Round 3 at Northumbria
Although the sun shone sporadically enough to burn faces throughout the day it was the storm force wind that almost overshadowed the on-track action at Cramlington as the Euro-Vets circus moved north for Round Three of the 2015 GP series. First to arrive at Cramlington very early were Paul Matthews and World Veterans Champion Steve Harris. Paul had travelled up from his Swindon home to Durham the day before while Steve was in the North and Scotland on business and hopped across from Carlisle for the meeting. He'd also practiced at Cramlington with Gavin Parr and Jason Keith on a very dusty surface on Thursday evening. The dust would still be a problem today as even with plenty of water laid down the combination of sun and gale saw rapid evaporation but the track was still very race-able and the racing itself as keen as ever, especially in the Over 40s category.
Special thanks to these two - Paul helping out with the wind deflector fence and providing some much-needed zip ties to anchor it down, while later Steve kindly took over track watering duties during his races in the Over 40s event.
Over 40s Competition
Once again the front runners were regular top performers Martin Hollebon, Jason Keith, Mark Winwood and Gavin Parr but this time, unsurprisingly, joined by the Champ Steve Harris. It soon became apparent that maybe six riders were heading for the "A" Final as each one started piling up the points. Heading the scorers and unbeaten after two races each were Paddy Wenn who quickly grasped the best way around the AstroDrome, Steve and Gavin. Just behind were Mark on 7 and a flying Eddie Ridley on 6, like Paddy easily adapting to the long straights and tight bends, the latter a feature of his home Hellingly circuit. It's noticeable how much faster Eddie is this year with more racing under his belt. Ganging up behind these lads was an amazing gaggle of five riders on 5 so no-one was escaping yet in the points chase with plenty of entertainment served up by the swashbuckling Mick Knowles, as ever.
The second set of two rides each proved a bit more decisive in deciding the finalists with Mark, Steve, Jason, Martin and Gavin hardly dropping a point between them but after their fifth rides local rider Jason found himself tied with Martin on 16, but having finished second to the Hellingly racer when they met in heat 18 had to settle for a place in the "B" Final on countback.
With Mark Winwood needing a quick departure from the North East there was a re-arrangement of the finals to allow the Blue Riband event to run first, the line-up being the unbeaten Gavin Parr, Steve Harris on 19, Mark Winwood on 19 and Martin Hollebon. After a bumpy first attempt, Gavin just managed to edge out Steve entering the first bend to romp away for a twenty four point maximum score and the top prize, while behind him all hell was being let loose with Steve and Mark doing most of the buffeting! Throughout the race there were multiple inside and outside challenges until Mark's final push eased both himself and Steve out wide enough for Martin to seize the advantage and squeeze through for second place, Mark's momentum just being enough to remain ahead of the Champion for third place. A really exciting finale to a great set of races.
Local star Michael Parr finished the heats tied on 13 points with Pete Chant and Norman Venson, but like his Vikings team-mate Jason suffered on countback, just missing out of the "B" Final.That was won by Jason from grid one while late on in the race Norman took advantage of a slip by Paddy to steal second place with Pete unable to improve on fourth.
Over 50s and 60s Combined
Old Vikings Captain Norman Carson stepped into the breach to take the place of the missing current Over 50's Champion, Birmingham's Paul Timms to make the number up to nine riders for the combined Over 50/Over 60 programme, the format having three riders per race, four rides each over twelve heats.
Reigning Over 60 Champion Terry Kirkup took advantage of the inside gate to win heat one from Coventry's Joe McLaughlin and Brummie Steve Hodgkinson to set himself up for another two wins courtesy of some pedal-slipping from Wednesfield Ace Mick Aris and a fluke gate from the outside. Meanwhile current Grand Veteran series leader Bob Prince succumbed similarly with a slip to a great ride from his Monarchs team-mate Steve Hodgkinson from the outside but redeemed himself and got elevated to the top of the pile by defeating Terry when they met for their final ride in heat ten with some typical outside kerb "easing", giving himself grid one for the "A" Final.
A rapid Steve and Joe amassed 14 points each while behind these two Fred suffered out of the starts but took four second places. Mick was a little subdued, those slippages not helping and leaving him 3 points adrift of the top four as well as giving him a squeaky cough, his mid-race "crossbar crusher" raising a huge gasp from the pits and perimeter! However the lead-in to the finish had plenty of good racing, just that single heat between Bob and Terry looking like it had taken place in a team match with only the outer metre of the track used on two consecutive bends. EV regular Jim Graham looked a lot sharper today having suffered a nagging flu-like episode since November and returning clubmate Norman Carson rode his heart out but suffered from a lack of racing, still mixing it where and while he could in his clashes with Paul and Jimmy.
The Over 50's "A" Final saw, from the inside, Bob, Terry, Joe and Steve. A clean first bend saw Bob ahead followed by Terry and it stayed that way for the first three laps with the other two snapping away at their heels. However, with the relaxed pace and mid-track position of the leader a forced over-tight line coming out of the second bend saw TK this time losing his pedals, Steve and Joe both instantly seizing their opportunity to pass and it finished like that.
The Over 50s "B" Final saw Fred, Mick, Paul and Jim lining up but I'm afraid I will have to wait for the official outcome of that one before reporting it here.
Revenge came sweetly in the Over 60's "A" Final with the lead Viking romping away to an easy win off grid two to arrest the Birmingham star's unbeaten 2015 run, Bob finishing second, Mick third and Fred fourth. In the "B" Final Jim and Norman had another good scrap with regular competitor Jimmy coming out on top.
Here's the Happy Gang ready with their plates for the buffet (smile, it won't kill you!).
The raffle at the afters buffet seemed to go on forever but raised a tidy sum for our Orchid charity, so thanks to everyone who responded with give-aways. Mr Hodgkinson and Mr Graham seemed to be hogging most of the prizes but there were plenty to go around. Once again Fred Rothwell did a great job of sorting out the slightly lower than expected entry into suitable programme formats and the whole day went off smoothly, apart from that devastating wind which strangely enough didn't affect the riders on-track and even helped clear a lot of loose shale, although the tarmac tennis court now resembles a clay one!
The after-match track inspection revealed something missing from the centre green. This surveillance shot was captured by our security system - do you know who the light-fingered party may be?