The 2017 Mintex National Points Championship Shootout begins this weekend at Birmingham Wheels on Saturday night and Belle Vue on Bank Holiday Monday with 12 drivers set to battle wheel-to-wheel for the silver roof over ten rounds.
World Champion FRANKIE WAINMAN JNR goes into the Shootout as points leader before the start of the event, based on meetings attended and finals won.
Wainman Jnr has not won the Shootout since its current guise from 2010, although he is predictably always in contention every year. He finished runner-up in both 2011 and 2012.
This season Wainman Jnr retained the British Championship at Sheffield in June, his ninth win in the event in all, which has been his only final victory of the season so far.
Greeny is like Lundy used to be. He just drives around the track and wins!
But with six shale rounds, Wainman Jnr can be expected to in contention once again.
As far as Wainman Jnr is concerned, new European champion Nigel Green is the man to beat, although he still has yet to work out how the Leicestershire driver has been so dominant in 2017.
“Greeny is like Lundy used to be,” says Wainman Jnr. “He just drives around the track and wins! Like at Stoke, his wasn’t the fastest car and he didn’t do anything special but everybody else crashed around him and he won the final by half a lap.”
But Wainman Jnr expects the favourite to have a rougher ride during the ten rounds.
“The only problem he is going to have when it comes to the Shootout is he’s going to be the one everyone thinks is going to win,” says Wainman Jnr. “But he isn’t going to get away with that.
“In the Shootout you can’t sit back and let the others do the work and you win it. He will inevitably have to involved with some of it – it will get a lot messier.”
The intensity in the Shootout is always a lot higher than a normal meeting, so Wainman Jnr expects car damage – it’s the nature of the job.
“If you are in the 12 you are going to get your car smashed up at some point,” he says. “That’s just how it is.”
One driver the world champion is pleased to see in the Shootout is BEN RILEY, who has qualified for the series for the first time.
“Ben Riley wanted to be in the Shootout, he’s keen to be in it and proud to be a part of it,” says Wainman Jnr. “I think it needs a few more like him to get into the Shootout in the future.”
The youngest member of the Shootout group at 25 years old, Riley comes from a family of F1 stock car drivers, following in the footsteps of his father Dave. In only his third season in F1, competing in the Shootout has been one of Riley’s objectives this season.
“I wanted to do two things this year,” says Riley. “That was to do every meeting and to get into the Shootout – and so far we have done everything we set out to do.
“I’ve always wanted to get into the Shootout since I started in F1s and watching it. It’s a massive achievement for me because I’m the only one in my family who has been in one.
“I want to really enjoy myself this year and learning from the experience. And if I can get into it again next year I can have a really good go at it.
“That’s not to say I won’t have a good go this year. I’m not there just to make the numbers up, so while I’m in it I may as well have a good go!”
Riley has no preference for either shale on Tarmac and believes he can go well on both surfaces.
“I like both,” Riley says. “What I am looking forward to is driving both cars, because at the moment they are both really fast. I’ve had fast lap times at every track I’ve been to. I’ve just been unlucky results-wise.
“My Tarmac car was the fastest in the final on Saturday at Venray so we definitely have got the speed in the cars.”
Riley is looking forward to the opening round at Birmingham on Saturday as it is a venue venue where he has done well.
“I’m hoping for a bit of rain on Saturday at Birmingham because the car goes well around there in the rain,” Riley says. “I won heat and final last year there in the rain and I won a heat this year but got a puncture in the final.
“If there is one thing I don’t want, it is to finished last. I am confident in both cars at the moment, so there’s nothing to so say we can’t be up with the pace with the big boys.”
In Riley’s opinion Green, Wajnman Jnr and Stuart Smith Jnr are the men to beat. “Especially Nigel Green,” says Riley. “He’s has driven a blinder this year. He’s the man to beat, especially on Tarmac.
“Personally, I think that a lot of the drivers will be out to stop him and hopefully that is where me and a few other drivers will sneak up in the points. We’ll just have to see how it pans out.”
MAT NEWSON has been in contention a couple times leading up to the final round in previous Shootouts. finishing third twice. Competing in his seventh event Newson believes he will have another good shot at winning the title, even though he will have to borrow two cars he built and hires out to achieve it.
“This weekend is going to be a bit of a mess,” Newson admits. “I’m going to have to race one of my hire cars. I’m working like hell to get my new Tarmac car ready for the World Final so I should be set up by then.
