National Championship 2006

The 2006 National Championship
Hednesford, August 5/6

Martin’s close National

Graham Brown
 reports:  Keith Martin finally put his Hednesford jinx well and truly behind him as he took his first ever National championship victory, despite several stoppages and having to fend off a serious challenge from Steve Thompson over the closing stages. Keith also had to manage the latter while battling with savage brake fade.

The big entry from all over the UK certainly needed the six heats scheduled for Saturday – in fact, even the eight heats once seen at the Nats might not have gone amiss.

Although the entry was still pretty impressive, it never quite breached the fifty mark some had been hoping for, due to one or two last minute cancellations and no-shows. Even those who fully intended to race didn’t always make it either. Ulsterman Alan Wilson and itinerant German racer Winnie Holtmanns both suffered blown motors in practice, and Pat Casey discovered he had engine problems while loading his car up, meaning that he turned up but the car didn’t.

Nevertheless, 44 cars was the eventual total present and ready to race, with a very cosmopolitan feel to the pits too, as there were nine Southern Irish cars on hand, and ten from the North – those figures depending on how you class Ian McReynolds and Mike Oliver. Alternatively, Oliver was the sole Welsh representative – as he generally is – with three Scots too, including Stock rodder Davy Philp Jnr, having his second Nationals outing courtesy of Ricky Hunn.

In amongst those NI cars, both Gary and Wayne Woolsey were persevering with their new 206cc’s, while Ian Thompson Snr was making his NHR debut on this side of the water in Jnr’s 206 from last season. Sadly, it was a visit which didn’t last all that long, as this was another car quickly by the wayside with motor ailments.

James Jamieson’s spare VW was again pressed into use for Colin White, while another Hunn – Terry – made his NHR debut at the wheel of the older 639 car. Another debutant was a further Stock Rod refugee in the shape of Dean Stimson, having a twirl in brother Neil’s Fiesta. One final footnote to the “entries news”, was the first appearance of Ralph Sanders’ new 206cc – the one we were expecting to see at the World – and very smart it looked too, with its bright red paint and huge rear spoiler.

Saturday’s weather didn’t start out looking too promising, but the persistent morning drizzle eventually and reluctantly gave way to a dry track by start time.

It was the Corrados of Jamieson and Matt Simpson that headed them away, with Keith Martin third once he’d passed Philp, Davy having had quite a tussle early on with Joey Butler. Far away from those arguing over the major places, there was an interesting scrap going between Rob Hadfield, Mike Riordan – with the left side door hanging off – and Ian Thompson Jnr. Riordan’s extra wide car was making passing difficult and was clearly frustrating Thompson, until Mike attracted a black flag for the problematic panel. 

Shortly after that, Barry English, Les Compelli, Keith Woods and Rob Hadfield all got together in the East bend in a clinch which looked fairly certain wasn’t going to see all of them clear the corner safely. It didn’t. Hadfield went in very hard indeed, severely buckling his spaceframe among other things, and finishing his racing for the weekend.

Rob was still able to laugh about this the following day, while showing off the harness marks on his shoulders, and telling a tale of the medic who came to his wrecked car to see if he was all right. Rob commented that he was mostly fine, but that his nuts really hurt! The medic said he hoped they were going to be alright, as he wasn’t going to examine them!!

The caution period for Hadfield’s crash put the three lead cars  – 305, 303 and 994 – together, with Martin overhauling Simpson after a couple of attempts, but unable to catch Jamieson. 

Heat two kicked off with Nigel Steward and Stewart Doak vying for the lead. But Chris Haird was looking supremely confident and went straight up the outside and raced around the pair of them. Haird marched away thereafter, while Doak passed Steward, Nigel seemingly in trouble as the race progressed, Carl Boardley and Dick Hillard both going by before the finish.

Boardley had earlier been involved in a home straight incident which saw Oliver go spinning as they crossed the start/finish and attracted Carl a black cross. Both drivers were interviewed by the steward afterwards, Oliver apparently accepting that the incident had not been Boardley’s fault.

The third heat was an action-packed affair, with far too much contact going on. Les Compelli hung onto the lead for many laps, firstly pressed by Gary Woolsey, and later Pat Canavan, Alan Connolly and Ian Thompson – at least until the latter attracted a black flag for sending Mike Riordan spinning. Quite how Mike managed to rotate so fast in the middle of the pack, almost without making contact with anyone, remained a mystery.

With Compelli, Canavan and Connolly locked in combat for the lead, Malcolm Blackman managed to get up and join in too. Eventually Compelli went into the West bend too deep and allowed Canavan and Connolly past, with Pat going on to take the win. Compelli’s efforts to hang onto third saw him cannon off Blackman, sending Malcolm into a very smoky spin which lost him a lot of hard won ground as he eventually trailed in eleventh.

Also worthy of mention in this one was Woods, who slickly took advantage of the dice between Doak and Boardley to zip past both of them and swipe fourth spot.

Heat four provided a flag to flag win for Steve Thompson who never looked remotely like being challenged. Des Cooney was closing for a time, but once the leader stretched his legs again he finished well clear. Dick Hillard (third) and Simpson (fourth) both recorded telling results as far as their eventual grid positions were concerned.

Along the way in this one, James O’ Shea clobbered the wall hard, Phil Spinks spun out of contention on the East bend, and Jamieson had obviously hit something, as he was trailing smoke from the right front, where bodywork was touching the tyre. In the same boat was Martin, only in his case it was from the left rear.

Retirement seemed to be beckoning for the ’05 world champion, but maybe his Hednesford luck was on the turn; the smoke eventually died away. Presumably he’d either worn a sufficiently large groove in the tyre to clear the body, or ground away enough of the body to clear – usually the tyre goes flat before either of these things happen. You could be forgiven for thinking ‘So what: he only finished ninth’ – but in the strange topsy-turvy land that was qualifying at this year’s Nats, not only was that going to be classed as a good finish, in the final analysis, it didn’t hurt anything like a non-finish would have done.

A restart was precipitated in heat five, when Blackman was sent spinning as they took the flag at the first attempt. Steward Paul Gerrard couldn’t decide who’d taken him out, and so deemed it an unsatisfactory start.

Once they were racing, it was Andy Holtby and Stu Carter who set the pace. Carter was eventually to lose out to Martin, but the leader was never in any danger, while the manner in which debutant Dean Stimson achieved his fourth spot ahead of Connolly was noteworthy. Keeping in front of a driver of Connolly’s calibre was good, but knowing when to let someone like Martin through showed considerable sense too.

The last qualifier had popular Irishman Tom Casey on pole and looking to break his duck. Despite a couple of yellow flags Tom did everything expected of him to lead every step of the way, despite the best efforts of pursuers Colin Smith, Ian Thompson, Ronnie McMillan and Gary Woolsey.

English had a massive impact with one of the infield tyre walls after a coming together with Ian Thompson, while the first of those yellows was thrown when Compelli went into the wall hard on the back straight. The other caution came about when Sanders got stuck on the East bend exit. 

This last minute success wasn’t enough to convince Casey to take up his place on the grid, with a car that was less than great and starting so far back. Aside from that win, Tom really hadn’t had a terrific day, and he was in some good company. As I said earlier, qualifying produced some really odd, against the form book results. And I’d like to have seen what odds you could have got Saturday morning on Dean Stimson, a first-time-outer remember, out-qualifying Spinks, Riordan and Casey, and very nearly equalling Blackman’s score into the bargain! 

With Casey and Butler both declining their starts in the final, this allowed second reserve Spinks into the line up of 32 qualifiers. Phil probably wished he hadn’t bothered though…..

Martin, on the other hand, had ended up claiming pole, with Steve Thompson alongside. Row two comprised Hillard and Simpson, these two having been tied at the top of the points scorers after the first round of heats. But the pre-event favourites were scattered throughout the rest of the grid, a few examples including Boardley (grid 10), John Christie (11) and Ian Thompson (18).

Steve Thompson was the first to break but Martin went ahead in turn one, and it was their battle which was ultimately to be the story of the race. 

Simpson, Holtby and Hillard tucked in behind them, but Martin was soon drawing clear once he was in the groove. When he started encountering back markers though, Thompson closed in again just before the first bout of yellow flags for Les Compelli who’d spun on the West bend exit and become stranded there. By this stage, Cooney had already had a spin, Neville Stanley was out, Ian Thompson had gone a lap down and Spinks had spun to a halt on the West bend and been forced to reverse very carefully to safety.

Compelli was stuck a bit further round than where Spinks had been, backed into the bank, and didn’t move for a while. When he did finally get a gear, it was a forward one – just as Martin arrived on the scene! Having given Keith and a number of other people – including the steward – a heart attack, the yellows finally came out.

Thompson was all over Martin at the restart, but Keith was equal to that and with Simpson and Holtby for company, the first four broke clear for a time. This only lasted until the next hiatus, caused this time by Ronnie McMillan having suffered the same fate as Spinks and Compelli.

Another restart, and another restart with similar results, Martin continuing to lead Thompson, Simpson and Holtby. Further back, Boardley appeared to be on the move at last, passing Connolly to set about trying to relieve Gary Woolsey of sixth. But his attempt to get by down the outside merely served to let Connolly by again, Alan taking Christie and Jamieson through in his wake. Then they were all brought up short again, this time when Keith Woods and Davy Philp collided with each other and the wall.

From that point on it was a race to the finish, with 37 of the 75 laps remaining. Thompson was not even slightly impressed with the back marking Ian McReynolds being positioned right where he’d been prior to the stoppage, i.e. between himself and the leader. But McReynolds immediately sidestepped the pack, and once again we were back to Martin being chased by Thompson, with Simpson, Holtby and Hillard in the places. Boardley was still the man to watch further back as he started to really pick up the pace and some positions.

Nearing the finish, Martin made the unwelcome discovery that he had virtually no brakes. Suddenly Thompson was on him like a rottweiler, with the others rushing to join in too. Thompson went for an outside pass, but ducked back in again when he realised how close Simpson now was.

With Martin being slowed by his problem, the first five were soon line astern, with Hillard looking up the outside of all of them from the back of the train and Boardley hurrying to get involved too. In fact, Hillard’s try up the outside was what allowed Boardley to move up to fifth.

With only five laps left, and the lead pair now slightly clear of the others, Thompson had nothing to lose and everything to gain. He went outside again and got alongside several times, but in the end couldn’t quite manage to get his nose in front and keep it there, the pair going over the stripe still side by side in one of the closest finishes ever. Simpson had kept third throughout, likewise Holtby fourth, while Boardley just managed to pip the fast finishing Hillard for fifth at the line.  Graham Brown

Heat 1:  305 994  303 901  962 29 977  940 170  61
Heat 2:  115 996  41  31  75  944 491  911 50 718
Heat 3:  939 77 777  25  940 41 984  996 142  977
Heat 4:  170 921  31  303 75 718  962 61 994  305
Heat 5:  61  994 85 27 77 50 170  962 911  303
Heat 6:  961 491  901 944  940 921  142 718 31 25
Final: the 2006 National Championship
994  170 303  61  41  31  940 115  305 911
Allcomers Grand National:  57  151 14 961  75  718 27 777