On a night when Ryan “The Boss” Harrison celebrated a heat and final double at the World Championship qualifier on Saturday at Skegness, the evening ended in disaster for Stuart Smith Jnr and Dan Johnson.
For former National Point Shootout and European champion Harrison, it turned out to be a straightforward double victory, the 26-year-old having little trouble carving his way through the field in both heat and the final.
On a sunny and breezy evening, it had been a busy night with 63 cars in action, and began with an entertaining 16-car dual-purpose car heat, with plenty of sideways action.
Richard Woods led early on before Paul Hopkins took over, with Rob Cowley chasing. Stephen Malkin Jnr then moved Cowley aside before taking the lead. Malkin Jnr was then always in command to the flag, with Cowley second and Karl Hawkins third. However, Malkin Jnr’s car failed post-race scrutineering, so Cowley was promoted to winner.
Smith Jnr looked in fine form when taking no prisoners in the 23-car second heat. The Milnrow superstar fired world champion Frankie Wainman Jnr into the turn one Armco in the early stages, as Micky Randell took the lead from James Tucker, with fellow B-grade driver Steve Whittle then slipping through to go second.
Randell had the race under control up front, while second-placed Whittle had the impressive Tucker snapping at his heels. Will Hunter was now fourth, Lee Fairhurst was closing fast, with Mat Newson and Smith Jnr next.
Smith Jnr then repeated his Wainman Jnr move on Newson a few laps later, who came to an abrupt halt as he clattered a fence post.
While Randell extended his lead ahead of Whittle to the flag, Fairhurst had moved into fourth and was on Tucker’s back bumper into the last bend when Smith Jnr catapulted Fairhurst into the C-grade driver, who spun out of contention. Fairhurst took fourth with Smith Jnr a barnstorming fifth.
Ales Wass led the 24-car third heat before Paul Carter took over after halfway, with Joff Gibson third. Harrison was already up to fourth place with Tom Harris and Nigel Green further back.
Harrison soon caught and passed Carter to go on to an easy win, with Nigel Green and Tom Harris charging through to fill third and fourth spots.
The consolation event fielded 34 cars, with nine places available in the final. After Alex Wass led early from Tucker until a stoppage on lap four, it was Tucker who went on to take a well-earned first F1 stock car win ahead of Shaun Webster and Wass, Luke Davidson was next home, with Newson fifth and Chris Fort, racing for the first time this season, in sixth.
Tucker’s glory was short-lived in the 34-car final, however, after he brought out the first of two yellow flags on lap four. In a tangle with Wass, Tucker spun and was hit hard, causing substantial damage to the chassis, which prevented him taking part for the rest of the weekend.
Fort led the restart from Hopkins, Webster, Randell and Michael Steward, with Harrison, from tenth on the restart, soon through the pack and chasing down the leaders. Further back Green had moved ahead of Harris and Dan Johnson to set off after the front men.
Harrison’s task was made easier up front as the first three slowed each other up as Steward took over the led from Fort and Webster. Within a handful of laps, Harrison swept into the lead with five laps to go just as the yellow flags came out again after Ford and Webster tangled on the back straight.
On the run to the chequered Harrison held off the threat of Green, who was unable to get in a blow, with Harris grabbing third from Steward on the sprint to the line.
Harrison’s car leaked oil from a split diff gasket in the closing laps, which caused the runner-up to try a different line into the corners. “I got behind Ryan and he then began spreading oil,” said Green. “So I was having to drive where he wasn’t, but he was using the bit of track I wanted to be on – but I got a good result, that was the main thing.”
Unfortunately for Smith Jnr and Johnson, the night couldn’t have ended worse. Smith Jnr’s car began misfiring in the final and, knowing something was very wrong, he pulled off.
The view is a piston broke off in the engine, but until the engine has been taken out and delivered to Smith Jnr’s engine builder to be stripped down it is unknown how much damage it has done.
Johnson also retired after the car began misfiring in the final – the result of a blown head gasket. Similarly, the prognosis is uncertain until his engine has been looked at.
Whatever the outcome, it means neither Smith Jnr or Johnson will be seen out in the their Tarmac cars for a number of weeks. In Smith Jnr’s case, if the damage is extensive, it could be longer.
“We don’t know yet what the damage is, but it has wrecked my season,” Smith Jnr said. “I think I need an engine sponsor…”
In the 36-car Grand National, Harrison started from the one-lap handicap but did not finish, while Whittle went on to cap a successful evening with victory in the race ahead of the Murray Jones in Harrison’s former Tarmac car and Scott Davids.
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley