AFTER the dust had settled, the track commentator announced that Frankie Wainman Jnr had won the Warrior of the Weekend award for his supreme efforts in trying to win the Superstock Teams Championships with the British Lions.
But while the award was well-deserved – he had put everything on the line during the two-day event – the look on Wainman Jnr’s face said it all.
Trying his best to force a smile in appreciation when interviewed on the centre green immediately afterwards, one emotion kept rising to the surface. Disappointment.
The British Lions team had come agonisingly close to winning the final for the second year running, and Wainman Jnr, who has won every major title in BriSCA F1 as well as multiple World 240ci championships in New Zealand, wants to win the Teams title more than any other.
But while he licked his wounds and gradually came to accept the team’s fantastic achievement, as captain of the British Lions Wainman Jnr still had a job to do.
The rest of the team were hurting too. Lee Fairhurst and Ben Hurdman were standing to together with heads bowed.
“After the final, there was me, Lee and Ben on the centre green – and this is how I know much it meant to them as well – because we were all so gutted,” says Wainman Jnr. “Lee was nearly in tears.
“I took him to one side and said to him “Come on, we did alright – we got second”, but like me he was so disappointed.
The thing is you don’t know what a driver is going to be like until you put him in that situation
“But in a way, that’s good because it meant he wanted to win it badly. And Ben was the same. And you need that, don’t you?
“As a captain, you look for things like that. The thing is you don’t know what a driver is going to be like until you put him in that situation.”
Team GB Racing’s bid to win one of the toughest stock car events anywhere in the world is a huge mountain to climb, and for two years running they nearly reached the summit against the odds.
With teams entering from New Zealand and Australia, the two-day event at the Robertson Holden International Speedway in Palmerston North is one of New Zealand’s biggest spectator sports, with an expected sell-out 20,000 crowd cheering on their favourite team.
Twelve teams took part this year, with four drivers from each racing against each other, with the top eight points-scoring teams going through to the main event on Saturday.
From then on it is a knockout competition, with the final two teams going for the title.
To have any hope of beating a rival team and make it to the next round, it is crucial one of a team’s drivers wins the race. Tactics make the difference between winning and losing, with drivers acting as either runners or blockers – runners set off with a race win as the objective, while blockers try to do the opposite and attempt to stop a runner winning.
As a race develops over 10-15 laps a driver needs to be able to adapt according to the situation and switch from one role to another.
Having only raced together as a team once, against Auckland in a prep event the week before, the British Lions topped their three-team group on Saturday. As a result the five-car Lions outfit – led by captain Wainman Jnr, Fairhurst, Hurdman, John Dowson and Bob Griffin – faced the Gisborne Giants in an eagerly-awaited semi-final.
Adding extra spice to the race, fellow BriSCA F1 star Tom Harris, arch-rival to Wainman Jnr, was in the line-up following an invitation to compete for the Giants.
Not only did we annihilate Gisborne but we had four cars still on the track. If you manage that and the opposition don’t have any – that’s pretty amazing, really
The race turned out to be one of the Lions finest ever performances, putting on a master class of teams racing to demolish the threat of the Giants. Hurdman went on to win comfortably after main Gisborne threat Peter Rees was forced to pull off in the closing stages.
“Not only did we annihilate Gisborne but we had four cars still on the track,” says Wainman Jnr. “If you manage that and the opposition don’t have any – that’s pretty amazing, really.
“Having Tom in the other team raised the stakes a little bit but it was hyped up more by Peter Rees in their team. It was the same last year when we beat them in the semi-final.
“Last year we shouldn’t have had a prayer against them. Peter went out to destroy me, which he did, but we played round it and worked out a way to win, and we did the same this year.
“Reesy got me on the pit corner this time and he hit me flat out – he even wrote his chassis off. The outside chassis leg was shortened by six inches, he hit me that hard.
“Don’t get me wrong, I felt it, and my shoulder still hurts now. I came back into the pits and everyone said “are you alright?” And I said, “yes, fine.” You have to accept that is going to happened to you. You have to ride it and get on with it. It probably ended up hurting him a lot more that it did me.”
In the end a superior race plan and tactics won the British team the day.
“We felt Garry Davies was a little bit of a weakness in their team and if you can deal with Peter and Tom, who was going to try and smash anything he can as that’s what he did the last time he did the Teams, we felt we could handle them,” Wainman says.
“I got rid of Garry, and put him up on the wall, and suddenly it all fitted into place. We took out every threat in the race, and won it. Job done.”
The four-car team then paraded and lined up in front of the main grandstand and received a rapturous reception none of the drivers had ever witnessed before.
“It was incredible,” says Wainman Jnr. “You don’t get that anywhere else. The first time we took a team over it was unbelievable, and it created such emotion in the stadium. It is something I have never witnessed before as a driver. It was like ‘they could actually do this!”
But it was not to be this year. The semi-final victory set up a clash with the Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes, who beat championship favourites Palmerston North Panthers in their semi-final in a repeat of the final of 12 months ago.
