With 11 World Championship titles between them, Andy Smith, Peter Falding and Rob Speak know what it takes to win the biggest race on the F1 stock car calendar.
ANDY SMITH, son of the late, great Stuart Smith, has won the World Championship five times. His first victory came in 1994 at Bradford’s Odsal Stadium, where he took the lead from Frankie Wainman Jnr, who retired in the closing stages, to win on his World Final debut.
Smith wouldn’t score his second World Final win for another 12 years, when at Coventry he beat Wainman Jnr and brother Stuart Jnr to the flag in 2006. Then two years later Smith took his third title, this time at Ipswich, and would retain the gold roof for the next two years to become only the third driver to win three consecutive titles. His father achieved the feat between 1983-85, and Dave Chisholm between 1973-75.
PETER FALDING won all four of his world championships at Coventry Stadium. Falding became the youngest winner of the gold roof as a 20-year-old when he won the title at Coventry in 1986. He then took his second title at Brandon in 1993.
It was ten years later that Falding scored his third victory at Coventry in 2003 and he successfully defended his World crown the following year.
ROB SPEAK is one of only two drivers to win World Championships in both F1 and F2 stock cars, Dave Chisholm being the other. Speak won his first F1 World title at Hednesford in 2001 but, after coming second the following year, Speak took time out of the sport before returning in 2012. It was 14 years after his first victory in the race he scored his second World Championship victory at King’s Lynn in 2015.
Speak hung up his racing boots last year to take up the role as promoter at Skegness, but successfully qualified for this year’s World Final when finishing fifth in the Skegness World semi-final. He will take his place in the line-up at Ipswich next Saturday, in an attempt to win the sport’s most prestigious race having only driven in one race, the World semi-final at Skegness, all season.
In this exclusive feature, Smith, Falding and Speak discuss who they think will win the coveted gold roof at Foxhall Stadium next Saturday.
445 NIGEL GREEN
Grid position: inside front row. Number of World Final starts: 1. Best result: 11th.
ANDY SMITH: “If you go back a month or six weeks ago we would be all saying it’s a nailed-on certainty after Nigel won that semi-final but there is an element of doubt now.
“Stuart’s pace was a good at Birmingham. Ryan’s was also good. You look at the lap times and they both had a bit of an edge on Nigel in that regard. And they looked like they had the edge on the night. Nigel was being bossed around a lot in the final and he got involved in a scrap, which cost him a fair bit of time.
“I don’t know Nigel that well, but I think he’s a thinker and a clever guy and he looks like he can keep a little bit in reserve. That car has been fast enough on many occasions and he should have enough information to put a very good set up into it.
“It might not just have shown that at Birmingham and I know he struggled a little bit at Venray, which is a new track to him, but I’m pretty sure on the night his car will be very well prepared. And I do believe it will be the car to beat.
“It all depends on the start – if Nigel does his job well and he gets a cracking start and there are no stoppages I can’t see anyone getting to him.
“But as I say, a lot depends on the start. The track tends to be a bit dirty and slippy on the inside. At the last world Final there, I got a belting start and the others didn’t and that set the tone for the race, really.
“No-one wants to see a flag-to-flag win, everyone wants to see a thunderous race. But maybe it will be – it’s a stock car race. That’s the beauty of stock car racing – everybody is writing it off that it is going to be a boring World Final, but it might be the absolute opposite.
“If there is a caution and it bunches everybody up and there are no backmarkers involved, then everybody will know how fast everybody is, because it being a World Final, you can’t leave anything on the track. You have got to do everything you possibly can.
“Nigel has shown he can use his bumper. No-one should ever think he’s a hot-rodder, because he isn’t. He can use that front bumper if necessary and let’s just hope he has to!
“Another thing to factor in with Greeny is that while we’re all saying he’s the favouirite and he is on the pole, it brings a pressure he has never experienced before in a stock car.
“He started on the front last year but then he wasn’t the man to beat, he wasn’t the favourite. This year it’s totally more of an intense occasion for him. I’ve been in those shoes where you are on the pole, everybody is saying you are going to win, and all your fellow competitors are tipping you to win. And all it does is stack the pressure on you.
