The first speed weekend of the year which also contained the first championship of the year being the UK Open Championship.
Saturday, as is the case with most tarmac meetings, the afternoon was alive with the sound of the V8 engines as drivers practiced and made those vital setup changes. Around the pits and most of the activity was around Team Harrison (the Ryan and Murray kind) with Ryan revealing his latest creation (referred to as Rocket Ship III) to the public. No doubt splitting fan opinion in two, but regardless, no one can deny it's not a superbly turned out machine.
Elsewhere John Fortune debuted another Harrison chassis for his 2019 debut. Ashley England giving his ex-Wainman championship winning car a lick of the dark green paint finished with a blue chassis.
Team Davidson expanded to 3 cars for the weekend with ministox graduate Courtney Witts taking the reigns in the car raced by Tom Harris in 2018 and Luke Davidson before that. Shane Geary completed the 2019 debutants and unfortunately had engine issues curtailing the weekend.
Saturday would see round 14 of drivers chasing those world championship points to get onto one of the semi final grids. With 49 drivers in attendance a full format of 2 heats (each driver in one of the heats), consolation, grand final and grand national to round the evening off.
Heat 1 with 25 cars on the grid, Rick Lennson (H318) and Ben Riley (422) didn’t make it very far, tangling coming down the home straight for the first time, ending their race parked at turn 1. This would delay the reds and superstars behind. Sam Wass (283) was away at the front and into the lead. Joe Nickolls (242), Shane Geary (478) and Ricky Wilson (501) all found the fence into turn 1 joining Lennson and Riley. Up front and Tristan Jackson (101) went for the lead into turn 1 making it stick. On the move further back Lee Fairhurst (217), still piloting the Van Spijker, car firstly moved Mark Wareham (401) at turn 1 and then Danny Wainman (212) into turn 3 on the same lap. Wainman then spinning Wareham out of contention at turn 1. Up front and untroubled Jackson took heat 1 of the weekend. Wass coming home in 2nd.
Heat 1 - 101, 284, 48, 501, 37, 217, 25, 212, 4, 16, 555, 526
The other half of the entry for heat 2 with 24 cars gridded up. Ryan Harrison (197) not even making the start line going for a spin at turn 4. His team reporting that new car gremlins with a stuck brake pedal causing the spin. He would get going but multiple laps down. Up front and Courtney Witts (180) surged into the lead from the white grade. Tom Harris (84) pulling off on lap 1 and along with Harrison would have to try again in the consolation. Adam Bamford (43) goes for a spin courtesy of Kyle Gray (124) with Sam Jacklin (137) getting caught up in it. Yellows waved with Witts still leading. When the greens waved Frankie Wainman Jnr (515) seemed in a hurry moving 3 cars into turn 3 and fellow superstar Nigel Green (445) happy to take advantage. Green moving Karl Hawkins (175) the next lap. Wainman Jnr delayed allowed Green to get passed but Frankie wasted no time giving Green a nudge gaining a position, up front Witts stretching her advantage up to a full straight. Murray Jones (196) mixing it with Charlie Sworder (5) and Ashley England (346), Sworder finding the fence and England just about surviving. Into the closing stages and England had been caught by Wainman Jnr and Green. A small mistake was all that was required for England to drop two spots. Last bend and Green went for the dive on Wainman, Witts had long since won the race. Frankie riding the hit and outdragging Green to the line for 2nd.
Heat 2 - 180, 515, 445, 2, 196, 172, 70, 484, 175, 451, 533, 346
Consolation time with 23 cars on track. Dave Dorans (366) took up the early running. Rocket Ship III showing the most pace with Ryan Harrison (197) guiding his car through traffic until the yellows were called for. A few back markers unable to get going on the rolling lap and the race restart was abandoned. Unfortunately for Harrison he went and found himself spinning over the turn 3 curb and damaging the car and retiring for the day. The race restarted with Dorans quickly losing the lead to Kyle Gray (124) into turn 1. Luke Davidson (464) and Tom Harris (84) had begun their battle to the front while also swapping positions a few times over the following laps. Yellows called for again for Joe Nickolls (242) who found the turn 1 wall (all ok). Hard luck story for Dorans who on the restart wouldn't get away unable to select 2nd gear. I'm lead to believe the latest chapter in his gearbox woes since coming to F1s. After the yellows, Harris continued his march to the front taking Sam Wass (283) and John Fortune (164) who did make it hard for Harris sending him close to the fence at turn 3. Harris finally getting passed Gray up front to take his first UK tarmac win of the season.
