Strictly speaking, this was numebr 8, with the Hull meeting not part of the Grand Prix Series. But onward.
Every previous round has guaranteed a fair helping of terrific racing, and once again the Coventry event did not disappoint. There was a whole wadge of top-class clashes in the Over 40 category with the Euro-Vets GP Series once again being excellently supported by a dynamic bunch of racers. Leicester's trio of Mark Whitehead, Kev Burns and World Champion Craig Marchant were back for more, as was Birmingham's Mark Winwood and Hellingly star Martyn Hollebon as the chase for final podium positions draws to a climax. Horspath's British Champion, Steve Harris attended with a superb supporting cast led by Paddy Wenn of Norwich, Hellingly's Eddie Ridley, Mick Knowles from Heckmondwike, Andy Johnson and Jim Collier of Horspath and Northumbrian Jason Keith. Every single one of these riders had at least one stand-out performance over their 20 heat dust-up. Not sure if "dust-up"'s a good description of the match considering outcome of heat 3 in the Over 50/60 meeting but more of that in a mo.
While 12 riders filled out the Over 40 field nicely, the older bunch started off with one less, a wee bit of a surprise considering where we were and the abundance of talent around the Midlands. Still a good turnout though, and also as competitive as ever, if a little more relaxed at times.Good to see current Over 50 Champion Steve Hodgkinson make a rare 2016 appearance, as did Wednesfield's Phil Hemming while once again Leicester's top guns Dave Frith and Norman Venson maintained their season-long presence with Brandon's British Champion Ray Oliver turning out again. Special mention must be made of the un-put-downable Chic Mackie, that spritely young kid from Glasgow who's been a great supporter of the Series, and also Leicester's Colin Pole, returning to the saddle quite soon after a serious health scare. Supporting cast consisted of Euro-Vets mastermind Fred Rothwell, Steph Whitehead of Leicester (where would we be without this great Club's fabulous support this year?), home club Coventry's own revitalised and hopefully fully fit again Joe McLaughlin and Northumbria's Terry Kirkup.
Heat 1 of the Over 40s saw the first Clash of the Titans with Kev and clubmate Mark facing each other. A familiarly tactical first bend saw Mark defend the turn well but with Eddie pressing hard, the action saw Mark come off the line enough for Kev to take the lead while Eddie suffered a slip to finish last behind Jim. Pressure got to Jason in the heat 2 with Martyn and Paddy inside him and Steve on 4, a gate exclusion costing him dearly, while Steve blasted around the banking to head off Martyn and a typically effervescent Paddy. Craig made no mistake off the inside against Mark Winwood while Andy got the better of Mick's close company at the flag in the third. With the initial four-man races over there was plenty of track space for the remainder which saw some classic duels and a few surprises along the way, the highlights being two spectacular efforts from Andy and Mick. Kev was the only unbeaten rider after three rides but a tense heat 15 saw him run a third to Craig and Martyn while Steve took top spot, beaten only by Kev in heat 11 to finish on 19. After two second places Mark Winwood grabbed three vital wins to give him 18, Kev finishing just one behind.
Controversy hit Craig in his last ride while running wide on turn 3 when his trailing leg took the charging Steve's front wheel away in heat 17 with both himself and Steve sat on 15 points. Initially all four were recalled to the start but a dramatic about-turn saw Craig finally excluded amongst some confusion and what seemed like lengthy deliberation trackside. While our World Champ had no qualms about the exclusion, knowing he'd committed a foul, he didn't take the delivery of the reversal very well after first being allowed back in, and was ready to call it a day as a protest, even leaving the pits and starting to get changed. Someone must have persuaded him to change his mind however, and he was soon back where he belonged amongst his teammates. He later posted a full apology on Facebook, and I'm sure we can all sympathise, if not agree, with his initial decision. Having said that, you won't find too many 17 year olds willing to referee a match like this.
Worthy mentions must go to Mick Knowles, Paddy Wenn, Eddie Ridley and Andy Johnson for some heroic efforts throughout the match which, given the somewhat crunchy nature of the bone dry, unswept surface kept the racing fast and furious throughout.
The first heat of the Over50/60 programme saw Dave win with an overtake of his teammate Norman from the outside, that nasty arm injury earlier in the week having no apparent effect on Dave's speed today, while Stevie kept up the challenge in third place, his lowest score of the day but followed by four wins. It was an all-60s heat 2 with Joe pushing Terry hard and Steph getting the better of Fred for third. There was controversy of a different kind in the next when British Champion Ray Oliver fell coming out of the pits bend well ahead of Phil, Colin and Chic. Amazingly Ray packed up and left, complaining bitterly about the track, both immediately after returning to the pits and again on Facebook after the meeting. The whole entourage was stunned by this, none of us believing he'd actually left until we couldn't find him for his next outing, after which an eerie, almost embarrassed hush descended on Hearsall Common! That left Norman, the unbeaten Dave and Steve virtually unchallenged for the remainder of this one to run out as top three with Phil next best. Ray's departure together with the blank space at number four meant a few 2-rider heats in this one which was a little disappointing but resulted in a very close battle for semi-final positions.
Over 40s "B" Final: Mark Whitehead won this one with a super start over Craig on grid 1, while it was toys and games time for the Champ who moved aside for Jason (who just scraped in on countback) and Paddy on the last lap, enjoying this race just for fun rather than points gathering, Craig well aware of his fairly healthy lead in the GP Series now. Watch the video and note Paddy's glance across at the Ref and his hand gesture going into the first bend, he saw something I didn't but wasn't it a beaut of a gate from Mark!! Here's the video.
Below: Mark reckons he'll try the Usain Bolt starting technique to get across Craig!
I jest of course. In fact Mark had just had to take avoiding action as the tapes failed to rise on the outside first time, and his resultant twisting action to escape death by garotting resulted in what looked like a nasty back sprain from where I was standing. Here's the during and after shots, it sure looked painful to me at the time:
Over 40s "A" Final: This one was barely predictable considering the absolute class of the lineup.Once again I'll let the video do the talking! Once again an immense amount of effort put in by all four and once again we see a brilliant attitude from the unfortunate Steve who just shrugs it off and comes back for more, another one down to Lady Luck. Speaking of which this was a much happier day for our current Euro-Vets Champion Mark Winwood, at last getting a decent run of the stuff after being surely the unluckiest rider in this year's Series. Just for Steve, there's also a slo-mo version of his getoff in the Video link above. Here's the full race.
Below: it's all in the preparation!
Mark gets a bit of help (or hindrance?) from Steve!
Over 50's "B" Final: With a low turnout of real Over 50s and Joe pulling out before tapes-up it was left to Fred, Steph and Terry to fight this one out, the first two getting away smartly from a sluggish Northumbrian with Steph holding off Fred to the flag. Video here.
Over 50's "A" Final: This went the way of the grid positions, and also the way all of Dave's impressive races had gone today as he got the better of Norman away from the gate, while the scrap between those other Midlands rivals Steve and Phil was over at the first bend with the Brummie almost stopping and taking Phil to the pits fence, the Leicester duo already half a lap ahead (slight exaggeration, but you get the idea!). See Video here.
Over 60's "B" Final: This only required Chic to run around on his own for a lap to claim the GP points and maintain his third position in the overall Series.
Over 60's "A" Final: With Joe's unfortunate exclusion and subsequent points loss earlier he lost the opportunity of an inside gate for the Final, having to settle for grid three. Terry got away from one to win chased by Steph after a great getaway from grid 2 until Joe got by on lap two with Fred running a fourth.
Below: One going straight, two turning right, one turning left!