Matt Newson in action
Mat Newson used the Mark Sargent car at Sheffield to good effect

Mat Newson, who builds, prepares and hires F1 stock cars for a living – as well as racing them – was forced to borrow one of his own to win the final at Sheffield on Sunday afternoon.

Newson, from Norwich, had been so busy working on customer cars that a new shale car was still not ready to grace the track. And so for the past two weeks he accepted an offer to race a car he had built for yellow-grader Mark Sargent.

It has proved a successful lease, with Newson winning his first final of the season at Owlerton Stadium.

The meeting began with Stuart Smith Jnr – hot favourite to win the final from his star grade grid position – continuing his good run of form, winning both the opening heats.

In the first, in which 21 cars lined up, it took Smith Jnr until the penultimate lap, and a shove into turn three before he could catch and pass long-time leader John Wright, who had built up a healthy lead from his white-grade start. Mark Woodhall finished third, ahead of Dan Johnson and Frankie Wainman Jnr.

Harris Wainman Jnr Ht 2 Sheffield April 23 2017
Frankie Wainman Jnr heads towards the fence, courtesy of Tom Harris, in heat two

Smith Jnr had an easier task in the very dusty 20-car heat two. Wright lead until an early stoppage after Tom Harris had put Wainman Jnr into the pit bend fence, collecting Jack France along the way.

Smith Jnr then quickly swept Wright aside, with Mark Gilbank, Newson, Paul Hines, Harris and Danny Wainman filling out the top six.

Heat 2 carnage Sheffield April 23 2017

In the third heat it was Gilbank who took the lead at halfway after a lap-four stoppage for fence repairs. The Rotherham driver was followed home by Craig Finnikin, Johnson, Harris, Hines and Bradley Harrison.

Wainman Jnr pits Sheffield April 23 2017
Repairs to the Wainman Jnr car prior to the final

Wainman Jnr joined the 26-car final, after fixing extensive front-end damage, including a front shock absorber and a bent steering arm, following his earlier visit to the fence.

Wright lead until a stoppage on lap six. Harris had retired after a good start with a blown rear tyre and it was soon clear from the green flag that Smith Jnr was going to struggle to take another final victory. The Milnrow star was shoved wide into the pit bend by the train lead by Newson and Wainman Jnr and had dropped down the order after another yellow-flag stoppage a lap later. Newson now lead, ahead of Wainman Jnr, yellow grader Karl Roberts, Johnson, Danny Wainman, Smith Jnr and Nigel Green.

Newson (16) shoves Smith Jnr (390) wide with help from Wainman Jnr (1)
Wainman Jnr gives Newson a helping hand to move Stuart Smith Jnr wide in the final
Newson leads Wainman Jnr in the final at Sheffield April 23 2017
Newson always had enough of a lead ahead of Wainman Jnr

With the track becoming very slick after just a couple of laps, whoever led was always going to be difficult to catch. Newson pulled out a comfortable gap ahead of Wainman Jnr, who did his best to close down the leader. Try as he might Wainman Jnr couldn’t make any in-roads on Newson, who went on to take the victory.

Smith Jnr had been third at halfway, when Danny Wainman forced his way passed with four laps to go. Smith Jnr then tried to take out Wainman with a turn one lunge on the penultimate lap, but ended up finding the fence himself and failed to finish. Behind Wainman, Johnson finished fourth, ahead of Hines and Green.

I was very happy once I took the lead. Getting to the lead was the issue, once I was there I felt confident

Newson was delighted with his win, particularly as everything had gone according to plan. “I got a good start, but then got held up and Tom Harris went past,” Newson said. “After getting past Tom again I knew the car was really good when the track dried out.

Final winner Newson, centre, with Wainman Jnr, left, and Danny Wainman

“I thought if I could stick with Stuart I would have the legs at the end of the race when it dried out. Then at the restart Frank gave me a helping hand and we got rid of Stuart and I knew from then on that the car was going to get better and better. I was very happy once I took the lead. Getting to the lead was the issue, once I was there I felt confident.”

Newson also appreciated the generosity of Sargent to lend him his car. “I have been very busy,” he said. “I did a deal with David Morris to have my old car, and I built Scott Davids a new car, as well as Paul Hines a new Tarmac car.

“I have actually built myself two new cars, but it is the same old story – I build everyone else’s first and mine is not quite ready. So the plan is to have the new shale car out ready for the British Championship.

“Obviously, I’m ever so grateful to Mark because he said I could use his car until mine was finished. I went to Belle Vue in it last week and had a second, third and a fifth and it felt really good. I then came here, had two really good heats and won the final.

“Also, once you are on your own in front it’s much easier to save the tyres, rather than having to battle behind to try to keep ahead of those around you.”

Wainman Jnr would agree. The world champion could make little impression on Newson in the second half of the race.

“You can’t do anything around here if someone is in front, it’s just hard work,” said Wainman Jnr. “With the tyres, I was nursing them and nursing them, but it still didn’t get me anywhere.”

Third-place Danny Wainman was satisfied with his race – his first podium of the season – having had a race-long battle with Smith Jnr. “Stuart got put wide on the restart, and I went passed him then, but I drifted wide in turn three,” said Wainman. “He then did the same thing a few laps later, the track is that slick.

“If you go off line you just go straight on and you can’t get back on it. When I caught the backmarkers up near the end I could see Stuart coming, but I was glad I had a backmarker next to me.”

Harris Johnson Wainman Jnr Sheffield April 23 2017.jpg
Harris, Dan Johnson and Wainman Jnr battle in the Grand National

In the 22-car Grand National, Roberts led early before a yellow flag stoppage on lap two after Harris once again slammed Wainman Jnr into the pit bend fence. After the Wainman Jnr car was towed off, Hines took the lead, before Smith Jnr took over, pursued by Johnson and Green.

After another stoppage, it wasn’t long before leader Smith Jnr was overhauled by Johnson, with Green taking second place.

The yellows came out again with four laps to go, after Smith Jnr overcooked the pit bend, ending up sliding into the fence. Johnson led from Green, with Newson, who had started from the one-lap handicap, up the third.

Harris Wainman Jnr GN Sheffield April 23 2017
Harris plants Wainman Jnr into the wires in the Grand National

The positions remained the same to the flag, with Gilbank fifth and Harris sixth.

“The car struggled earlier in the day,” Johnson said. “We then took the outside front shocker off and we found that it was bent and so, when we replaced it, the car was much better in the National. I think the shocker had been bent for a couple of meetings.”

Despite two race wins earlier in the day Smith Jnr was unhappy with his car by the end of it, having gone in the wrong direction with set-up for the final and Grand National. “The car was that bad, I couldn’t keep it in a straight line,” said Smith Jnr. “I put myself in the fence both in the final and the National. We went in the wrong direction. All we did to prepare for the final was to swap a shocker because we felt that the one on the car wasn’t doing the job.

“But it really affected the car. We changed it even more for the National and it was worse. We’ll have to go back to basics.”

Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley and Neil Randon