So 27 riders turned out at Northumbria for Round Five of this year’s Euro-Vets Grand Prix Series and I thank each and every one for making the effort. As usual there was decent riding support from my own Club, as indeed there should be at major events like this and indeed our biggest of 2016, although we were quite short on support staff numbers which wasn’t so pleasing. Gavin Parr quite admirably didn’t want to ride as he hadn’t done any of the other rounds so far and brother Michael also turned out but only to help run the meeting. Gavin refereed and Mastered the Ceremony very well while Michael was Starter and Flag Marshall. Thanks to our Head Coach Richie Smith for coming to help with the starting gates on a rare free day, otherwise we’d have been a little hard-pressed. And on that point I owe a real debt of gratitude to Judith Parr for running everything else on a day when I had other things on my mind.
Last time out at Norwich there was a bit of excitement about the fresh paint on the starting gate. We’d also painted ours a few days before the meeting and I’d made sure that the tyre area was even wider than normal by painting thinner lines. On top of that, before the meeting started I had a generator and grinder on it to cut some fresh grooves, the last thing I wanted was for anyone to suffer the same fate as Mark Winwood and myself had in Norfolk which was really just bad luck for both of us although it hurt Mark a lot more than me at the end of that day!
The usual suspects turned out from far flung Hellingly, continuing their fabulous support for the Series, while John Sidwick and Euro-Vets Comedian-in-Chief Paddy Wenn were the next furthest travellers all the way from Newport and Norwich. I had expected our good friends from Glasgow to make the trip and indeed they did, all four of the current Series entrants, so thanks for that boys. I’m actually a Glasgow rider in our tri-club 3 Rivers League with Edinburgh unless I’ve been sacked this season.
On my “unexpected” guest list today were the aforementioned John Sidwick, ex-World Champion Ray Oliver, currently listed as a Brandon (Coventry) rider and running close to the top of the Over 50 brigade - fantastic to have him race here at tiddlers Northumbria CSC – together with what looked like a very nicely recovered (or at least recovering) Joe McLaughlin whom I certainly did not expect to see back on a bike yet after a horrible year and a terrible crash at Glasgow. Keep it safe Joe, please? Travelling with Joe was Dave Frith who has only missed Glasgow and also present was Phil Hemming, always great to see Phil but I wasn’t sure he’d make it here after missing both Glasgow and Norwich. Another rider I didn’t expect to see today was Horspath big hitter Andy Johnson with only one previous appearance at the Poole round, quite a travel for Andy from Oxford and great to see him up here too.
I got a pleasant surprise when I rolled up to the track just after 10:00 am to see Youth Category flyers, Leicester’s Mark Whitehead and Kev Burns inspecting the track after an early arrival following Norman Venson’s advice that the Frozen North was a great deal further away than they thought! They reckoned they hadn’t broken any laws on the drive up – I wonder??? Five debutants making Cramlington track appearances today, how would their fortunes fare?
The biggest miss on the day was Over 40 World Champion and current Series leader Craig Marchant, but the Leicester superstar covered himself in glory by letting me know well in advance that he was committed to running his club’s round of the British Youth & Junior League today. We missed him but other performances made up for his absence and we did have Third in the World Kev to compensate. Also on BYJL duty today was E-V stalwart Stevie Hodgkinson who I’m certain would have been here otherwise.
With Craig missing, the Leicester steamroller still reigned supreme as the Over 40s heats unfolded, both Kev and Mark Whitehead heading the scorechart. Just behind those two came home hero Jason Keith and, following a worrying first race, reigning Champ Mark Winwood. Surely this wasn’t going to be another case of cruel luck for the Birmingham rider? On the next rung down came Martyn Hollebon, no surprise there while Andy Johnson rode superbly on his first visit to Northumbria and was the only one to defeat Kev, in the final heat.
It’s a shame we have gaps in the programme which can lead to 3, 2 or even occasionally just a single rider in a race, but it’s to be expected with such immense distances covered by our extremely worthy Brotherhood. However that problem rarely detracts from the overall spectacle and there were some great races today as always. The bulk of the excitement came within the Over 40s with several current or occasional Elite and Major league riders being the ones to take the most risks, especially through the first turn. Even then it is noticeable from the videos that a bit of extra care was being taken around Cramlington's tight bends. While there may be less room on the outside for daredevil tactics, you can always bet on "Paddy Power" to give it a good go inside or out, and the newly crowned Norfolk Veterans Champion proved a couple of times that a tight inside line could be beneficial and he used it to great effect in the "B" Final to win from the back. After Mark Winwood's slip-up at an elbow-ridden first turn he bounced back to winning ways with four straight wins to book his place in the "A" Final alongside the Leicester duo and Wor Jason.
The Over 50s "A" Final looked all sewn up going into the final lap until Ray Oliver, chasing down Dave Frith and Norman Venson (yep, Leicester again!) spotted a gap inside Norm the Storm and took his chance, only to ride over the kerb clipping Norman's back wheel and coming down, remopunting to take third. A tactical ride by Phil Hemming in the Over 50 "B" Final saw him hold off a persistent outside threat from home rider Keith Oldham and a brilliantly tight-lining Fred Rothwell who fell at the end of the third lap on the pits bend, also remounting for third after Joe McLaughlin had withdrawn from the race before the start. I think that's Keith's first Final, so well done to him.
The one sad event of the day occurred in Heat 13 (oh yes, 13) of the Over 50/60 match when, entering the pits bend on lap 3 John Sidwick spotted a gap under Jim Alexander and made a play for it, clipping Jim's back wheel and tumbling off highside style.Typically after that kind of spill, John landed on his right shoulder and although he was in some pain he took his next ride before retiring. It only came to light later that poor John had in fact broken his collarbone, so really tough luck on him, and even worse that he was up in the North East with his family for a few days' break. Hope it all heals up well and quickly John.
The Over 60's "B" Final saw a splendid gentlemanly 4-lap "parade" by Chic Mackie and Brian Davidson who rode side by side to what looked inevitably like a dead heat but was just literally inched on the line by the Hellingly man after an entertaining contest appreciated by all. Once again the "A" Final result mimicked the gate positions although I have to say that Joe looked very sprightly on his return to racing after a really hard time again this year, good to see him going at it and indeed gating well too. Let's hope there's no more trauma lying in wait for Coventry's Media Mastermind and although some of us thought it unwise for him to come back so soon I think he enjoyed his day and we thank him, as indeed we do everyone else, for taking the trouble to visit Northumbria today.
Heat 10 of the Over 40s was possibly the best race of the day with Dave Frith coming from virtually last place going into turn one to squeeze under both Norman and Ray when they clashed after Norm had driven under leader Ray outside the pits forcing them both wide. This was to give Dave that decisive extra point going into the Finals where grid position would be vital. Ray came unstuck on the following lap while mounting an outside challenge on Norman, enough to tail him off for the finish.
Having 2 wins and 2 seconds, Andy Johnson was so unlucky to miss out on the "A" Final by a single point while Martyn was even more unlucky after nabbing 3 wins. With Paddy a point adrift of these two and Eddie one further back the lineup for the 40s "B" Final looked pretty tasty. Once again Paddy demonstrated his stickiness into the first bend with another super cutback after Martyn and Andy had the elbows out, driving them plenty wide of the kerb. This tussle continued as Paddy sped away with Eddie impressively giving chase right to the flag.
The Grand Finale saw Kev, the two Marks and Jason line up for the Dog of the Day shootout. Kev maximised grid one and shot away, hugging the inside, while once again a relatively "bumpy" first turn saw his Leicester teammate Mark decide a right turn was more appropriate moving well out to mid-track to nudge Jason and Mark Winwood more-or-less out of contention. However, the pair were to get their revenge when he hit some loose shale and dumped it leaving turn two lap two, leaving Jason to paddle past and Mark unravelling the bikes to claim third place and a definite upturn in his 2016 E-V season.
Not a Classic meeting, but another worthy one, and it was great to see the aforementioned new faces making the effort to get here.Can anyone stop the Leicester Monarchs ruling the roost in 2016? Thanks to everyone who helped raise a very surprising amount for Orchid with substantial raffle tickets and programme sales.