To be honest, I think I have a fair, tidy shot at the Shootout. I’ve often been in the top five
“Mark Sargent has said I can carry on using his shale car for all the Shootout rounds, which is great. My new shale car is actually ready, but every time I use Mark’s car I get good results, so I was thinking I may as well wait to bring out my new shale car until the start of next season.”
Newson’s shale form is very good indeed in the Sargent car. Winner of the World qualifier at Sheffield, he also finished on the podium for the British Championship and has five other race wins during the season.
“To be honest, I think I have a fair, tidy shot at the Shootout,” Newson says. “I’ve often been in the top five. It was three years ago, the first Shootout that Rob Speak won, that I led all the way to the final round. That’s the closest I’ve come to winning it. But I’m looking forward to it.”
For the Tarmac rounds Newson will be using his silver hire car often raced by Matt Armstrong. “I was going to use my best hire Tarmac car,” Newson admits. “But Scott Davids wants to race in it and I’ve stolen it off him enough times!”
DANNY WAINMAN is another driver who has been in contention in previous Shootouts only to have his hopes dashed during the final round.
Having competed in six previous Shootouts, Wainman was still in with a slim chance of winning going into the last rounds in 2014 and 2015. At Sheffield two years ago, he needed to win the Grand National and for Johnson not to finish. Johnson, however, finished fourth and Wainman tenth.
“This year I’m up for it more than any other year, because I’ve got two cars that are both quick now,” Wainman says. “It’s a lot better when you have two car that are running right.
“For the last few years I’ve been down to one engine and swapping engines. So, all being well, I know it’s ten rounds, but I’ve got consistency now.”
Our thoughts are that consistency is key to doing well in the Shootout and my set-up is the best for that
And consistent he is. Wainman has nine top five finishes in finals this year, although he is yet to win one.
“The problem is the car is set-up for the end of a race rather than the beginning,” Wainman revels. “So I tend to be slow away at the starts. That’s why I never win!
“Our thoughts are that consistency is key to doing well in the Shootout and my set-up is the best for that.
“Both cars finish races now all the time, that’s the main thing. We looked at it, and when it comes to the Shootout you need to finish races. You don’t need to win races – but then you have to go for it in the last round when there are double points on offer.”
Wainman professes to prefer shale to Tarmac, so with six shale rounds this year, including three at Belle Vue, he feels optimistic about his prospects.
“The finale is at Belle Vue and last year I won the Belle Vue track championship,” says Wainman, “I’m more of a shale racer than a Tarmac racer. I don’t really like Tarmac – it bores me!”
While he starts on pole position for the World Final at Ipswich next month, the principal target this season for NIGEL GREEN is the National Points Championship.
Green will be competing in his second Shootout, after coming so close to winning the title last season. Green led the series right up until the Shootout finale at Belle Vue, before finishing second to Rob Speak.
Winner of nine finals this season, including the European Championship at Northampton and the World Championship semi-final at Skegness, Green goes into the Shootout as the series favourite.
“I’ve said all along I think a championship over ten rounds is more likely to have the best driver winning it,” says Green. “So, I personally think it’s a good representation at the end of the year of your performance, rather than a one-off race.”
Green may go into the Shootout as the man to beat, but he expects tough opposition from those around him.
“Ryan Harrison has been showing good pace at the moment,” says Green. “He’s the man on the move at the minute, a man on a mission, so he’s going to be one of the main challengers.
I’m probably more competitive on Tarmac but I probably enjoy shale more. I just seem to be a bit more relaxed on shale for some reason
“And obviously Frankie Wainman Jnr is always there, clocking up points as well. Stuart Smith Jnr wasn’t in it last year but he’s also going to be eager to try and be up there, so I think they are the three really.”
Six of the Shootout rounds are on shale, four on Tarmac, and although Green is noted more this season for his Tarmac form, he currently prefers racing on shale.
“I’m probably more competitive on Tarmac but I probably enjoy shale more,” Green admits. “I just seem to be a bit more relaxed on shale for some reason. I just let the race come to me on shale and hopefully get some points at the end of it.
“I enjoy all the tracks. They all have their different characteristics. I enjoy King’s Lynn because it’s smooth and fast and has a good fence.
“Belle Vue is also a quirky little track. I do enjoy racing there. It is a track that encourages stock car racing because it’s tight. The cornering speed is quite low so it encourages a lot of braking so if you are on the brakes and you are behind someone and you want to stick the bumper in then you can do it there.
“The longer, faster tracks don’t always allow you to get stuck in, so Belle Vue is an interesting track in that way.”
