Nigel Green left his rivals reeling in the European Championship at Northampton on Sunday as F1 stock car racing’s man of the moment won his first major title in the sport.
It was also Green’s seventh final victory of the season. Once he rode out and removed the initial threat of Frankie Wainman Jnr and Dan Johnson in the early stages, Green dictated the pace from the front and won in emphatic style.
Try as he might, former European Champion Ryan Harrison – who came from the tenth row of the grid to take up the fight for the victory – could do nothing to close the gap on the leader and was resigned to finishing second. Shaun Webster, who drove well all weekend, scored his first podium finish in the major F1 title race, with a well-deserved third place.
The day began with two-thirds heat format, with points added with the results from the evening before towards the European grid line-up. A large field of 29 cars lined up for heat one, in which Stuart Smith Jnr and Mat Newson tangled coming out of turn four after a lap. Alex Wass took the lead in the early stages and was never headed., while further up the grid Todd Jones charged through the pack and was closing rapidly on Wass at the flag. Joff Gibson was third, with Green, Tom Harris and Luke Davidson rounding out the top six.
In the 23-car second heat the previous night’s final winner and runner-up Scott Davids and Dean Whitwell tangled early on entering the back straight, while Webster got a great start and was past early leader Richard Woods by halfway.
Green came through a battle with Wainman Jnr and Johnson to take up the chase in the closing chases, but Webster was far enough ahead to score his first win of the weekend, with Chris Cowley hanging on to third place ahead of Wainman Jnr, Johnson and Harrison.
Roger Bromiley led for the majority of the 27-car third heat ahead of Wass and Jacklyn Ellis, while Jones charged through the lower graders to take up the chase. With three to go Jones pushed Bromiley wide to take the lead, with Wass slipping through to second. Jones took the flag ahead of Wass and Bromiley. Davids came through to finish fourth, ahead of Johnson and Ben Riley.
The European Championship grid line-up put Davids on pole with Green alongside, both having scored 60 points over the two days, but with Davids taking two victories. Johnson and Wainman Jnr lined up on row two, with lone Dutch driver Wesley Schaap slotted in on the inside of row three alongside Wass. Webster took up the fourth row inside slot, with Riley next. Bromiley and Jones shared row five, with Gibson and Smith Jnr on row six. Of the other leading lights, Davidson was on the outside of row seven, Harris the outside of row eight, Harrison on the inside of row ten and Lee Fairhurst on the inside of row 13. Mat Newson did not start.
Davids led a very slow rolling lap and took Green unawares at the green flag to take the lead on the opening lap, while Green was left vulnerable to attack from Johnson at the first corner. Green headed fenceward, but came out of turn two still in front but now had Wainman Jnr behind him as they headed down the back straight.
Into turn three Wainman Jnr shoved Green wide to momentarily take second place, but by also drifting wide he opened the door for Johnson to go through into second spot. A lap later and Wainman Jnr forced Johnson wide to regain the position.
Into the next lap and as the battling trio entered turn one Green made a decisive move by catapulting Johnson into Wainman Jnr. The world champion clattered the fence and limped off the track, while Johnson dropped to sixth place.
Behind this battle, Bromiley had made a great start and forced his way by Webster to go third. Green closed up behind leader Davids and was about to take the lead just as the yellow flags came out.
For the restart Davids still led, from Green, Bromiley and Webster. Behind these Smith Jnr was up to fifth, Johnson was next, followed by Harrison, who had cut through the field with some forceful driving to be up to seventh place, ahead of Jones, Harris and Davidson.
As the race went green Davids again got a flying start to lead from Green. Webster passed Bromiley to go third, while behind these Johnson pulled off as Harrison swept by Smith Jnr to take fourth spot.
On lap five Green caught Davids and took the lead out of turn two when the yellows came out once more after Dean Whitwell, Steve Whittle and Frankie Wainman Jnr Jr tangled in turn four.
Green led the restart, with Webster taking second place ahead of Davids out turn four a couple of laps later. Harrison swiftly passed Bromiley, and then Davids – who was kept out wide into turn three – to go third. Bromiley followed Harrison to go fourth as the pack behind bunched up, led by Harris, who was now fifth, Smith Jnr and Jones.
Another yellow flag stoppage closed the grid up once again before halfway, with Green leading from Webster, Harrison, Bromiley, Harris, Smith Jnr, Jones and Fairhurst.
For Webster to have any chance of glory he needed a good restart, but he didn’t get one, lighting the rear tyres at the wave of the green flag. It meant Green was able to pull away and also Harrison could dive through to take second place entering turn one.
Behind these Bromiley had Harris, Smith Jnr, Jones and Fairhurst for company and soon dropped down the field. Jones then shoved his way past Smith Jnr and Harris, but had the compliment returned by Smith Jnr into turn one. Harris then led the pack in a great battle for position but Jones was not done yet and planted Smith Jnr into Harris into turn one to take back the place.
As Smith Jnr slowed and eventually pulled off, Harris tried to get back on the racing line with Davidson, Gibson and Fairhurst breathing down his neck, but spun out of contention in a cloud of tyre smoke.
Meanwhile up at the front, Green was controlling the pace and the race as Harrison, now on his own in second place, did all he could to try and close the gap – which was half the length of the straight.
But there was no stopping Green, who extended his lead and reeled off the remaining laps to become European Champion. Webster finished third, with Jones an excellent fourth, ahead of Gibson in a notable fifth and Fairhurst, who came from the 13th row to finish in sixth place. Harrison celebrated the result by using Green’s front bumper as a fence post to do a burnout on the start/finish line.
For Green the race came to a straightforward and successful conclusion but the start was anything but.
“The first few laps were quite tricky,” said Green. “The start was a complete mess form me with how Scott managed it. I wasn’t even in gear, I had my foot on the clutch at the time but it dropped in gear, which was fortunate.
“And then I got attention from Dan at the first corner, which I expected. They knew they had to sort me out if they were going to win that race. But I had a big enough gap so he couldn’t get a proper hit on me. He gave me what he could and put me to the fence, but fortunately I came out back in front of him but that put Frankie, who was next in line, to have a go at the next corner.
“That left me behind them but I waited until they were in lined up right for me and then cleared them up, and from then on it was easier for me. Once I was in front it was a case of nursing the tyres, I knew I had good pace, and driving it sensibly to make it to the flag.”
Harrison had to be aggressive and used up his tyres to get in a decent position. “The problem with these new tyres is you can’t attack anyone otherwise you end up going in with them,” he said. “But I was happy with that. It was a long way back to start. I said beforehand I would be happy with a top six.
“Nigel was just too quick. When he gets to the end of the race, while we’re all struggling, he stays at the same pace – there’s no drop off.”
With Green taking the one-lap handicap, 19 cars lined up for the last F1 race of the weekend, the Internations Cup Grand National. Bromiley took up the running when the yellows came out on lap five, with Woods, Wass and Jones next.
Jones took little time to pick off the leaders and took a lead that he extended with every lap to go on and win the race by half a lap. Smith Jnr had his best result of the day to finish a strong second, with Wainman Jnr third, ahead of Green, who made up chunks of ground to finish fourth from the one-lap handicap, Davids and Bromiley.
Photos courtesy of Neil Randon and Colin Casserley