World Championship 2016

Maxwell’s golden hammer

2016 World Final and NHR Support Races

Ipswich, 2/3 July 2016

Graham Brown.  Adam Maxwell took a popular victory in the National Hot Rod world championship after a close fight with defending champion Shane Murphy. Their duel ended controversially after a clash between the pair left Murphy in the wall but the stewards had no hesitation confirming Maxwell as the winner after having viewed video with the race still in progress. Southern Irishman David Casey claimed second ahead of European and English champion Carl Waller-Barrett, while Danny Fiske’s drive through to fourth from grid position 25 was one of the highlights of the race.

Much as in 2015, for the whole week leading up to the event the weather forecasters had been hedging their bets about what the conditions were going to be like for the weekend. Friday had been pleasantly warm, sunny and dry – quite acceptable speed-weekend weather in fact.  Saturday turned out to rather a different matter and we were probably fortunate the heavy showers waited until lap times were done and dusted, as those doing the support races weren’t quite so lucky! As for Sunday and the race itself, although conditions looked pretty similar to Saturday, in the end we were actually spared any precipitation.

No last minute additions to the entry this year, although we very nearly had a subtraction when Mikey Godfrey and team had their hard work rewarded by their motor giving up the ghost before they could even get as far as doing lap times. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the team were given special dispensation to employ their second car – fortunately they had one available – although it still had to be readied and got to the track, which turned out to be a bit of a drama in itself…and even then it would only be a rear of grid start for #27.

Everyone else was driving exactly what you’d expect them to be, although there was some new paint and new liveries in evidence, with every single car turned out with the immaculate preparation we’ve come to expect.

Stewart Doak was one with a completely different paint scheme on his car while another was Rob McDonald, who’d ditched the fate-tempting gold top half (OK Rob, yellow!) in favour of an almost fluorescent orange and black livery, which looked fantastic. Kym Weaver had moved to a medium blue scheme which was not only easy on the eye, but also means one less white car for me to try and pick out at the other end of the stadium! NI racer Gary Wilson was another in totally new colours, and my apologies to anyone I missed or just didn’t notice – I know everybody puts their utmost into looking spot on for the biggest event of the year, even if their cars look very little different in design to how they’ve been all season. 

Following the usual un-timed morning practice session it was soon 10.20am and time for the cars to roll out and face the unforgiving timing beams for hot laps and the formation of the grid. And this year saw the biggest shake-up to this process in, well….twenty three years! Because that was the last time the grid was based entirely on who runs fastest in those crucial three laps. Despite the fact there were extremely good reasons for the introduction and maintenance of the group system, in recent times it had become increasingly obvious that its time had passed. Quite apart from anything else, it was becoming more and more unfair on the Northern Irish entrants and, if I’m honest, first-past-the-post qualifying laps would always have been my preferred method of doing things in an ideal world. But with little choice now but to once again employ that system in any case, I haven’t met anyone with any complaints, even those who would have lost out by its re-introduction.

As first out, Mark Heatrick set the initial pace with his 14.91 which it took only seconds to be improved upon with number two runner John van den Bosch doing a 14.84, a time which turned out to be good enough for a spot more than halfway up the grid.

The first real benchmark however, came at only position five in the order when the defending champ took to the track, Murphy’s draw having forced him to run on the still relatively green and un-rubbered oval. Under the circumstances, his 14.67 was almost miraculous and would not be bettered by anyone in the next eighteen runners although, to be fair, Brett Walter was only a hundredth slower just two slots later. It’s probably reasonable to say that despite his undoubted pace at the T-500, few people were expecting that – and it was going to put him on the inside of row three.

Although (rather stupidly) I hadn’t visited Betfred and backed up my pre-event gut feel that Derek Martin, Adam Maxwell, Carl Waller-Barrett and David Casey would all be major players in the race itself, they all did quite well out of hot laps and in the end, did indeed play big parts in the main event. CW-B and Casey wound up with grid positions seven and six respectively. 

But, after having seemed for so long as if Murphy might have annexed pole with his lap, the three quickest times all came from the last ten drivers to run, Maxwell’s rival in the NI points championship, Derek Martin, claiming the outside front row (it looked like pole at the time) with a 14.62, while two-time winner Chris Haird got grid position three with his 14.66. And although fancied to do well by many prior to the event, Maxwell now put at least one foot on the ladder to the top step of the podium when, as the penultimate driver to run, his second lap time of 14.66s would have been enough to beat Murphy, while a third tour which broke the 14.60 barrier at 14.57 set the seal on pole. 

With that done and dusted the starting order for all of the eventual thirty four runners was sorted, Godfrey having no choice but to start second last and alongside whoever emerged from Saturday night’s races with the final ‘wildcard’ place on the grid.

