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HITMAN HARRIS FOILS SMITH JNR BID TO WIN EUROPEAN TITLE

By BSCDA, Sep 22 2018 10:38AM

The second instalment of the World Final weekend saw another impressive turn out of cars, swelled by the traveling Dutch contingent, make the switch to Northampton International Raceway.


With the Brafield track’s surface now transformed to shale, in a change to the traditional format, this year’s World Masters would be contested away from the familiar Tarmac. Also on the bill was the re-arranged European Championship, the race having been scratched from its July date at the Northampton Shaleway as a result of the inclement weather.


This meant that the new world champion, Stuart Smith Jnr, would have the opportunity to complete a clean sweep of holding all four major titles at the same time (World, British, National Points and European).


In Smith’s way would be the likes of Dan Johnson (4), Nigel Green (445), Tom Harris (84) amongst the 32-car grid for the day’s opening feature race. Also on the grid were a number of Dutch challengers, headed by Bruce Potveer (H62) and Durk Greidanus (H29). Johnson and Green in particular would be eager to avenge Smith’s victory and improve on their podium positions in the previous day’s World Championship race.


Therefore when the green flag dropped, pole-sitter Johnson with Mat Newson (16) along side him, would have the momentary edge over Smith. Unfortunately for Johnson and Newson, the new world champion would once again prove to be the man to beat.


Smith seized an early opportunity to sweep past both front-row sitters, before the yellow flags came out on lap two, after a pile-up on turn two involving a number of cars including Green. With the track partially blocked and with the leaders scrambling to get by, the 445 car was left with nowhere to go, ending up sliding into the melee. Green was fortunate to escape the tangle and slot back into the restart.


The track staff took the opportunity to water the track, meaning that conditions for the restart would be tricky. At this point Smith headed Johnson with Newson down to third. Will Hunter was in fourth having made an impressive start and managing to avoid the early drama. Also in the top ten were Frankie Wainman (515) and Tom Harris, while Green would have to work his way back up the field from 12th.


At the resumption the 390 car lead the pack away as Johnson sat poised to attack. The 4 car followed its nemesis through laps three and four, well placed and seemingly happy to keep Smith in his sights, before a further caution for another group of stranded cars, this time on turns three and four. Greidanus would need towing to the infield and was joined by Wainman as an early retirement.


On the restart Smith once again led the field away. Harris began to pick his way towards the front with Green also now into the top ten. In a repeat of the previous restart, Johnson tailed the 390 car without being assured enough in the conditions to send the two-time world champion to the fence. With cars struggling for grip it was perhaps inevitable that a further stoppage would follow. This time the yellows came out for the H410 car of Jelle Tesselaar, whose race ended after contacting the back-straight fence. Newson’s race was also now over after being in contention early on. John Dowson (94), back on his more favoured surface, followed the 16 car to the infield as another notable retirement.


The fast-moving Harris had by now charged through the front-runners and had done enough to move the 4 -car down into third. Similarly, Green was also on the move, making his way into the top five. Will Hunter was keeping up his impressive showing behind Green, with Lee Fairhurst occupying fourth. Following on from a disappointing World Final night by the Bolton driver’s standards, luck would again desert the former world champion as he would not make the finish.


At the front, Johnson’s day turned to frustration as the race got underway again. The 4 car never fully got going as the leaders raced into the home straight and worse was to follow as Johnson spun exiting turn four. As Hunter and Green swept by the stationary 4 -car followed by the rest of the field, Johnson’s title challenge was over.


Smith and Harris then began to battle it out, trading hits as the 84 car wrestled to get by. The crowd had been anticipating such a contest and were in turn treated to the two star men fighting it out over the ensuing laps.


Sensing an opportunity, the 84 car launched into 390 as the pair entered turn -three. With Harris now in the lead, Smith’s reply was instantaneous, taking the 84 car to the fence. With Harris’s car forced into riding the plate, Smith briefly pulled away. The 390 car could not evade Harris completely and the next attack would prove to be the decisive blow in the encounter.


The 84 car was arguably better suited to the changing track conditions. Once the surface showed signs of improving grip, Harris was able to close the gap between himself and Smith. Using his increased speed to full effect, Harris lined the 390 car up before firing Smith wide to the fence. Harris took advantage and as Smith struggled to regain momentum, the 84 car pulled away.


With the race rapidly moving to its conclusion and with the ever-changing track conditions, Smith was not able to get back on terms with Harris. Behind the front two, Will Hunter moved into the final podium position, where he would finish the race closely pursued by Danny Wainman (212). Dutch supporters were rewarded as Rutger Valk (27) and Nigel De Kock (H525) both returned top-ten finishes.


Dutch success would continue later in the day, nonetheless it was Harris who celebrated after taking the chequered flag to crown a third European Championship and deny Smith’s bid to add the chequered roof to his existing title haul.


In the day’s other feature race, Lourenz de Vries (H79) thrilled the Orange Army to lift the World Masters title. Following on from fellow countryman Sierd de Vries’s (H54) victory in the Consolation event, the H79 -man made it a de Vries double in the Masters race.


The Dutch yellow grader held off fierce competition from Johnson and Green in the closing stages, however the Friesland-based driver did enough to keep well ahead of the likes of Johnson, Green and Harris and was never in any real danger of being caught.


Green would at least taste victory in the final race of the weekend, the Grand National, nevertheless de Vries together with Harris were the standout winners on the day.


European Championship result: 84-390-220-212-11-H27-12-H525-244-555-169


World Masters Final: H79 Lourenz de Vries - 4-445-84-335-463-313-16-515-220-H40-242


Words by Simon Hughes