STUART SMITH JNR has had two weeks away from racing as he prepares for the arrival of his second child with wife Katie. The couple’s second offspring is due within the next two weeks, as Smith Jnr gets set for the World Final.
“With the time off I’ve done a lot of work, checking things over, getting ready, getting some spares ready, so yep, I’m all ready to go,” Smith Jnr says.
With a baby on the way, will he be taking time off if it arrives during the Shootout or World Final? “ It is safe to say that if that happens, I will be missing the birth,” Smith Jnr reveals. “I need to win a championship this year and I’ve got the two bites at it.”
Over ten meetings you can have one bad meeting and you can end up way down the order
But he knows it won’t be easy, and believes the series this year is wide open.
“I think anyone can win it,” he says. “like Ben Riley, it’s the first time he has been in the Shootout, but I really think my main dangers are everybody. Over ten meetings you can have one bad meeting and you can end up way down the order.”
Since winning the silver roof in 2009, Smith Jnr has surprisingly only competed in two Shootouts before this season. He had a luckless year in 2016 and didn’t qualify but had a chance of being in the mix for the silver roof the year before.
However, he hit the fence hard when attempting to remove Rob Speak during the Grand National at the King’s Lynn round, and knocked himself out. As a result he had to stand down for 10 days and his Shootout went with it.
“I would have had a really good shot at it that year,” Smith Jnr says. “I’d brought myself back from 63 points behind and to only two or three behind the leader so I know I can do it.
“I’ll just do what I do normally. My average is really good – in the 30s – so there’s no reason I can’t continue that and win.
Winner of the silver roof in 2011, CRAIG FINNIKIN is the only driver apart from Frankie Wainman Jnr to now compete in all seven Shootouts since 2010.
He is also another driver who will miss Birmingham and will start his Shootout challenge at Belle Vue on Bank Holiday Monday. It’s a track he goes very well at, having won three finals there this season.
I’m changing the suspension on it to try and get a bit of pace out of the car. When it’s done I’ll be going for it without doubt
The reason why he is missing Birmingham is because he has plenty of work to finish on his existing Tarmac car. “It’s all cut up at the moment,” explains Finnikin. “I’m changing the suspension on it to try and get a bit of pace out of the car.
“When it’s done I’ll be going for it without doubt.”
Being an absentee for the opening round isn’t such a bad thing for Finnikin, in fact it could be a good omen.
“The year I won the Shootout I also missed the first meeting,” he says.
In 2015 LEE FAIRHURST led the Shootout until the final round and goes into this year’s series optimistic he can take the silver roof this time round, the one of the four major titles in the sport he has yet to win.
Fairhurst debuted the new Tarmac he has built for Daniel van Spijker at Venray last weekend and will be using the car for the Tarmac rounds of the Shootout.
The car has yet to run in earnest in Britain, using British specification tyres, brakes and suspension, but Fairhurst is still hopeful the car will be a front-runner on Saturday night.
“I think everyone expected a bit too much from the car at Venray,” says Fairhurst. “Whereas I was a bit more realistic beforehand.
“On Saturday night the car felt good. Decent pace-wise – not the fastest car – but I couldn’t get any brakes. It’s weird on new cars because you put all this new stuff on and sometimes you just need some old crap on it to make it work.
“So we were struggling with brakes. Every time I went out on Saturday it was like a different car. We made big changes and big leaps to get it going right and overnight we changed all the cylinders and piping round.
“So come Sunday I wasn’t expecting too much, but the brakes were a lot better in the World Cup. The more laps I did the more I got used to what the car was doing, where I could push it, and in the end we finished sixth.
“But now we are back home it is going to be completely different with these tyres and everything else that will go on the car.”
Runner-up to Ryan Harrison in 2013, Fairhurst will take a measured approach in his seventh Shootout. “I think it’s best to race round by round and not think too much about the points,” he says. “I’ve been up there before a few times.
“Whenever I’ve done well in the past, I’ve just taken it one race at a time and not really thought much about anything else.”
The area where the former world champion feels very confident is with the form of his shale car.
“I’m confident with the shale car now,” says Fairhurst. “I’m happy with that, so hopefully we can get some good points with it. And I’m sure the Tarmac car will come better and better every time we use it. We just need to learn more about it and maybe move away from what we’ve always known on set-up and try a few things.”
As far as rivals are concerned Fairhurst picks out two – Smith Jnr and Green. “I think Stuart and Nigel are the two who are more determined than anyone to win it,” he says.
He also thinks Johnson will be in the shake-up. “Dan Johnson has said he is going to miss a few rounds, but he’s done that before and everyone has left him alone and he’s ended up being right up there.