Saturday ‘Wildcard’ Support Races
With the potential prize on offer of world final qualification, twenty six cars lined up to contest the support races this year, an entry which as usual featured a number of interesting drivers. Rarely (if ever) seen this side of the water were Ulster racer Ben McKee and ROI driver Jeff Riordan, while Billy Bonnar was making what I think was his first appearance south of the border since returning from suspension. Similarly, Bradley Dynes was back out after his ban and in what had recently been a Bonnar car too, by the look of it. 

But as in 2015, the biggest talking point was probably whether Adam Hylands could pull a last minute qualification out of the bag. And a mid-grid draw looked like making his attempts to progress interesting at the very least.

It was pole man Paul Gomm who led them away with Scots Graeme Callender and Bonnar right behind. Callender went wide at turn one and Gomm at turn three handing the lead to Bonnar and second spot to Tommy Maxwell, the recovered Callender settling into third ahead of McKee, Gomm and Adam Heatrick, with Hylands quickly up to seventh and definitely on the march. Unfortunately, just after beginning a challenge on Heatrick, Adam went spinning at turn four on his own oil. He wasn’t the only one either, Tom Keep, Steve Dudman and Sammy Shuddall’s venerable Peugeot 205 all rotating as well. With the 54 car having blown the oil pressure relief valve out of the dry sump pump and its driver unaware that anything was seriously wrong, Hylands drove some way further around the track, laying oil all over the place and eventually seizing the motor.

Following a necessarily lengthy delay for a clean-up Bonnar led them away into the inevitable clouds of dust, but it was only seconds before Maxwell darted under him exiting turn two. Bonnar came straight back at him though, trying first the inside, then outside, and then they just ran side by side! Billy certainly gave it his best shot but in the end it was Tommy Maxwell who claimed the win, with McKee getting home third ahead of Callender and Dynes after Heatrick got docked a couple of places for punting Paul Gomm wide at turn three.

The second heat was one of those races which in another time and place, with no curfew restraints to bother about, would simply never have happened. With the cars all lined up on the grid, a downpour of almost biblical proportions didn’t just soak the track, it inundated it. Needless to say, the vast majority were on slicks, although it soon became clear who had taken a bit of a tyre gamble. 

It looked as though Adrian Bennett took one look at the conditions and parked, and he wasn’t a bad judge. The rest set off for something which was not totally unlike watching powerboat racing. Paul Frost and Martin Heath looked like the men with the wets, and they were soon into the premier places and pulling away fast from third man Dudman, who had gone for two-and-two. To give some idea how this went, my long established form of note taking during a race includes a system for telling me roughly how far apart the scored cars are. +¼ for instance means the first car is a quarter lap ahead of the next. +½ is quite unusual in a heat race unless we’re at a short track, while +¾  is generally only seen in longer championships, so you can guess how often I use the notation +1½ in a heat race. But that’s what happened here. 

To be fair, Frost and Heath did have quite a scrap for the honours, with Martin only going in front when they came up to lap Duddy, who slid wide at just the wrong moment for Frost. Heath pressed on to win with both the leading cars starting to miss in the dying laps, this old-time form of traction control probably only making them quicker if anything. Amusingly, Frost spun at about five to go, allowing the third man to pass him, but only to un-lap himself for a bit! For the record, my notebook showed this at the finish:  66 +¾, 316 +1, 3.  I hadn’t a clue who was fourth and I couldn’t tell you the last time I scored a race as badly as that either. I can tell you that a huge effort to change the engine did get Hylands out for this but to no avail.

With that rain just a bad dream by final time, the grid lined up to decide the wildcard destination. Heath had pole with Lee Pepper alongside, McKee and Frost occupying row two ahead of Bonnar and Dynes.

When they blitzed away into turn one, it looked as though Pepper might have tried to cut down to the inside a touch early as they came to the exit from turn two. If that was the case, Heath certainly didn’t let him, the pair clashing wheels and sparking off an incident which swiftly involved pretty much the whole field and brought out the yellows.

With the order completely scattered by the crash, the restart left David York in the lead from Dynes, Adam Heatrick and Ivan Grayson. Dynes (with Heatrick and Grayson in tow) went by York almost as soon as the restart commenced, although York re-passed Grayson just as fast but at the expense of a black cross.

Then Heatrick got under Dynes going around backmarkers, York and Grayson following through – as well as Hylands! Hylands had started from grid 19 so he definitely wasn’t mucking about here. He hassled his way past a blue flagged Grayson, then swooped on the leaders, passed York, and looked to be on his way to a famous victory…until his left rear tyre blew off the rim, sending him spinning into retirement at turn three. Under the circumstances, setting the fastest lap wasn’t really much of a consolation, although Adam took it all philosophically enough, merely shrugging later and remarking, “It just wasn’t my day”.

