Three key figures in BriSCA F1 give their views on the World Championship Final at Skegness this Saturday.
Five-time World Championship winner ANDY SMITH, son of the late, great Stuart Smith, 2011 world champion PAUL HARRISON, son of 1982 World Final winner Willie Harrison and ANTHONY FLANAGAN, out-going chairman of the BSCDA, give their views on who will win the 2018 World Final and how the race might be won and lost.
390 STUART SMITH Jnr
Grid position: Inside front row. Number of World Final starts: 12. Best result: 1st (2007).
ANDY SMITH: “Stuart went testing at Skegness last week on the same day as Tom Harris. Tom is a very good benchmark and very fast, and Stuart wasn’t a million miles away from Tom’s pace.
“He has done a lot of alterations on the car recently to make the car better because it was very poor at the start of the season with the change to American Racer tyres. Stuart couldn’t adapt to them – he really struggled to make the transition to the tyres, so he has been chasing the game all season on Tarmac and has found it frustrating.
“He changed his suspension about three or four meetings ago and he has been refining the set-up around that, but to cut a long story short, I think he is thereabouts.
“He got to the point here he felt the car was very good. I don’t think he will have a quick enough car to race away from the field but he has a good enough car and he is comfortable in it to do a job in the race.
“I don’t think it is going to be an Ipswich scenario. Nigel Green’s was the standout car this time last year and he was starting from pole on a big track, but now we don’t have the standout car sitting on pole on a very small track.
“You can’t plan a stock car race but I’m expecting some sort of stoppage early doors. You’re not going to have 36 cars getting round on those first couple of laps. It is very unlikely!
“The thing with Stuart, if he hasn’t got the quickest car, he’s got the minerals to make up for it. I think at some point he will end up having to get into a stock car race with somebody and he will relish that opportunity.”
PAUL HARRISON: “I don’t expect anybody to get a clean first bend. And I reckon there will be a complete restart. There’s no way you are going to get 36 cars go cleanly around that first bend. It’s just not going to happened, is it!
“I think Stuart is sat in the wrong place, in pole position. I think he will get bundled. I think Dan Johnson behind him will be thinking “You’ll not be getting round that first corner…”
“I don’t think Stuart will quite have the pace. If it comes to a race Stuart will not give it up though. If somebody whacks him and they don’t clear him by half a straight he’ll get them on the next bend.
“And if his red mist descends, he becomes ruthlessly brilliant.”
ANTHONY FLANAGAN: “I think this race will pan out similar to the last one at Skegness and whoever survives the first corner has got half a chance. And that could be anyone down to row eight.
“Unless you get a clean jump, the front row is not the best place to be and you’ve got to get round that corner before anyone gets there with you.
“If Stuart gets his nose in front, he has got a chance, but he hasn’t been at his best on Tarmac this year, even recently.
“But then World Finals are different, your car doesn’t have to be spot on – but the front bumper does. And if you look at the race from that angle he is the man who is going to use it more than most and he’s not frightened to use it either.
“I’d pick Stuart all day long to win the race.”
217 LEE FAIRHURST
Grid position: outside first row. No. of WF starts: 8. Best result: 1st (2012)
ANDY SMITH: “Outside front row at Skegness is horrible. I’ve started there myself for semi-finals and never managed to get going and always got hampered.
“It’s a horrible place to start because that start straight doesn’t last for very long, so there’s no time for the cars to go into single file. And so unless he gets an electric start, he’s going to be a bit squeezed out on that first corner.
“Lee’s priority is to just get round that first corner, even if he has to drop a few places, because regularly this year he has been the fastest car.
“And with Nigel Green not being out and about as he was last year, Lee has been consistently the best car on Tarmac. Tom Harris had his purple patch in Scotland, but other than that Lee’s been right on the money with that car.
“He is a cool customer is Lee Fairhurst. He’ll approach the race without all guns blazing because he knows he’s got the speed, he just needs to keep in the race and get to the situation where he is picking cars off to make he way to the front.
“He doesn’t really upset people and he doesn’t go out there to make issues, just goes about his racing. Brilliant, really. He has a really good attitude.
“So, to my mind, he is a real contender so long as he can negotiate the early laps.”
PAUL HARRISON: “Arguably outside of the front row is not a great position to start from. But analyse the last World Final there and both the front row drivers got round the first corner. They both made a clear run, but I can’t see Dan Johnson on row two on the inside letting either of the front two get away.
“Lee is such a clever, thinking driver but I can’t see how he can think his way safely around that first corner!