“People discounted him because his missed a few rounds, but ut if he scores well in the other rounds he’s going to be up there.
“I just hope there is no runaway leader and we can all keep within touching distance, because when it gets to those last two rounds it’s usually all still to play for, with double points at the end.
“I’m more determined than ever to win it, now I have two good cars to do well in. I’ll be giving it everything I’ve got.
“Whoever wins it deserves it because it is a hard championship to win.”
LUKE DAVIDSON competes in the Shootout for fifth time, but this season is the first time the 27-year-old, who is a Tarmac specialist, has opted to go for all ten rounds.
As well as using his regular Tarmac car, Davidson will be using the Perter Falding shale car he hired for the World semi-final at Stoke for all four shale rounds of the Shootout.
“We’re planning to do all the rounds,” says Davidson. “We want to give it go. My dad spoke to Peter Falding and with Tom (Harris) using our shale car we didn’t have a car, but but Peter and my dad got talking and we came to an agreement and ending up using it.”
I’m not saying it’s not possible to win the Shootout, but the main thing is to go out and enjoy myself more than anything
Davidson has had limited time in the car, with a short-lived race in the semi-final, suffering damage and a flat front tyre early on.
“To be honest, I haven’t done that many laps in the car,” admits Davidson. “Stoke was a bit of a nightmare but these things happen in semi-finals.
“I finished three races in the car at King’s Lynn and it felt alright. Just getting used to it is hard work when you’re not racing shale all the time.”
Tarmac racing is where the former European champion feels most comfortable. “I’m looking forward to all the Tarmac rounds,” Davidson says. “I’m not saying it’s not possible to win the Shootout, but the main thing is to go out and enjoy myself more than anything.”
DAN JOHNSON has competed in six previous Shootouts, winning the series in 2015, after snatching victory in the Shootout Finale at Sheffield.
However, the Worksop star will miss the opening round at Birmingham due to the wedding of his sister. As well as that Johnson suffered engine problems at Venray last weekend and was forced to load up after racing on Saturday night – a problem he could well do without.
If I’m doing well I’ll be going for it. But otherwise I’ll just have some fun and see what we can do
“It’s valve and piston damage,” says Johnson. “I’ve got another engine I will be using for the World Final. It’s a refurbished engine that has only done one meeting. It should should alright.
“I’m missing Birmingham, but I’ll be at Belle Vue and we’ll see how it goes in the first few rounds.”
Johnson could turn out to be the wild card in the Shootout. “If I’m doing well I’ll be going for it,” he says. “But otherwise I’ll just have some fun and see what we can do.”
RYAN HARRISON is in a win, win situation.
Winner of the Shootout in 2013, Harrison has built up his performance as the season has progressed, and is now in top form.
He is widely regarded as a major player for Shootout glory – so long as the opening rounds go well.
I’m going to do the first two rounds and see where I’m at and if I’m in thereabouts, I’ll be going balls out – win or crash
Entering his third Shootout series, Harrison’s Tarmac form is second to none, having dominated the World Cup at Venray. It’s his shale car where he will need to grind out the points, however.
“Winning the World Cup was one of my best wins ever,” says Harrison. “But winning the Shootout was the best championship I’ve won to be fair, because it was over ten meetings.
“Now I have won the World Cup, it doesn’t matter what happens for the rest of the year for me.
“It will all be their problem. I’m going to do the first two rounds and see where I’m at and if I’m in thereabouts, I’ll be going balls out – win or crash. Definitely.”
PAUL HINES enters the Shootout as a late entry after leading contender Tom Harris was given a suspension for the incident in the Stoke Grand National with Mick Sworder, for which he misses the rest of the season.
Hines was next in line as first reserve and so takes the 12th slot and his fifth Shootout. While the Hinckley star has won both the British and European titles on Tarmac, shale is currently his preferred surface.
The new Mat Newson-built Tarmac car is being prepared for the World Final after Hines finished an excellent second place to Johnson in the Stoke World semi-final two weeks ago.
Obviously, I wasn’t expecting to be in it, but now I’m here I intend to enjoy it
Hines will line up at Belle Vue and is hopeful of a decent run. “Obviously, I wasn’t expecting to be in it, but now I’m here I intend to enjoy it,” says Hines. “My shale form hasn’t been too bad this year.
“I’ve got some decent pace around King’s Lynn so I hope to go well there, and we’ll just see how it goes.”
Hines finished third in the Shootout in 2010.
Neil Randon 2017
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley, Chris Clark and Neil Randon