King’s Lynn played host to the BriSCA F1 Stock Car World Championship Final last Saturday and as NEIL RANDON reports, there were plenty of positives to take away from the sport’s biggest night of the year.
A BriSCA F1 stock car season is ultimately based around one event, one race – the World Championship Final.
It is the jewel in the crown, the race that captures every stock car fan’s imagination and is every driver’s dream of winning.
And during each season, as the year rolls by, the promotion builds, the media publish, the crowds flock.
This year’s race, possibly more than any other in recent years, had been eagerly-awaited, despite the fact there had been plenty of negativity surrounding the sport in recent weeks.
The announcement prior to the World Final that Stoke would cease racing at the end of the season was a blow for the sport, but the World Final weekend blew away much of that disillusionment.
Some of the anticipation leading up to the weekend was due to the venue, the Adrian Flux Arena at King’s Lynn. The Norfolk oval is currently the best shale facility in the sport. It is slickly run by the Trackstar promotion and the track itself is always beautifully prepared.
Paul Butler and his team have also been adept at garnering publicity for the track and the World Final during the past 12 months.
It also has the facilities – bars, seated grandstands, an atmospheric back straight enclosed terraced grandstand where the sound and the speed the racing is magnified tenfold, a big screen with a live feed of the racing including a lap chart, and easy access to the pit area.
PRE-RACE BUILD-UP AND PUBLICITY
For the event itself, there was a whopping 68-page programme to sieve through, with masses of features and stats, and there were plenty of on-track pre-race interviews – notably by Brian Makinson, and these included interviews with both front row starters Tom Harris and Frankie Wainman Jnr – it was a major coup for Makinson to have these two rivals talking together and doing so in good spirits.
An idea created by Rob Speak at Skegness 12 months earlier was continued this year with a World Final grid walk. The drivers were all available and approachable prior to the race, rather than hidden away in their transporters, so fans young and old could talk to and have photos with their heroes.
It is often the small things that make a huge difference. The Trackstar promotion gave out free autograph books so that young fans could collect the signatures of all the World Final contenders, as well as the outgoing world champion Stuart Smith Jnr.
After the race the promotion printed posters of the winner from a photo taken after the race, so that fans could have them signed by the new world champion by the turnstiles. Another creative and engaging idea.
When I was a boy, this would have made my day.
The media build-up to the event was the best there has been in many years, helped considerably by the fact a woman driver had qualified for the race for the first time in 25 years.
For the race Phoebe Wainman was media gold. Having a young woman competing against the men in this brutal form of motorsport captured the imagination of sports editors across the country with plenty of local media coverage, and an ITV news feature on Phoebe two days before the race.
On a personal level, now I am employed by the media group who own the Daily Mirror, Daily Express and Daily Star, I work closely with the sports editors of each paper on a daily basis, which means I can pitch to get an F1 stock car story published.
Space in any national newspaper is always at a premium. Football dominates, as does horse racing, cricket and any other major sport that is in the news. These sports sell papers, and through advertising make the most money.
For a minority sport to make it into one of these national newspaper titles, it is important to have a great ‘hook’ – an angle that makes the story stand out from the norm. Man wins race doesn’t do it. It has to be something different.
Having previously succeeded in getting Tom Harris in the Daily Express with his World of Outlaws exploits, Phoebe competing in the World Final was always going to have a good chance of being published, particularly in the Daily Mirror, which has a policy of promoting women in sport. And including Courtney Witts winning two recent BriSCA F1 finals to the story helped magnify the ‘women beating the men in a men’s game’ angle.
The Daily Mirror sports editor loved the Phoebe Wainman story – he came up with the ‘GRITTY IN PINK’ headline – as did the Head of Sport for the entire group, who actually retweeted the story on Twitter.
It went down really well. To say I was pleased is an understatement.
With the track regraded after the three opening heats, the build-up for the World Final was timed so that the race itself was run under floodlights – and for a Saturday night World Final that is a major priority to notch up the atmosphere.
The first four drivers on the grid came out for their parade laps to their own personal intro music. This was another great idea that hopefully will be used in the future for all major races. Of the four Lee Fairhurst captured the moment best for me. He used Free From Desire, by Gala, the same music Tyson Fury used as he entered the ring for his World title fight against Deontay Wilder.
And to cap it off the last driver to parade around the track wasn’t even in the race. Stuart Smith Jnr and his wife Katie received the biggest ovation of the night as they stood on the back of the pace car with the World Championship trophy. The reigning world champion, having been forced to retire through the injuries he sustained at Northampton last October, was about to relinquish ownership of the gold roof after the race.
It was a memorable and extremely poignant moment. It signified the end of an era.
The 36 cars on the grid fired up for the two rolling laps, and as the field rumbled around the track before the green flag, Fanfair To The Common Man boomed out of the PA. Then, in similar style to how the World Of Outlaws Sprint Car series introduce their A-main features, the stadium lit up to a spectacular crescendo of fireworks.
Sitting on pole position with a great car and fantastic form on shale – accentuated by his World Of Outlaws Sprint Car experience during the past couple of years – Tom Harris was a firm favourite to win the gold roof.
Harris controlled the pace as the field bunched up entering the third bend with Frankie Wainman Jnr starting the race alongside Harris, having opted for the outside slot on the front row where he believed he had would have more grip on the opening lap.