Heatrick pressed on to take the flag despite York mounting a challenge right at the death. The fact that his attack was unsuccessful made no odds however, as Heatrick had done insufficient meetings to meet the rules regarding wildcards, thus handing the last world final grid slot to York.

Despite Saturday’s heavy showers and not all forecasters predicting a dry Sunday, in fact the day dawned with clear blue skies and hot sunshine beating on the track. That did not prevent a big cloud lurking right by the stadium as start-time neared however. 

For once there seemed to have been few overnight mechanical dramas among the finalists, but Mikey Godfrey had been united with his Tigra A, despite his dad having broken down on the way! 

The track looked a bit dusty during the warm up laps, although this soon cleared as the cars circulated, giving us time to consider the situation. This looked like being a battle of relative youth versus experience. Would young NI chargers Maxwell and Martin be desperate to emulate so many of their compatriots down the years and go for it like demons right from the off? Would previous winners Murphy and Haird, with nothing to prove, take it a bit easier until a few laps in, saving their tyres and cars for a late run? And if they did, how far away might one of the front row men have got by then? It was going to be interesting! 

World Final Grid
76  115  217  162  23  117  199  82  174  940  994  960  304  615  152  339  700  196
20  970  261  42    92  955  H66 45  996  209  305  491  467  31  75  36  27
Following some last minute bothers with the Raceceivers of Derek Martin and Ian Donaldson, they were off.

The Race – 75 Laps
The typically frantic opening gambits saw Martin get the best launch from his outside berth, which has undoubtedly been the side of the track to be on at Ipswich for a while now. He managed to stay alongside Maxwell all through turn one, all along the back straight and, with his car almost but not quite completely ahead of Maxwell’s, he tried to cut down to the inside line entering turn three. Not surprisingly Maxwell was having none of that and the pair collided going into the bend, Martin somehow saving the resulting huge slide and possible spin, and managing to stay in second. Both his and Maxwell’s car seemed to have survived the impact OK, but the other aces were queueing up to pounce on Martin, Murphy edging ahead at turn one and Haird following suit just before the yellow flags were waving on lap four for a multi-car fracas all over turns one and two. Here, Doak had gone spinning, as had Jaimie McCurdy, Shaun Taylor and Walter by the looks of things. Taylor and Walter weren’t fit to restart and Mark Edwards got disqualified for causing the incident in some way, shape or form.

By the time hostilities resumed, Martin was down to fifth, having lost another spot to Casey. And the British champ was clearly on the move too, as he darted under Haird coming off turn two. To be fair, Haird did not appear to resist the pass very strenuously and when he stepped aside for Derek Martin as well a lap later, it was obvious the double champ was in trouble. In fact, a gradually seizing motor would eventually lead to his retirement on lap 43.

But with the lead duo now lapping knots of backmarkers and Casey already quite a long way adrift, it was already becoming clear that this was probably just going to come down to Maxwell versus Murphy; young pretender versus reigning monarch. 

For many laps the pair circulated together, with Murphy just sitting back and waiting his chance, no doubt giving his rad some air and himself an easier time of it too….biding his time in other words. And when Maxwell finally started encountering the really sticky traffic, Murphy suddenly closed up those couple of yards and began nibbling at the leader’s bumper. 

As Jack Blood took a spin and Keith Martin called it a day almost unnoticed (to be followed out by nephew Derek not long after, another with an expired motor) Murphy piled on the pressure. Maxwell continued to negotiate the backmarkers neatly and safely, but a moment’s delay when trying to go by York on the outside was all it took for Murphy to dive for the opening inside line. He was alongside down the back straight and ahead as they closed fast again with York. As Murphy tried to cut back to the outside to pass the #196, he found Maxwell already started on the boxing in manoeuvre, the resulting impact turning the gold roofed Tigra straight into the wall.

Maxwell’s take on the incident later, was calm and considered.

“It wasn’t a nice way (for him) to go out. Maybe if he’d stayed a bit closer to the backmarker we could have both got through, but it was just one of those things. You’re going for a world final and you might not ever get that chance again, so you have to keep your foot on it in those situations. When I turned into the next corner I realised all the wheels were still on her so it was just a matter of bringing her home”.

And indeed, that was game over right there. From that point on, Maxwell just had to keep up a reasonably steady pace while counting down the laps and praying that the car kept going…which it did. Casey was now too far back to mount any kind of challenge (and also fast running out of laps in which to do so anyway) with Carl Waller-Barrett a further quarter of a lap down.

However! Those who’d been able to tear their eyes from the leaders had been treated to a superb climb up the field by Danny Fiske, the son of the ’75 champion. His diabolical hot laps performance had left him languishing down on grid position twenty-five. But a car that was obviously miles away from where it needed to be for a three lap sprint, looked like it was just right for a seventy-five lap grind!  Danny had always been going in the right direction since the start, and had already made up eight places at the time of that early caution. 

Nearing the finish he finally caught the dice for fifth thru eighth involving Rob McDonald, the impressive Damien Mulvey, Shane Bland and Gary Wilson, and battled his way to the front of that too to eventually claim a thoroughly deserved fourth place. It had been a great drive, certainly, but one of those which was always going to leave that what-might-have-been feeling. 

By the time the lap boards began to appear on the rostrum, there were only eight cars left on the lead lap as Maxwell headed for home, the popular Ulsterman taking the flag before performing the customary doughnuts and then turning for the winner’s circle, where the right rear tyre went down before the champagne was even uncorked. When the motorsport gods are smiling on you, everything goes right… 

World Final “Revenge” – The Betfred Trophy
Just twenty-two of the potential thirty-four runners made it back out for this, the reversed grid race from the world final line up.

Scot Roy Anderson had pole with Danny Hunn to his outside and it was Danny who fairly predictably made the best getaway to lead them all into lap one. Anderson quickly lost second to Dick Hillard while the focus of attention here always looked likely to be Fiske, who made several places very rapidly at the start and then had a brief struggle with Chris Lehec before going by as they exited turn two.

Leaving Lehec to try and deal with Mark Heatrick, Fiske chased down Hillard just as Dick also caught up with Hunn, the three of them coming together as they got the five lap board. The Wildman obviously thought a win was still on the cards here and took to the outside to pass Hillard down the back straight before setting about the leader with only one to go. It was the battle of the Dannys now as Fiske went down the outside again to go ahead on the back straight, only to have Hunn fight back all through the last bend to just – and only just – get to the flag first. 

Meeting Final – The Nick Thomas Memorial Trophy
And if we thought Fiskey was quick in the other races, he was obviously just warming up at that stage! The Nick Thomas Memorial – a fitting tribute to our old friend – with its drawn grid combining world finalists and support cars, coincidentally gave Anderson another shot at a pole start. But with Weaver right next to him, that did look like it might be a bit of a gift for the Sussex man. 

Anderson got brushed aside by the other front runners (but mostly by Adam Heatrick, which got him black crossed) as soon as they got a sniff of the green, with Weaver immediately going to the front as expected. And with Heatrick soon involved in a places scuffle with vd Bosch, Fiske, Lehec and Doak, the leader was quickly able to capitalise and make good his escape, Kym pulling clear fast in the early going. But Fiske was obviously on a mission once more, taking to the outside of the also black crossed vd Bosch and zipping past before doing the same to Heatrick exiting turn two. 

Then began a long chase down, with Weaver apparently able to stabilise the gap initially, until the traffic became denser around both drivers and Fiske started to close fast. They’d just got together when the yellows came out for Mulvey, who’d found himself backed into the wall in a dodgy spot at turn four, Billy Wood and Andy Lee having already come to grief there earlier.

I doubt Fiske had wanted a caution at that stage as the restart now put Weaver back onto open road, and I shouldn’t think having the backmarking (but still clearly quick) Wood filling his mirrors helped either! But in the end, it was only a couple of laps before Weaver showed Fiske far too much daylight on his inside between turns three-four. Needless to say Danny was in there in a trice, ahead within a lap, and on his way to a highly popular and acclaimed win directly afterwards.

It all just helped underline what a shame it is that the 304 car won’t be seen on our tracks anymore for a while, but it was certainly a heck of a way to sign off.  GB

100’s more brilliant Martin Kingston and Clive Marchant photos in the Gallery
‘Wild Card’ Heat One: 369,844,937,871,964,155,342(-2),333,66,196,55,316,925,136,289,308,3,278,197,113. NOF
‘Wild Card’ Heat Two: 66,316,3,113,344,155,44,136,308,937,196,289,871,964,844,925,46.  NOF
‘Wild Card’ Final: 342,196,44,925,55,136,937(-2),844,964,871,289,113,308,333. NOF

2016 World Final: 76,261,162,304,117,42,174,955,82,491,940,199,31,75,615,23,467,196,700,H66,36. NOF

World Final “Revenge” – The Betfred Trophy: 339,304,31,209,174,117,955,76,82,996,615,42,162,261,23,491,H66,467,36. NOF
Nick Thomas Memorial:304,209,261,162,174,117,76,937,31,964,339,23,136,113,36,305,278,925,344,333,308. NOF
Penalties:  342 dropped two places for contact with 333 in Wild Card heat one.  937 dropped two places for contact with 136 in Wild Card final.  996 disqualified from World Final for spinning 467.  45 disqualified from World Final for spinning 217.  217 subsequently loaded up and banned following a World Final post-race incident.  209 technical disqualification from World Final, upgraded to a black flag disqualification when he didn’t stop for the red & white flag.  339 technical disqualification from World Final for having bonnet detached.  996 disqualified from Nick Thomas Memorial for causing 955 to crash.  Note that all results & penalties are subject to official confirmation.