Preview: World Final 2018

It’s time for the biggest race in the F1 stock car season! The World Final is 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. Will it be a repeat winner or will a new name clutch the trophy on Saturday night?

Drivers collected World Championship qualifying points over 21 meetings. Their total points designated their position on a World Semi-Final grid, from which the top ten qualifiers progressed to the World Final. Mat Newson resumed his tradition of failing to make the big race at the first time of asking and will join the other semi-finalists who didn’t make it in the Consolation Qualifier – the top two in that race will start at the back of the World Final grid.

The British qualifiers will be joined by drivers from abroad, including the regular visitors from the Netherlands and New Zealand. The foreign entrants will be seeded onto every third row, the drivers’ positions chosen by time trial on World Final day.

Skegness has only ever hosted one World Final, in 2012. But who will ever forget that one? A first-bend pile-up claimed many of the top names, allowing Lee Fairhurst to charge through from the back for a shock win. He is the only driver to have won via the Consolation Qualifier, and Lee didn’t even finish in the first two in that race – his third place was good enough after his own father withdrew with car trouble. If Hollywood ever did F1 stock car racing, surely that’s the plot they’d use. But can lightning strike twice on the east coast?

 

The defending champion:

Nigel Green hasn’t shown off the gold roof as much as he would have wanted this year, after rule changes rendered his tarmac special redundant. The loss of that car and the lack of regular racing have hurt his form somewhat – if he wasn’t a protected superstar by virtue of holding the gold roof, he would probably be racing among the red tops. However, discounting the defending champ would be a big mistake. Nigel will start from the outside of the fourth row, easily close enough to the front to have a real crack at defending his crown.

 

The front rows:

Immediately after his flag-to-flag semi-final win, Stuart Smith Junior suggested that his opponents on the World Final grid should target Nigel Green. Surely that’s a classic case of smoke and mirrors – if anybody should be seen as the main threat, it’s SSJ himself. Stuart has been the dominant force in the season so far, taking the British Championship and winning the most races and finals despite attending fewer meetings than most of his rivals. The rest of the grid have one shred of hope – they’ll be clinging to the fact that none of Stuart’s first dozen race wins came on tarmac.

In comparison to SSJ, Lee Fairhurst is more comfortable on tarmac than shale. He also won the only other Skegness World Final, although he will start this one in very different circumstances – right at the front of the grid as opposed to right at the back! As long as Lee can get around the first corner safely, he is one of a handful of drivers who has the pace to lead from the first lap to the last.

Prior to Nigel Green’s entry into F1, Tom Harris was the man to beat on tarmac. A lot has changed over the last two or three years – as well as the rapid rise of Professor Green, Tom has shifted focus and spent a considerable amount of 2018 racing in the USA. However, when he is in the UK, Tom is determined to keep doing the business in his bread-and-butter formula – his F1 points-per-meeting average beats even that of Stuart Smith Junior. Does that make him the favourite for the title this year?

But one driver has an even better point-per-meeting average, and he sits on Tom’s inside – a second row of Tom Harris and Dan Johnson makes an explosive combination. There is little love between these two drivers. Although they’ll have bigger things to worry about as they approach the first corner, if these two end up racing each other, look for the bumper to be used to maximum effect. If one of these passes the other and leaves the other in a position to counter-attack, you might just see the biggest hit of the World Final – or of all World Finals!

 

 

The middle of the pack:

Although most attention will be on the front few rows, keep an eye on Ryan Harrison on the outside of the fifth row. He has everything necessary to take the win from here – a fast car, experience (World Final runner up to Tom Harris in 2013 and Venray World Cup Champion in 2016) and the balls to take a chance on the first lap.

Karl Hawkins has been a little inconsistent this year – he has taken the chequered flag three times (all on tarmac) and scored a brilliant 35 points at Hednesford, but he also has two zero scores. What does that mean for the World Final? Perhaps it means that Karl with either crash out on the first corner or come charging through and make a mark on the frontrunners.

What about Paul Hines? He’s the nice guy on the grid, everybody’s second-favourite driver, never one to race under a red mist. Surely he won’t make a big heave-ho into the first corner to obliterate those in front of him? But sometimes it’s the quiet ones you need to be wary of… Paul is sitting in the top ten of the grading list with some consistent results so far this season, but has yet to really make his mark. Maybe he’s just waiting for the right time, and there’s no better time than now.

 

Charging from the back:

The Scriven brothers, Michael and Neil, start on the inside of the thirteenth and fourteenth rows. Both have undoubted talent – Neil is a fromer UK Open Champion, while Michael has won the Trust Fund race – and it would be fantastic to see the pair on track more often. In terms of this World Final, they will be hoping to sneak through the field and enter the top ten – any more than that will be a dream come true.

Ricky Wilson is lowest driver on the grading list to start the World Final and scraped onto the grid with tenth place in his semi-final. But he will probably accept that just getting onto the grid is a great achievement, but now he’s here – well, you have to be in it to win it. His best ploy will be to take it easy for the first couple of laps and see how the cards fall, then push on for a finishing position as high as possible. After all, that’s what Lee Fairhurst did in 2012!

Words: Scott Reeves
Photos: Colin Casserley

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