We were hoping for a giant entry list for this one to kick off not only our new season but hopefully that of the re-born Stoke CSC too. It turned out pretty good.
A lovely blue sky awaited competitors for the opening round of 2016 at the refurbished and revamped Etruria Park track in Stoke, all the hard work of a few dedicated locals really paying off as the Euro-Vets Grand Prix Series took centre stage. I finally had the chance to meet some of the hardy souls who made it happen and congratulate Avon Allcock and Simon Baltkauls who, in particular, were responsible for the resurrection of the track and club. I’m sure we all wish them every success in getting it going again, although we all know how hard that can be. Good to run into an old adversary from the 1980s, Gene Bailey who did a sterling job as Pits Marshall and also presented the trophies with genuine enthusiasm at the finish.
The Over 40s had a brilliant entry to launch the new campaign with a generous spattering of current and “ex” Veteran Champions at national and club levels, and the on-track action was as good as you’ll see anywhere. World Champion Craig Marchant of Leicester Monarchs brought his teammate Mark Whitehead with him and these two, together with TLI British Veterans Champion Steve Harris, Euro-Vets Champion Mark Winwood, Edinburgh’s World No 4 Jason Burke, Hellingly’s Martyn Hollebon, Poole’s hard charging Pete Chant, Norwich Star’s Paddy Wenn and local Horspath Elite League rider Errol Thaw all got off to cracking starts and kept up the pressure all the way to the finals.
Below: Ray braves the coolness while everyone else gets in a warm huddle!
Craig proved to be the Master St(r)oker on the day with five wins in a dynamic display out of the starts but it was so difficult to single anyone out for extra praise. However taking into account last season’s series and the relative performances of those just named, I’d have to give my Rider of the Match award equally to Paddy Wenn who seems to have found a whole heap of extra speed having updated his bike to match the latest specs, and Hellingly’s Eddie Ridley for the same reason, although the latter also looked a lot sharper, fitness-wise, than he did last year. What a difference a few months makes!
Below: Simon Baltkauls points out something interesting to Jason and Jim.
Ever-dependable Euro-Vets traveller Mick Knowles of Heckmondwike was best of the rest while I suspect Glasgow’s Joe Beuckmann and my mate Neil Magee of Northumbria relished being in such Cycle Speedway Royalty’s company. Jason was unlucky to clash with Pete when the latter slipped off leaving the pits bend and a tired Mark Winwood could have done without a series of night shifts before the meeting but still gave it everything. All in all a real spectacle worthy of the highest praise, and a wonderful showcase to present to the public as the Stoke club attempt to rekindle interest in the Sport.
Craig made no mistake off the inside in the “A” Final which turned out to be fairly tactical all the way to the flag, Steve finishing second and Martyn holding on to third. Unusually but I think understandably, reigning Champion Mark Winwood didn’t manage to make top four and even had to settle for last place points in the “B” Final. Below: serious stuff, the Over 40s presentation!
There’s no way the Over 50s/60s combined event could compete with the “youngsters” after that but they did have their moments with plenty of effort shown by all. Incidentally it was great to have some long-distance travellers here today, the Glasgow boys Jim Alexander with everyone’s Grandad, the irrepressible Chic Mackie and Brian Davidson from the opposite end at Hellingly, while John Sidwick hauled his ass up from Newport to take part – well done indeed gents. Also nice to have Paul Matthews and Jim Collier up from Swindon and I’m sure the pair will take in as many rounds as they can this season. There are a few notable changes to the older groups this year, biggest of all being Norman Venson’s step up from the Over 40s which he could have done last year but honourably declined. Euro-Vets stalwart, super-competitive “Media Man” Joe McLaughlin of Coventry was only just granted medical clearance to compete today after a nasty bout of pneumonia (is there any other kind – methinks not!) and 2016 sees Joe also moving up a step, this time into the Over 60s. Let’s see what happens when Joe recovers some semblance of fitness again.
Other big news for the class is still a little distant but will be huge for the Over 60s which is a little threadbare at times, and that is the prospect of both Paul Timms and Phil Hemming moving up next year (and if I read the Eighteen Minutes Past Thirty Three News page correctly maybe Ray Oliver too!). Now that should spice things up nicely for the pensionable brethren! There was one other great boost for the Over 50s today and that was the presence of ex-World Champion Ray Oliver. Ray’s been very busy over the winter gathering information on the latest bike tech and his mount today was beautifully turned out and also fitted with fat tyres, as indeed most seem to be now. And apart from a fall in his first ride, largely due to loose material on the outer edge of the pits bend, Ray had a very impressive start to the new series and was the only one to head the super fast Dave Frith.
Again, like the Over 40s It was a bit of a surprise to see past Over 50s Champion Paul Timms and current Champ Steve Hodgkinson not reach the “A” Final but such was the level of competition today in another great sporting display by the older riders. The Under 80s Final went the way of the grid positions, pic below.
Below: that can't be the Youngster mistaking the flag for a toilet?