Craig Finnikin continued his fine form at Belle Vue this season with a heat and final double on Bank Holiday Monday, his second final victory in a row at the Manchester track.
It has been a busy few days for Finnikin, who competed in the two-day King of Dirt event on the Blauwhuis shale in northern Holland midweek, before racing at King’s Lynn on Saturday night and Belle Vue on Monday.
The Leek driver’s travels proved to be profitable, with a final win on Wednesday evening at the popular Dutch venue, followed by third place in the King of Dirt Championship race itself on Thursday afternoon to Jan Roelof Wijbenga, having started the race from the back of the grid. At King’s Lynn he finished fourth in the final.
Finnikin’s afternoon at the Vue couldn’t have started better. Having battled with Dan Johnson, who end up pulling off with a flat tyre with two laps to go, Finnikin took the win in the 18-car first heat after a last-bend attack on long-time b-grade leader James Morris.
Sparks began to fly early as Frankie Wainman Jnr and Tom Harris again clashed swords in the opener, with Wainman Jnr pushing Harris into a third-bend pile-up at the start before Harris managed to catch the world champion late on, who appeared to overcook turn three, and was helped on his way by Harris.
In the 16-car second heat it was Finnikin’s turn to get a puncture, while Stuart Smith Jnr made the most of his star grade star grid position to take the lead before halfway. Nigel Green gave chase but was never close enough to challenge in second place. Danny Wainman Jnr was third, with Ben Riley fourth.
Riley has suffered continual car issues with his shale car since the start of the season, with the car cutting out intermittently at every meeting, leaving him and his team frustrated as to what the problem could be. Eventually, the issue was resolved after a new fuel tank was installed on Sunday after King’s Lynn.
Heat three set off with 15 cars on track, and it was Dan Johnson who made short work of the field in the early stages, followed by Mat Newson. Johnson looked to have the race in the bag until the last lap, when Newson took a huge lunge into turn three, successfully connecting with the rear end of the Johnson car to take the lead and the win. Smith Jnr finished third.
The final was a hard and fast race with 24 cars on the track. John Wright led from the start until a race stoppage on lap three with a mass of cars across turns three and four. On the restart Wright led while behind Finnikin got a great restart, moving ahead of both Smith Jnr and Harris into the pit bend.
Finnikin then had a free run at the leader and hit the front after a couple of laps, although at that point in the race he thought he was running second. “I’d got it into my head that Danny Wainman was winning it,” said Finnikin. “I remembered him passing me but didn’t remember passing him back again.”
I had to work hard to keep myself on track more than anything because of the tricky track conditions, because there wasn’t a lot of grip out there
From then on Finnikin was able to keep the gap constant with Smith Jnr, who was unable to get in a blow. Harris finished third, ahead of Wainman Jnr. Wright put in another fine display to finish a well-deserved fifth, ahead of Morris and Mal Brown.
“I don’t know why it is, but I’ve always gone well for the past few years around Belle Vue,” said Finnikin. “I had to work hard to keep myself on track more than anything because of the tricky track conditions, because there wasn’t a lot of grip out there.
“After the first race, we were already down the bricks and the cobbles and so it was slippery.”
Finnikin lined up for the Grand National, hoping to repeat his victory at the track last month from the one-lap handicap, but pulled off before the start with engine problems.
“I went to the scales after the final and the car cut out on me,” Finnikin explained. “We were trying to sort it out in the pits and we managed to get it going but it wasn’t running very well. We found a problem but we’re not 100 per cent sure what it is yet.” Initial thoughts are that the crankshaft has broken.
In the race, now down to 20 cars, Smith Jnr had little trouble picking off the leaders before halfway to take his 14th race win in eight meetings – his best ever start to a season.
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley