Jack Holder wrote his own piece of history at Gillman Speedway on Saturday night when he won the inaugural FIM Oceania Championship.
There are hopes amongst many speedway organisers, riders and spectators that the Oceania Championship will eventually develop into a Speedway Grand Prix qualifying round, but regardless of what happens in future years there can only ever be one first winner and that was emphatically Holder.
He scored 14 points, and recorded the fastest time of the night, in the heats, passed his biggest challenger, Jaimon Lidsey, to win his semi-final, and then won the final relatively comfortably in a dominating performance.
Holder’s only loss on the night was to Lidsey in their fourth heat, but by that time Holder had already qualified for the semi-finals, and therefore did not need to take any risks to try to pass Lidsey, highlighting one of the obvious flaws with the FIM format used for the meeting, where there is no reward, apart from choice of gate positions, for finishing on, or near, the top of the scorecard.
Second and third, in both the heat points and the final were Lidsey and exciting English rider Dan Bewley, with the other finalist, Jordan Stewart, a non-finisher after he fell on the first lap. Stewart fell and slid into the air fence between turns one and two but did well to get off the track without causing a race stoppage.
Lidsey looked like Holder’s biggest threat all night, with Bewley, Stewart, Charles Wright and Justin Sedgmen looking the most likely to cause an upset.
Lidsey, Bewley and Wright all started the night slowly – Lidsey finished third behind Stewart and Zane Keleher in heat one, and Bewley and Wright third and fourth behind Holder and Sedgmen in a tough heat three — but, again, there was no need to be concerned, or to do anything rash for an extra point, as they only needed to get 8 points for a semi-final place where they would all be back on an equal footing.
Lidsey and Bewley both only dropped one further point to finish with 12 points each, Lidsey beaten by Bewley in heat 15, and Bewley beaten by Keleher in heat 5. Jordan Stewart also finished on 12, only beaten by Holder, Wright and Bewley.
The inexperienced Keleher – he only sat on a speedway bike for the first time in August 2015 and living in far-flung Rockhampton hasn’t had access to many meetings – looked like being a major threat to the international riders after he finished second to Stewart, but ahead of Lidsey, in heat one, and beat Bewley in heat five, but his inexperience at this level caught him out in his next two rides when he forced wide in the first turn and lost too much ground to be able to score. Second place to Holder in his last ride left him on 7 points, one shy of a semi-final berth. Despite his inexperience Keleher actually qualified for a UK visa this year, and has again for 2020, so it is probably an indictment of British promoters that he’s had next to no interest from any of them.
After his first up duck, Wright reeled off three straight wins to be safely in the semis, before finishing second to Lidsey in heat 19 to finish on 11.
A revitalised Sedgmen, looking better than at any time last season also finished on 11, and figured in many of the best races of the night.
Rounding out the semi-finalists were domestic riders Ben Cook, from Cowra, and Robert Medson, from Adelaide, who both scored 8 points. Neither looked out of place against the international riders and I would say it was a career best performance by Medson, particularly in heat ten when he led Wright and Stewart for the three laps before, much to his disgust, being pegged back to third over the last lap. But he showed it was no flash in the pan by beating Sedgmen in his last ride in a must-win race to edge Keleher out of the semis.
The semi-finals were relatively straight forward, Holder leading Lidsey, Cook and Wright home in the first, and Bewley winning the second ahead of Stewart, Sedgmen and Medson.
None of the other riders looked a chance of making semi-finals although several had their “moments”. Pole Szymon Szlauderbach won his opening ride in the fastest time of the night apart from two of Holder’s wins, but only scored another three points; 16-year-old German Ben Ernst, the 2018 World 250cc Youth Champion, had a good race with Wright in heat eight; Tom Brennan was a player in one of the best races of the night, heat nine, in which he finished second to Sedgmen and ahead of Cook and Keleher in a wheel-to-wheel race between all four; and reserve Dakota Ballantyne looked good in a close race with Wright, ahead of Kyle Bickley and Keleher in heat 13.
Jaimon Lidsey (yellow) and Justin Sedgmen (red) had a thrilling race in heat seven. Sedgmen was in the thick of the action all night and will be a favourite for the SA Championship at the next Gillman meeting on 7 December. Photo by Judy Mackay.
Justin Sedgmen again (in yellow), with Jordan Stewart (blue), Robert Medson (white) and Dan Bewley (red) in the second semi-final which was restarted after Medson fell seconds after this photo was taken by Judy Mackay.
Local rider Dakota Ballantyne (red) looked good against British champion Charles Wright (blue) and Zane Kelleher in his one reserve ride. Photo by Judy Mackay.
The placegetters. Left to right, Dan Bewley (3rd), Jack Holder (1st), Jaimon Lidsey (2nd), Jordan Stewart (4th). Photo by Judy Mackay.