The 2019 Sidecar Super Series looked set to go down to the wire at Gillman Speedway on Saturday night (23 February) and it did just that with a thrilling run-off required to decide the series.
Local duo Damien Niesche and Mitchell Spear (28 points) went into the National Karate sponsored third and final round leading the series by two points from Mildura’s Neale Hancock/Brendan Johnson (26), with Shane Rudloff/Scott Morris (24) and Sam Harrison/Luke McGrath (23) close behind.
10-time Australian Champion Darrin Treloar missed the first round and was only on 19 points, but was still an outside chance of overall victory. If he could repeat his round two result, when he scored the maximum possible points, that would have given him a total of 38 points, meaning the current leading scorers would probably need to reach the final to take the series.
From the start everything seemed to be going Niesche’s way.
Hancock and Harrison were the first of the leaders to appear when they met in heat two, but Hancock’s appearance was all too brief as he was excluded for touching the tapes. In his absence Harrison had no trouble taking the three points to join Hancock on 26 points.
Rudloff and Treloar were next on track, in heat three, and again to Niesche’s benefit, both dropped points as Trent Headland/Darryl Whetstone, making their first appearance for the season, raced away to the win with Treloar second, and Rudloff last behind Broken Hill’s Rick Stephens/Nick O’Brien. The result was a good pointer to what was to come as Headland was sensational all night to score an unbeaten 15 points; Treloar was unbeaten in his remaining heats to finish with 14; and while Stephens produced his best-ever Gillman performance to score 12 points and joined Headland and Treloar as the direct qualifiers for the final.
Conversely, Rudloff had a poor night. After a big crash at Mildura the previous weekend, Rudloff was well off his previous speed this season and finished with just 5 points.
Niesche came out for his first ride in heat four knowing all of his main challengers except Harrison had dropped points, but he also dropped a point, beaten by a revitalised Mick Headland, who had one of his best meetings for quite some time. Niesche had, however, doubled his series lead from 2 points to 4.
The second round of heats again saw all the leading contenders, except one, drop points. This time it was Treloar who was the only one to win his heat, defeating Harrison in the process. Mick Hedland actually won the race but was excluding for taking Treloar’s front wheel on the first lap. Rudloff looked to have some speed as he led heat 7 only for the bike to break down, so a pointless ride for him and with no points from two rides his chance of taking the series was gone.
Niesche was beaten by Stephens, who came from last place to win in heat 8, but pushed Hancock back to third, so even with a loss he maintained a four point lead.
Niesche and Treloar were the only two of the leaders to win in round three, with Rudloff finishing second to Niesche; Harrison second to Stephens; and Hancock second to Treloar; meaning Niesche increased his series lead ever so slightly to 5 points.
Niesche’s closest challenger now was Harrison and they met in the next round and it was Niesche who finished ahead, albeit in second place behind Trent Headland, and with Hancock and Rudloff beaten by Mick Headland, Niesche stretched his lead to six points (from Hancock and Harrison) and with only a maximum of 7 points still available the series win was almost his.
Niesche was up against Treloar in his final ride but . . . there was only three bikes in the race, so a single point was guaranteed, and Shane Hudson, who had struggled with bike issues throughout the series, was the other rider, so two points – and the series win – was the most likely result but disaster struck for Niesche when his clutch packed up at the pit gate and he was excluded for exceeded the two minute time allowance.
In his absence Treloar won the race and suddenly Treloar was right in the picture. He now trailed Niesche by 4 points with the final scored 4-3-2-1.
A win for Harrison in heat 20 meant he was actually in second place — Niesche 37, Harrison 34, Treloar and Hancock 33 — but Treloar was the only one who had qualified for the final.
Niesche (9) and Harrison (11) were both in the last chance semi-final, which they just had to win, but they were up against a rampant Mick Headland (11), and it was Headland who won, despite Niesche’s best efforts and Niesche was now stuck on 37 and could only sit back and watch the final.
A final win by Treloar was no certainly however, as Trent Headland was unbeaten and had clocked the fastest times of the night, but in an anti-climax Headland was never in it. Treloar took the lead in turn three and pulled further and further ahead as the race went on, and even won with ease despite passenger Jesse Headland being dragged along when he partly slipped from the bike in the last turn. Rick Stephens also passed Headland to finish second to cap a memorable night for him.
The points were tallied and Treloar and Niesche were tied on 37 and a run-off was hastily organised.
No one would have expected Niesche to beat Treloar, but he had the crowd cheering as he pushed under Treloar to take the lead at the end of the back straight and then held off Treloar’s challengers in the early part of lap two. But Treloar took the lead later on the lap and went on to win the race and the series.
Final Series Standings: 1. Darrin Treloar/Jesse Headland 37, 2. Damien Niesche/Mitchell Spear 37, 3. Sam Harrison/Luke McGrath 34, 4. Neale Hancock/Brendan Johnson 33, 5. Shane Rudloff/Scott Morris 29, 6. Mick Headland/Brenton Kerr 27.
A thrilling end to the series and one which has fans eagerly awaiting the South Australian Championship in a fortnight’s time, when the field will be even stronger with the addition of Andrew Buchanan, Mark Plaisted, Warren Monson, Jamie Moohan, and Mark Mitchell, making an Australian Championship standard line-up.
In the supporting Solo events, Dakota Ballantyne, Brayden McGuinness and Robert Medson continued to share the wins.
In the first two heats Ballantyne blitzed them, and coming on top of his win in the Gillman Championship at the previous meeting, he looked as if he was stamping his authority as this season’s leading rider, but then McGuinness won heat three, Medson heat four, and McGuinness heat five, and at the end of the night it was Medson who topped the score card with 11 points, with McGuinness on 10 and Ballantyne 8.
Top photo: Damien Niesche/Mitchell Spear (left) and Darrin Treloar/Jesse Headland in the run-off to decided the winner of the Sidecar Super Series. Photo by Judy Mackay.