Last season Trent Headland and Darryl Whetstone firmly established themselves as Australia #2, finishing second behind Darrin Treloar/Blake Cox in all three of the major events in World Speedway, the World Cup, Oceania Championship and the Australian championship.
It was a breakthrough season for the 30-year-old Headland and the anticipation was high on whether he could topple Treloar for the #1 position this year.
After building a new bike for this season, the results were disappointing however. They were still up at the top end of the score cards but not winning events in a way that looked like they could take the #1 crown. It was looking like a disappointing letdown on the previous season, but just when it was needed everything clicked into place and over the last three weeks and they reached the final of the World Cup and Oceania Championship at Gillman last weekend, before last night reaching the pinnacle with victory in the Australian Championship.
Like the Qualifying meeting the night before, competition was fierce and the points well spread amongst the riders with only two able to consistently win races, Andrew Buchanan/Denny Cox and Headland/Whetstone.
Buchanan had breezed through the qualifying meeting unbeaten, and unchallenged, but in his first ride in the championship he finished well behind Headland and the thought was “this is a whole new level and it is not going to be an easy run like the qualifying night” but that first race proved to be an aberration as they won their remaining four rides to top the score card with 14 points, which gave then first choice of gate in the final and they naturally selected red.
Headland started with that win over Buchanan in heat one, and smashed Darrin Treloar’s track record in the process, reducing it from 57.30 seconds 56.36. He then won his second ride (against Treloar) to be the only unbeaten rider after 8 heats, but was then relegated to third place by Dave Bottrell/Chris Bottrell and Mark Mitchell/Sam Harrison in his next ride. The question was quickly asked if he could continue to be a threat and again that race proved to be a minor glitch as he won his remaining two rides to finish with 13 points. He said he wanted to take yellow in the final but he’d made that mistake in the World Cup, which resulted in him being filled in in turn two and having to spin to the infield unable to see, so he took the safety first option and chose blue.
The third direct qualifiers for the final were the new World Cup Champions, Warren Monson/Andrew Summerhayes, amazingly on only 10 points, and that was without a countback. They were the only ones on 10 points, showing the tightness for points behind the dominant duo of Buchanan and Headland.
The major contenders for a final/semi-final place on points going into the last round of heats were Buchanan 11, Headland 10, Bottrell 9, Monson 8, Treloar 7, Mark Mitchell 7 and Brodie Cohen/Damian Egan 7, while Mark Plaisted/Ben Pitt 6, Arron Hartwig/Teagan Hartwig 6, Damien Niesche/Mitchell Spear 5, Grant Bond/Glenn Cox 5, Tyler Moon/Adam Lovell 5 and Shane Rudloff/Scott Morris 5 were all still an outside chance of a semi-final place.
Plaisted, Bond and Moon were all out first, in heat seventeen, but along with Trent Headland, and Headland won easily to all but end their hopes. Plaisted finished second after a close race with Moon, so he went to 8 points and was still just hanging in there for a possible semi-final berth.
Rudloff, Niesche, Monson and Bottrell were drawn together in heat eighteen and this was to have a serious effect on the championship outcome. Bottrell (9) and Monson (8) were the two going for that automatic start in the final, but Rudloff and Niesche were still a rough chance of a semi-final berth but only if they could win the race.
In the initial start it was Niesche who took the lead, with Monson looking for an outside pass and Rudloff just behind them, but as they all took a high line down the back straight, Bottrell pulled off what looked like a master stroke and raced under all three of them. Unfortunately just as he was passing Niesche, his (Bottrell’s) bike reared up on one wheel. It was only a split second thing but as the bike came down there was minor contact with Niesche and his bike then reared up on the back wheel, and Monson, on the outside was left with nowhere to go and crashed heavily into the fence. Monson and Summerhayes were immediately on their feet but the bike was wrecked – the sidecar wheel had been torn out – and it looked as if their championship was over. There was also another incident after Monson crashed, as Mitchell Spear fell from Niesche’s bike in turn three. There was a lengthy delay while competitors and bikes received attention and then it was announced it would be a rerun with all four riders, with Monson riding Mark Mitchell’s spare bike, but the dramas were not over.
Niesche again took the lead in the rerun, ahead of Bottrell and Monson, but Rudloff went under both of them to take second place going into turn three, but there was contact between Rudloff and Bottrell in turn four and Rudloff run off the track and Monson, in last place on the borrowed bike, spun infield to avoid any potential collision.
This time Bottrell, despite his protests, was excluded and a place in the final looked unlikely but he was looking safe for a semi-final berth, and riding well enough to win that.
In the next rerun Niesche again took the lead and this time he led all the way to win and finish level with Plaisted on 8 points, while Monson survived a lot of challenges from Rudloff, which saw them side by side for a lot of the race, to grab the vital second place to move to 10 points, although his championship chances were looking slim without his own bike.
The next race brought together Rick Howse/Adam Commons, Cohen, Mark Mitchell and Russell Mitchell/Andy Gajek. It was Cohen and Mark Mitchell who needed the points as a win to either rider would put them on 10 points but ahead of Monson on countback, but in an upset it was Howse (3 pts) who led all the way. Mark Mitchell passed Cohen at the end of lap one and at that stage it was going to finish as Mitchell 9 points, and Cohen 8, with both in the semi-final but Cohen went too hard on the third lap, ran into the back of Mitchell and spun out. The resulting exclusion cost him his place in the semi-final.
Amazingly – or maybe not as he has achieved the improbable results on so many occasions that you never discount him – after 19 heats Treloar, despite being on only 7 points, still had a very good chance of going straight into the final. A win in heat twenty would have put him on 10 points, but ahead of Monson on heat wins. But it was not to be. Buchanan took the early lead and led all the way with Treloar finishing second which put him into the semi-final against Bottrell, Mark Mitchell and Niesche.
Niesche had started poorly with bike issues resulting in two pointless rides but finished with 8 points from his last three rides to edge out Plaisted on a countback. The minor consolation for Plaisted is that 8th place may see him get a berth in next season’s World Cup and Oceania Championship depending on how many places Australia is allocated.
The semi-final was another hectic affair like heat 18. The initial start saw some contact and the race was restarted. In the restart Treloar (gate 2) went under Bottrell (gate 1) in turn two to take the lead and then Mitchell moved under Bottrell going into turn three and Bottrell crashed heavily. Bottrell and son Christopher were down for quite some time and although they suffered no major injuries, and took their place in the rerun they were far from race fit for such an important race. In the third start, Treloar again went under Bottrell on the back straight, and Niesche went until Mitchell, but going into turn three Niesche spun, Mitchell clipped his back wheel and Niesche rolled and was excluded.
In the fourth start Treloar again took the lead but this time led all the way to win relatively easily from Mitchell with Bottrell struggling in third.
So Treloar was in the final once again, in his 26th championship appearance, but he was in gate four. The odds were on a Headland or Buchanan win but Treloar made a good start and for a moment, as they headed towards turn two, he looked as if once again he was going to win against the odds and take championship number ten. But he just failed to get ahead of Buchanan coming out of the turn onto the back straight and Buchanan was able to block his line, which effectively ended Treloar’s challenge but at the same time allowed Headland to race under both of them and he was gone. Buchanan gave chase but Headland just pulled further head for a 50 metre win. Buchanan took second with Monson third. Monson and Treloar were dicing for third and Monson, on the borrowed bike went tighter, and slower, into turn two on the second lap than Treloar anticipated and Treloar went across the pole line. That put him off line, and off balance, down the back straight and he crossed the pole again in turn three and was excluded.