Six days after winning the South Australian Championship at Adelaide’s Gillman Speedway, Max Fricke backed up with victory in the first round of the Australian Championship at the same track on 3 January. The win was Fricke’s first in an Australian Championship round.
Fricke and defending champion, Rohan Tungate, top scored in the heats with 13 points each and then had a thrilling dice in the final, Fricke winning by just four metres in the closest finish of the night.
Five-time champion Chris Holder trailed in third in the final, nursing a hip injury, while one of the stand-out riders of the night, Jordan Stewart, fell in the first attempt to run the final.
Stewart was the standalone leader in the qualifying heats after four rounds, with 11 points, one ahead of Fricke, Tungate and Jack Holder on 10, with Sam Masters 8, Jaimon Lidsey and Chris Holder 7, and Brady Kurtz and Nick Morris 6.
Fricke easily won heat 18 against Ryan Douglas, Kye Thomson and Justin Sedgmen to move to 13 and a guaranteed final berth, before Stewart, Tungate, Jack Holder and Masters met in heat 19 to determine the other finalists.
Masters was the early leader but Tungate took the lead on lap two to win from Masters, Holder and Stewart, putting Tungate in the final with 13 points, and leaving Holder and Stewart tied on 11 points. Despite finishing behind Holder in that race, Stewart won the count-back for the remaining direct place in the final with a second place to Holder’s two third places.
The semi-final make-up was Holder with his 11 points, Masters, Lidsey and Chris Holder all on 10.
Chris Holder had started the night disappointingly with a retirement in his first race, reporting at the presentations that the problem was faulty fuel, and, after losses to Jack and Tungate, had only one race win going into heat 20 but then came from behind to beat Brady Kurtz, which decided which of the two went into the semi-final, and then won the semi ahead of Lidsey and Masters, with Jack falling while a close second behind Chris.
Ten points and second in the semi-final was a good result for Lidsey but early on he looked like a potential meeting winner. He looked the fastest in practice, and won his first two rides in fine style beating Jack Holder and Masters, but had a pointless third ride behind Stewart, Fricke and Brady Kurtz, followed by a third place behind Tungate and Chris Holder, before winning his final heat.
That second place behind Stewart was one of Fricke’s two dropped points, and the other was to Jack Holder. Tungate dropped his points to Brady Kurtz and Fricke.
Kurtz was one of several fancied riders pre-meeting, and looked well on track for at least a final berth with an easy win over Tungate in heat two, but failed to win another race and was lucky to escape injury with a spectacular crash while dicing with Ryan Douglas in heat 15.
The racing was keenly contested right through the line-up but of the non-qualifiers for the semi-final/final, two that caught the eye were Zane Kelleher and Ben Cook. Cook scored a good win over Masters, Todd Kurtz and Sedgmen in heat 11, while only inexperience cost Kelleher a race win over Fricke and Tungate in heat six.
Kelleher only had his first speedway race in December 2015, and being based in Rockhampton, has done very few meetings, but he was a clear leader ahead of Fricke and Tungate until he fell after a hard passing move by Fricke on lap three. Fricke did nothing wrong, it was just a classic case of a rider with hardened British/Polish/Swedish League experience against an inexperienced rider. He showed he is a quick learner, however, with a hard pass of his own on Nick Morris on the run to the line in heat 17, hard enough to earn a little rebuke from Morris on the way back to the pits. Although he is already 25, he looked like he could still reach a high level with overseas league experience, and is eligible for a UK work visa this year.
Heat points: 2-Max Fricke (Vic) 13 (3-3-2-2-3), 6-Rohan Tungate (NSW) 13 (2-2-3-3-3), 12-(Q2) Jordan Stewart (Vic) 11 (3-2-3-3-0), 13-Jack Holder (NSW) 11 (1-3-3-3-1), 15-Jaimon Lidsey (Vic) 10 (3-3-0-1-3), 4-Chris Holder (NSW) 10 (R-3-2-2-3), 3-Sam Masters (NSW) 10 (1-2-2-3-2), 5-Brady Kurtz (NSW) 8 (3-2-1-FX-2), 1-(Q6) Nick Morris (Qld) 7 (2-1-1-2-1), 8-(Q8) 16-(Q1) Ryan Douglas (Qld) 6 (0-0-2-2-2), 14-(Q5) Todd Kurtz (NSW) 6 (2-1-1-1-1), Ben Cook (NSW) 5 (1-1-3-F-0), 10-Zane Keleher (Qld) 5 (2-F-T-1-2), 11-(Q7) Zach Cook (NSW) 3 (1-1-0-1-0), 7-(Q4) Kye Thomson (Qld) 1 (0-0-0-0-1), 9-(Q3) Justin Sedgmen (Vic) 0 (0-R-0-0-R), 17-(Q9) Josh Pickering (NSW) reserve 1 (1), 18-(Q12) Brayden McGuinness (SA) reserve did not ride.
Series points: Max Fricke (Vic) 17, Rohan Tungate (NSW) 16, Chris Holder (NSW) 12, Jordan Stewart (Vic) 11, Jack Holder (NSW) 11, Jaimon Lidsey (Vic) 10, Sam Masters (NSW) 10, Brady Kurtz (NSW) 8, Nick Morris (Qld) 7, Ryan Douglas (Qld) 6, Todd Kurtz (NSW) 6, Ben Cook (NSW) 5, Zane Keleher (Qld) 5, Zach Cook (NSW) 3, Kye Thomson (Qld) 1, Josh Pickering (NSW) 1, Justin Sedgmen (Vic) 0
Top photo: Max Fricke (blue) and Rohan Tungate (blue) dicing for the lead in the final. Photo by Judy Mackay.