“You try and put it to one side, but because you want to win it so much you can’t! It’s just there and you have to deal with it. He has to cope with the pressure and get his mind in the right place. And he seems a cool customer, and on the face off it you would think he would be able to deal with it, but you don’t know what goes on inside that head minutes before that start. You’ve got to keep it all together.
“And if he does wins off pole and it’s a boring race, he will still deserve it 100 per cent, because it is a pressure cooker situation.
“Last time when I won it at Ipswich, people were saying it was boring, it was easy, I didn’t have anyone to challenge me… but you should have been inside my head! It wasn’t a good place to be, knowing everybody thinks you’re going to win and if you don’t win you’re a complete tosser! It was all to lose.
“I’ve heard it said Nigel has more of a desire to win the Shootout and I think that’s brilliant. The Shootout takes a pasting off a lot of people and criticism but it’s fantastic for the modern era of stock car racing.
“It’s absolutely brilliant and for Nigel to want to win the Shootout that much and to recognise what it takes to win it, I think it’s a credit to the series. It’s what drivers should be thinking. It’s the ultimate challenge in a way, because it’s over ten rounds.
“But, he’d loved to win the World Final. He’d love to get that gold paint on his roof and to get his name on that big famous trophy, with the names going back to 1955. It’s one of the best things about stock car racing, it’s history, and there’s no greater history than the World Final.
“The Shootout is great but the World Final is still the ultimate. If someone gave you a Rolex watch, you’d have a gold one rather than a silver one, wouldn’t you?”
PETER FALDING: “Nigel is the favourite. He’s a clever kid and a really good driver. There’s a few drivers out there with a few scores to settle, whether they would settle it in a World Final from a lap down who knows, but Greeny doesn’t really have any enemies does he?
“He’ll race you how you race him. But then in Holland he wasn’t a match for Ryan. And he’s not dominating the Shootout. Could it be that he’s 100 per cent on his game every week, but come the big day everyone else is stepping up.
ROB SPEAK: He’s very quick and aggressive. I know he’s not made a mark in the Shootout in the last few weeks but I don’t think his form has dipped. It’s more about where he’s starting races from.
“He has been the front-runner all season and if he hadn’t have had his gearbox problem at Belle Vue in the Shootout finale at the end of last season, it could have been him with the silver roof rather than me.
“If neither Stuart or Dan are able to get in behind Nigel at the start, because Paul Hines is there, I don’t think anyone will catch Nigel. He’ll be gone. He’s so fast and he knows how to pace his car in races, like he did in the European.”
4 DAN JOHNSON
Grid position: outside front row. No. of WF starts: 9. Best result: 2nd (2011, 2012).
ANDY SMITH: “If he can get inside he would have a shout. He will be hungry. He’s like the bridesmaid really in World Finals in the last five or six years.
“Even going back when I was racing, he had a couple of near misses, and since then he has had a few more. Last year he should have won. He made a mistake at the worst possible time and popped his tyre.
“On occasions he has looked pretty quick on Tarmac but he seems to have smashed his car up a lot this year. His car has taken one hell of a pounding and he blew his engine at Venray, but if he is confident he can get the car back to a really good set up then I don’t think he will be left wanting on the driving side of it – it’s just whether he has got the raw pace.
“With no more meetings between now and the race, he’s just got to hope to package it altogether to try and win the race. I don’t think there will be much of a practice session.”
PETER FALDING: “Dan blew his engine in Holland, so he is going to have to change his engine and it’s not run before. He’s going testing this week at Birmingham. The problem for all of them is that there’s not really any practice – they will get half an hour maybe but they will probably only get one run.
“I was standing next to Stuart (Smith Jnr) at Skegness when Dan drove Jordan’s car at the UK Open and I turned to Stuart and said “Dan’s such a good driver, he’s just clumsy”. And as soon as I said that, he was airborne! And Stuart just looked at me as if to say “you’re right!”.
“And he is clumsy. Like in the World Final last year when Frank won. Dan popped his front tyre on a backmarker – he did it himself.
