Craig Finnikin continued his excellent run of form at Belle Vue on Sunday, with a last-bend move on leader Tom Harris to take his third final victory at the Manchester track this season.
The meeting was the final qualifying round for this season’s World Championship, and began with a Whites and Yellows race, in which 15 cars lined up, before Stephen Malkin Jnr and Dave Willis pulled before the start.
Robert Plant took the lead from the green flag and was never troubled on his way to a comfortable victory, ahead of Geoff Nicholls and Richard Wilson.
Harris was unable to venture out for the heats due to gearbox problems, which left 17 cars in heat one. Scott Davids took the lead by halfway, pursued by Finnikin and Lee Fairhurst. Davids then got delayed by a backmarker, which allowed Finnikin to take the lead with three laps to go and go on to take the chequered flag, with Fairhurst moving into second place and Davids third.
Heat two featured 20 cars and was stopped after three laps with Mat Newson, Will Hunter and Stephen Malkin Snr out of the running. Joff Gibson led, ahead of Dan Johnson, Nigel Green and Frankie Wainman Jnr.
In a race with plenty of bumpers flying in, Green took the lead from Gibson after halfway followed by Johnson and Wainman Jnr, but Gibson then tried to take the initiative by planting the three stars into the turn one fence.
Green came out unscathed, but Wainman was left down the field. Green was closed down by Johnson in the closing stages, but the European champion ran out of laps to make a move. Green took the flag and extended his lead at the top of the qualifying points table. Bobby Griffin finished third, ahead of Mark Gilbank.
Harris made it out for the 17-car consolation event, which was won by Chris Brocksopp after taking the lead before halfway. Newson gave chase in second before Harris went by with two laps to go but regained the position with a last-bend lunge.
There was a minute silence prior to the final in memory of BriSCA F2 driver Luke Branston who tragically passed away earlier in the week.
The pit gate was shut before Fairhurst was able to make it out for the final, which left 27 cars lined up for the race.
A pile-up early on left Green on the sidelines, and just 16 cars were left running for the restart led by Harris, with Brocksopp, Johnson and Finnikin following.
Johnson then took up the chase after Harris, but spun out, leaving Brocksopp in second, Finnikin third and Wainman Jnr fourth when the yellows came out just before halfway.
Harris maintained his lead in the second half of the race, ahead of Finnikin and Wainman Jnr, and looked on target to score his first shale final of the season. Finnikin, however, had other ideas and launched an audacious last-bend assault, successfully moving Harris aside to snatch the lead and the victory.
Wainman Jnr slipped through to take second with Harris recovering for third. Johnson finished fourth, ahead of Danny Wainman and Brocksopp.
“I seemed to collect all the carnage early on,” said Finnikin. “So I was slow getting away, and I was a bit slow getting away on the restart as well. But I then started inching closer to Tom as the laps ticked away.
“As I entered the last bend I almost decided it was too late but I just went for it and hoped for the best!”
Finnikin was aware Harris was struggling to get his car to turn into the corners and timed his hit to perfection.
I just managed to square up and hit him straight in the side rail and turn off him so both of us could still finish
“Tom was struggling to turn in,” he said. “He had to come in really hard on the back brakes to get the car sideways. We were all struggling a little bit, but I managed just to gain every time in the middle of the bend on him.
“Into the last bend he had just turned it sideways enough and a little bit too fast. I just managed to square up and hit him straight in the side rail and turn off him so both of us could still finish.”
An added incentive was £1,000 on the table for the final win. “To be fair, if it had been for standard money I probably wouldn’t have done it,” revealed Finnikin. “But with it being for £1,000, I thought I had to have a go.”
Finnikin started the 25-car Grand National from the one-lap handicap, in which the race was stopped after four laps when John Wright hit the fence in turn two. Luke Dennis led, from Davids and James Morris.
It wasn’t long before Harris had charged through the pack to take up the running at halfway ahead of Green and Davids. Finnikin was through to fifth from the lap handicap but then pulled off.
“The car was loads better in the National, but the track was so bumpy I hit a car with the side rail and it stuck the fuel jet open and it completely flooded the carb,” Finnikin said.
Harris was able to race away from Green in the second half of the race to score the victory with Davids in third, ahead of Johnson, Wainman Jnr and Davids.
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley