By selecting and winning the King’s Lynn World Championship semi-final, sponsored by Business Finance Brokers Ltd, Stuart Smith Jnr confirmed he had made the right decision.
Smith Jnr, as the No.1 World Championship qualifying points scorer, had to chose whether to go to King’s Lynn and a shale surface on which he has had plenty of success this season but was potentially more risky, or Tarmac at Birmingham – a safer option but a surface on which his overall form had been less competitive.
Smith Jnr opted for King’s Lynn, and apart from Mat Newson briefly getting the jump at the start on a very greasy surface and a yellow flag after five laps, Smith Jnr always had the race under control to the chequered flag.
Smith Jnr’s main threat in the second half of the race came from Tom Harris who was up to third within a couple of laps and got within striking distance at around halfway, but that was as close as the Davidson scrap-sponsored superstar was to get.
At the start the race was more about survival as cars scrabbled for grip during the opening laps, using the plate fence to bounce off as they inevitably drifted wide, including Smith and Newson.
As Smith Jnr and Newson began to pull clear, behind Harris was momentarily hung out to dry from his outside row three grid slot, which allowed Mark Gilbank to slip through.
Plenty were to spin out early on the tricky surface, including Mark Sargent from row two, and Danny Wainman and Paul Harrison also pulled off in the early stages.
But as the track dried Harris passed Gilbank and closed on Newson. The yellow flags came out and once Harris got by Newson, he began to reel in Smith Jnr and by halfway was in a position to potentially use the front bumper.
However, the moment passed as quickly as it arrived as the track dramatically changed into a slick surface. From then on Smith Jnr, who had set up his car for a dry end of the race, was able to put distance between himself and Harris and dictate the pace towards a comfortable victory.
Harris finished second, with wily veteran Gilbank a fine third.
Newson was to retire in the second half of the race after major issues early on. “On lap five the diff started to get noisy and vibrate, so I backed off and went slower to try and make the finish,” Newson said. “I let Tom by and thought I could hold on to third but when Mark Gilbank hit me it completely lost all drive.”
Ryan Harrison survived the early skirmishes to finish fourth ahead of Karl Hawkins in an excellent fifth place.
Only ten cars finished the race with Bobby Griffin, Colin Goodswen, Frankie Wainman Jnr Jr, Michael Scriven and Ricky Wilson qualifying for the World Final.
There had been plenty of debate between fans and drivers concerning which would be the better semi-final for Smith Jnr to race in. Many believed he would head to Birmingham, just to throw a curve ball to a number of his rivals.
Suddenly within half a lap, just like that, the track completely changed. Once it went slick that was it
For one thing, if he had chosen Brum, 2013 world champion Harris would have been immediately eliminated. Harris flew out to the United States on Sunday to take on America’s best in his 410 winged Sprint Car at the World of Outlaws Knoxville Nationals this week. Harris would have been unable to get to Birmingham Wheels in time for the semi-final at the weekend.
Harris was happy enough with second at the Adrian Flux Arena. He was also impressed with Smith Jnr’s pace in the semi-final. “It is such a simple car, but is it fast!” he said. “I set my car up for the beginning and I thought I was close enough to Stuart but then suddenly within half a lap, just like that, the track completely changed. Once it went slick that was it.”
While settling for second place, Harris went on to win the meeting final, with Smith Jnr second. And having now got his Tarmac car up to speed, Harris will pose a major threat at Skegness from the second row.
And then there is reigning world champion Nigel Green. Green now lines up from the fourth row in the Birmingham semi-final this Saturday on what is currently his favoured surface. And having shown blistering pace on Tarmac on two occasions at Skegness this year, including in winning the UK Open in May, Green is the driver to beat both at Birmingham, and if he qualifies, at Skegness next month.
But the world champion has his card marked.
“We’ll all be watching where Greeny finishes at Skegness and if he’s high up on the grid we’ll have to take him out,” admitted Smith Jnr. “He won’t have it his own way this year.”
But for all of the conjecture and theory beforehand, for Smith Jnr racing at King’s Lynn was a straightforward decision to make.
The car wasn’t great but it was good enough. Once the track became slick I could relax then
“I based it purely on performance,” Smith Jnr said. “A lot of people were talking about where where I should send other people but I honestly did not look to see where anyone else was. It really didn’t bother me at all. So, I did just what was best for me.
“It was more of a risk on shale, I am more than aware of that, but the thing is with Birmingham, I haven’t got the time to go and do the testing I would have had to do and King’s Lynn just freed me up.
“I just needed to do the job. The car wasn’t great on the night but it was good enough. Once the track became slick I could relax then.”
We’ll be really chasing Nigel Green’s pace because he is just phenomenal on Tarmac. Whatever he’s got or whatever he knows, he has always got something in reserve
Now he is on the front row of the grid for Skegness, Smith Jnr will have no option but to try to find a competitive edge alongside his main rivals on Tarmac. And that means taking time out to go testing.
“I will have to go testing before Skegness,” Smith Jnr said. “Unfortunately, that is the way the sport’s gone. We’ll be really chasing Nigel Green’s pace because he is just phenomenal on Tarmac. Whatever he’s got or whatever he knows, he has always got something in reserve.
“Last year I made the mistake of changing too many things to try and live with him, but this year, yes, I will go testing but I will not chase speed that is not there. I will just get the car as good as it can be and that will be good enough to win.”
Along with Smith Jnr, Paul Harrison is one of sport’s the most experienced drivers and a former world champion in 2011. He was unable to finish at King’s Lynn and will now have to try his luck in the World consolation semi-final.
But Harrison believes Smith Jnr, with the help of his brother and five-time world champion Andy, will have his car set-up to a tee come World Final night.
“There are very few pairings who have got more knowledge on car set up than Stuart and Andrew between them,” said Harrison. “There are opportunities to practice before the World Final so he has got plenty of time to get his car ready in time.”
Photos courtesy of Neil Randon, Dave Bastock, Colin Casserley and Paul Tully
Neil Randon 2018