Haird dominates to make it a third World
Graham Brown at Ipswich, July 1/2 2017
Chris Haird took his third National Hot Rod world championship after a totally dominant drive which saw him lead from flag to flag. Although he had to survive a pair of caution periods which put the field back on his tail on each occasion, Chris was always in complete control and never allowed the chasing Rob McDonald to really get within striking distance. ROI’s David Casey eventually came through with a late race charge to repeat his second place of 2016, with McDonald finally having to settle for third, which remains the best ever position achieved by a Scot.
No big shocks regarding who-drove-what but one or two new liveries were in evidence, notably Roy Anderson, the Scot having plumped for a very fetching green and white colour scheme. It was the first viewing on this side of the water for Damien Mulvey’s new colours, while Shaun Taylor had also gone for a complete change with a lurid lime green replacing much of the previous purple. Shane Bland’s car had ‘lost the dots’, but as usual, every single car was turned out with the immaculate preparation we’ve come to expect, everybody putting their utmost into looking spot on for the biggest event of the year.
Although fancied to do well by many prior to the event – and the clear favourite at Betfred – Haird’s return to the top step of the podium (he won in 2010 and 2014) began to look a lot more likely after Saturday’s ‘hot laps’. In fact, his performance there was only going to shorten his odds even further….
Following the usual un-timed morning practice session it was soon 10.20am and time for the cars to roll out and face the timing beams for the formation of the grid. And of course, as of last year, it was to be once again a simple case of ‘first past the post’ gets pole, with absolutely nothing else taken into consideration. Overall however, it was going to be one of the stranger timed lap sessions ever held.
For a start, it is usual for the third of a driver’s three laps to be their quickest, with only a couple normally recording their fastest lap on their second tour. This year no fewer than ten men did their best time on the second lap. It is also usual for the track to run faster as the session goes on, with the asphalt becoming both cleaner and grippier as more rubber is laid. But this year almost all the times which would claim places in the first three rows of the grid were laid down in the front half of the draw. Haird was actually only the fourth car out and his best of 14.68s proved to be untouchable. And even by then, the second driver to run – 2012 winner Glenn Bell – had annexed fifth on the grid with a 14.80.
Several other hot shoes in the front half of the draw did very well out of it too (David Casey, fifth out, sixth on the grid, Carl Waller-Barret, tenth out, third on the grid) without actually being able to dislodge Haird, although McDonald came closest with a best of 14.69 to claim the outside of the front row.
There were some obvious strugglers, notably Ian McReynolds, whose Saxo went very sick at the end of his first lap when he was forced to leave it at that. Steve Dudman’s car just sounded a bit ‘fluffy’ and never broke into the 14s, while Aaron Dew seemed to have a brake locking problem on the right front, the Ginetta emitting plumes of tyre smoke on the entry to almost every turn – he probably did well to record a 14.96 under the circs.
With the starting order thus determined for 37 of the 38 starters in the main event, there remained just the business of Saturday night’s races to decide who would join the back of the grid as this year’s ‘wildcard’.
Saturday ‘Wildcard’ Support Races
With the potential prize on offer of world final qualification, twenty four cars lined up to contest the support races this year, an entry which as usual featured a number of interesting drivers. Rarely seen this side of the water, ROI driver Eddie Foott was one such, Eddie being joined by the gaily painted machine of NHR ‘vet’ Les Compelli. English newcomers Matt Wells-Sar and Duane Peacock were also in the mix, as was former 2.0 Hot Rod World champion, South African Frans Joubert. Frans was wheeling a suitably re-liveried Tigra, apparently loaned by Ronnie McMillan, and very fine it looked too with all the unusual SA sponsor names prominently displayed.
But of course, the men most people were looking at to provide the extra qualifier were Adam Hylands (I think he has described himself as ‘The Wildcard Princess’ – hopefully not next year!) and his compatriot Mark Heatrick, who simply commenced his 2017 campaign too late to stand any hope of outright qualification. And with Hylands drawing the very last place on the grid for the opening race, it looked like making his efforts to progress interesting at the least.
So we were expecting some typically robust speed weekend racing to sort out the eventual winner in any case. What we weren’t expecting was a false start to the first heat, when Peacock failed to move from row three at the green flag and no amount of shouting at them via the Raceceivers could prevent a lot of others running into either him or each other. Paul Gomm rammed the 29 car very hard, but Richard Bowyer, Rich Adams, Foott, Andy McLaird and Chris Crane all managed to get involved too unfortunately. Needless to say, a clear up and complete restart was the order of the day here.
