Mark Gilbank, now in his 27th season as a BriSCA F1 stock car driver, mastered the superfast King’s Lynn shale on Saturday night to take his first final victory in nearly a year.
With his Tarmac car still in need of a complete rebuild after being written off after a first-bend shunt at the Buxton World Championship semi-final last year, and a second car in a race against time to be ready for the Skegness UK Open weekend, the Rotherham star was only racing for the third time this term.
Having picked up a heat win at Sheffield the week before, Gilbank was confident he could add to his tally at the World Championship qualifying round at the Adrian Flux Arena, particularly on what is now his favourite shale track.
“I like King’s Lynn,” said Gilbank. “Now Coventry has gone, it’s our premier shale venue. It’s a nice track to race at.”
The King’s Lynn qualifier was well represented by lower graders, with 25 competing in the opening White and Yellow-grade race, including Richie Ahern Jnr, son of the late Richie Ahern, the popular star grader who raced between 1979 and 1981.
I like King’s Lynn. Now Coventry has gone, it’s our premier shale venue. It’s a nice track to race at
John Wright, who impressed at Sheffield the previous week, won the race, ahead of Russell Cooper and Steve Malkin Jnr.
Mat Newson, again driving the Mark Sergant car in which he won the final in at Sheffield a week earlier, took a comfortable victory in the 22-car first heat. Danny Wainman was second, with Paul Harrison, making only his second appearance of the season, third. Paul Hines, Karl Hawkins and Sean Willis completed the top six.
Wright led the 23-car heat two until a stoppage after five laps. Craig Finnikin soon took up the lead, but was passed by Stuart Smith Jnr with five laps to go. Frankie Wainman Jnr moved into second, having momentarily hooked up to the rear bumper of Finnikin, who was struggling with bent steering and consequently spun.
Smith Jnr had a sufficient gap to take the win ahead of Wainman Jnr, with Dan Johnson third, ahead of Nigel Green, James Morris and Finnikin. Gilbank finished seventh.
Ben Hurdman enjoyed his third win of the season in the 19-car consolation, having moved Malkin Jnr and Joff Gibson to take the lead. After a lap nine stoppage, Hurdman had enough pace to keep Gibson at bay, with Mark Woodhull third. Rob Cowley took fourth spot ahead of Paul Hopkins and Colin Goodswin.
The final fielded 29 cars, with Chris Farnell taking them along until a lap three stoppage after a marker tyre had been moved on to the track. Wainman Jnr was already out of the race with a flat tyre, and on the restart Farnell maintained his lead ahead of Russell Cooper, with Harrison and Smith Jnr charging through the lower graders.
The race was stopped once more after Cowley clattered the fence, and the track was watered before the restart.
While Gilbank was able to take advantage of the watered track, he wasn’t particularly happy with the decision.
“I don’t agree with them watering the track part way through a race,” he said. “What people don’t understand is that when you are racing you are adjusting the braking inside the car during a race, so you can make the car stop the way you want it to stop.
“And when they water the track, all that goes out of the window. You have a bit of a guess at where your brakes need to be. Then you overdrive into the first corner and crash, and so it just spoils the racing.”
Having lined up for the restart in seventh place, Gilbank, taking an outside line, managed to force his way past the front-running Smith Jnr and Harrison, and was soon in front.
“I targeted Stuart as the man to beat,” said Gilbank. “He seems to be the man of the moment and it was good to race with him properly, because we do race very well together.
Once in the lead I just left them and never looked back. I never saw another car
“We get on very well off the track, but we race very hard on the track, but we’re not dirty with each other – we will race. So it is really enjoyable racing against someone like Stuart. I really enjoy it.
“So I managed to catch a lucky break, and once in the lead I just left them and never looked back,” Gilbank said. “I never saw another car.”
As the battle raged behind with places swapping with every lap, Gilbank drew clear, and won by more than half a lap, ahead of Danny Wainman and Dan Johnson. Finnikin finished fourth, ahead of Hines – one of the fastest men on the track – who made up considerable ground to finish in fifth place. Smith Jnr, who got tangled with a backmarker on the opening laps of the restart, fought through the pack to climb back to sixth.
“I just caught the traffic wrong on the restart,” admitted Smith Jnr. “Maybe I should have left them alone as there were only four cars in front of me and I would have been in the lead.
“But as I caught them I hit the last car, and because the racing line was so high up the track, they went into the fence and concertinaed down the track. I got hooked up with a couple and sat on the infield for a few seconds. I followed Paul Hines when I rejoined – he was really quick in that race – and we came through the field.”
Gilbank took the one-lap handicap in the 24-car Grand National, but it was Smith Jnr, who once again carved his way through the lower graders, taking the lead after five laps. The Milnrow star notch another victory, ahead of Finnikin, Green, Newson, Willis and Wainman Jnr. With no yellow flag stoppages, Gilbank finished ninth from the lap handicap.
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley