NIGEL GREEN missed much of 2018 after his World and European Championship-winning car was deemed illegal due to an end-of-season rule change. But “axlegate” is now well and truly behind him. Looking forward to the new season, Green spoke about his plans for this year to NEIL RANDON.
One of the biggest turnout of fans for many years arrived at King’s Lynn for the BriSCA F1 season opener at the end of March, and it coincided with a number of drivers returning to the sport from long lay-offs.
Mick Sworder was back out for the first time in more than 12 months, having also served a ban during that time, while Craig Finnikin was also making his first visit to a British track in more than a year.
Dan Johnson was another driver who had not raced on shale since the re-run European Championship at Northampton in September, due to engine problems, and also Nigel Green had returned.
Green was making his first appearance since the King’s Lynn Shootout round last September, having raced only at a handful of meetings all season.
This year, however, Green will focus on challenging for the silver roof, as the former world champion prepares for a full campaign of racing.
The 34-year-old began the season with a bang by taking a heat and final double at the Adrian Flux Arena.
And afterwards the former world champion announced his intentions for the rest of the season. Green has always believed the National Points Shootout is the ultimate accolade, regarding it as even more significant than the gold roof.
“It proves you have been the best over the whole year rather than in just a one-off race,” Green said.
“I will be more committed to racing this year – probably not as many as 2017 – but I definitely want to be in the Shootout. So I’ll be doing 75 per cent of the meetings this year.”
For Green, the 2019 season is the start of a new dawn. Rewind more than 12 months and the former world champion had mixed emotions about the sport. Having been the the man to beat during 2017 with World and European titles in the bag, Green was preparing the way to further his dominance by building two new cars, one for shale and a revolutionary new Tarmac car.
During that year, on Tarmac in particular, Green was unstoppable, winning seven meeting finals and numerous heat wins. The European Championship highlighted how far ahead Green was of the opposition.
Ryan Harrison was runner-up that afternoon in a car that would go on to win numerous finals including the Venray Gold Cup. It was one of the best cars in the field, driven by one of the sport’s fastest and most aggressive drivers, but Harrison was unable to live with Green over the course of 25 laps.
He had no answer. Afterwards, Harrison was forced to admit there was little he could do. “Nigel was just too quick,” he said. “When he gets to the end of the race, while we’re all struggling, he stays at the same pace – there’s no drop off.”
At the World Final at Ipswich Johnson was Green’s only real threat, and even he was forced to try extreme tactics with a do-or-die last-bend lunge which ended in the Armco and retirement, to try and beat the apparently unbeatable Green.
But then one afternoon in December at the driver’s AGM, any thoughts of continuing his reign of invincibility came to an abrupt end. Green raced a wider axled Tarmac car compared to the rest of the field, and while it was never the prettiest car on the grid, it got results. He was also developing the wide-axle theme on a new charger, being designed by Mark Thornton.
At the AGM, however, there was concern Green’s dominance was having a detrimental effect on the spectacle of Tarmac racing. It had happened before – Andy Smith’s infamous stepped-chassis design was another revolutionary idea that was unceremoniously thrown on the scrap heap – and the drivers voted unanimously to reduce rear axle widths, which meant the Green car would be deemed illegal to race.
In the world champion’s mind this was tantamount to a betrayal, having been lauded at the previous evening’s awards dinner, only to discover he was friendless the following afternoon.
When it become apparent his car would, in effect be banned, Green stood up in front of the room and announced he would not race the following season if his car was subject to a radical rule change. But vote for it the room did.
Green was incandescent. In Shock and Roar, he explained why he felt so angry.
“I don’t want to sound big-headed,” he said. “But you do everything you can to try and promote the sport and make it better and bigger and raise the profile and then you are dealt with in a very unprofessional manner…
“It has nothing to do with money. I have proved that with my Tarmac car. Other drivers have to take time, effort and money to shorten their axles.
“That’s why I am frustrated, because it is not done on price or components or anything like that. People get their axles and shorten them on the left. I choose not to. So now they are enforcing a rule where you have to run a custom rear axle, you can’t just run a Transit rear axle. And so they are making it more expensive, but because they already do it, they are alright with that, so it is absolute bollocks.
“I have an old car, it is ten years old, and I made it wider.
“I don’t mind people enforcing rules for the so-called good of the sport to keep it competitive at a lower budget, but I’m not running aluminium axle casings or expensive components made out of titanium that other people are. So they haven’t come up with a reason where I can see “Yeah, you’re right.”
“If you have a maximum track width rule of 82.5 inches for the front axle you don’t have one for the front and a different one for the back, that’s unheard of. It is because it has been done the same for so many years they are saying “Well that is how a stock car is!”
“I looked back at some footage from the late 80s and cars were running the same width on both sides. The axles were legal in the late 80s and now they’re not.”
Green was true to his word during the opening months of the 2018 season – he was nowhere to be seen.
Ultimately, stock car racing is purely a hobby for Green. It is not his priority in life. Building a secure environment for his family through a successfully-run family business has always taken precedent. And it works well for him. Stock car racing can always wait.
But as time went on and spring was turning towards summer Green began to soften his stance.
Sweet success at Skegness
By the time of the UK Open weekend at Skegness in May, Green had adapted his Tarmac car to the new rulebook and booked in to race.
On the Saturday night Green looked racey and ultra-aggressive right from the word go. Using the front bumper on anyone who crossed his path, he was forced to spend the next morning repairing the damage. But lining up for the UK Open itself on Sunday afternoon, in a car that was looking slightly more worse for wear, he had shown he was clearly the fastest superstar on the grid.
As the race progressed only long-time leader and reigning champion Harry Steward, and Luke Davidson were ahead of him. While the laps ticked by and the lap boards came out, it was evident the race would be settled between the front two. Going into the final corner, Davidson took a dive at Steward which ended with both clattering the Armco. Steward was out on the spot while Davidson took time to extract himself from the fence.
It was enough for Green to take advantage. He slipped up the inside out of turn four to take the lead and the UK Open victory – in his ten-year-old Tarmac car with a narrower axle.
For Green it was the sweetest of victories. And it proved that as far as car set-up is concerned there are few better purveyors at that particular skill.
“It was perfect,” said Green. “I didn’t even need to say anything, stir any shit, just go home with a smile of my face with the trophy.”
Despite the success, Green still would only race at a handful of meetings during the remainder of the season. Having qualified third at a rain-swept Birmingham for his World semi-final, Green chased home a resurgent Stuart Smith Jnr in the World Final at Skegness, and won the Harry Smith Memorial Trophy later that evening.
A third place in the meeting final at King’s Lynn’s Shootout round in September would be his last meeting before the new season began at King’s Lynn.
In between times Green has spent his spare time game shooting – a favourite activity – and taking the odd break with his family, including a skiing holiday, and going to watch his older brother Jamie, a former Ministox racer in his younger days, drive for Audi Sport Team Rosberg in the DTM series. Relaxing whenever he could was high on his agenda.
Now back in the workshop his two new cars are still to be completed, and so his existing two cars will be used until the new ones see the light of day later in the season.
“They will become classic cars by the time they come out!” said Green. “They are both three years old already before I’ve even race them.”
The new designs have been a long time coming as Green readily admits, but he explained what the plan has been with his cars since 2017.
“The idea was to make the white shale car the same as the new car we were developing,” Green said. “So we raced the grey one as a sort of stepping stone, while behind the scenes we were planning to get the white one to the same suspension layout as we plan to do with the new cars.
“But once you start racing you don’t get time to develop your new cars. So I used the grey one throughout 2017 even though I wanted to use the white one.
“I won the first meeting out with it at Belle Vue and had a quite successful year with it really, and won four finals that year.
“So then the rules changed and I didn’t race and I had three shale cars, the white, the grey and the new one. So I put the grey one up for sale as I really wanted to race the white one anyway.”
But the set-up change didn’t have the desired effect.
“When I started racing the white one last year, we put the new suspension on it which Mark guided us towards, I did five or six meetings but it didn’t really set the world alight. I couldn’t get the most out of it.
“So then we sold the grey car to Kyle Grey and over the winter I’ve changed the suspension arrangement back to my design and so far this year it has gone alright. It has been a step in the right direction.
“We did have an hour round King’s Lynn before the meeting as we hadn’t run the car at all before that and I had altered everything – the axles and the pick-up points and the main part of the suspension – so I wanted to make sure it operated correctly.
“Which it did. It is always hard to test on shale on your own because the track changes massively. You don’t really get the benefit from practicing on shale unless there is a group of you, because the track changes so quickly. You wet it and it takes ages to dry out. You make a change to the car and while you are doing that the track’s changed again, so it’s hard work.”
Despite not racing since September last year Green was on the pace straight out of the trailer, winning his heat against Dan Johnson and Frankie Wainman Jnr.
“I was dicing with them for the first third of the race, just feeling my way into it so I could understand what car I’ve got underneath me,” Green said.
“So I managed to get away from those guys and drive the car properly with a bit of clear track and the pace was quite good. I managed to set fastest lap and drive away from them both. It was a nice way to start.
“I’ve got a little bit of experience now I suppose and I’m not too rusty even though I’ve not raced for a while.”
In the final Green cut through the field in typically efficient fashion until a couple of yellow flags late on.
“It got harder at the end because the waved yellows came out,” said Green. “Dan and Tom Harris had a get together but not sure what that was about and they ended up on the infield, which made it a bit easier.
“And then I had Mick Sworder behind me on the rolling lap but then he pulled off with a puncture. Without the stoppage I had already broken away from them, so while in some ways it was fortunate they pulled off, I’d already got the job done before the stoppage.”
Green pulled away to a decisive victory.
“I was getting into the race in the National and then my inside rear tyre let go, otherwise I think I could have finished in the top three or four,” he said. King’s Lynn is the best shale track we’ve got and, like any track, if you have got the pace you’ve got a chance of winning.”
While the season has now got underway work continues on his two new cars.
“We’re still doing work on the new cars,” said Green. “They are still bare metal and there is still a lot of work to do. Now I’m happy with the white shale car, so we now need to alter the new shale car where the axles are positioned in that even though we haven’t even raced it.
“I’m hoping to get them out this year or they will be antiques before long!”
Achieving more final victories is a target, with defense of his UK Open title and a strong bid for the British Championship at Hednesford high on the agenda.
But ultimately being the fastest man on the track is what he enjoys most.
“I get a lot of pleasure being the fastest, so whenever I race I want to be on the move,” Green said. “I’m not always going to base it on results, but I want to go out on track winning races and see where we end up at the end.”
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley and Neil Randon