Mick Headland/Brenton Kerr first and Mark Plaisted/Ben Pitt excluded is the basic summary of Saturday night’s Bill’s Bits & Bikes South Australian Sidecar Championship at Gillman Speedway.
Both riders went into the meeting attempting to be the first South Australian rider to win the title for a fourth time, and for most of the meeting that looked like being Plaisted.
He top scored in the twenty qualifying heats with an unbeaten 15 points, but Headland was the second highest scorer with 13 points, beaten only by Warren Monson/Andrew Summerhayes and Plaisted in his last two heats.
Surprisingly Monson was not the other direct qualifier for the final.
That place went to another local duo, Kym Menadue/Eric Melton, who, despite the step up in opposition continued their run of finals appearances this season, making it six out of six.
Earlier in the night it looked like the higher quality opposition might be too much for Menadue and this season’s other main winners Rick Stephens and Nick O’Brien, when they trailed in behind Plaisted and Monson in the opening heat, but after a second place behind Headland in his next ride, Menadue reeled of three wins to finish with a solid 12 points.
The story wasn’t so good for Stephens however. He did bounce back for three points in his next ride but then crashed into the fence at the end of the finishing straight and was ruled out for the night because Nick O’Brien was briefly knocked out. Mark Mitchell/Tony Carter and Aaron Silvy/Jaron Silvy also collided avoiding the Stephens’ crash, and this was to affect both later in the evening.
Warren Monson did reach the final four but he had to go through the last chance semi-final to do so. He could have, and should have, finished with 14 points with just one loss to Plaisted in heat one, but he also crashed when he spun 180 degrees while leading his second ride and was hit by Shayne Melbourne/Nick Johns.
The subsequent loss of three points meant a total of 11 which was only enough to get them into the semi-final, but the situation was much worse for Melbourne/Johns who were out for the night after Johns, who had also fallen in their first ride, and on both occasions was thought to be okay, was discovered to have a couple of damaged vertebrae.
The line-up for the semi-final was Monson, Damien Niesche/Mitchell Spear (9), riding Shane Hudson’s bike after blowing his own motor in the previous meeting, and two highly promising first year duos, Max Howse/Riley Commons (10) and Kane Golding/Isaac Amos (6).
Both Howse and Golding have been very impressive in the few meetings they have ridden and both already show smoother styles and more track craft than a lot of the more experienced riders, but in this race Monson and Niesche were too good with Monson leading all the way and Niesche holding a comfortable second until a tyre blew and he spun infield at the end of the third lap.
Golding’s place in the semi-final came at the expense of Mark Mitchell/Tony Carter who had scored 7 points but suffered a dramatic end to their night in heat 20. Mitchell was dicing with Headland for second place behind Plaisted when he ran off the track with a major mechanical issue at the end of the third lap. Mitchell later said he thought the damage to his bike (bent frame) from the collision with Aaron Silvy after the end of heat six caused the chain to come off and it went through the engine causing extensive damage.
The heat six incident also cost Silvy the possibility of semi-final berth as he was on 5 points after three rides but he withdrew from the meeting after his fourth ride because passenger Jaron was having trouble holding on due to a hand injury suffered in the collision.
So to the all-important final and, as so often happens in this event, which is one of the most intensely contested events on the speedway calendar, there was high drama. Plaisted chose gate one but made his worst start of the night and Headland and Monson were ahead of him out of the tapes. While they both took a high line through turn two Plaisted was able to get under Monson in the turn and then roared under Headland down the straight but as the bikes were side-by-side there was contact and Brenton Kerr fell off the side of the bike, although he kept a hold on the bike and saved himself from possibly being run over. The red lights came straight on, as did the red exclusion light for Plaisted.
There was quite a delay as he argued his case through the clerk of the course but to no avail and he was out of the rerun, which disappointingly was a total fizzer. Monson missed a gear at the start and Headland was gone, leading all the way for an untroubled win. Menadue gave chase for a brief time but he burnt his clutch out and just idled around for most of the race which allowed Monson up into second place.
In the support events Steve Graetz and former NZ Under 21 Champion Jake Turner kept the crowd entertained with their efforts to catch the front runners from the back marks, up to 170 metres by the last heat, in the Solo handicap races. Turner had the better of Graetz most of the night but an intermittent engine problem and a fall for Turner in his last two races saw Graetz top the score card with 9 points, with Turner on 8 and Jake Mitchell on 7.
The Flat Track Solos also had a prominent part on the support programme with the final round, and the Grand Final race, of their six round series. The top six available point scorers from the six rounds went into a 6-lap final to decide the series winner and unsurprisingly it was former international speedway rider Nigel Sadler - who had dominated in every round scoring 121 points out of a possible 126 – who was a comfortable winner in the Grand Final race ahead of Brock Gates (Mildura, 72 qualifying points), Logan Coombe (Broken Hill, 58), Roy Stout (65), Jesse Headland (51) and Dale Knights (39).
In the 125cc Junior Solos, Harry Sadler (11) top scored in Group 1 ahead of Kobi Canning 10 and Travis Clarke 8; and Allegra Laanekorb top scored in Group 2 with 14 points ahead of Hayden Kuchel 10 and Ben Dixon 6.