Lee Fairhurst romped away to his first final win of the season in his newly updated shale car at Belle Vue on Bank Holiday Monday.
It was the first real opportunity for Fairhurst to try out his car, after suffering an oil leak the night before at King’s Lynn that curtailed his racing after his heat.
Fairhurst and his team worked on the car all day Sunday, replacing the front crank seal and arrived at Belle Vue with fingers crossed there would be no other problems.
“For me Belle Vue was all about making sure the engine was good for Sheffield next weekend,” Fairhurst said. “It wasn’t a massive oil leak but it it was enough for us to stop as we have too much money invested to risk anything.”
Fairhurst brought out his car resplendent with pink bumpers, as did a number of cars, in memory of the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing the week before.
A white and yellow heat kicked the meeting off, with two heats, consolation, final and Grand National making up the meeting format after that.
There were 11 cars in the whites and yellows race, which was won by Russell Cooper, who took a flag-to-flag victory, ahead of Elliot Smith and Nigel Harrhy.
Sixteen cars featured in the first heat proper, which was stopped on lap two, with Cooper leading, and again on lap four after a tyre marker was knocked on to the track and collected by Danny Wainman, who carried the tyre on his bonnet for a couple of laps.
James Morris took the lead and maintained it to the flag, ahead of Craig Finnikin, Cooper, Frankie Wainman Jnr, Ben Riley and Mal Brown.
Heat two featured 16 cars and it was Harrhy who led until Mat Newson went by at halfway, going on to win comfortably ahead of Stuart Smith Jnr and Tom Harris.
Fairhurst, in his first race since the engine repair, finish fourth. “For the first race it was just a case of a tickle round to make sure it was alright,” he said.
The consolation fielded 13 cars and was won by Danny Wainman, who took the lead on a wet track from Richard Woods just after the halfway stage. Bob Griffin finished second, ahead of Billy Johnson and Mark Clayton.
But for all the action and the cut and thrust of F1 stock car racing, this being Manchester the majority of those either racing or spectating at Belle Vue had more important thoughts on their minds.
And prior to the final a fitting and poignant tribute was paid by the Startrax promotion to the 22 victims of the Manchester bombing. After a minute’s silence, 22 white doves were released to the song ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay.
When the 21-car field for the Spirit of Manchester Trophy got under way, it was led by Morris on a wet track, but Fairhurst was soon on his tail and took the lead before halfway.
Behind the leaders a battle royal developed between Harris, Finnikin and Smith Jnr. With three laps to go Smith Jnr expertly hit Finnikin on to Harris, who was sent to the fence, to make up two places in one move.
Smtih Jnr’s manoeuvre was all for nothing, however, as soon after he slowed to a halt with a broken diff. “I suppose it’s better it broke today rather than at Sheffield,” he said.
I wasn’t actually sure I had won it at the end, to be honest! Mat Newson passed me with a few laps to go and in the back of my mind I was thinking “I’m sure he was stationary early on and I went past him?”
Up front Fairhurst reeled off the laps to take an easy victory, with Finnikin second and Morris an excellent third. Wainman Jnr, Danny Wainman and Brown rounded off the top six.
“The track was wet for the start and I got a really good start from red,” said Fairhurst. “I don’t know what happened to the rest of them as I was pretty much on my own out in front. The track really dried out towards the end of the race so I tried to see where I could get a bit more out of the car on a dry track, as it was really good in the wet.
There is more to life than stock cars at the moment. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the Manchester bombing and their families
“I wasn’t actually sure I had won it at the end, to be honest! Mat Newson passed me with a few laps to go and in the back of my mind I was thinking “I’m sure he was stationary early on and I went past him?”.
“But even then I wasn’t absolute sure and was debating whether I should go for a lunge on the last bend. Anyhow, the flag came down to me, but even then I wasn’t sure!
“You’ve no idea what’s going on in the car sometimes, you’re just racing as hard and fast as you can.”
The 25-car Grand National produced a couple of early yellow flags, the first to move a marker tyre, and the second to repair a fence post by the pit gate, after Richard Bryan, Daniel Clifford, Scott Davids and Eliot Smith all piled in.
Clayton led the restart but soon relinquished the position to Newson, who went on to win, ahead of Harris, Wainman Jnr and Fairhurst from the one-lap handicap.
“I want to give a big shout out to all my sponsors and everyone who helps me get out on track, as a final win has been a long time coming on shale,” said Fairhurst. “But there is more to life than stock cars at the moment.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the Manchester bombing and their families.”
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley