With the 2018 season drawing to a close this weekend at Belle Vue’s National Points Championship Shootout Finale, sponsored by Richard Baldwin Motorhomes, NEIL RANDON speaks with the top three leading contenders for the silver roof.
When the floodlights are switched off and the fence dismantled at Belle Vue late on Sunday night at the end of a long season, a new name will be added to the list of National Points champions.
With reigning champion Stuart Smith Jnr on the sidelines, having suffered a broken neck and ruptured spleen as a result of a multiple pile-up in his heat at the Northampton Shootout round last month, three men have a realistic chance of winning the silver roof.
For series leader Frankie Wainman Jnr it would be the penultimate box to tick in his career. While the Silsden superstar has won the National Points title 13 times, he has yet to win this championship in its current format. If he succeeds, it will be the first time in ten years since he has had the opportunity to paint the roof of his F1 stock cars silver. It would also break the record he currently holds with the late Stuart Smith for the number of National Points titles.
That would then leave just one elusive title before he ever begins to think about hanging up his racing helmet, and that is the Teams Championships in New Zealand.
Leading into Belle Vue, Wainman Jnr has a cushion. He is 34 points ahead of his brother Danny, with Mat Newson a further six points back and is hot favourite to finish the night as the new champion.
There is one other driver, Lee Fairhurst, who could mathematically spring a shock result – but it would be the most dramatic conclusion of the season were he to pull it off. Fairhurst is 108 points adrift and it would need all three leading contenders to go through the night struggling to finish in the top ten in all races and for Fairhurst to win heat, final and finish in the top three in the Grand National. Not impossible, but highly improbable.
All I can do is keep my nose clean and do my job. It is what I have done throughout the Shootout
Wainman Jnr hopes the title will be settled with good, clean racing, but the 46-year-old has been round the block enough times to know that anything can happen on a night of high stakes.
“All I can do is keep my nose clean and do my job,” says Wainman Jnr. “It is what I have done throughout the Shootout. Hopefully no-one will turn up just to spoil it.
“I just need to get places, so I will be doing my own thing. I don’t even need to beat Danny and Mat, I just need to be thereabouts. Danny being Danny he won’t race dirty and will try and pick up points.
Wainman Jnr believes his main threat will be Newson. The Norfolk star came agonisingly close to winning the British Championship in June, only for Smith Jnr to foil him on the very last bend with an audacious and optimistic lunge.
Prior to the penultimate round at Stoke, Newson was right in the mix, just four points off the lead. A series of consistent drives throughout the series had kept him in the hunt, but that all fell away at Stoke, where he failed to qualify for the final and finished down the field in the Grand National.
In his heat Newson tried to dive up the inside of John Wright but only succeeded in collecting an inside marker tyre and retire for the race. From there his meeting went from bad to worse.
I was really up for it at Stoke, maybe a bit too much. I was going for gaps I wouldn’t normally go for and it cost me
“With Mat, I think he has been trying too hard, and it has gone against him,” says Wainman Jnr. “He will be really disappointed because he was there or thereabouts all the way through, but Stoke cost him points.”
And it certainly did that. Newson still hasn’t really got over the disastrous evening. “I’m a bit deflated, to be honest,” he says. “I was really up for it at Stoke, maybe a bit too much.
“Whatever can go wrong, did go wrong. I was going for gaps I wouldn’t normally go for and it cost me. It was a shame because apart from the first round at Belle Vue, I’d not had a bad round until then.”
“As far as Frank is concerned, he would be an absolute fool if he drove past me at Belle Vue. All he has to do is drive conservatively and sit behind me because he knows I will try and get rid of him if he is in front of me.
“The thing is he is so experienced, he knows more than anyone what he needs to do to win it. All I can do is try and win every race and hope something happens to Frank and Danny behind me.”
Wainman Jnr for his part will also keeping an eye on where his son Frankie Jnr finishes on the night.
“No-one has been talking about him in the Shootout,” Wainman says. “But it is the first time he has been in one and it is a big deal for him. At Stoke we put new tyres on his car and changed the stagger a little bit and he did really well in the final to finish third.
“He wanted to beat a few of the Shootout drivers and he really wants to finish in the top six, and he still can.
“Bear in mind he had a no-score at King’s Lynn when he blew his engine, which cost him a bit. So it should all stand him in good stead for next year.”
Wainman Jnr’s brother Danny is in a invidious position. For him to win the silver roof he will have to deliver a killer blow against his brother at some point during the night, and it is not something he naturally finds easy – even though he knows full well Wainman Jnr will not think twice about drilling the 212 car into the wires if the boot is on the other foot.
I think it would have helped me more if Stuart were racing, because Frank, Stuart and Mat would have battled more and I would have gone more under the radar
“At the start of the Shootout I didn’t think I had a chance of doing anything and that it would be one of those seasons,” says Wainman. “I had engine issues with my shale car and so I have used the Tarmac car on both surfaces and it has gone well.
“I’ve got the shale engine nearly back together but I didn’t want to rush it for the Shootout, so I used the Tarmac car at both Skegness for the World Final meeting and Northampton the following day and it went really well, so I decided to carry on using that car. The engine in that car is better than the shale engine by a country mile. It has more power and it is more lively. It picks up and shuts down really quickly.
“I think it would have helped me more if Stuart were racing, because Frank, Stuart and Mat would have battled more and I would have gone more under the radar.”
I want to win to prove I can do it and also to make a point that it can be done using one car
“The thing is Frank has still got to pick his way through the field – and he has got a lot more enemies than I have…”
“I want to win to prove I can do it and also to make a point that it can be done using one car. In this job people think you need a lot of money and two cars to be successful, and you really don’t.
“People go on about how we need to look after the white grade drivers because many are budget racers. The top four drivers in the Shootout – Frank, Mat, Stuart and me – are all budget racers. All the money we get goes on our racing.”
The bottom line is, with double points on offer anything can happen. In 2015 Wainman found himself in a position where he could win the National Points title, having had no realistic chance prior to the Finale at Sheffield.
“The year Dan Johnson won, I had no chance of winning it going into the Finale, a bit like the position Lee is in now. It is really weird how the Shootout Finale day pans outs.
“And then Rob Speak and Lee took each other out in the final and Dan won it. And because I got a good place in the final I was the only driver going into the last race who could mathematically still win the Shootout apart from Dan. If I had won the National I would have ended up winning the silver.”
Whatever the outcome, the National Points Championship Shootout Finale is always a major talking point at the end a BriSCA F1 stock car season.
“As long as everyone enjoys the racing on the night,” Wainman says. “That is the most important thing.”
Neil Randon 2018
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley