I'd like to say as a precursor to trying to report the whole day, what a fantastic response from the Far South! Well done Newport, never seen so many blue shirts in one place. And well done Rob Geach just nipping up the road from Exeter. Great to see some new faces getting involved in the Series.
Considering the injury and its potential complications, Dave Hemsley made a startling return to action and I must also acknowledge the attendance level and effort put in by the hosting club, in particular my erstwhile and hopefully future travelling companion Mick Knowles who spiced up the day not only with his curry (no Mick, I didn't!) and his extra awards for every visitor. A great start to the 2018 competition. Thanks also to young Kyle Holland for refereeing the meeting.
While I’ve done nowt but whinge about the season starting too early and ending too late I felt the same as the other Euro-Vets I talked to today, it’s been too long coming!
I’ll start by congratulating Astley & Tyldesley on their presentation; the track looked great as did the surrounds and the flags set it off very nicely for our opener. I think most of us expected the weather to be less than dry but although we had a biting wind for the duration, the precipitation stayed on the far side of the Pennines.
Getting back to “normal”, the compact Northumbrian contingent was last to arrive, no surprise there and again blamed on GPS failure. As we entered the pits though, we thought we’d got proper lost and ended up in South Wales! Yes indeed, a whole host of hitherto virtually unseen Newport race jerseys bedecked the place, a magnificent turnout and just what the Series needs. I don’t think Steve Clark has appeared in the Series before, but you lot will sharp let me know otherwise. Good to see you here Steve. A bit more studying revealed plenty of Team Green’s colours too with Mark Brundrett making his E-V debut and fellow Team Greener Paul Graham in his first E-V GP. As ever Leicester Monarchs team wear was much in evidence. Sadly last year’s runner-up Kev Burns is still suffering from a nasty back injury and I believe Mark Whitehead is similarly indisposed.
While our super-reliable southern cousins from Hellingly were unable to make it through transport difficulties, new E-V recruit Rob Geach did manage it all the way from Exeter. Welcome to the fold Rob. From t’other side of Brexit Land came seasoned traveller Paddy Wenn with his super-supportive folks in tow again. I may be wrong twice here, but I think Chris Ward emanates from somewhere in the Home Counties and I think he didn’t bother with the Over 50s, landing here today for his inauguration in the Super-Vet class. Good to have you aboard too Chris.
Oh, almost forgot – Newport also had a suave young man representing them in the Over 40s for the first time, a sleek specimen with a World Champion’s wheels – new signing James Collier. Defending double-Champion Craig Marchant was back again to defend his title but Wednesfield’s duo of 2017 Champions, Over 50s Mark Griffiths and Over 60s Phil Hemming weren’t, unfortunately. The Great Wee Man himself, Chic Mackie hauled himself down from Glasgow in this his 80th year, most of those spent taking part in our great Sport. I believe it was called Cycle Speedway when he started way back when (cheeky Short Track me, hee hee!).
Fresh from his victory in the preceding weekend’s Ross Mee Spring Championship meeting at Leicester, Birmingham’s super-fit Mark Winwood lined up with Leicester’s Dave Hemsley and debutants, A&T’s Paul Graham and Rob Geach of Exeter. Mark showed more of his devastating early season form to romp to a good win while the other three engaged in battle behind, Paul getting the better of Dave and Rob at the finish, the Leicester man taking it steadily to protect that awful ankle damage, the screwed repair due to be operated on sometime soon. It didn't take Rob long to acclimatise to the rarified atmosphere of the Frozen North. The track was firm enough but was a little slick in places especially off the ideal racing line.
Below: Heat One and the Euro-Vets 2018 GP Series prepares to take off on Astley & Tyldesley's trotting track.
Just trotting along
New A&T winter signing, globe-trotter Steve Harris chose to kick-start his season by competing in the Over 40s and 50s, somewhat against the spirit of the competition but the precedent had been set by Mark Griffiths last year (if not earlier?), although he bailed after his attempt in Round Two and stayed with his own Over 50 set to win it. Steve duly won his first race from Jason Keith, hustled as always by home man Mick Knowles and Mark Brundrett.
2017 champ Craig Marchant got his defence off to the best possible start in heat 3 to win from homester Mark Grantham, Jim Collier and Craig Burt, the sole Wednesfield representative in today’s field. However he then suffered a fall in his second outing riiding hard against Steve and Dave.
Heat 4 saw a very cool Paul Graham maximise his home track knowledge with a great win over a persistent Mark Grantham with Jim Collier holding off Craig Burt, the first of two heat victories, while Rob Geach also collected his first E-V win in the next and repeated that in his last ride, two slide-offs potentially robbing him of an “A” Final place in an impressive debut outing.
Mark Winwood went through the card until his colours were lowered by the Champ in his last race so we had Mark, Steve and Craig with four wins apiece, Dave on three and Paul and Rob two each after another set of races with plenty of interest to continue the theme of previous years.
The Over 50s and 60s got a few more 4-man races with the extra competitor, 13 to the Over 40’s 12. World Champion Norman Venson took the first of three heat wins over Paul Timms, happily postponing his threatened retirement after making his debut in the Over 60s last year, Terry Kirkup and Colin Simmons who slipped a pedal early on.
Steve Harris kicked off his charge to maximum points over Chris Ward and Chic Mackie in heat two, while Dave Frith, happily almost mended after a calamitous and painful 2017 won the next from an impressive Steve Clark and Kev Greaves, the latter our latest step-up to the Super-Vets order which I hadn’t realised until he lined up next to me in the final! Kev was very unlucky to shear his sprocket in his first race which may well have knocked his confidence a little. Somehow the bike circulated for three laps on 33-13!
Heat four was won by Paddy Wenn, first of a trio of wins for our happy-go-lucky Norvicensian with Ashie Patterson and our super patron Fred Rothwell chasing for second place after the Sowerby Superstar slipped a pedal off the grid.
Colin only dropped two more points, to Steve and Paddy, winning a great scrap with Dave in their final race. The final itself may have looked a bit different had not Dave taken a tumble in heat 12 when nicely placed, but fortunately he bounced well and was unharmed this time although an audible gasp was heard in the pits. Norman dropped just two points to Steve and Clubmate Dave with uber consistent and rapid Paul Timms netting 17 points to ease into the “A” Final. Retirement, what retirement?
I can’t remember what order the finals took place in but they were a bit scattered due to someone who shall remain nameless having thirty-something rides and oodles of two-or-more-on-the trots.
Over 60s “B” Final: Fred took the flag chased home by Chris, Ashie and Chic.
Over 50s “B” Final: Colin took advantage of his gate 1 to win from Dave Frith, Steve Clark and Terry. Definitely worth the trip for the South Wales legend.
Over 40s “B” Final: Dave Hemsley sped away from Rob, Mark Grantham and Jason.
Over 60s “A” Final: A determined ride saw Colin snatch the advantage over Paul Timms with Terry just holding off an unfit Kev.
Over 50s “A” Final: Trotter blasted away from the field to win and complete an unbeaten run ahead of a titanic struggle between Paddy, Norman and Paul. Half a job done. I don't think Paddy was too upset not to add to his 3-match unbeaten run!
Over 40s “A” Final: A fine gate had man-in-form Mark stretching away for a well-deserved victory over Craig and Paul Graham while Steve tried the outside run only to come unstuck, literally, on the glassy outside line. Great effort though and 39 points out of 40 in his heats was mighty impressive.