“What I would do if I was him going down that first straight is squeeze Stuart so as to say “You’re going to hit the inside tyres at the end of the straight if you don’t shut off”. That would be what I would be tempted to do. Stuart isn’t going to shut off, so I would force him into hitting those inside tyres, so the pack behind collect him and all hell breaks loose and Lee gets around the corner.
“It’s a horrible, dirty move, but when you are starting on the outside of the front row of a World Final you’ve got to think your way into the lead. And just to try and race cleanly down the outside you are just putting yourself at everyone’s mercy.
“And everybody is going to be merciless.”
ANTHONY FLANAGAN: “Lee is a thinking driver, but that could be his problem. He’s a calculating driver, he will be thereabouts, but he won’t take the aggressive approach that Stuart will.”
4 DAN JOHNSON
Grid position: inside second row. No. of WF starts: 10. Best result: 2nd (2011, 2012).
ANDY SMITH: “Dan’s got the best spot on track in my opinion. He’s got the cushion of the foreign drivers behind him. They should provide a buffer for him on his back bumper and he can dictate how he wants to start the race. On the second row inside, you can call the shots to some degree going into that first corner, because it’s not long enough for the pole-sitter to get out of range.
“I don’t think Dan has to rush anything. He’s got a good car and some good results this year. He’s got the pace, he’s got the experience now and he needs to call on that experience.
“Psychologically, it’s difficult for Dan because he’s desperate to be world champion because he’s been the bridesmaid on several occasions and it’s his time now. He’s that bit older and wiser and he just needs to try and treat the race like it’s just a normal race.
“He’s taken a lot of criticism over the last few years and some of it has been a bit harsh, I think. I know what it’s like to go a number of years without wining a World Final and you need a lot of luck on your side as well.
“And it’s not always your mistakes that mean you don’t win and I think he has taken a little bit of unjust criticism. His time will come. Whether it’s this year or not I’m not sure, but this is probably his best shot for a while.
“I think we would all like to see a Dan Johnson win. There might be a few who won’t want to see it, like the driver lined up alongside him, but while he won’t be everyone’s favourite driver on the night, he’ll be many fan’s second favourite.”
PAUL HARRISON: “I was walking the dog the other day and I was thinking about Dan and the World Final. There were the two Coventry World Finals with Finn and Frank, Ipswich last year, the last Skegness and his battle with Tom Harris, and Northampton when I won. He could have been five-time world champion so easily had the wind changed direction slightly during each of those five World Finals. And he is only 28 years old.
“I think he is a fabulous driver. He’s had a bit of bad luck, made some misjudgements at times but I would love to see him win it. And being on the second row inside, I can’t see him let that opportunity slip away.
“You can’t win the race from the first bend but you can lose the race on the first bend. But anyone of the first few rows could win the race, they are all such good drivers.
“I think Dan has been sick of disappointment and he now knows what he needs to do to win. I was surprised with what he did last year, but I think that was borne from total frustration and thinking “I can’t get back on that rostrum in second place”. And I think the mistakes he has made in the past he will be careful not to make again.
“Dan will be thinking he will be faster than Stuart and Dan might see an opportunity to follow him round the corner rather than destroy him. I don’t think Dan will go gung-ho to destroy the front row. I think he will be clever this year.”
ANTHONY FLANAGAN: “I’m not sure about Dan. Whether last year will affect him and whether he’ll go for it when he needs to when the situation dictates he goes for it, I’m not sure. I think he’s the meat in the sandwich sat where he is, because Chris Cowley will be shoving Mark Gilbank and Dan could be on the end of it.”
Grid position: outside second row. No. of WF starts: 6. Best result: 1st (2013)
ANDY SMITH: “Tom’s quick, isn’t he? In Scotland he was unbelievable. He was in a different league to everyone else. And if he can tap into a bit of that speed, we know he’s fast. He’s an excellent driver. He can set a car up and he is undoubtedly going to be very fast.
“Watching the last World Final at Skegness recently I said to Tom at testing last week how I couldn’t believe how he drove at the start of that race! But he was a lot younger then and I said I bet he wouldn’t make those same mistakes moving on six years and he laughed and said definitely not!
“He probably will have a carefree approach as well because his eyes are elsewhere with his racing. So he’s not fully focused on F1, but the racer in him there will only be one thing that matters this weekend and that is to win the World Final.
“His head won’t be in Knoxville, it will be firmly focused on Skegness. I have a feeling he will either win it or not finish. Whether there is a grudge match on row two we will see, but the ultimate goal is to win the World Final, not to stop anybody. The top drivers all want to win.”
PAUL HARRISON: “I think the win is between Tom and Dan. The thing is they are all good at the front with the front bumper, they’re all good drivers, they’re all fast and they have all the ingredients to go and race whatever type of race it turns out to be.
“They’ve all got the tools for it. But I can’t see Tom being anything less than first. I think he will either win it or not finish, and that will be because someone will think if he finishes he is going to win!”
ANTHONY FLANAGAN: “Tom is one if the key players in the race. He has the pace to win it and the aggression but it’s whether he finishes the race or not.”
Grid position: outside fourth row. No. of WF starts: 3. Best result: 1st (2017)
ANDY SMITH: “The outside of the fourth row is not a good grid position – it’s a really s**t grid position, to be honest! On the outside and probably in that rabble where it’s probably all going to kick off and he has Ryan Harrison immediately behind him and Chris Cowley, who can be a bit of a balloon.
“Nigel might find himself as the meat in the sandwich there and could get into a bit of a muddle early on. If he comes away and wins the race it would be an unbelievable drive.
“But I would put him down as one of the favourites to win simply because of his pure speed. Once the cars get into single file and if he is in the top four or five and in the shake up he could pull people in. He’s one of only a few on the grid who can make ground up over laps. He’s another who has to stay in the race if he can, but it might be out of his control where he is starting from.
“If it gets to the situation where he is catching and picking cars off, he has got to negotiate them really, really cleverly, because more than likely the ones he’ll be catching are going to be quality and they will know they have got to nail him if they want to win the race.
“It would be one hell of a drive if he could win that from there, all things considered. But saying that, I do think he will be a major factor. You can’t beat being fast. If you have got an edge with your car and you’re fast the cream usually rises to the top in World Finals and I just think he is going to be so quick.”
PAUL HARRISON: “Nigel is quick, but it’s whether he will be outright quick enough on the night. I don’t think anyone will give him that room to go. He is an excellent driver, but he’s not raced for a few weeks and he’s taken his eye off the ball this year and the tyre situation stuffed him up as as well as the axle width changing. Last year he was on the money and he was doing all the meetings and doing well at them all. But he’s not had steering wheel time and that is the problem for me.”
ANTHONY FLANAGAN: “It depends what Nigel does. If he’s clever he might just get out of the way and let Ryan Harrison do whatever he wants to do. If he pulls over to the outside Ryan is going to come steaming in and create a mess, isn’t he?
“Nigel really quick around Skeggy so I can see him dropping back to let the front rows sort themselves out before he makes a move. He knows he can pull it back because he has the pace. But if he doesn’t get round that first corner, he’s out of the race.”
197 RYAN HARRISON
Grid position: inside fourth row. No. of WF starts: 5. Best result: 2nd (2017)
ANDY SMITH: “Again, if he can negotiate the first few laps, you can’t rule Ryan out of anything. If the good Ryan comes along, who’s to say he couldn’t win it? He’s a cracking driver when his heads in gear. Look at Ipswich where he won the final. If he could pull that sort of drive out of the bag, who knows? But it depends on which Ryan turns up, doesn’t it?”
PAUL HARRISON: “Ryan… he’s likely to do anything isn’t he? And he’s as likely not do anything and pick the pieces up, because he’s not stupid. He’s likely to think everyone is expecting him to go guns blazing but he might just hang about and pick the pieces up. But if he needs to use the front bumper he can do.”
ANTHONY FLANAGAN: “To my mind Ryan is the controlling factor in this World Final. And that is all down to which Ryan turns up. Whatever he does he will dictate the outcome.
“Ryan could absolutely walk it on his ability in his car, but his brain won’t help him do that! I think he will drive with the right foot. It all depends how hard Ryan goes in on the that first corner and who he hits and that will dictate whether any of the first six get round that corner. And if he doesn’t get them on the first corner, he will on the second.”
515 FRANKIE WAINMAN Jnr
Grid position: outside seventh row. No. of WF starts: 28. Best result: 1st (1998, 2005, 2016)
ANDY SMITH: “I went to Birmingham to other week and I’ll tell you, don’t rule him out. If he keeps his wheels on during the first few laps and can find himself in a good position with a bit of luck early on, I think he will have the speed.
“I’ve heard he’s been good during testing and at Birmingham I felt he had some real speed in that car. I watched him in the final. For years he was very stubborn and wouldn’t copy anybody’s ideas – he stuck to his own guns to his detriment, to be honest.
“When you see a car that is head and shoulders the fastest car then my dad always said to me “Don’t be too frightened to copy it.” I remember my dad, when he was at the top of his game, sending his car to Mike Close because Close was beating him. My dad sent his car there and paid Mike to put his suspension on it.
“You have to swallow your pride when you do things like that, especially if you are a renowned car builder, but to me it looks like Frank has tried to copy Nigel Green’s car.
“I haven’t looked closely at it but from what I can see just from glancing and having a quick nose at it I think he’s tried to copy Nigel Green.
“And what’s wrong with that? Nigel’s car is stunningly quick. You’ll never copy a car exactly but if you are clever like Frank is, you can look at pictures and you can have a sneaky look now and again and you can replicate it to a degree.
“He took the bull by the horns and he’s the first one to try and copy Nigel Green’s car and it might work out for him.
“And I can tell you at Birmingham he was really on it. He was quick, and because his car was quick, his quality of driving kicks in then. He was really good to watch. It was like watching Frankie several years ago. I was really impressed with him at Birmingham.
“And I think he will be going into that race with his tail right up. He’s got such good experience, such an old head, he’ll slither through situations where other drivers won’t have a chance of getting through.
“I can’t see a Lee Fairhurst type of scenario. If we get a clean race with no issues and with the track positions the top three would be Lee Fairhurst, Tom Harris and Nigel Green on sheer pace, but we know the race is unlikely to be like that and that will bring Frankie into it.
“So, I’m not ruling him out at all. I think he’s got a really good chance.”
PAUL HARRISON: “I would be happy starting where Frank is starting. I would be happier there as he will be thinking all those up at the front are going to try and destroy each other and potentially Frank can pick his way through.
“You can never discount him. Even if he is still racing in ten years time you wouldn’t discount him, because he’s got the experience and the track craft. He’s got everything hasn’t he?
“He will be hungry for it and quietly confident from where he’s starting from. And he will be thinking “I could sneak this one.””
ANTHONY FLANAGAN: “Frank is in a good position back there, he can sit back a bit and see what happens. While others will be focusing on using the right foot and the bumper, I can see Frank becoming a contender.”
ANDY SMITH: “MARK GILBANK has got as good a grid position as he’s had for a few years. You just wonder whether Mark’s time’s gone. He’s always been a bit of a nearly man has Mark.
“But don’t get me wrong, I would be really pleased for him and his family if he could win it because they put so much into the sport over the years – and let’s not forget he led the last World Final here at one point.
“And what I like about Mark is he builds and engineers all his own cars – he’s not one of these who writes cheques to buy off-the-shelf cars – he goes about his racing in a very economical way and I relate to that.
“He’s got it in him. I don’t think he’ll have the speed though. I just don’t think he will be quick enough around Skeggy. He hasn’t had enough time to be because he races that seldom on Tarmac.”
“PAUL HARRISON has been fast on Tarmac this year and Skegness is one of his favourite tracks, it always has been. So there’s nothing to say he can’t get a podium from there if he gets through the consolation semi-final.”
PAUL HARRISON: “You’ve got MARK GILBANK on the back bumper of the front two rows, who’s in a big block and who isn’t going to be fast enough to win on outright speed.
“But Mark is going to be as fast as everybody else down that first straight and he will be thinking “you’re not getting away and I’m going to try and create as much carnage and destroy as many cars as I can as quick as I can and then try to fight for scraps”.
“I can’t see the race turning out like the last one at Skeggy. If I get in the race through the consolation semi I don’t see me having any chance from back there. Let’s be realistic!
“The race in 2012 was an absolute freak of nature that doesn’t happen very often. So to expect the same sort of race again, a perfect storm, I can’t see it. That said the race is very unpredictable with all the big guns all up at the front.
“I think I’d prefer to be watching in the stands than line up at the front of that grid! Seriously, I wouldn’t want to be on the first two rows this year. At this stage of my career? No, thank you.
“I would love to qualify at the back and see what I can pick up. A top ten would be great. A top six would be amazing, but you can’t dream of anything more than that.
“A dream race would be for all the top six making the first corner and having a proper race, trading blows and swapping places. That would be a dream race wouldn’t it?”
ANTHONY FLANAGAN: “I can’t see there being any outsiders winning. If one does then the race would be a bit of a disappointment because it would mean all the top stars would have dropped out. Obviously MARK GILBANK and CHRIS COWLEY will be out to make an impact at the first corner and will be hoping to benefit from the resulting carnage.”
Winner: (head) 445 NIGEL GREEN; (heart) 390 STUART SMITH JNR
Best each-way bet: 515 FRANKIE WAINMAN JNR
Winner: 4 DAN JOHNSON
Best each-way bet: Too close to call from STUART SMITH JNR, LEE FAIRHURST, TOM HARRIS, NIGEL GREEN, RYAN HARRISON or FRANKIE WAINMAN JNR
Winner: 390 STUART SMITH JNR
Best each-way bet: 515 FRANKIE WAINMAN JNR
Andy Smith, Paul Harrison and Anthony Flanagan were talking to Neil Randon
Photos courtesy of James Bowles, Colin Casserley, Neil Randon, Paul Tully