But Harris got the drop on Wainman Jnr at the start and headed down to the first bend in the lead.
In motorsport, and F1 stock car racing in particular, the old adage a race can’t be won on the first corner, but can certainly be lost, has always stood firm over the years, but Wainman Jnr, even at this early stage, was running out of options.
It says much about Harris’s sheer pace and concerns that – with a clear track in front of him – no one had the legs to stay with the British champion, Wainman Jnr was forced to take drastic action into the first bend rather than bide his time with 25 laps ahead of him.
As Harris approached the corner Wainman Jnr immediately went on the attack, going for a huge lunge at the Harris car. He connected, sending Harris into the sheet plate metal fence at speed, but in doing so the momentum pitched him sideways.
Harris knew he would likely end up hitting the fence at some stage during the 25 laps, and had prepared the car for the race with extra reinforcement on the offside nerf rail to withstand an attack. It did its job, although the hit was sufficient to stove part of the rail into the cab.
While the pole-sitter successfully rode the fence before setting off relatively unscathed, Wainman Jnr found himself embroiled in a first-bend meleé.
Paul Hines, who started on the inside of the second row, went into the corner very deep, making brief contact with Wainman before being pushed heavily from behind by Dutch driver and fastest foreign qualifier Wybe de Vries, resulting in the Hinckley driver clambering over the front end of the Wainman car and popping a right front tyre.
Immediately behind, as de Vries pirouetted through 180 degrees, Lee Fairhurst, who started on the outside of the second row, found his route blocked and was spun sideways by Mat Newson, with help from Ryan Harrison.
While Harris motored on down the back straight, it was Harrison who came out of the meleé best of all, passing the limping Hines car to go second. As Hines retired, Jelle Tesselaar had come through from row six to be in third place, ahead of a recovering Wainman Jnr, Will Hunter and incredibly New Zealand’s Jordan Dare from row nine. In sixth place, Dare was followed by Chris Cowley and Craig Finnikin, the European champion rounding out the top eight.
Behind this group Fairhurst found himself being pushed sideways halfway up the back straight by the mid-pack and only got to unravel himself after Harris and the leaders went by again.
Two of the other race favourites Dan Johnson and Mat Newson also got mixed up in the pile-up, with Newson going a lap down.
As the dust gradually settled Harris already had a commanding lead ahead of Harrison, with Tesselaar and Wainman Jnr close behind. Hunter was next, while Dare found himself going fencewards into turn three courtesy of Cowley, which allowed Finnikin to slip by into sixth.
The waved yellows came out on lap four after Neil Scothern was left stranded at the end of the home straight, with the order now Harris, Harrison, Tesselaar, Wainman Jnr, Hunter, Finnikin, Karl Roberts and Cowley.
On the restart, with two backmarkers between him and Harrison, Harris soon stretched out his lead once again. It was evident, even at this early stage, that barring accidents the race was Harris’s for the taking. Scything through traffic with ease, Harris had his J.Davidson Scrap Metal stock car set up to perfection, being able to pitch it into the corners how he wanted and was able to use all of the track.
Harrison held on to second with Wainman Jnr soon moving up to third ahead of Tesselaar, who was held up by a backmarker.
The only issue Harris had was attempting to pass Bobby Griffin to put him a lap down, being held up for a couple of laps before the yellows flags came out again after lap nine.
Tristan Jackson found Pieter Langeveld on his bonnet in turn one, while simultaneously up at the other end of the track in turn three, Aaron Leach ended up on his roof after an argument with Roberts.
With time needed to remove the stricken cars, interviews were had with Harris, Harrison, Wainman and Tesselaar from their cars, another good edition to the show, before the race got underway again.
From here on in, Harris was never troubled to extend his lead, while Wainman Jnr passed Harrison on lap ten to go second.
Wainman Jnr began to pull clear of Harrison but within three laps ominous puffs of smoke began to appear from the National Points champion’s car.
The smoke became more apparent with each lap and to the groans from his fans, Wainman Jnr was forced to pull off with a blown engine.
Harris was left half a lap ahead of Harrison, and was able to stroke the car home to an emphatic and dominant victory for his second World title. The main interest in the latter stages was the battle for third, with Finnikin using all his experience with car set-up – he is a master at racing on a very dry track at the end of a race – to take control of the final podium slot, ahead of Hunter and Tesselaar.
Danny Wainman finished sixth ahead of Bert de Vries, Bradley Harrison, New Zealand star William Humphries, with Fairhurst rounding out the top ten. The remaining finishers were Ward, Ashley England and Phoebe Wainman.
Was it a classic World Final? No, but that in itself doesn’t matter. A worthy world champion? Certainly.
The fact the race was not one of the closest races in recent years didn’t matter because overall, as an event, the World Final meeting was excellent. As a shop window for the sport, it did its job. The meeting as a whole – the preparation, the build up, the racing during the meeting – was first class, and it is welcome news to learn that the World Final will be hosted by the track again next year.
As for the new world champion? As Stuart Smith Jnr suggested in my interview for the meeting programme, if the opposition don’t raise their game, Tom Harris will be looking to dominate the sport for the next few years.
Photos courtesy of Dave Bastock, James Bowles, Colin Casserley, Matt Hall, Richard Minnema, Catherine Prior, Trackstar
NEIL RANDON 2019