When it comes to winning World Championship semi-finals and ultimately World Finals there’s no better man to give a personal insight to this year’s showdowns that ANDY SMITH.
The five-time World Champion won 11 World semi-finals during his career, including three at Skegness and won his third World Championship the only time the race has been run at Foxhall Stadium in 2008.
In Part One of our World Championship semi-final preview, Andy gives BSCDA E-NEWS his view on the main contenders for this weekend’s big race at Skegness.
445 NIGEL GREEN (Inside front row)
From my experience Skegness is a tricky track for the guys on the outside row. The home straight isn’t very long and if the inside row get a good start it’s very difficult for the outside lane to feather in to any degree, so the preferred line is definitely the inside row.
With Nigel on pole I would put him down as the big favourite to win the race considering his form everywhere at the minute – especially Skegness. He is driving with confidence and would definitely be my favourite to win the race.
The main thing is the drivers who have aspirations of winning the World Final, and really want to win it, have got to be thinking – for this particular year – of qualifying in a top place in their semi-final. That is what I would be aiming for if I was racing.
If the World Final was at Skegness or Northampton or a smaller track it becomes more of a lottery and grid position is less of a factor. But at an Ipswich World Final, if you are behind a row of foreign drivers, I’m struggling to think who could win from there. If it’s a straight race I’m struggling to think who would have the raw pace to win the World Final from that position – other than Nigel.
Nigel is probably the only guy who can afford not to finish in the top two places in his semi-final. Obviously, the race could be completely different. It could turn out to be a crash fest but, knowing what Ipswich is like, while a rostrum finish is a good place for anybody in any semi-final, this year the first two places are the ones to get.
390 STUART SMITH JNR (Outside front row)
Stuart’s big problem really, on the outside of the front row, is getting back in on to the racing line. That’s the only reservation I’ve got. I’ve got no doubt he has got the pace to finish in the top three, possibly the top two, if he can clear the first corner alright without being trapped. Not so much being put in the fence, but just trapped with nowhere to go and dropping too many places down the field.
16 MAT NEWSON (Inside row two)
Mat has the pace. I don’t know with Mat, though. He seems to have taken his eye off the game a little bit with this hire-car fleet. He’s so busy with them you sometimes look at Mat and speak to him and he’s a lost a little bit of his spark as a driver I think.
But he is overdue a big-race win. He’s done his time in the sport now – he’s not a veteran but he’s an experienced, top-line driver. Out of all of them he’s the one I would like to see get a good result from the semi-final – because he’s overdue it really. Will he get a podium finish? I don’t know.
2 PAUL HARRISON (Outside row two)
He’s coming to the twilight of his career, and he seems very relaxed about his racing. He’s still popping the odd good result in. He’s very experienced. He had a very good Northampton World qualifier, and not using the best Tarmac car at his disposal.
Whether he chooses the Harris car or the Falding car – he’s got a bit of a decision to make there. He’s had super form around Skeggy in the past – he knows exactly the way around there. Paul will be going into it taking the ‘keeping his nose clean’ approach.
He won’t be looking at doing anything silly. He won’t be looking to force the issue I don’t think. He should finish in a decent place and get a reasonable position on the grid.
217 LEE FAIRHURST (Inside row three)
If we backtracked 18 months we’d be saying Lee would be favourite to win the race. But again, he’s another who seems to have lost some raw pace. Like Mat Newson, stock cars are his business as well as his pleasure. And I think maybe that must put more of a drain on you in regards to your own personal level of preparation.
I don’t know what it is, but there’s a strange reason why Lee’s lost the raw pace he had, because nothing has changed – we’re on the same tyres we were on when he was winning big races. It’s hard to find a reason. On his current form, he might struggle a little bit to win it or to finish in the top two.
55 CRAIG FINNIKIN (Outside row three)
Well, he hasn’t got blistering Tarmac form. He doesn’t seem to have the confidence on Tarmac. Craig, to me, is as good as anybody out there when his car’s right and his confidence is up.
He’s a top, top driver. But I do feel as a driver if his car’s not right, he struggles to get a good result. Some drivers can drive the wheels off something and over-achieve in it, but I don’t think Craig’s that type of driver. I think Craig needs everything to be right and when it is he can beat anybody. And I don’t know whether his Tarmac form is good enough to really excel in the race.
318 ROB SPEAK (Inside row four)
You can’t rule Rob out can you? I’m assuming he’s going to jump straight back into his old chair, which is the Davidson Tarmac car which he finished his career with. So, as far as car preparation is concerned he’s only been out of the job a few months – a matter of nothing – so he’s not going to need any time bedding in so to speak.
He’ll be straight on it immediately. The script really is there for him. I know there has been a bit of criticism surrounding him taking his place of the semi-final grid but what people need to remember is the qualifying season starts immediately after the World Final and the first qualifying round is worth just as much as the last one.
If a driver had come in and raced at the last three qualifying rounds and had done really well and got on the grid, no-one would be saying anything. I can’t understand the criticism.
I suppose I’m a little bit surprised Rob’s doing it – I didn’t know whether he would. I believe he’s saying it’s a promotional thing but I’m not buying that. If Rob Speak gets in a stock car and puts his helmet on he’s only there for one thing – and that’s to do the business.
He obviously wants to do it from a competitive point of view, I believe. I think he’ll approach it like he has always approached his racing. There is only one position for him and that is to win it.
It should give added spice to the race. He has nothing to lose at all, and what a story it would be he could transfer to Ipswich with a win or top two position and get right up at the cutting edge of that grid. It’s a good story for the race.
The thing with Rob is, he is top quality. He is top-draw and he could pull that out of the bag, I have no doubt. If Rob has got his head on like I think he will, he will liven that race up.
197 RYAN HARRISON (Inside row five)
You don’t know how Ryan is going to approach the race. Ryan can also be unpredictable like Robert. He’s going to fancy his chances around Ipswich. He did very well in the qualifying round there. He had good pace that night.
He’ll know that he can’t really afford to finish fourth so he needs to be on that rostrum like I’ve said. I can see Ryan getting a good spot. He might be able to pick the pieces up where Robert has done the pushing. You just don’t know what might happen.
Andy Smith was talking to Neil Randon
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley and Neil Randon