Dan Johnson came away from Stoke with a front-row grid position for the World Championship Final at Ipswich after a straightforward flag-to-flag victory in the World semi-final at the Chesterton shale track.
Johnson’s task was helped by the demise of a number of his main rivals early on, and also by world champion Frankie Wainman Jnr being forced to grapple with an ill-handling car due to buckled rear wheels for most of the race.
Another driver celebrating after the meeting was Nigel Green, who dominated the meeting final and stroked his car home to a ninth final win of the season, his fourth on shale.
But while Johnson and Green romped to well-deserved victories, the meeting will be remembered more for a rivalry that escalated between Tom Harris and Mick Sworder and came to a head at the end of the night.
The pair first clashed in the consolation and concluded with Sworder requiring medical treatment for concussion after an incident in the Grand National. A BMB inquiry was announced the following day.
The meeting began with a Whites and Yellows race that featured 14 cars and was won comfortably by Chris Farnell, who took the lead at halfway, taking over from Russell Cooper and Darren Clark, who got tangled up with Jonathon Lawrence. Mick Rogers finished second ahead of Nigel Harry and Paul Hopkins. Richard Woods and Geoff Nickolls rounded out the top six.
The 19-car heat one was led early on by Russell Cooper before the yellow flags came out two laps later to deal with the stricken car of Rogers, who hit the fence at the end of the home straight.
Cooper led the restart but was caught by John Dowson by halfway, who in turn was moved aside into turn one by Paul Harrison with five laps to go. Harrison went on to take the flag, with Craig Finnikin moving up to second with two laps to run. Dowson finished third, ahead of Green, Joe Booth and Bradley Harrison
The World Championship semi-final was the next F1 race on the bill. Johnson and Danny Wainman led the field for two rolling laps on a watered track before the green flag dropped. The track was particularly slippery and caught out a number of the frontrunners going into turn three.
While Johnson sped away, behind him Wainman got pinned up against the fence in turn four as Wainman Jnr, Sworder and Harris all drifted wide. Behind these Paul Hines hugged the inside line and swept past all four to immediately take second place. Wainman Jnr recovered to go third ahead of Harris, as Sworder drifted wide into turn one and glanced the fence.
Meanwhile, Wainman stayed parked by the fence, yet to cross the start/finish line. “It just locked,” said Wainman afterwards. “I had it in gear but it wouldn’t move.” A lap later Wainman would have the car back in the race.
Down the back straight for the first time, Johnson already had a sizeable lead, with Hines on his own in second place. Wainman Jnr stayed third until Harris slid up his inside and took him to the fence on the exit of turn four.
However, the move popped a tyre on the Harris car and the Banbury Superstar was out of the race on the spot. This allowed Sworder to take third place ahead of Steve Whittle, who had also taken advantage of the first bend reshuffle. Whittle’s joy was short-lived, however, as he was forced to pull off with a burst nearside rear tyre.
The yellows came out on lap four with Luke Davidson facing the wrong way with a flat front offside tyre. Others also licking their wounds were Mal Brown, Todd Jones, Daniel van Spijker and Joff Gibson.
By this stage Johnson led Hines, with Sworder third, ahead of Wainman Jnr, Mark Gilbank and Will Hunter. As the cars lined up for the restart, Sworder pulled off – another car with a puncture.
From the restart, Johnson pulled away from Hines, who in turn kept a sizeable gap to Wainman Jnr. Gilbank was close up in fourth, with these four well clear of Hunter, Mark Woodhall and Ben Hurdman.
From then on Johnson simply pulled away from Hines to take the flag. Hines was being caught by Wainman Jnr in the closing stages but never looked under serious threat and took an excellent second place with a measured drive. Wainman Jnr finished third, from Gilbank and Hunter. Hurdman moved by Woodhall in the closing stages to take sixth, with Drew Lammas, using his Tarmac car for the first time on shale, coming home a credible eighth. Wainman fought back to finish ninth with Billy Johnson taking the final World Final qualifying spot in tenth.
“It was fast, wasn’t it?” said Johnson enigmatically afterwards. “I don’t think I touched another car throughout the race.”
Hines was jubilant and clearly more talkative after his fine second place. “I’ve always had a good semi-final record, “ he said. “I think it’s the sixth time I’ve started on the front two rows. I just haven’t had a good World Final record, so I’ve got to put that right.
The first bend was crucial to Hines’ race. “They really watered it on the inside of the track,” Hines explained. “And everyone was on the outside. We were all at the top and I thought to myself “there’s not enough room for everybody”. I could see that, and as we came out of the bend, everyone shot up the track.
Sometimes it better to be lucky than good, but tonight I was both, so that’s a perfect combination
“So, even though I didn’t have as much grip on the inside, I had a bit of space. I slid up a bit as well and clipped Frank on my way by, but I knew from that point onwards I would be alright. I knew I had space behind me – it’s lovely to go into that first bend knowing you’ve got that space behind you.
