting in March, meaning that he finished eighth in the qualifying points and a place on the second row for the semi-final at the same venue. It’s probably be the best chance Mark will ever have to complete a dream season by swiping the gold roof from under the noses of the more established superstar and star drivers. However, he will need to be careful not to keep a paternal eye on his son, Finn Sargent, who took the final qualifying slot and will start last at King’s Lynn.

Paul Harrison is currently doing extra chores around the house in the hope that son Bradley will lend him the number 25 shale car for the King’s Lynn semi. Paul is currently without his own shale machine and is winding down his racing career having finally broken his World Final curse in 2011. He is now taking a more relaxed approach, but that can often lead to more success – just look at the last few years of Stuart Smith.

An interesting pairing can be found on the ninth row. Will Hunter is steadily improving and might be a little disappointed to be starting so far back, but will look to use the skills honed in his junior karting career to weave around the opposition and into the top ten. To his right, Joe Booth will probably adopt different tactics. He is both willing and able to use the front bumper to full effect. If anybody tries a big heave-ho on the first corner, Joe will be the prime suspect.

 

Ones to watch: Birmingham, 11 August

We’ve picked out John Dowson Junior as driver to watch a few times already this year, but credit must go to the driver of car 94 after he scored the fourth-best points-per-meeting average over the qualifying rounds. His reward is a place on the outside of the second row – a dangerous place to be, but if he gets around the first corner safely, he will certainly fight for a place on the podium.

Nigel Green knows that he’ll be in the World Final no matter what – as the defending champion he can start from the back of the grid even if he fails to qualify from the semi-final. That said, he’d much prefer to start among the front-runners at Skegness. To do that, he’ll have to move forward from his fourth-row slot at Birmingham, and few would doubt his ability to do so.

How refreshing to see Jacklyn Ellis and Phoebe Wainman doing it for the girls. Both have qualified for their first F1 semi-final, the first female presence in the semis for some years, and will race together at Birmingham.  They each have some work to do to qualify for Skegness – Jacklyn starts on the ninth row, Phoebe on the twelfth – but some skilful racing and good luck could see them taking up similar slots on the World Final grid.

Words: Scott Reeves
Photos: Colin Casserley

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