Saturday night (8 February) saw a dramatic night’s racing at Gillman Speedway with a spectacular, although unfortunate, end to the Gillman Solo Championship and a night of upset results in the Sidecar Series culminating in an almost clean-sheet by an outsider.
In the Solo Championship, after eight heats and a semi-final, the line-up for the final was Dakota Ballantyne, Brayden McGuinness, Declan Knowles and Liam May.
Ballantyne was the top scorer with 11 of a possible 12 points, with McGuinness on 10 and Knowles on 8 but it was May who loomed as the biggest threat of depriving Ballantyne of a history making third championship.
May had a troubled night in his early heats with an engine failure in his first heat, a tape exclusion in his next and another bike problem in his third which featured the eventual four finalists and resulted in a win by Ballantyne ahead of McGuinness, Knowles and an ailing May.
He finally came good in his final heat when he beat McGuinness, Fraser Bowes and Dayle Wood, and backed that up with a win over Bowes and Seth Hickey in the semi-final to go into the final as a serious contender.
Ballantyne started in two and May in three in the final, and it was Ballantyne who took the lead and with a lap to go looked to be on his way to becoming the first three-time winner of the championship, but unfortunately for him third-placed Knowles crashed into the fence at the end of the third lap and the red lights came on with just a half-a-lap to go.
Knowles, of course, was excluded, but last placed McGuinness, who had been idling around half-a-lap behind, had kept going which saved him from also being excluded from the rerun.
The question mark then was would Ballantyne be able to back up or would he, like happens so often, miss out in the rerun.
And for quite a while it looked like he would miss out, after an untidy start.
The tapes were held for a long time for the start of the rerun and Ballantyne looked up to the official’s box to see what was happening and at that moment the tapes went up and May was out of the start like a rocket with Ballantyne trailing. The margin was such that it did not look like Ballantyne would be able to bridge the gap, but he did catch May and went around him on the third lap to take the lead.
It then looked like the win was again within his grasp but May made a desperate inside passing move going into turn three on the last lap and both riders crashed heavily.
With both riders and bikes on the track, McGuinness, who again had been idling around at the back despite changing bikes for the rerun, slowly rode past and to the finish line to take the chequered flag but the race was declared as at the end of lap three with Ballantyne first, McGuinness second and May excluded. Ballantyne was happy to be the first rider to win the championship for a third time, but not so happy to have a new bike badly damaged and now faces a job to get the bike repaired to ride in the Western Australian Championship next Saturday night.
Round 2 of the Sidecar Super Series was an enthralling event with close racing featuring a number of surprise results including an upset winner with Mitchell Spear and Jack Spear top scoring in the heats and then winning the final.
Spear, who is the regular passenger for Damien Niesche, rode Niesche’s bike and was only beaten once on the night, by Mick Headland in heat 12.
Other surprise results in the heats included wins by Steve Fowler/Corey Palmer over Neale Hancock/Brendan Johnson; Aaron Silvy/Jaron Silvy over Rick Stephens/Nick O’Brien; and Dean Hobbs/Glen Zaworski over Hancock/Johnson and round one winners Kym Menadue/Eric Melton.
After the twenty qualifying heats, Spear/Spear were on top of the scorecard with 14 points, with Headland/Brenton Kerr and Series points leaders Shane Rudloff/Scott Morris on 12 joining them in the final.
Headland had an engine failure in his first ride but won his other four heats, while Rudloff was beaten by Spear, Headland and Menadue.
The semi-finalists were Stephens/O’Brien (11), Hobbs/Zaworski (10), Menadue/Melton (10) and Fowler/Palmer (9).
This was the second semi-final in the series for Hobbs, confirming his improved form, and the best result for former North Arm Speedway rider Fowler since his comeback in recent seasons.
The semi-final was almost a repeat of round one with Stephens/O’Brien and Menadue/Melton dicing for the lead and Menadue taking the win, but on this occasion Hobbs passed Stephens on the last lap for second place. Fowler was a non-starter in a rerun after a bingle in the first attempt when he lost a chain.
The final was a fitting finale to a good night’s racing. Spear led from the start to finish, but Rudloff, Menadue and Headland were wheel-to-wheel for the placings with Headland in last place passing Menadue and Rudloff at the same time at the end of lap three to take second place. Rudloff finished third, but extended his overall Series points lead, and Menadue ran off the track on the last lap.
Rudloff and Morris (31 points) now have a six point lead over Kym Menadue/Eric Melton and Neale Hancock/Brendan Johnson (25), with Rick Stephens/Nick O’Brien 22, Dean Hobbs/Glen Zaworski 19 and Mitchell Spear/Jack Spear 18 the next best, going into the third and final round on 22 February.
Tegan Pedler almost made it a clean sweep in the support Solos but was beaten by Nicholas Possingham in the last heat after winning the first three. Pedler has had the better of Possingham in the battle of the 16-year-old so far this season, but Possingham showed significant signs of improvement in the third heat so it came as no surprise when he notched up his first-ever win in the next race.
Full heat results are on the Gillman website under the Results tab.
The battle for second in the sidecar final - Shane Rudloff/Scott Morris (white), Kym Menadue/Eric Melton (yellow) and Mick Headland/Brenton Kerr (blue). All photos by Judy Mackay.