Even then, there were several early spinners too, with Ken Marriot, Dave York and Andy McLaird all going round. But the ‘other’ McLaird – Stuart – was busy leading meantime, and trying to keep a bit of a breathing space over Tommy Maxwell and Paul Frost. This became a little easier for the leader with the passing of half distance and as the trio got free of some of the backmarking traffic they’d been dealing with since soon after the start.
Frost had just slipped ahead of Maxwell when they were brought up short by waving yellow flags after York stopped in a dangerous spot by the start/finish.
There were only five to go for the restart, but the pause had done no harm to the chances of that well known firm of estate agents, Heatrick and Hylands! They were both now that much closer to the other major placemen with still a handful of laps left to see if they could use this chance to improve further. An attack on Adams’ seventh spot saw Heatrick get past only to be sent sliding wide at turn three, an incident which allowed Hylands past both of them and home in a promising fifth spot, behind McLaird, Frost, Billy Bonnar and Compelli, after Maxwell got disqualified from third for causing York’s demise.
Heat two began with Jim Cowie being pushed off the grid, the Scot’s car leaving a trail of fluid behind it.
Now of course, Hylands had a front row start. But with Heatrick right behind him, this was going to be no gift for Adam. The pair shot away at the green and were immediately dicing it out hard, although they didn’t have long to really get into it, as Frost and Maxwell got in a back straight collision, Tommy spinning backwards into the wall with a tyre off the rim, sparking a yellow flag.
The lead pair were naturally back at it again with the green flag back out but it soon became clear that Hylands just about had the upper hand and Heatrick began to fall back a wee bit, finally losing touch altogether.
Ivan Grayson ran third for a long time and was eventually elbowed out of the way by Adams, but Rich had left it too late to do anything about closing down the leaders who finished half a lap clear, Hylands still comfortably ahead and comfortably on pole for the final too.
Stuart McLaird had earned the outside front row with an eighth in the second heat, but with Heatrick lined up on row two, the final always looked to be about another Hylands-Heatrick battle. That wasn’t quite how it turned out though…
The charge through the first lap saw McLaird rooted out of the groove as Heatrick latched straight onto Hylands tail, with the two apparently set fair to power away from the rest – except that Compelli didn’t appear to have read the script and stuck right with them. What this actually looked like doing was allowing the leader to escape to a relatively easy win – but that wasn’t going to be the case either! Down Heatrick’s inside along the back straight went Compelli and, if Heatrick might have been a bit shocked by that, it likely compared pretty well to what Hylands was thinking when he saw in his mirror not a red Tigra, but a multi-coloured one instead.
It probably took an effort of concentration for Hylands to just get his head down and concentrate on eking out a bit of a lead as the laps ticked away, helped a little by Heatrick coming back at Compelli in the closing stages. It was all too late to do anything about preventing the #54 sweeping under the chequers to become starter number 38 for the morrow, but it had undoubtedly been Les’ finest ever race on English soil, a fact underlined by the gale of applause which greeted him after the finish.
World Final Grid
115* 162 9 342 70 962 39 95 – 209 925 27 48 467 3 955 36 94 977 199**
117 76 261 42 20 491 SA15 31 23 174 152 66 994 964 – 700 155 339 54 82**
* Pole ** Put to back of grid for technical infringements
The Race – 75 Laps
Despite not all forecasters predicting a dry Sunday, in fact the day dawned with clear blue skies and hot sunshine beating down.
For once there seemed to have been no overnight mechanical dramas among the finalists, but there were going to be a few last minute bothers, both on the way to the grid, and following the warm up laps.
And first of all, there was tighter than usual scrutineering to be negotiated. Various drivers had had tyre samples taken from them following Hot Laps, samples which will be sent away for analysis as to whether any contamination might be present. Next up, the six front runners on the grid were forced to drain their tanks and use fuel provided by the NHRPA.
Clearly, everyone was under the microscope here with regard to any infringements, so being found with a loose ballast weight (Jaimie McCurdy) in the team’s possession after the pre-race weight check, or tools in the car on the track (Garry Wilson) was going to get you into trouble, both men being sent to the back of the grid.
Then, following the warm up laps, three cars pulled out of position and clustered around the pit gate with last minute issues. Rob McDonald had somehow had his goggles flip off his open face helmet and land in the back of the car, which clearly wouldn’t do! Shaun Taylor had his door mirror adrift (not sure if he’d hit or been hit by something, or if the offending item had simply worked loose), which needed sorting out, while Derek Martin’s dipstick had fallen out! Not sure how he knew about that, but it was soon fixed and with little further ado, they were away.
The typically frantic opening lap saw Haird get the best launch from his pole position. As the first to break, he immediately settled into a scant lead over McDonald and Waller-Barrett, but none of them had gone very far before the first lot of waved yellows brought everybody up short when Anderson and Mulvey collided with each other and the wall at the end of the back straight. Even by this early stage, Derek Martin had had a spin and Shane Murray had been in bother somewhere, the NI points champion’s car sporting rather a lot of damage to the front end.
Back under the green flag, the leader was soon off and running again, Haird diving confidently into the first looming knots of backmarkers and already starting to drop McDonald off his tail as he did so. Dew was another to take a spin, maybe with the brake issue still unresolved, as was Dick Hillard. In Dick’s case though, years of Saloon Stock car ‘training’ were in evidence as he completed the 360 and re-joined without pause having lost maybe three places!
Further back from the leaders, Bell was forced to give over fourth spot to Casey rounding turn one, the Ulsterman battling a deflating tyre. Then John Christie moved up a spot to seventh by relegating Adam Heatrick (who was actually enjoying quite an impressive weekend nevertheless, having qualified well up the grid), at which point came another bout of yellow flags as Bradley Dynes shed a door which ended up lying on the home straight.
With the resumption of hostilities, Haird simply recommenced his pulling clear act and it began to look as though McDonald just didn’t have anything for him. In fact, Rob had been sticking to a game plan…
“I planned to just sit back a bit until I saw the 50 Lap board and then go for it. The problem was, when I did I found the car wouldn’t go any faster – I think the tyres were all used up, so it wasn’t to be”.
In fact, the leader was only inching away in reality, and it took a long time before he finally became out of reach and over a quarter of a lap up. By then Maxwell and Christie had both overhauled Bell, who gave up the unequal struggle soon afterwards and parked. Christie put Maxwell behind him as well, darting down the defending champ’s inside into turn one, while Casey had steadily worked his way up to and past CW-B, also at turn one.
There was no doubt Casey’s car was working better and better as the race wore on, and he was soon eyeing up McDonald’s second place too, finally slipping past down the inside as they exited turn three. That brief but important encounter had slowed Casey for just a further couple of seconds, meaning that Haird was now basically beyond any possible assault on his lead and it was effectively all over.
“I can’t be anything other than pleased can I”, he beamed in the winner’s circle.
“I had no problems, the stoppages only gave my little arms a rest, and I just simply pedalled as fast as I could. It’s a shame my dad wasn’t here to see it – but I do still have his lucky socks in the car!”
As for the rest, Casey got the runner-up spot just as he had last year, frustrating for sure, but it must still hold out hope of going one better one of these days. McDonald finished his last season racing in England by equalling the best ever finish by a Scot in third. Behind the podium finishers Waller-Barrett took the fourth place, with Christie the next up, bringing his venerable and enormously popular Fiesta home fifth, watched by his dad, exactly twenty years after the second of his own back-to-back titles in the same car.
Maxwell ended his honourable title defence in sixth, ahead of English points champ Kym Weaver, who’d been hamstrung by a poor lap time, and did well to get all the way up there from 20th on the grid. He was also the last car unlapped by the leader.
World Final “Revenge”
The Betfred Trophy
An impressive thirty of the potential thirty-eight runners made it back out for this, the reversed grid race from the world final line up.
This had a false start when Jason Loosemore didn’t go at the first time of asking. With him banished to the back of the grid, the rest got a second green flag and blasted away, with Hylands looking to be about to receive something of a gift from what was now a pole start for him of course.
Adam was soon clear of Mulvey and Danny Hunn with the rest of the placemen becoming strung out behind. Not so at the rear of the field however, were there was a colossal battle going on between Christie, Casey, Jeff Riordan, Shane Murray, Maxwell, Bell, Terry Hunn, McDonald and Haird! Christie was eventually able draw clear of this mob, but he still had a huge amount of work to do if he wanted to get anywhere near the front and there simply weren’t that many laps available.
So Hylands ran out the flag to flag winner, taking the chequers a touch more than a quarter of a lap clear of Mulvey, Danny H, and Steven Armit.
The Nick Thomas Memorial Trophy
Much as last year when Danny Fiske had looked quick in the other events without having actually won anything before the last race – John Christie had obviously just been warming up during the rest of the weekend! The Nick Thomas Memorial (a fitting tribute to our old friend) features a drawn grid combining world finalists and support cars for the only time of the weekend. There looked to be a few potential winners scattered throughout the front half of the grid but before they could really get going it all kicked off at the first bend, with Stuart McLaird, and several others coming together, including Chris Crane and Paul Yule.
Even the complete restart wasn’t totally free from strife, as Armit crashed at turn three, Casey and Loosemore both picked up black crosses, and Taylor was forced out with bodywork jammed on his tyres.