“Frank was leading and then got caught up with Chris Cowley and that was when Dan went past him. But Frank didn’t panic. He kept pressing on, but it was Dan who, if anything, felt he needed to go faster. And you can’t go faster.
“Dan is one of those drivers who is good at the start but he doesn’t save the car in the middle of the race.
“All you end up doing is wearing out tyres. Save it. As soon as someone starts coming, then push on again.
“If you look at Andy, Lundy and myself, that’s what we’ve always done when we’ve won World Finals. At Hednesford, however, when Bert was winning I was pushing on every lap because I couldn’t have a break. I had no choice.
“Andrew knows how critical the starts are at Ipswich. He just chopped off Paul Harrison, and the foreigners and Frank all went to the fence and Andrew was away.
“Dan’s got the pace but whether he can read races, I’m not sure. In the 2011 World Final at Northampton, he put Tom Harris on a post and was gone. But he then caught Frank on a restart and what did he do first lap? Got involved with Frank and brought Paul Harrison into the picture.
“He was miles faster than Paul. What he should have done was let Frank get going. Frank wouldn’t be hesitating, and he should have gone with him and done him a bit later on, because it was only at about half distance. And then Paul wouldn’t have been in a position to get him. After that Dan chased Paul down but ran out of laps.
“And then the next year at Skegness he did the same there. He put Tom on a post, was leading the race, then Gilbank got involved and tapped him wide. Dan was messing about with him when Lee Fairhurst came along and dumped the pair of them. And he didn’t have enough time to get back to him.”
ROB SPEAK: “With Dan he sometimes sees things happening in front of him and other times, like when I won the final at Northampton at the European meeting a few years ago when the oil went down I was thinking “come on, you must have seen that!”
“He has the ability to win the race 100 per cent if he brings his best form with him. And I know he will have to use another engine but he has got everything – he’s got the kit. He doesn’t struggle – he’s got the engines and he’s got everything he needs.
“He’s got the ability but I think sometimes he over thinks and other times doesn’t seem interested somehow. But he will definitely win a World Final – I’m not sure when – but he will definitely win the World Final one day.”
259 PAUL HINES
Grid position: inside second row. No. of WF starts: 11. Best result: 4th (2011)
ANDY SMITH: “Paul is in a cracking grid position but will he be able to raise him game? A few years ago he was more of a contender. He’s never been the big hitter, an all-guns-blazing-type of stock car driver, but he is a clever driver. He has got a lot of experience. Now with his business and he has got a young family, he is more laid back about his stock car racing.
“But he could raise himself. He could just spring a bit of a surprise. It’s there – it’s possible. He just needs to get his mindset right, really. He needs to be a bit aggressive. I don’t know if he has got the speed to follow Nigel for the first few laps and track him.”
PETER FALDING: “Paul will keep himself out of trouble but on a day like the World Final I think he is punching a bit above his weight. I think those behind and those in front will get stuck in and Paul doesn’t tend to get stuck in. He’s a good driver, but come the World Final the chips are down. I would think Stuart will beat him into the first corner trying to do Greeny.”
ROB SPEAK: “Having Paul on the inside of row two is Nigel’s saving grace. It is the one thing that is working in Nigel’s favour. If he had Stuart or Dan behind him it would be a totally different race. Paul is not aggressive enough.
“If Nigel manages to get away and those two can’t tuck in behind him because of Paul Hines, he’s gone.
“As much as he knows he should do, Paul’s not going to knock Nigel wide.”
390 STUART SMITH Jnr
Grid position: outside second row. No. of WF starts: 11. Best result: 1st (2007)
ANDY SMITH: “Obviously, from a personal point of view, I hope Stuart has got something for Nigel. I think the two who will have something for Nigel are Stuart and Ryan on present form but I don’t know if Stuart’s going to be able to get inside.
But if Stuart can get in from that outside row starting position he has definitely got the ammunition to take the fight to Nigel. It’s just if he can get inside in time and can get near enough. If he does he will have his best opportunity to win the World Final for some years. He’s won it before, having a great season and he’s got the pace and the experience.