In a brutal 15-lap final, the Hawkeyes focused on neutralising the threat of Wainman Jnr from the outset, and were successful in causing enough damage to hinder his progress, badly damaging a rear wheel. Despite the setback, Fairhurst took over the lead in the early stages for the Lions.
With hits flying in all round the track, Hawkes Bay managed to block Fairhurst to allow Thomas Stanaway to go to the front. The New Zealander then stretched his lead to more than a lap of the quarter-mile oval.
The writing was on the wall for the Lions when Wainman Jnr’s car, with smoke and sparks flying from his damaged rear wheel, suffered a fuel-pump problem for the second year in a row and ground to a halt.
The only hope for a Team GB victory in the winner-takes-all event was if Fairhurst could catch the runaway leader. However, victory was all but lost when the Bolton driver was pinned up against the wall with two laps to go.
The red flags came out, and on the restart with only Hurdman and a hobbling Bob Griffin car still left running for Team GB way down the field, the Hawkeyes took the flag and the championship for a second successive year.
It was a hard defeat to take for the Lions, particularly for Wainman Jnr, who along with the rest of the team left nothing out on the track, just as he did 12 months earlier.
“Right from the word go, I looked at the Teams Championships as something we would never be able to do because of the mammoth effort it takes to get five good cars and five good drivers to go from here to New Zealand,” he says.
“At one point it was impossible, it was never ever going to happen, but then we managed to get the support from the promotion and the sponsors over there who saw an opportunity the first time we did it.”
“It’s all down to how your luck is on the day. Last year was just a dream until my fuel pump packed up in the final. If you have a technical failure like that and you lose a car you’re as good as out. That’s it. Done.
“It was one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever had happen, being sat there watching from the infield and not being able to do a thing about it.
“It really feels like you’ve let everybody down. That’s how it felt. The only other feeling I’ve had like that was in World Finals but then I’ve only let myself down. Here I was sat in the infield at the start of that final. There car just died. I was just so disappointed.
“But that’s what it does to you. There’s is no other way to explain it – it is just pure emotion.”
So now the plan is to put another team together for next year. There is a core already in place with Fairhurst and Hurdman now mainstays in the British Lions outfit.
To be successful as a team is not all down to who is the fastest driver – speed is not a priority. Courage and mental toughness is the key to success in this unforgiving form of racing, as Wainman explains.
You need four drivers in those cars who are prepared to put their body on the line for it. It’s a big ask and it’s not for everyone
“Last year, some people wondered why I wanted to take Chris Cowley along, and suggested there were better drivers than him around. But I said “We’ll have to wait and see won’t we”, and sure enough, Chris was instantly one of the best blockers we have ever had in the team.
“You could tell after the first race that he was so pumped up. His body language told you he wanted more of it. And that’s how you know that driver is going to put in 100 per cent.
“You need four drivers in those cars who are prepared to put their body on the line for it. It’s a big ask and it’s not for everyone. Until you put someone in that situation you don’t know how they will react.”
“You try to select the drivers who you think can work as a team but you are obviously limited to the ones that are able to go.
“Teams racing is about one thing primarily, and that’s the team,” he says. “And if you’ve got drivers in there who will have your back and look after you and put themselves on the line for you, that makes for the best team in the world.”
Another important factor to success, predictably, is money. The British Lions Racing team is a self-funding venture. To send a team to New Zealand and have car prepared costs funds, and while existing sponsorship helps, more is needed. It’s no holiday in the sun.
“I’m not sure how people look at it to be honest,” says Wainman Jnr. “I think some think it’s a free holiday, that we muck about and drive cars. But it certainly isn’t like that. It’s hard work.
“Again we got massive support from over there and we had six drivers who got on really well and with the other teams.
“Everyone all put a lot of time into the cars – I think Lee was in the garage every day. It was immense. Bob’s lot were also in the garage nearly every day.
“That’s the part I have somehow got to get across to people,” explains Wainman Jnr. “This year we are going to look at ways to fund raise a little bit. We had a documentary team with us the whole time we were there and they filmed us all behind the scenes. I hope to show potential sponsors what is involved using the film.
“What I think we will also do next year the week before at Auckland is to stand me and Lee down and run the other four drivers. This year when we went up to Auckland I told everyone I wasn’t going to race. Being the most experienced member of the team I know how to do it so I’ll sat on the middle and watched the others.
“That way it also gives everyone a run. It will also give us an idea who’s good because we always find out too late who would have been better to put in one car rather than another.
“For example, Ben is really good at reading a race and he goes under the radar a little bit. He’s quite clever and can pick up both roles quickly, he’s good for the job.
“It felt the same as last year. We felt we a had a chance – we were a bit out of sorts early on the meeting but came good at the end and got our act together properly for the semi-final and final.”
In the meantime there is the BriSCA F1 season and the defense of his World Championship crown to fight tooth and nail for. Times never stops if you are
Since the final Coventry last November, Wainman Jnr raced at the Birmingham Gala meeting in November and at Belle Vue over Christmas. He then brought five cars to Birmingham in January where he took part in the BriSCA F1 section of the Autosport International Live Action Arena at the NEC. Immediately after the four-day show he flew off to New Zealand at the beginning of February.
