Preview: World Final 2015

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 fifteen 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 more lucky drivers – Ed Neachell and John Lund – earned last-chance places in the Consolation Semi-Final. They will be joined by twelve drivers from the Netherlands and New Zealand to make 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.

It will be the fourth time that the World Championship is decided on the shale of King’s Lynn. Previous winners there have been Stuart Smith Junior, Andy Smith and Tom Harris. All three won from the outside line of the grid, something the drivers nearest the fence on the rolling lap might take comfort in.

The defending champion:

Craig Finnikin is the master of shale, but like many champions, he’s found it a little tougher racing from the back of the grid – he has only three race wins so far this season. But remember, Finnikin isn’t starting from the back this time – he’ll line up on row 5, three rows forward compared to when he won it last year.

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The front rows:

It might be a surprise to some, but Rob Speak is making his first start in a F1 World Final from pole position. He started plenty of F2 World Finals from there though, so shouldn’t have too many nerves on the rolling lap. Speak’s position makes him vulnerable to being a passenger on the front of a train of cars into the first corner, and his driving style suits coming from behind rather than leading from the front, but he’ll still start this race as many people’s favourite to take the crown.

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To the side of Speak, on the outside of the front row, is Stuart Smith Junior. He has fond memories of King’s Lynn, having won his sole World Final victory there in 2007. If conditions are tricky – if the track is wet, for example – Smith might well pull clear of the field and prove uncatchable. Smith is certainly keen for the win – as he admits himself, one World Final win isn’t really seen as enough in the Smith family!

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Another driver who hasn’t won as many World Finals as you might expect is Frankie Wainman Junior. Frankie is having a late-career revival, winning the European and Grand National Championships in 2014 and adding the UK Open and World Cup titles in 2015. Can he win the World Final for the third time too? Wainman is always one to watch, and he’s starting from the position that most drivers would consider to be the best, the inside of the second row.

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The final member of the potentially explosive front row club is Mick Sworder. He’s the only driver of that group who hasn’t won the World Final, but was a Formula 2 World Champion in 2007. Only two others have won both F1 and F2 gold roofs – Dave Chisholm and Rob Speak – and Sworder will grasp the opportunity to join them if it presents itself. Expect him to look for an opportunity to get on the inside line as they approach the first corner. If a gap opens up, all well and good. If it doesn’t, he might need to create one with his bumper.

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The middle of the pack:

On the inside of the fourth row, ready to take advantage if the front rows self-destruct, is Dan Johnson. Dan The Nearly Man led last year’s World Final until Craig Finnikin dumped him into a parked car. He led the 2012 World Final before Lee Fairhurst completed his charge from last to first. He led the 2011 World Final until Paul Harrison dumped him into the fence. Will it be fourth time lucky in 2015?

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Dylan-Williams Maynard started the season like a greyhound out of the traps with six race wins during the first two months of the season, but things have gone a little quiet since then. Has he been saving up for the big race? Keep an eye on him during the parade lap, last year he donned a kilt – but forgot the underpants…

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Tom Harris has spent much of the last couple of months racing sprint cars in the USA. It’s a great opportunity to further his racing career, but it must raise a few questions ahead of the World Final. Has he been able to spend as much time on car prep as he’d like? He hasn’t raced at King’s Lynn since the end of April – is he as familiar with track conditions as the rest? Nevertheless, Harris drove to an easy victory two years ago, the last time the World Final was held at King’s Lynn. Row 11 is a long way back, but Harris would be a decent bet to make the podium.

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Charging from the back:

Those who start near the back have the most to gain by giving a big push into the first corner, and the most likely candidate for a big heave on this grid is Mark Gilbank, a shale specialist who is not shy to use the front bumper. Of current drivers, Gilbank has won most finals without taking a major championship. He’ll hope to break his duck with the biggest championship of them all.

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John Lund sneaked onto the grid as the second-place finisher in the Consolation Semi-Final and will start last among the UK qualifiers. Nobody has started more World Finals than Lund – this will be his 31st – and he’ll try and make full use of all his experience. If he make his way past 30 other cars to win, you’ll be able to hear the cheers from Belle Vue.

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Did you know?

Frankie Junior will own the bragging rights in the Wainman household after this race. He and his father have both started 25 World Finals – Frankie Junior will make it to 26 this year.

Words: Scott Reeves
Photos: Colin Casserley

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