Mintex National Points Shootout contender Craig Finnikin stormed home to his fourth final win of the season at Sheffield, as Shootout points leader Stuart Smith Jnr and main rival Frankie Wainman Jnr clashed in the final and the Grand National.
The meeting began with a ten-car Whites and Yellows heat, with Karl Roberts dumping Dave Willis on a fence post by the pit gate with five laps to go to take the win. Chris Brocksopp finished second, ahead of Eliot Smith and Sam Jacklin.
Mark Gilbank won the 26-car heat two, taking the lead with one lap to go to win from Jacklin and Richard Wilson, with Smith Jnr picking up vital points in fourth, ahead of Joe Booth and Paul Harrison.
Gilbank repeated the feat in the 22-car third heat, taking the lead after halfway from Aaron Cozens – who ended up in the turn three fence – and Russell Cooper, to win from Finnikin, Harrison and Nigel Green. Ben Riley finished fifth, ahead of Lee Fairhurst. An early pile-up in turn four resulted in Wainman Jnr being spun round by Smith Jnr, who also got enmeshed in the carnage. Wainman Jnr recovered to finish 11th, with Smith Jnr out of the points.
The 25-car final was stopped after two laps when a marker tyre drifted on to the track in turn three. Cooper hit the fence, as Smith climbed over the tyre, which launched his car into the side of the stricken Cooper machine. The situation was exacerbated when Harrison hit the back of the Smith car, which wedged the Smith front bumper further into the cab of the Cooper car.
Chris Brocksopp led from the restart, while further back Gilbank became embroiled in a battle with Mat Newson, before Finnikin caught both and pushed them wide.
The race was stopped again on lap five, after a train of Shootout drivers piled the field into turn one, with Harrison and Riley among those forced to retire.
After the race went green again Finnikin made short work of passing Brocksopp to take the lead and gradually drew clear of Gilbank and Newson to take the flag.
Smith Jnr finished fourth, having earlier forced Wainman Jnr wide out of turn four at around the halfway point, with the British champion losing ground avoiding the fence. World champion Green finished fifth with Fairhurst sixth. Danny Wainman and a recovering Wainman Jnr rounded out the top eight.
During the opening laps of the 16-car Grand National, Wainman Jnr exacted his revenge on Smith Jnr, putting both himself and Smith Jnr into the wires in turn two, bringing out the yellow flags.
If Stuart wants to win it, he can’t keep putting me away, because I’ll do the same back and eventually somebody else will catch us
“I’d had enough,” said Wainman Jnr afterwards. “In the final Stuart turned right on me coming out of the corner. I was lucky I didn’t end up wrapped round a post. I hit two posts and glanced off.
“If Stuart wants to win it, he can’t keep putting me away, because I’ll do the same back and eventually somebody else will catch us.”
Smith said: “I was just giving him a bit of his own medicine. And he obviously didn’t like it! In the National he plainly followed me in.
“I felt I had the pace in the car to win the final, but after the second stoppage, Lee Fairhurst was in front of me and he didn’t set off, which meant Nigel Green and Mat Newson passed me straight away. Then Frank barged his way passed, so I was well down.”
Newson went on to win the National while Finnikin, who had moved up to fourth place from the one-lap handicap for winning the final, suffered a puncture late on, dropping him down to eighth at the flag.
I’m not giving up yet. We will have to see how I get on in the other rounds. It’s a shame about the Grand National, as I was up to fourth place and then got a flat tyre
After four of the ten Shootout rounds completed Smith Jnr extended his lead to 52 points ahead of Wainman Jnr. Finnikin climbed the table to seventh, but is still 101 points behind the leader.
Despite the deficit Finnikin still has hopes he can win the silver roof.
“I’m not giving up yet,” he said. “We will have to see how I get on in the other rounds. It’s a shame about the Grand National, as I was up to fourth place and then got a flat tyre. I could have done with those double points!”
Photos courtesy of Dave Bastock
Neil Randon 2017