“I had a problem towards the end as the engine was getting a little bit warm, so I knew I had to do five or six laps easing off a bit. I knew I had a bit of gap on Frank and I tried to manage it. I knew I could do one last quick lap at the end for Frank not to risk his third place.
I saw Mick Sworder rattle himself around the wall and then pop a tyre. That’s what happens here. You have to be a little bit careful. I would have liked second, but third is fine. I’ll settle for that
“Sometimes it better to be lucky than good, but tonight I was both, so that’s a perfect combination.”
Wainman Jnr was satisfied with third place. “I got a bit caught up at the start and then Tom fired me in when he flattened his tyre and it buckled both my back wheels,” said Wainman Jnr. “The back outside tyre has gone down now.
“I saw Mick Sworder rattle himself around the wall and then pop a tyre. That’s what happens here. You have to be a little bit careful. I would have liked second, but third is fine. I’ll settle for that.”
Nigel Green joined Johnson on the start/finish line after the race for the toss of the coin for the honour of starting on pole position at Ipswich, which was won by Green.
The consolation featured 22 cars and resulted in a confusing outcome due to a lack of communication regarding yellow flags. Joff Gibson was leading the race when the yellow flags came out. Gibson understandably slowed, but the starter appeared not to raise his flag and so the yellows flags were dropped and the race continued. Gibson was therefore swamped by the those cars who had yet to slow down and a potential race win was lost.
During the first half of the race Harris had passed Sworder out of turn two, only for Sworder to fire Harris fencewards at the next corner, also putting himself into the fence and snapping a back axle. Two laps later Harris shoved Brown wide into turn three, who slid into the stationary Sworder car, and repeated the move a lap later on Gibson for position, who also careered into the Molesworth driver.
To add to the confusion, the chequered flag was waved at Mat Newson, but it was Michael Scriven who was awarded the race, ahead of Newson, with Harris charging back up the field to finish third and Gibson fourth.
Preceding the final there was a minute silence in tribute to former F1 stock car Superstar Dave Hodgson and long-time Stoke lap-scorer Elma Paterson, who both passed away recently.
The track was heavily watered for the final, in which 27 cars lined up. The yellows were out on lap four after Sam Jacklin hit the back straight fence. Johnson’s race was already over, having pulled off on to the centre green.
Cooper led the restart from Gibson, with Scriven third, followed by Hunter, Frankie Wainman Jnr Jr, Nickolls and Green, who had made up a huge amount of ground during the opening laps.
Gibson soon took the lead, shoving Cooper wide into turn three, with Hunter moving up to second ahead of Scriven, Green, Wainman Jnr Jr, Wainman Jnr and Finnkin.
The race was stopped again on lap six and on the restart Gibson set off in the lead. Green swept by Scriven and then caught Hunter, who ended up facing the wrong way into turn one.
I drove the track how I thought it needed to be driven, keeping it low down and the race went to plan really
Further back, Wainman Jnr slowed to a halt into turn one with a broken prop shaft, while Green quickly caught and shoved Gibson wide to take the lead before the halfway mark.
From then on Green was able to extend his lead and win comfortably by more than half a lap. Booth was originally awarded second place, ahead of Harrison, but the result was later corrected with Harrison given the runner-up spot, ahead of Wainman and Hines. Finnikin finished fifth, ahead of Nickolls, while Booth finished seventh.
“I drove the track how I thought it needed to be driven, keeping it low down and the race went to plan really,” Green said. “I didn’t do anything exceptional. I just kept my head. The track was so wet at the start and the slightest brush with anybody and they were wide and in the sludge.
“So in the first couple of corners I pushed a few people, and before you know it they’re in the sludge and you’re up the road. From halfway I managed the tyres, and it seemed a bloomin’ long race after that!
“I couldn’t see anyone in my mirror, so I was able to drive underneath the limit and nurse the car home.”
And so to the Grand National, which fielded 27 cars with Green taking the one-lap handicap.
Cooper led early, before the race was stopped on lap three with Farnell and Jacklin in the turn three fence. Cooper led the restart from Dowson, while further back Harris had scythed through the field and was up to seventh.
While upfront Ashley England had taken up the running, while Harris, who had made up a couple of places, went in too deep into turn three and overcooked the corner and nearly spun. This allowed Sworder, who had been further back, to latch on to the Harris rear bumper and, as Harris recovered entering the home straight, Sworder spun the Banbury driver on to the centre green.
England led at halfway as Harris, having been stationary by the side of the track for a couple of laps, rejoined the race.
It was then as the race progressed Sworder suddenly slowed as he entered the back straight and Harris clattered into the Sworder car. With Sworder in immediate need of assistance and his borrowed Newson engine revving itself to destruction, the race was immediately red-flagged.
England was awarded the race, with Harrison finishing a successful night in second place and Ben Riley third. Scriven finished fourth with Wainman Jnr fifth and Karl Hawkins sixth.