Back in November Robert Branford held what looked like a winning lead over Tyron Proctor for three laps in the Jack Young Cup only to lose to Proctor in the run to the finish line, but he made amends on Saturday night, riding around Proctor on the second lap and then pulling away for a comfortable maiden Gillman Solo Championship win.
Proctor, who looked the rider to beat during the heats, finished second ahead of surprise finalists Arlo Bugeja and Dakota Ballantyne, who were able to reach the final ahead of visiting riders Josh Bates, Daniel Winchester and Frank Smart.
Proctor (12 points) was unbeaten in the heats and was joined by Bugeja and Branford (10 points each) as the direct qualifiers to the final.
Bugeja opened the night in fine style by leading home Winchester and Smart in heat one, and backed up by beating Branford in his next ride, and also won his third ride before dropping his only points to Proctor and Bates in the last heat.
Branford dropped his points to Proctor and Bugeja in his first two rides.
With only 12 heats, the format had the three top point scorers going into the final, the next three to the semi-final and the next five to a Qualifying final, and the automatic starters in the semi-final were three of the visitors, Bates, Winchester (both 8 points) and Smart (7), with Ballantyne (5), Jake Mitchell, Blake Russell (4), Blake Ridley (3) and James Davies (1) in the qualifying final, although Mitchell was a non-starter.
16-year-old Ballantyne had a real night of contrasts. He was close behind Bates for three laps in his opening ride until a mistake on the last lap saw him drop back, and was in the mix with Bugeja and Branford in his next ride, but then suffered clutch trouble and could only idle around in his last two heats, almost getting lapped in his last heat.
His crew managed to find and fix the problem in time for the qualifying final however, and after losing some ground by trying to anticipate the start he was able to chase down Blake Russell, who must have thought he had the race won, and pip him on the line.
But better was to come in the semi-final. In the best race so far in his senior career of just over three months, he blasted out of gate four and led Winchester, Bates and Smart all the way to make his first senior final. In the final he held third until the last half a lap when Bugeja was able to get under him down the back straight. To add to his night of contrasting fortunes he then fell in the first turn after the race had finish, but Rob Branford went one better and fell a lap later on one of his victory laps!
Of the visiting riders from Western Australia, Winchester and Smart were disappointing compared to previous visits to the track, but spectacular Brit Josh Bates scored a couple of wins before coming to grief in his third ride. He won his first two rides from the gate, and was just behind Branford going into turn three in his third ride, with the crowd keen to see if he could beat Branford, when his bike suddenly lifted and dumped him off the back. He was okay but his bike was damaged and to the crowd’s disappointment it was announced he was out for the night. No long after, however, it was announced he was back in, riding Branford’s bike and he was a relatively close second to Proctor in his final heat but could only manage third in the semi-final after a close race with Winchester for second place.
In the Sidecar events Mark Mitchell/Dale Knights scored a clear-cut victory over Arron Hartwig/Teagan Hartwig, Aaron Silvy/Adam Pascoe and Luke Puddy/Damian Egan in the final, reversing an earlier heat result in which Hartwig scored an equally convincing win over Mitchell.
Hartwig, unbeaten on 12 points, Mitchell (11) and Puddy (9) where the direct qualifiers for the final, with Silvy (8) the winner of the last chance semi-final ahead of Shane Rudloff/Tom Adams (8), Dean Hobbs/Andy Westover (5) and Rick Fechner/Cameron White (4, and winner of the qualifying final).
Although they were no match for Mitchell and Hartwig, an appearance in the final in open company was a good result for both Silvy and Puddy. It capped a good week for Silvy who also made the final at Whyalla the previous weekend, while first season rider Puddy has improved each meeting. His strong point is a good smooth style and he’s gradually getting faster as the season goes on.
The next meeting is the Blackchrome Sidecar Feature on 20 February. Early nominations, with still a week to go before they close, include Darrin Treloar, Mick Headland and Warren Monson.
Top photo: Robert Branford blasts around Tyron Proctor on his way to winning the Jack Daniel’s Gillman Solo Championship. Photo by Judy Mackay.