With the BriSCA F1 season now firmly in gear, next weekend sees the action return to Skegness for the first double-header of the year, and the first of the titles up for grabs.
This year marks the 30th staging of the UK Open Championship, and whilst perhaps not drawing the same attention as the World, British and European titles, it is no less important amongst the drivers.
Nigel Green will defend the title he claimed in 2018, when he capped a memorable return to the raceway with a dominant display in the UK Open finale, using the car that had been heavily adapted to sit within the limits of the updated rulebook.
The then world champion was on hand to profit as Luke Davidson failed in a last-bend attack on leader Harry Steward. As both drivers headed towards the armco, the returning Green dived up the inside to take the chequered flag to his obvious delight.
“Last year was great to win that race, because I hadn’t raced for a while,” said Green. “It was the first meeting back since having to alter the car due to the rule changes over the winter, so I really enjoyed picking up that win.”
The Leicestershire-based superstar anticipates an even more challenging race this year.
“It looks like a few people have made some progress over the winter, whilst we haven’t really made many changes - other than make the car look pretty!”
Green, as always, has his sights firmly set on victory and is firmly relishing the challenge, from whomever that might be.
“It will be an interesting race, but I’m going there to win it and I’m only really interested in winning it, so if I’m near the front I will be getting stuck in.”
Whilst Green was in attendance at the last Skegness meeting on Good Friday, he felt he didn’t quite get the best out of the car.
“[The car] didn’t quite reach its potential at the last Skegness, so I’m hoping this time we can make a few changes and find more speed.”
Confidence in the car will be high following last weekend’s commanding victory at Birmingham. The 445 machine was indeed showing the pace that makes the reigning UK Open champion a strong favourite to defend the title at Skegness.
One of the drivers out to stop Green is former champion Frankie Wainman Jnr. Wainman will be hoping to add to his impressive list of UK Open victories, which currently stands at five.
By far the most successful driver in this event, Wainman boasts the record of having won this title the most, with all of his wins taking place at the Lincolnshire venue.
For Wainman, who first took the title in 2001, this race remains significant.
“It’s a championship and it makes no difference to any of the drivers - so we all treat it the same and we all want to win!”
Speaking after the Birmingham meeting on Saturday, the National Points Shootout champion was eagerly looking forward to attempting to win the UK Open title for an unprecedented sixth time.
“The car was really good at the last Skegness and was one of the quickest. It’s been good again tonight and I’m really looking forward to it.
“I’ve won it before but obviously I’ll be trying all weekend, for the world qualifying on Saturday where I’m aiming to keep scoring points, and then the race on Sunday.
“Tonight I had a third in the heat and a third in the Grand National, so the car is quick and we are really happy with it.”
Another former UK Open champion hoping for a repeat of his winning drive in 2011 is Lee Fairhurst. Returning to a track where he also famously lifted the World Championship, the former gold roof holder will be hoping for further success at a venue that saw him storm to world final victory in 2012, when he unforgettably threaded his way through the field from the very back of the grid.
The Bolton-based former World Champion only kicked off his campaign at Birmingham on Saturday, but despite the delayed start to the season as a result of off-track commitments and getting both cars ready for the 2019 season, Fairhurst is looking ahead to the Skegness and is eager to do well.
“[Birmingham] is only the first meeting of the year, so we’re using it as a shakedown for the car. We’ve been busy with the shale car - we only got the engine back on Thursday, so we’ve had a busy time trying to sort everything out around that.
“We wanted to make sure everything was alright with the car. We changed a few little things and of course we’re trying to get a little bit quicker.
“I’m looking forward to the UK Open and having won it once I’m obviously trying to win it again.
“Any championship is a good championship to win and you’ve really got to earn them now, especially with the quality of cars all the way through from white to superstar. There’s really good machinery on track and lots of good drivers also.
“The aim is to be there or thereabouts and try to be quicker than most people.”
Fellow superstar Paul Hines will also hoping to build on his early season form. Hines placed third in the final at the opening Skegness meeting of the season and will be one to watch after making encouraging progress with the Harrison-built tarmac car.
Hines has showed glimpses of the car’s potential in the opening tarmac rounds and the 259 car scored another top-three result in Saturday’s Birmingham final, to add to its growing credentials.
“We’re getting a little more used to the car now” said Hines. “We had an engine issue last year which hampered us a little bit.
Speaking prior to another impressive outing at the Midlands-venue, Hines was delighted with the early season promise and was another driver who was looking forward to racing for a title at the UK Open
“Skegness was brilliant and we got third in the final there, so I’m hoping to build on these results.
“It’s come around quickly, the season has only just started and already we’ve got a big title to fight for. It’s not one I’ve won before, so it’s one I would really like to win.
“The UK Open is always a good weekend, Saturday night is always good racing and with it being a world qualifier there will no-doubt be 50 odd cars which around Skegness produces really exciting racing.”
Hines also alluded to the past history of the event which has seen numerous lower grade drivers taking the honours, with the UK Open race itself being run in graded order.
“Often it can be a lower graded driver that wins it, so it’s a race that is open. If you look at the previous winners you will see that it’s been won by yellows, blues or anyone really - it’s just that, anyone can win it and that is of course the beauty of F1 Stockcar racing!
Indeed the likes of Rob and Chris Cowley, Neil Scriven and Harry Steward can all testify to the unpredictable nature of one of the more unique championship races on the BriSCA calendar, with this year’s winner crowned after the main event on Sunday.
John Lund won the inaugural staging of this event in 1990, when the championship was held at Northampton. Since then there has been 20 different individual winners. Frankie Wainman Jnr has won the title a record five times, whilst Tom Harris has been on the podium a total of four times but never having been victorious.
Report by Simon Hughes
Graphics by Jack Coleman
Photos from Jordan Cooper / Paul Brown