Defending champions Mark Plaisted and Ben Pitt successfully retained their Australian Sidecar Championship at Gillman Speedway on Sunday night (17 April), and did it in style against statistically the best riders of the past decade or so in Darrin Treloar, Mick Headland and Warren Monson.
Since 2007, Darrin Treloar has won eight of his eleven Australian Championships, the FIM Track Racing Gold Trophy, FIM Track Racing World Championship, two FIM Speedway World Cups and three FIM Oceania Championships; Mick Headland has won the FIM Track Racing Gold Trophy and two FIM Track Racing World Championships; and Warren Monson two FIM Speedway World Cups and two FIM Oceania Championships.
But Plaisted was too good for them on Sunday night and now goes into the record books as the only rider other than the legendary Treloar to successfully defend the Australian Championship in the past 20 years.
After the regulation twenty qualifying heats, the top three point scorers going straight into the final, were Treloar/Blake Cox on 14 points, Plaisted/Pitt also on 14 and Headland/Brenton Kerr on 12.
Monson/Andrew Summerhayes just missed out and went into the last chance semi-final with 11 points, along with Brodie Cohen/Jesse Headland 10, Shane Hudson/Adam Constable 9 points and Stuart Firth/Tim Green, also 9 points.
The only minor surprise with the finalists was Headland into the final ahead of Monson but that was only based on the opening heats. While Monson won his first three heats with ease, Headland started with a bike problem in his opening ride and could only manage a single point after Kane Golding was excluded from a restart. That looked ominous for Headland but he was able to rectify the problem and after a close race with Treloar in his second ride he reeled off three wins, including a win over Hudson, Monson and Cohen in heat 14, to deservedly grab the third final place ahead of Monson.
Going into the last round of heats, Plaisted was unbeaten on 12, Treloar was on 11, having dropped a point to Hudson in heat 11, one of the best races of the night as Treloar, Firth and Jake Treloar/Eli Wright kept changing positions behind Hudson. Monson was next on 10, Headland was on 9, while five teams were on 7 points – Cohen/Headland, Hudson/Constable, Byren Gates/Eli Bock, Firth/Green and Shane Rudloff/Scott Morris.
First up in the last round was Hudson in heat 17 and he finished second behind Kym Menadue/Shane Dolan to advance to 9 points and a guaranteed semi-final place. Menadue finished with 7 points in an impressive championship debut which included leading Treloar for a lap in the opening heat.
Heat 18 brought together three of the 7 pointers, Cohen, Firth and Gates, who finished in that order to advance to 10, 9 and 8 points respectively which saw Gates out of a semi-final berth and Firth sweating on Rudloff’s result in heat 20.
Before that, however, we had the race everyone had been anticipating from the start of the meeting with Treloar, Plaisted, Monson and Mark Mitchell/Tony Carter drawn together in heat 19. It was close between Treloar and Plaisted but Treloar took the win which left them both on 14 points, but with Treloar getting first choice of gate in the final. Monson’s third place left him also waiting on the heat 20 result to determine if he would be in the final or the semi-final.
He didn’t have to wait long as Headland raced away to the win, earning a final berth and relegating Monson to the semi. Rudloff was in a wheel-to-wheel race with Max Howse/Riley Commons and Jake Treloar/Eli Wright but the end result for the minor placings behind Headland was Treloar, Howse, Rudloff which saw Rudloff eliminated from the semi-final.
So Firth was confirmed as the final qualifier for the semi-final but then it was announced he had an engine problem and was out. But, almost as quickly it was then announced he was back in, riding a bike borrowed from reserve Dean Hobbs. On a borrowed bike and starting from gate four the odds were against him though, and that’s how it panned out with Monson scooting away to an easy win, with Hudson second, Cohen third, and Firth fourth.
With the acknowledged best four riders in the final it was anyone’s race but few ever tip against Treloar and when he won the start it looked like it could be all over, but Plaisted edged under him down the back straight and was never challenged from that point. Behind him, Monson, from gate four, was filled in on the back straight, couldn’t see, and ran off the track. Treloar was also filled in, in turn three, and was unable to keep Headland out. Headland chased Plaisted hard, and Treloar likewise chased Headland but with half a lap to go no changes looked likely when Headland hit the fence on the back straight and crashed heavily. Treloar was close behind but managed to avoid them and fortunately Headland and Kerr escaped serious injury. A disappointing end to their night but they had the consolation of still taking third place in the national championship.
The Australian Junior (Under 16, 250cc) Championship was also on the programme and resulted in a win for Kayden Gates/Harley Ackerley ahead of Lachlan Coppen/Hayden Kuchel and Nate Headland/Sam Horton. With only three bikes allowed in each race, Chloe Ackerley/Eva Whitworth took fourth place by virtue of their second place, behind Coppen/Kuchel but ahead of Adam Niesche/Kobi Canning, in the semi-final.