Consolation - 84, 124, 464, 283, 5, H318, 422, 211, 278, 415, 401, 478 (10 to Final)
Grand Final time and this was a special one. In memory of Andrew Battye who sadly passed away a few weeks ago. Tommy Kay who we also sadly lost in the same week had been remembered in the previous race, the F2 Grand Final. The Skegness presentational team doing a great job lead by Richard Kaleta, orange flags flying above the back straight grand stand. After some very moving words from Richard, the command "Drivers start your engines" and 34 cars roared into life in memory of Battye. Bradford Music (Fanfare of the Common Man) playing on the rolling lap to send the cars on their way.
At the start Martin Spiers (451) finds the fence and is joined by Mat Newson (16) both retiring. Rick Lennson (H318) not for the first time found himself in tandem with another car, this time the Paul Hopkins (278) car. Further back amongst the superstars Tom Harris (84) fires a large number of cars wide including main rivals Nigel Green (445) and Frankie Wainman Jnr (515). The fast and furious final settling down with the yellows flying for Newson and Spiers in the turn 4 fence (all ok). At the restart with Courtney Witts (180) leading from Kyle Gray (124), the top 8 spots having an average age of about 18 years old the old guard would need to do something to take this final from the young guns. A few laps into the restart Harris would go for a hit on Dan Johnson (4) and spin himself out on the home straight falling a lap down with Johnson picking up damage slowing him up. 5 laps to go and Gray takes the lead, one he wouldn't relinquish, becoming the first winner of the Andrew Battye trophy, taking the £1,000 prize pot and delighting the crowd with some burnouts and donuts.
Grand Final - 124, 101, 445, 217, 180, 515, 70, 2, 283, 526, 4, 37
Final race of the night, the Grand National. Track limit reached with 36 cars on track, final winner Kyle Gray (124) taking the half lap handicap starting behind the superstars as a yellow top. Race starting with a big pile up into turn 1 with most of the yellow tops involved. Martin Spiers (451), Mark Wareham (401) and Casey Englestone (120) all not surviving and their race ending at turn 1. Frankie Wainman Jnr (515) didn't even make the start with Nigel Green (445) pushing him off and loosing a fair amount of ground with Gray just behind. Dan Johnson (4) put his final behind him and when out of traffic was rapid, his car getting super grip out of the corners and powering down the straights. Lee Fairhurst (217) never really more than 2 car lengths away from Johnson for the entire race. Yellows called for as Courtney Witts (180) ended her night stranded on turn 2. Luckily missed by everyone. Upon the resumption of the race Tristan Jackson (101) drops out of the lead with a puncture. At only half way and it was, from the back to the front for Johnson who took the lead, Fairhurst still there with Tom Harris (84) carving through the traffic getting passed Ashley England (346) and Green. Last bend and Green bumpered past Harris for 3rd with Johnson taking his first tarmac victory of 2019.
Grand National 4, 217, 445, 84, 5, 196, 346, 212, 37, 16, 25, 124
Day 2 and we were presented with a day akin to a July weekend, not May. Beautiful sunshine for the UK Open. The format decided on would be all drivers racing in 2 out of 4 heats. Top 32 point scorers through to the final, with no last chance race. 45 cars taking to the track for day 2. All change at Team Jacklin as Sam stepped aside for Mark Adkins(24) to have a go.
Heat 1 with 21 cars on track. Charlie Sworder's (5) weekend not getting much better with a trip to the fence at turn 1. Dan Johnson (4) showing the same rapid pace as the previous night. In contrast to day 1, Ryan Harrison (197) was able to finally unlock the pace in his new car and set about charging to the front, Nigel Green (445) also showing some strong pace fighting through the field. Alex Wass (283) lead the way until last nights final winner Kyle Gray (124) took the lead at half way. Further back, Harrison was leading the charge from the back with a train of cars latched on for the ride to the front including Johnson, Green and Frankie Wainman Jnr (515). 5 laps to go and the top 7 are separated by nothing. Wainman Jnr started to make his move with Johnson and Green dispatched at consecutive corners but it wasn't enough to catch Gray who took first blood on Sunday with Harrison not far behind.
Heat 1 - 124, 197, 283, 515, 445, 4, 180, 172, 464, H318, 16, 37, 526, 415, 48
24 cars gridded for heat 2. The 24 car not fairing very well as Mark Adkins spins and is collected by a number of yellow tops. The race continuing with Tom Harris (84) and Ben Riley (422) both tangling in the early running and delayed for multiple laps. Riley eventually getting going but with major damage. Up front Dave Dorans (366) had surged away from the white grade with Ashley England (346) in hot pursuit. Tristan Jackson (101) and John Fortune (164) came together and were parked on the racing line of turn 2. England takes the lead from Dorans but a small while later finds the pile up of Jackson and Fortune and is massively delayed. Up front Dorans was unable to stop Danny Wainman (212) from taking the lead and the win.
Heat 2 - 212, 366, 2, 533, 300, 196, 275, 217, 25, 43, 70, 555, 278, 501, 502
Heat 3 for 23 cars, it was the second race for everyone so all those yet to score needed to do so quickly, a message the 84 machine of Tom Harris didn't get. With zero points on the board he would take Dan Johnson (4) into the turn 1 fence on the first lap. I doubt you'll need me to explain any further as the video has been shared far and wide when the various internet forums exploded post incident. To summarise, Green Flag, Crash, Dance Battle, DNF for both, Johnson just qualified and both back to the pits to go fix. Upon the restart John Fortune (164) took the lead from Courtney Witts (180) just past half way and took his shiny new car to it's first win.
Heat 3 - 164, 180, 445, 37, 2, 484, H318, 48, 300, 283, 196, 346, 526, 120, 211
Last qualifying heat for 22 cars. Terry Hawkins (275) slow away from the start looking to be having issues. Frankie Wainman Jnr (515) on the move using the bumper moving brother Danny (212) and Lee Fairhurst (217) out of the way. George Elwell (501) goes around at turn 1 as Kyle Gray (124) bumpers Charlie Sworder (5) wide for position. Up front Sam Wass (284) leads with Ryan Harrison (197) and Wainman Jnr showing impressive pace with Wainman Jnr able to bumper Harrison out the way in the latter stages. A last bend hit not quite enough for Harrison to get 2nd back. Wass would win on the road, but unfortunately for Team Wass the car would fail on inside weight on the scales and Sam wouldn't qualify for the UK Open, very hard luck for one of the sports underdog teams.
Heat 4 - 515, 197, 124, 217, 101, 464, 212, 533, 16, 555, 25, 172, 242, 401, 502
UK Open time. 32 drivers qualified with Aaron Leech (70) unable to make the grid. All drivers taking part in the usual grand parade to applause from the crowd. Maybe the biggest applause to the last car out. After rebuilding the front of the orange machine of Dan Johnson (4), he made it out for the championship race. Mechanics and drivers from all manor of different teams all chipping in help or parts to get Dan back in the race and he made it just in time. Just before the pit gate was closed Ashley England (346) would also non-start heading back to the pits with problems.
The race itself was a classic Skegness fast and furious race. Courtney Witts (180) lead from the start, fellow white graded Dave Dorans (366) found the fence at turn 4. Trips to the fence for Micky Randell (172) and Shaun Webster (48). Up front and Witts now under pressure from Kyle Gray (124), when in traffic Gray pounced taking the lead, one he wouldn't loose on his way to his first championship at only 17 years old. Ryan Harrison (197) settled for his favourite finishing position getting 2nd for the third time and first red top home. John Fortune (164) also finishing off his new car debut with a 3rd place.
After post race checks were completed it was confirmed:
Kyle Gray - 2019 UK Open Champion.
UK Open Final - 124, 197, 164, 101, 217, 515, 196, 445, 300, 464, 180, 4
32 cars making the Grand National and the final racing action of the weekend. Gray taking his spot at the back of the field for the 2nd day in a row. In the early running Lee Fairhurst (217) and Paul Harrison (2) tangled together delaying both. George Elwell (501) with a trip to the fence with Casey Englestone (120) involved. Up front Courtney Witts (180) was long gone and took the final race of the weekend. Over the finish line further back Charlier Sworder (5) got out of shape and hit the infield tyres dislodging the grass and soil behind making a bit of a mess. With a bit of tongue in cheek Rob Speak giving him a brush to tidy up.
Grand National - 180, 164, 464, 84, 101, 445, 515, 346, 242, 4, 5, 37
Words by Daniel Smith
Pictures Colin Casserley