“Stuart has come in for a bit of criticism from some people that he didn’t try and remove Nigel in the semi-final but there is sort of an unwritten code between the lads, in that the semi-final is for qualifying and if you wipe somebody out in your semi, you might further your World Final cause a little bit, but from a top driver’s point of view it’s a cheap shot really.
“When I was racing I always wanted to leave somebody in the race and beat them fair and square on the biggest occasion. I know that’s how Stuart thinks.
“But when it comes to trying to win that gold roof on the day, respect doesn’t come into it, you just focus on winning and do anything you can within the rules to win the race. Respect for each other goes out the window. And by the same token if somebody looks like winning and gets planted in the fence and wrecked by a rival who is also going for the win, they have got to take it in the right spirit.
“It’s just the way the job is.”
PETER FALDING: “Stuart has got the ability. His main issue is his car’s good but he’s a bit heavy, isn’t he? And the car will go away from him. I hope he wins, but now we’re building cars with 51.2 per cent rear weight. And he will have to put at least another one per cent on and he’ll be running the kind of weight I would be running on shale.
“He’s a good stock car driver. He’s a bit like Ryan, he can be very aggressive. He’s very focused in the car, and blanks everything else out.
“Stuart quite surprised me at Skeggy, letting Greeny off the hook, with the performances he has been putting in. Stuart said he thought he could have beaten him. But if he had beaten him, Greeny would have had him in the World Final. I think he should have taken him out of the equation.
ROB SPEAK: I don’t think Stuart will be quick enough. I wish he was, but he’s not. He’s aggressive enough, 100 per cent, but quick enough around Ipswich? I don’t think he is. But if Nigel does get knocked around though in the early laps, Stuart will definitely have a shout.”
197 RYAN HARRISON
Grid position: inside fourth row. No. of WF starts: 4. Best result: 3rd (2013)
ANDY SMITH: “I think Ryan is driving brilliantly at the minute. I watched the Venray World Cup and I went to Birmingham and, to my mind, his drive in the final at Birmingham was actually a better drive than when he won the World Cup. The maturity he used to make the right moves at the right time, he outgunned Stuart a little bit tactically that night. I thought it was a cracking drive.
“His confidence is up, he’s not frightened to use the bumper, everybody knows that. He wouldn’t necessarily be the most popular winner but I think he thrives on that – it is part of what drives him. When people don’t like him he seems to love it!
“He has turned into one of the sport’s characters. And the sport needs characters, because he is willing to say things that may not make him everybody’s friend. But that’s Ryan. Love him or loathe him he is a contender.
“If he gets in the right position he has a cracking chance.
“He’s a bit older now isn’t he? He had to serve a holiday from the sport that the powers that be decided was the right thing to do and he had to take it on the chin. He didn’t like it but he stuck with the sport, he tried a few other things, but stock cars are a bit magnetic and he’s getting some good results and he deserves them. He’s driving with maturity. He’s just got older.”
PETER FALDING: “Ryan is quick and he’s got a quick car and a quick engine but it depends which head he brings to the game. If he brings the same one he had in Holland where he was quick and calculated, he would definitely have a chance of winning. He has that about him in his locker but if someone gives him one it’s as though his temperament changes.
“Ryan is good in traffic but he disposes it. So if he disposes the traffic, those behind him haven’t got to pass it. And then some drivers will think “I’m not having this, you’re having some back”. Then it’s a case of at the next bend he gets a fairly hard hit and then before you know it Ryan is three car lengths off the driver he was chasing.”
ROB SPEAK: “Ryan has matured so much in the last few years. And I think racing those Modifieds may have helped him. Mastering that non-contact formula improved him as a driver. I think the race will be between Nigel and Ryan. But the only way Ryan can win it is if either Dan or Stuart has a go at Nigel during the first couple of laps. If they don’t, Nigel’s won it.
“Ryan will be through the likely Dutch row quickly and into Paul Hines, but if Stuart or Dan can’t slow Nigel up I don’t think Ryan will get to him.
“Ryan has got the momentum and everything going in his favour at this time. If Stuart and Dan knock Nigel around I think Ryan will be quickly on to them and he would be gone. He has got the pace.”
