South Australian Sidecar riders might be wishing the border restrictions lasted a bit longer after Broken Hill riders finished 1-2 in Saturday night’s Gillman Sidecar Championship.
Staged over the regular format of twenty heats, a last chance semi-final and a final, Nathan Fleet/Ayrton Canning were clearly the leading duo in the heats with an unbeaten 15 points, three ahead of second-placed Kym Menadue/Eric Melton.
The shock third direct qualifiers for the final, joining Fleet and Menadue, were the 16-year-old debutants and second-generation racers, Max Howse and Riley Commons. Riding #108, made famous by their fathers, Rick Howse and Adam Commons, the teenagers started their senior careers in fine fashion by beating the defending champion, Shane Rudloff, in their first senior ride, and later beat Menadue, on their way to 11 points and a place in the final ahead of Rudloff on countback.
Rudloff/Scott Morris, Darwin’s Shayne Melbourne/Timothy Green (10 points), Rick Stephens/Nick O’Brien (9) and Mitchell Spear/Jack Spear (7) made up the field for the semi-final, although Spear’s inclusion was a countback error as it should have been Brian Silvy/Damian Egan, ahead of Spear, Aaron Silvy/Jaron Silvy and Dean Hobbs/Daniel Low after they all tied on 7 points.
Although he only scored 9 points in the heats, Stephen’s points had come from three wins and two infield exclusions, and last season’s runner-up extended his wins to four with a narrow, but clear-cut win over Spear, Melbourne and Rudloff in the semi-final.
The line-up for the final was Fleet in red, Menadue in blue, Howse in white and Stephens in yellow.
Soon after the start there was a collision in turn one and Eric Melton fell heavily from the Menadue bike.
Following a delay while Melton was accessed by the medical team, it was all four back for the restart, and top scorer Fleet seemed to initially make a good start but ran off the track in the first turn and was out of the race.
In his absence it was Stephens who led all the way to take the win with Howse passing Menadue on lap two to make it a Broken Hill 1-2.
Stephens is the fourth first-time winner in the last four years and in the 17 stagings of the event, Darrin Treloar (twice) is the only rider who has been able to successfully defend the title, and three local Australian campions, Mark Mitchell, Justin Plaisted and Trent Headland, have been unable to win the title showing just how hard it is to win this event.
12 riders nominated for the Solo Championship, was wasn’t bad considering the border closure with Victoria is still in place, but with quite a variation in standard it was decided to run championships for both division one and division two riders.
The format for division two was quite straight forward – seven riders over seven heats, four rides each and meeting each other rider twice. Points were expected to be close between Jake Mitchell, Steven Graetz, Blake Ridley and NSW visitor Dayle Wood, but the results were just as straight forward as the format. 47-year-old Graetz went through the card unbeaten (12 points), Wood (10) was only beaten by Graetz, Mitchell (8) was beaten each time by Graetz and Wood, and fourth placed Ridley (6), likewise was beaten each time by the other three.
Graetz made his senior debut as a 16-year-old in November 1989, and was a very good rider during the nineteen nineties, and has had made a comeback in recent years after riding in a couple of the Gillman Classic meetings, and this result shows he is still a good rider, albeit now at division two level.
Division 1 should have been just as straight forward. With only five riders—defending champion Dakota Ballantyne, Australian finalist last season, Robert Medson, and promising teenagers Fraser Bowes, Connor Bailey and Mitchell Cluff—it was decided to run five heats with each rider having four rides and meeting the others three times, with the pre-meeting publicity emphasising how tough it would be to win the title with no easy rides. Under that format the winner should have been Fraser Bowes who had an outstanding meeting. Despite a big crash in his third ride he still finished two points ahead if the next best riders, with Bowes on 8, Bailey and Ballantyne on 6, and Cluff and Medson on 5.
But much to the confusion of the spectators in was announced during the meeting that a final was going to be held for the top four scorers, and then to further confuse things, all five came out for the final. So the heat races were meaningless and the only result that counted was the final and in that Ballantyne successfully defended the title, with Cluff second, Bowes third and Medson fourth, with Bailey out with a dropped chain at the start.
The event has now become quite a niche event for Ballantyne. Until 2020 no rider had won the event more than twice but Ballantyne has now won four times in the last five years, and the year he did not win (2018) he went into the meeting with a broken wrist, then suffered a bike failure and a heavy fall, but still almost qualified for the final, leading the semi-final for a couple of laps before the injuries took their toll and he was overtaken. Still only 21-years-old he can still add quite a few more wins to his current record.
For Bowes, the disappointment of not winning should be offset by knowing he has made a massive step up in his riding. Not only was he very good, but just as importantly he was able to consistently ride at the same level all night.
The support Flat Track Solo class went to yet another Broken Hill rider, Logan Coombe, so the 500km trip home up the Barrier Highway wouldn’t have seemed as bad as usual for the Silver City riders. Coombe top scored with 10 points, with Nigel Sadler on 9 and Jack Spear, who had a busy night jumping between the sidecar and the dirt bike, on 8. Sadler, who won the Gillman Solo Championship in 2011, won his first three rides but fell while leading Coombe and Spear in his final heat.
Full results are on the Gillman website under the Results tab.
Gillman Sidecar Championship, left to right: Riley Commons, Max Howse (2nd), Rick Stephens, Nick O'Brien (1st), Eric Melton, Kym Menadue (3rd). Photo by Judy Mackay.
Gillman Division 1 Solo Championship, left to right: Mitchell Cluff (2nd), Dakota Ballantyne (1st), Fraser Bowes (3rd), Robert Medson (4th). Photo by Judy Mackay.