On a blisteringly hot afternoon Nigel Green kept his cool to score an emphatic fifth final victory of the season at the penultimate World Championship qualifying round at Northampton on Sunday afternoon.
By doing so the Leicestershire driver consolidated his position at the head of the qualifying points table and confirmed himself as one of the favourites to win gold at the World Final in September.
But while Green quietly notched another victory to his already impressive tally this term, the main talking point during a dramatic afternoon of F1 stock car racing was the controversial fencing of Dan Johnson by Tom Harris in the second heat of the day.
Two of the biggest stars in the sport have had a history of crossing swords in recent years, with a number of incidents that have fueled the flames to their rivalry.
Then two weeks ago Johnson dramatically slowed in front of Harris while a lap down in the British Drivers Championship, impeding the Banbury driver, who was leading the race, allowing Frankie Wainman Jnr to close up.
The two drivers were lined up in the same heat at Northampton, and after Johnson had passed Harris as they fought for position, Harris launched the Johnson car into the turn three fence, sending both into the steel plating with the Johnson car suffering sufficient damage not to be seen out again until the Grand National. The force of the impact also structurally damaged the roll cage on the Harris car.
In a decision that has become a major discussion point with drivers and with fans on social media, Harris was loaded up for the rest of the meeting by the race steward for “deliberate fencing”.
The meeting began with 23 cars lining up in heat one, including Phoebe Wainman, and Superstars Stuart Smith Jnr and Danny Wainman.
It wasn’t long before the theme of the day began to take shape, with the bumpers soon flying in, notably from Murray Jones, who fired Ben Hurdman into the turn three fence, but took himself out in the process as his front inside tyre burst, sending himself clattering into the plating. As a result of the damage to his car, Jones wouldn’t be seen out for the rest of the afternoon.
Up front it was Ashley England who led, and the B-grader went on to comfortably take the flag from Bradley Harrison and a hard-charging Stuart Smith Jnr. Karl Hawkins finished fourth ahead of Danny Colliver and Ben Riley.
The 23-car second heat was stopped after three laps after Roger Bromley and Steve Whittle tangled and hit the pit bend fence, with Ales Wass leading from Chris Cooke and Stephen Malkin Jnr.
From the restart Paul Carter took over the lead from Wass, with Cooke third, while behind a battle raged between Todd Jones, Harris – driving his older Tarmac car after engine issues with the revamped Davidson machine debuted at Ipswich the previous evening – Green, Wainman Jnr, Johnson and Paul Harrison.
Green and Wainman Jnr were making the best progress and moved to the front of the Superstar/Star train while Harris lost ground. While Carter still led ahead of Wass, Cooke and Neal Hooper, Wainman Jnr passed Green for fifth.
Further back Johnson had briefly passed Harris, until approaching turn three Harris kept it all on and fired Johnson into the fence. It was a huge hit, which resulted in the aerofoil dislodging from the Johnson car as it came to rest. As the yellow flags came out Harris had lit the rear tyres to try and dislodge himself, dragging the stricken Johnson car with him as a brief oil fire ignited from the engine.
Harris retired to the centre green, and the race was stopped as Johnson clambered out of his car.
Before the race was restarted Harris was summoned to race control. It was then announced over the PA that he had been told to load up.
After the Johnson car was towed to the pits the race was restarted with Carter leading from Wass, Hooper and Wainman Jnr, but soon the world champion was up to second, and moved Carter wide to take the lead into turn three on the penultimate lap.
Harrison then slipped through for second while Newson and Jones both moved passed Carter into turn one on the last lap. This eventful heat was not over, however, as while Wainman Jnr took the flag from Harrison, Carter launched himself at the Jones rear bumper into turn three, who was then catapulted into Newson. As the two star men clattered into the plating, Newson ended up riding the fence on his side.
Carter finished an entertaining third, ahead of a recovering Jones, Green and Hooper.
Neither Johnson or Newson made it out for the 17-car consolation, which was stopped on lap four after Cooke, Paul Hopkins and Neil Scriven tangled on the exit of turn four, and on the restart Wass led Shevill Jnr, Stephen Malkin Jnr, Scott Davids, Joff Gibson, Frankie Wainman Jnr Jr and Danny Wainman.
Wass held on to the lead until the last lap when, anticipating a last-bend lunge from Davids, he went into the corner too deep and hit the fence, allowing Davids to take the win in a sprint to the line ahead of Wainman Jnr Jr and Danny Wainman. Wass recovered to finish fourth.
There were 29 cars on the grid for the final with Wass, Shaun Webster and Todd Jones the three non-starters.
In the early stages lone A-grader Malkin Jnr led until Colliver took over. Colliver led before halfway from England and Karl Hawkins. Further back Paul Hines got a great start and was soon up to fourth place, with Harrison, Green, Smith Jnr, Davidson and Wainman Jnr in pursuit.
Into the second half of the race Colliver maintained his lead over England with Hines now third, but Harrison, Green and Smith Jnr were closing down the leader and were the fastest cars on the track.
England then took the lead in the closing stages as both Colliver and Hines dropped back, and Green moved passed Harrison to take up the chase of the leader. With four laps to go Green made his move on England into turn three to ease into a lead he would take to the flag for an impressive fifth final win of the season – and from the back of the grid. He celebrated by smoking the rear tyres round the track on the slowing down lap.
Harrison passed England to take second place on the penultimate lap, while Smith Jnr just made it into third place in the sprint to the line ahead of England. Davidson finished fifth ahead of Wainman Jnr.
Green took the one-lap handicap in the 22-car Grand National, which included Johnson, resplendent with a borrowed aerofoil.
As the race went green it was soon stopped two laps later as Johnson fired Davidson into the turn three fence.
Malkin Jnr led the restart until Steve Webster took over and was never headed, adding the National to his final win at Ipswich the night before. Davids finished second but was docked two places for jumping the restart, handing that place to England who had a very successful afternoon. Will Hunter was promoted to third place.
Green finished seventh from the one-lap handicap and headed to Belle Vue a week later in a strong position to choose his favoured World semi-final venue.
“It was nice drive through from the back,” said Green.” I didn’t really make a name for myself with the front bumper – I just had a good car underneath me and I passed everyone with respect and won the race.
“I try to treat everyone with respect, no matter what colour roof they’ve got. And then if they hold you up at the next corner or have a nibble you can nail them in.
“I could get past people by firing them in so they can’t come back out but in the next race they’ll probably want to have a bit of a go back at me. Treat people how you want to be treated, is how I look at it really.
“If I’m faster than somebody I’ll just drive past them and as clean as I can and vice versa. If someone is faster than me – Paul Harrison was faster than me in the first heat as was Frankie Wainman Jnr – I can just bide my time and let them go.
“That’s how I drive.”
Photos courtesy of Neil Randon, Colin Casserley and Paul Tully