Max Fricke was back to his brilliant best last night to successfully defend his Australian Under 21 Championship in a thrilling meeting which went down to the wire.
The Under 21 meeting is always one of the best spectacles of the season and last night was no exception, with any number of contenders, some thrilling racing and fast race times. The race times were faster than the previous meeting’s Australian Championship Final Round, and the standard of racing was such that Mason Campton, who reached the final a fortnight ago, only had 3 points after his first three rides, and, like Campton, there were a number of riders who finished well down the scorecard who were right in the thick of the action.
The outstanding rider during the qualifying heats was Nick Morris who went through his five heats unbeaten, and while he looked the man to beat in the final, there were any number of challengers lining up in the final and the semi-final, and a win by any of them would not have been a shock.
Joining Morris as direct qualifiers for the final were Max Fricke on 13 and Ryan Douglas on 12. Fricke was beaten by Douglas and Morris in the heats, and Douglas was beaten by Brady Kurtz, Nick Morris and Jack Holder. The Morris-Holder-Douglas result came in heat 19 when Holder went around Douglas at the end of lap one and Douglas clipped Holder’s bike and then got out of shape in turn one and lost about 60 metres.
The qualifiers for the last chance semi-final were Holder on 12, Tyson Nelson 11, Jake Allen 9 and Brady Kurtz 9 – although Kurtz did not take the ride after a terrifying crash in his last heat. Holder, with his ex-World Champion brother Chris on the tools in the pits, started with a couple of wins then dropped points to Allen, Fricke and Morris. Nelson was one of the most spectacular riders but surprisingly for all his efforts only won one race. Allen started slowly with a third place behind Morris and Nelson, and then fell in his next race while third again behind Douglas and Fricke, but was as good as anyone in his last three rides, starting with a win over the previously unbeaten Holder and Kurtz in heat 11. Kurtz was many people’s favourite and he was super-fast and impressive but he also made several mistakes during his rides and his last mistake saw him have a terrifying crash in the last heat of the night against Fricke, Nelson and quick reserve Matt Day. Fricke took the early lead but Kurtz attempted to ride around him in turn three, but lost control, crashed and was thrown quite some distance through the air and over the safety fence. It was a shocking accident and very worrying but thankfully he was eventually able to get to his feet and walk back to the pits.
Just missing a berth in the semi-final were Jack Fallon (7), who continues to impress, and the unfortunate Mason Campton (6) whose bike broke down on the last lap when he had his last heat won, although he still would have missed a semi-final place on count back to Allen and Kurtz.
The semi-final became a three-rider race when Kurtz withdrew after his crash, and on paper it looked to be anybody’s, but it was Holder who led all the way despite constant attention from Nelson with Allen surprisingly a little of the pace. He (Allen) certainly impressed on his first appearance at Gillman, and looked to be a serious chance for tonight’s Jack Young Cup, but there is a doubt he’ll be riding now because of work commitments.
For the final it was Morris in red, Fricke blue, Douglas white and Holder yellow. As he had done all night, Morris was electric out of the start but in the first corner skirmish he found himself relegated to last place as Fricke led from Holder and Douglas. Morris was quickly up to second place, however, and then it was game on between Fricke and Morris. Morris threw everything at Fricke and eventually got under Fricke going through turn three on lap three to take the lead, only for Fricke to regain the lead at the end of the lap. Fricke then held a narrow lead on the last lap to win the race but there was no second place for Morris. Within probably 20 metres of the finish line he reared up and crashed heavily, him and his bike bouncing and rolling along the track and being passed by Douglas and Holder just before he came to a stop just about on the finish line.
Morris escaped injury but the crash could cost him a place in this season’s World Under 21 Championship as Australia, at the moment, only has two places in the qualifying rounds which will go to Fricke and Douglas. Motorcycling Australia is lobbying for more places but it remains to be seen if they will be successful.
The Australian Under 16 250cc Championship was also decided last night and produced an equally exciting final. Three riders, defending champion Max Croker (age 15), Cooper Riordan (15) and Brody Eves (13), all scored 14 points in the heats and they were joined by Jimmy Jones (age 14, 10 points) after he won the semi-final. Local rider Dakota Ballantyne (14, 10 pts) led for most of the semi-final only to be passed by Jones in the last quarter of a lap to be beaten by half a wheel.
In the final, Croker changed bikes just before the start and then lifted slightly at the start, just enough for Eves to take the lead. Riordan’s race was similar to Morris’ in the U21. He was last early on, quickly got up into second, and then was side-by-side with Eves for most of the last three laps only to clip the fence with his back wheel going into turn three on the last lap which was enough of a jolt to cause him to slide of the bike, leaving Eves to take the win from Croker and Jones.
Many of the senior riders from last night’s meeting will be back again tonight, along with local favourites Shane Parker, Robert Branford, Arlo Bugeja and Nigel Sadler for the Sailun Tyres Jack Young Cup, which, on paper, looks likely to be even closer racing than last night.
The full line-up is: Jake Allen (Qld-possible scratching), Hunter Anderson (NSW), Robert Branford (SA), Arlo Bugeja (SA), Matt Day (Qld), Jye Etheridge (NSW), Jack Fallon (Vic), Max Fricke (Vic), Cameron Heeps (WA), Robert Medson (SA), Shane Parker (SA), Nigel Sadler (SA), Tyson Snow (Qld), Bob Stoneham (Vic), Brodie Waters (Vic), Brady Webb (WA).
There will also be support Solo races, plus a full field of 15 Sidecars.
The weather forecast is a beautiful 28 degrees or so around start time (7.30pm) and admission prices are: Adults $20, Pension and Student Concession $15, Children aged 12-15 $5, Under 12 FREE, Family Tickets $45. Car Parking free. Souvenir programme $5. The gates open at 5pm.
Top photo: Max Fricke leads Nick Morris (obscured) and Ryan Douglas in the Under 21 final. Photo © Judy Mackay.