As forecast, with Darrin Treloar watching from the pits, round one of the Sidecar Super Series at Gillman Speedway turned into a wide open affair, so much so that at the end of the 20 qualifying heats three riders were level on 12 points, and another three were on 10, and that did not include some of the meeting favourites, Warren Monson, Mark Mitchell, Byren Gates and Shane Hudson.
Topping the scorecard and gaining direct entry to the final, in countback order, were Damien Niesche/Mitchell Spear, Shane Rudloff/Scott Morris and Sam Harrison/Luke McGrath.
Harrison, in his first time behind the handlebars at Gillman for several years, started the meeting in the best possible way with a win in heat one and continued his good form throughout the heats, only dropping points to Mick Headland, Neale Hancock and Niesche.
Rudloff was the early pacesetter and was the only unbeaten rider after two rides before being pushed back to third place by Hancock and Harrison in heat 11. Another win and a second behind Headland gave him his 12 points.
Niesche was the only one of the three 12-pointers who could have got a few more points. A slow start in his first ride saw him initially in last place and then when passing Nathan Fleet/Ayrton Canning to move into second (behind Rudloff), Canning fell and Niesche was excluded. He then won his other four heats to go into the final as a slight favourite.
The semi-finalists, again in countback order, were Neale Hancock/Brendan Johnson, Mick Headland/Brenton Kerr and Brodie Cohen/Damian Egan on 10 points each, and Byren Gates/Michael O’Loughlin on 9. Just missing out by one point were Adon Pearce/Eli Bock, Nathan Fleet/Ayrton Canning and Shane Hudson/Jackson Gilbert-Dunn on 8.
Of the semi-finalists, Hancock and Headland were in a similar situation to Niesche with an exclusion costing them vital points which may have given them an automatic start in the final. Hancock’s came in his first ride when he spun infield while dicing with Pearce for second place behind Cohen; Headland’s also came in a race involving Pearce, with Pearce leading and Headland excluded when he made a passing move on Dean Hobbs/Glen Zaworski for second place and Zaworski fell.
The semi-final was a thriller as it usually is — but only for second, third and fourth as Hancock led from start to finish to qualify for the final. Behind him Gates, Cohen and Headland were continually exchanging places before Gates took second slightly ahead of Headland and Cohen who crossed the line side-by-side.
The Final was two races in one. Niesche led all the way but Rudloff was doing his utmost to pass but just fell short of doing so. Not far behind them it was a similar story with Harrison and Hancock with Harrison eventually taking third place, to leave the series points after the first round as Damien Niesche/Mitchell Spear 16, Shane Rudloff/Scott Morris 15, Sam Harrison/Luke McGrath 14, Neale Hancock/Brendan Johnson (Vic) 11, and the others as per the heat points.
With the battle for a place in the final so close on Saturday night and Treloar, Monson, Mitchell and Hudson sure to be more prominent in the next round, the series seems certain to go down to the last race.
Of the riders who missed out on Saturday night, Mark Mitchell/Tony Carter suffered the most, only picking up two points. They were involved in a crash in their first race when they rolled their bike after the red lights came on in turn one for a restart. After a lengthy delay they took their place in the restart and finished second to Harrison but then withdrew from the rest of the meeting.
Monson and Hudson both had bike trouble. Monson was down on power in his first three rides before winning his fourth ride in the fastest time of the night but things went badly awry in his last ride. A win would have put him into the semi-final and he was leading narrowly from Hancock when he hit the fence hard at the end of a lap and careered onto the infield at high speed, dumping passenger Andrew Summerhayes on the way. Hudson started well enough, continuing his unbeaten run from his previous appearance with an all the way win over Headland and Gates in heat 4, but then wheeled the bike back into the pits before the start of his next ride. He came back to have a tremendous race with Niesche in heat 12, leading all the way only to be beaten in the last 20 metres, but then just idled around well behind the others in his last two rides just picking up some consolation points to keep him in contention in the series points.
In the support events Tom Adams/Michael Bell and Andrew Gault/Adam Constable had some exciting races in the Sidecar events; Dakota Ballantyne (4) and Robert Medson (2) shared the wins in the Solos; and Jake Treloar/Issac Mitchell backed up their SA Junior Sidecar Championship win at Sidewinders the night before with victory in the Gillman Junior Championship. The junior sidecars provided some very skilful and exciting racing over the two nights and the Friday night final of Treloar, Milner and Fewster was only the semi-final line-up at Gillman, which shows the evenness of the racing.