1 FRANKIE WAINMAN Jnr
Grid position: outside fourth row. No. of WF starts: 27. Best result: 1st (1998, 2005, 2016)
ANDY SMITH: “I don’t know with Frank because sometimes he looks quick on Tarmac and other times quite average. I think row four outside is a big ask from there but depending how the race goes, it might just fall into his lap.
“When you look at how many World Finals he’s been in, these things tend to happen. They come round in cycles and he’s served his time, hasn’t he? Last year it came to him, but after all the tries and all the seconds and whatever he’d had, he deserved to win it. And he’d deserve to win it again if he manages to.
“But I think Frank will be more focused on the Shootout than he will the World Final this year, personally.
“His body language at Birmingham told me that. I spotted him and he’d had a bad heat and I could see that he wasn’t happy. I thought to myself, the Shootout, he must really want it and its still the one in its current format he has never won.
“I bet he’d take a Shootout victory over a World Final victory.
“If it rains, he’d be more than happy with that. It would just take that raw power off the front drivers and he’d be right into it then. He’s very good in the wet.
PETER FALDING: “Frank has not got the pace of Ryan alongside him on Tarmac but he is a cleverer driver. He will knock you wide whereas Ryan wants to put you into Row Z in the stand. Frank is really good in traffic.
“Frank will shove them wide and go underneath them, and they will still be in the race. As a result, they will not be pissed off, because he has just sneaked past.
ROB SPEAK: “The old man isn’t quick enough around Ipswich. You are talking about a big, fast track where you need lots of horsepower. And I don’t think Frank’s car is quick enough.
“It could rain and that would change everything. It would be a totally different race and then he could definitely win it.”
217 LEE FAIRHURST
Grid position: outside fifth row. No. of WF starts: 7. Best result: 1st (2012)
ANDY SMITH: “He’s never been that good around Ipswich in his old car, but he felt he lacked a bit of horsepower. But the van Spijker car doesn’t look as if it is wanting for anything. It looks like it’s state of the art, it’s got all the bells and whistles, everything on it money can buy and Lee’s a belting driver.
“But I don’t think he is going to win it from there. Not around Ipswich, but he could be a rostrum contender, I think. It’s nice that he’s got good sponsorship because they are a real budget team and they always bat above their weight and they over-achieve all the time.”
PETER FALDING: “Lee Fairhurst has got a bit of pace but I think he is too far off the front. He could have a bearing on the outcome depending if there are many stoppages. But if it is a flag-to-flag race I can’t see him being in the mix up.”
ROB SPEAK: “Lee brought his new car testing here at Skegness and I didn’t even see it! I was busy and by the time I had gone round to the pits he had loaded it back up again. So I didn’t even get to look at the car.
“Lee’s definitely got the ability and he’s a really good driver, but I really can’t see anyone outside of the first three rows being in with a chance of winning.”
318 ROB SPEAK
Grid position: inside seventh row. No. of WF starts: 7. Best result: 1st (2001, 2015)
ANDY SMITH: “If is turns into a proper stock car race then probably Rob would come out better than anybody else, because, historically, he would be probably the best stock car driver on the track.
“But with him being so part-time it’s one hell of an ask to expect him to win it. You can’t rule him out though, as there’s that bit inside you that can’t rule Rob Speak out but he’s on the seventh row.”
PETER FALDING: “I don’t think he can win from back there and not having raced in that car at Ipswich. It’s too much to ask.”
ROB SPEAK: “I’m in it to win it! I’m going to try, but realistically I don’t think I can from row seven. I don’t think I will. I will be there in a car I’ve never sat in before, and I have never raced this season bar the semi-final, just one race. And so I’m taking part in my second race – not my second meeting – of the season in the World Final!
“I might get 20 minutes practice on the day but that will be it. But I know the car will be bang on. I will only be in with a chance if everything up front goes wrong.”
ANDY SMITH: “RON KROONDER could be a factor. At the last Ipswich World Final Ron got on the podium. He’s a very fast driver. His speed has always been his strong point. And you look at the car he drives at the moment, and it doesn’t look anything special. But under the skin it’s obviously got everything right.