But once things settled down, it was pole starter Paul Frost who was established in the lead with one heck of a scuffle already going on for second thru ninth, with Danny Hunn heading Adam Maxwell, Gavin Murray, McDonald, Waller-Barrett, Christie, Haird, Casey and Shane Murray!
Some nip and tuck racing saw Maxwell and McDonald overtake Hunn, before Danny got swamped as Gavin Murray, Haird and the rest all pounced on the 339 car as well. Too-many-cars-in-too-small-a-space syndrome then took hold, with Danny becoming embroiled in a moving accident which culminated in a huge crash at turn three, with Waller-Barret spinning and Casey, Hunn, Armit, Yule, Shane Murray and Mulvey all involved. Hunn ended up perched on top of Murray and Armit, which did nobody’s cars much good, particularly the #70, which featured an impressive collection of crushed panels when they were finally all dragged apart as part of a major clear up operation.
Frost was still sitting pretty at the front for the restart but, little did we know, this was the beginning of one of those races we’ll still be talking about in ten years’ time.
Maxwell, McDonald and all the rest had of course, been brought right up on Frost’s tail by the stoppage, and both men wasted no time attacking the slower starting leader’s position. Gavin Murray also by-passed Frost the next time they rounded turns one and two with Christie having managed to sneak past Haird down the inside at turn one.
Then McDonald somehow got on the speedway track as the leaders raced into turn one, not sure quite how, but it led to him running on into Maxwell, pushing him wide. McDonald was gone from the leader board immediately while Maxwell took a few seconds to recover, allowing Gavin Murray to hit the front and Frost to regain second. Christie also tried to turn Maxwell’s slightly lesser momentum to his advantage but they bumped, Christie running out wide to let Haird through again and Maxwell copping a black cross.
But from this point on there was no doubting which was the quickest car on track and, if you said a twenty-one year-old Ford Fiesta, you’d be spot on.
Haird may have been being hampered by tyres that were long past their best (“I left most of them on the tarmac doing doughnuts!” he laughingly conceded later) but he was still very much in the hunt, so Christie must have breathed a sigh of relief when he went ahead of the #115 again down the inside of the back straight.
Next, he had Maxwell to deal with once more, Christie and Haird trying all sorts to get past before Adam eventually got blue flagged and the other pair nipped past along the back stretch.
It was only a matter of seconds before Frost’s Ginetta loomed up in Christie’s windscreen, but John wasted no time diving up the outside and by, exiting turn two.
He was straight onto the job of narrowing the gap to the leader as well but now the 5 Lap board was out…were there enough laps left?
With four to go there was hardly any daylight between them and the race was truly on passing the 3 Lap board. There was going to be no other way but another outside pass and no time to wait on anything else happening in any case. Down the outside went Christie, putting them side by side at two to go, the ancient red and black hatchback finally easing ahead midway through the final lap, by which time pretty much the entire stadium was on its feet cheering and clapping. Everybody knew they’d witnessed one of those never-to-be-forgotten drives and, when the standing ovation continues throughout the slowing down lap and simply intensifies when the driver gets out of the car, you know that driver did something special.
Add in the age of the chassis and, as we mentioned earlier, it being exactly 20 years since it carried John’s father to the last of his five World titles, plus the fact that Ormond was (unusually) there to see it, and it all coalesced into one of those perfect moments in time it was a true privilege to witness. GB
2017 NHRPA Championship of the World
Ipswich, July 1/2
Support/Wildcard Heat 1: 113 316 844 777 54 55 960 22 103 344 308 172 871 13 nof. Dq 369, 136.
Support/Wildcard Heat 2: 54 960 22 761 15 777 844 113 136 316 856 103 172 55 2 344 13 nof. Dq 369.
Support/Wildcard Final: 54 777 960 113 844 22 316 761 15 103 136 55 2 871 333 344 13 nof. Dq 856.
2017 National Hot Rod Championship of the World
115 Chris Haird, 261 Dave Casey, 117 Robert McDonald, 162 Carl Waller-Barrett, 962 John Christie, then 76 209 95 491 174 54 342 994 SA15 82 199 48 925 339 155.
World Championship Reverse Grid Race: 54 955 339 94 964 48 155 174 199 467 209 23 962 31 70 9 117 76 115 261.
Nick Thomas Memorial Trophy: 962 95 115 316 76 SA15 48 15 777 39 23 31 136 155 964 66 344 36. Dq 162.
Penalties: 369 disqualified from heat one for causing 196 to crash by crossing white line. 136 disqualified from heat one for spinning 13. 369 disqualified from heat two for drifting wide and putting 55 in the wall. 856 disqualified from Wildcard final for causing 172 to crash. 162 disqualified from Nick Thomas Memorial for causing accident. Note that all results & penalties are subject to official confirmation.