Hardly a surprise then that his 2017 BriSCA F1 campaign plans have been a bit behind schedule. A new Tarmac car is currently only a basic frame, the Wainman Team transporter is in desperate need of refurbishment and is currently out of action.
A couple of weeks earlier the Wainman Jr shale car on show at Bradford’s Odsal Stadium as a number of drivers paraded their cars around the track for the first time since the BriSCA F1s raced around the bowl 20 years ago.
“I couldn’t go, but my dad took the cars,” says Wainman Jnr. Suffice to say, however, the world champion, along with the majority of stock car fans, would be delighted if Odsal ever got the green light to return to the BriSCA F1 fixture list.
“No doubt about it – if Bradford came back if would be fantastic and a huge lift for the sport ,” he says. “Like in life, anything is possible if you believe in it enough.”
No doubt about it – if Bradford came back it would be fantastic and a huge lift for the sport
On the opening day of the season Wainman Jnr went to Buxton in the morning with daughter Phoebe for her opening meeting in the Hotstox before hotfooting it to Belle Vue in the late afternoon.
“I was at Buxton in the afternoon as Phoebe was racing her Hotstox with a new engine – I’d rather be there to oversee that before heading to Belle Vue,” says Wainman Jnr.
Despite being late to arrive, and in the driving rain, the world champion lined up for the first heat of the new season in his World Championship-winning shale car.
After the Vue, most of the sport’s big guns came out to race at King’s Lynn last weekend, before a two-week gap with the demise of Coventry before the first Tarmac meetings at Birmingham and Hednesford.
Twelve months ago Wainman Jnr unleashed his new shale car at the Adrian Flux Arena and immediately knew he was on to a winner. A heat and final double was followed by a third place in the Grand National from the one-lap handicap.
As with all competitive motorsport, however, it isn’t long before the rest of the top-line drivers find ways to catch up.
Despite that, as with a year earlier, Wainman Jnr won his heat at King’s Lynn last month. A second-place result in the final behind a resurgent Mick Sworder was followed up with a fine performance in the Grand National, until the differential broke while leading with a lap to go, forcing him to grind to a halt before the flag.
His shale car, therefore, is still one of the best cars in the field. But while there are a number of potentially competitive cars on the grid, Wainman Jr believes some drivers need to raise their game if they are to make an impact on the sport.
“Looking at those coming up through the ranks, it’s hard to find someone that I’d say was going to become a major rival,” Wainman Jnr says.
“They need to step up to the next level,” he says. “The problem is, some of them are mates with each other, so they’re more reluctant to want to put each other in the fence.
“If I’m going for a big race I don’t think about that, I want to win.
“Tom Harris is the same. For me anything that happens on the track stays on the track, you can’t think too much about friendships.”
Of the big names racing this season, with Rob Speak retiring and Harris taking over as Jamie Davidson’s no.1 driver, Wainman Jnr is fully aware the Banbury driver will be one of the biggest threats during the year.
“Tom is obviously going to be one of my main rivals,” Wainman says. “But so will Dan Johnson. Dan will be a factor – he’s getting better every year.
“If Ryan Harrison runs more this season he’d be up there and also Stuart Smith Jr. Stuart looks like he will be going for it this year.”
“I’m really looking forward to the season ahead, but we’ve got a lot of work still to do, mainly to the transporter.”
Both Wainman Jnr’s siblings will again be racing in earnest in 2017. Son Frank Jnr retained his red roof in 2016 and will be intending to keep it this year, while Phoebe, British Hotstox Champion, will stick to the smaller V8s. She won the final at Stoke last weekend.
“Phoebe will have a go at a few BriSCA meetings this year, but it is up to her,” says Wainman Jnr.
“She is doing another full season in Hotstox. I’d like her to do a few more F1 meetings, if I’m honest.
“Surprisingly, she says she would prefer to do shale than Tarmac in the F1s, which is logistically more difficult for me to sort out. If she does Tarmac we’d be able to get a car ready for her without any problem.”
Once the season is in full flow, however, all Wainman Jnr’s thoughts will focus again on the other side of the globe and another tilt at the New Zealand Superstock Teams Championships in early February 2018.
For the 46-year-old, to win the Teams is his on-going dream.
“It is definitely,” says Wainman Jnr. “It certainly is for me with the time I’ve spent in New Zealand and what I’ve won over there individually.
“As an individual I’ve won everything and I’m so lucky and happy that has happened in my life,” says Wainman Jnr. “Whatever I do from now on is just a bonus. I’d be made up if I won a single championship a year.
“Last year, finishing runners-up in the Teams, winning both the World and the British was just stupid. You don’t expect it to happen. The Teams is one thing where I do see a way of winning now.
“We’ve got immense support in New Zealand. They’re diehard fans and they love watching us race against whoever we’re competing against.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of the other supporters who don’t want us to win. They come up and tell us we’ll never win it – but we will one day.”
Neil Randon 2017