“It’s a fast car. It was fast at Venray and it was fast when he came to Ipswich last time – I don’t think he did the full meeting and must have had problems but he showed the speed.
“I would honestly love to see Ron win it – I think it would be great for the sport to see an overseas driver take it. The Dutch have gone close. Dave Schaap got second one year and Ron has had a third.
“It’s his ideal track and he could possibly be inside of the third row. If he could get a gap and sneak though he could have chance. It would be a fantastic way to crown his career because he has been a fantastic driver.”
PETER FALDING: “Of the overseas drivers RON KROONDER has the best chance, and maybe Roy Maessen.
“I’ve got Jordan Dare running in Jordan’s car but he has never raced on Tarmac. I took him to Birmingham testing, but it’s totally different racing on your own. He is a very good driver in New Zealand but swapping from shale to Tarmac is a big ask, I think. But it depends on where they qualify.
“The thing is in qualifying it’s only one lap and these New Zealanders are in decent cars, like Simon Joblin, who is in Paul Ford’s car, and another, Wayne Hemi, in Lee Fairhurst’s old Tarmac car.
“It all depends on how they adapt. Jordan Dare might go well, as Jordan (Falding) won a heat and was second in the final in that car last time at Ipswich and the car is as it was then.
“They may be able to put in one quick lap but I can’t see them doing it over 25.
“Kroonder’s the one who has got the pace, he’s not scared to get stuck in. I would expect him to be on row three. And Maessen maybe will be alongside him.
“Kroonder was amongst them when he raced at the Ipswich qualifier. The thing is he is good in traffic – the rest are quick – but they’re not good in traffic. He is now 48 years old I think, and has got a lot of experience.
ROB SPEAK: “Ron Kroonder is a good driver and he will adapt to anything but I don’t see a foreign driver being a factor.”
ANDY SMITH: “I can’t see anyone in the second half the grid having much chance. Rob Speak is probably the best outsider.”
PETER FALDING: “It depends on what people like Mark Gilbank do on the first lap because they are not going to outpace those at the front.
“I think WILL HUNTER could be an outsider. He’s got the pace, it just depends what head he has got on. I think he drove the best I’ve seen him drive at Sheffield in the British, and at Skegness at the World semi-final meeting when it rained before the final.
“He was running in third place there then got pipped on last lap. He also drove well in the World semi-final at Stoke, when he came fifth.
“I don’t think he’ll win but he’s my outside chance of getting on the podium but again, it depends if Ryan and Speaky are like bulls at a gate at the start.”
ROB SPEAK: “It is such a fast track, unless there is a major pile-up at the front I don’t see anyone not mentioned being a factor.”
ANDY SMITH: “I’ve got to use my head over heart. I think Nigel Green and Stuart will come first or second and the other driver in the top three will be either Kroonder or Wainman Jnr.
“If I spoke with my heart I would say Stuart, then Nigel then Ron Kroonder, but with my head I’m saying…”
1st 390 STUART SMITH Jnr
2nd 445 NIGEL GREEN
3rd 1 FRANKIE WAINMAN Jnr
PETER FALDING: “There are probably six drivers who could make the top three. Ryan, Nigel and Dan will play a part in the outcome but I would like to see and I think Stuart could do it. The others will be crashing into each other.
“The thing is there are two in the field, Nigel and Ryan, where everyone will be thinking “if I give them that corner I will never catch them”. So I think they will be gone.
1st 390 STUART SMITH Jnr
2nd 1 FRANKIE WAINMAN Jnr
3rd H217 RON KROONDER
ROB SPEAK: “I’ve got two drivers who I think can win it – Nigel Green and Ryan Harrison. But if Stuart or Dan were behind Nigel I would have picked a different result. I’m going for this result because of where Paul Hines starts.
1st 445 NIGEL GREEN
2nd 197 RYAN HARRISON
3rd 4 DAN JOHNSON
Andy Smith, Peter Falding and Rob Speak were talking to Neil Randon
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley, Neil Randon, Paul Tully and Chris Clarke