Stuart Smith Jnr powered to his second world title, after a dominant flag-to-flag victory in the Teng Tools-sponsored 2018 BriSCA F1 World Championship at Skegness Raceway on Saturday night.
In a race that few dared to predict and in the midst of one of the most eagerly anticipated World Finals in recent years, Smith Jnr emerged supreme to land the gold roof again for the first time since his victory at King’s Lynn in 2007.
Smith Jnr capped a memorable evening with victory in front of a packed crowd at the seaside venue. Starting from pole, the 390 car set a blistering pace as the green flag dropped and quickly established a decisive lead in the opening stages.
The Rochdale driver’s quest for another gold roof was helped as the main challengers battled it out amongst themselves in the early laps. With the front runners trading positions and hits, Smith was able to pull away.
Dan Johnson (4) applied early pressure, getting up alongside the 390 car into turns three and four after the 390 car drifted wide on the opening lap.
Behind the leaders, front-row starter Lee Fairhurst (217) did not get the start he had wanted. Forced onto the outside line of the circuit, the 217 car was soon overhauled by Johnson and the fast starting Tom Harris (84). Desperate to get back on terms early, Fairhurst went on the attack, sending the 84 car hard into the fence into turn four. In doing so the 217 car also slid out to the fence, losing a number of positions.
Fairhurst’s aggressive move allowed Johnson to take the lead briefly from Smith Jnr, who kept his composure to push Johnson wide into turn one at the start of lap two and hugging the inner take the lead down the back straight. As the front two exited turn four Smith was into a lead which he would not relinquish.
The early clashes promoted Roy Maessen (H400) into third, closely followed by defending champion Nigel Green (445).
The bumpers then flew again as the chasing pack went into lap three. Green’s forward progress, from row four, was hampered by the onrushing Harris. Eager to recover from the earlier trip to the fence, the 84 car moved a number of cars wide entering turns one and two. This allowed Fairhurst to recover and with Chris Cowley (37) also involved, Harris was moved down the order.
At the end of lap three the order was, Smith Jnr, from Johnson with Maessen in third. They were chased hard by Green, Fairhurst, Cowley and Harris in seventh. Also well placed were the likes of Frankie Wainman (515), Karl Hawkins (175) and Ryan Harrison (197).
Nevertheless with the opening laps now complete and the predicted early stoppages avoided, the front runners began to settle into the racing line as they pursued leader Smith Jnr.
Facing a clear track ahead of him, Smith Jnr now began to race away, and while Johnson and Maessen were able to stay within distance of the 390 car, further back the bumpers continued to go in. Eventual runner-up Green’s attempts to reel in the 390 car were again badly hampered by the attention from behind. This time it was Fairhurst who decided to move the defending champion wide, rather than settle in behind and work towards chasing down the race leader.
The impressive Maessen was in contention until getting out of shape on the back straight and bouncing off the fence under a shower of sparks, allowing first Johnson and then Green to get by. Maessen, in the distinctive Harrison-built chassis, then fell quickly down the order before retiring to the infield with race damage.
By now the race leaders were already beginning to catch the backmarkers. As the front-two began to get amongst the traffic, Fairhurst made another move to force Green out wide, moving into third. With 217 and 445 trading places, Smith Jnr and Johnson were noticeably beginning to move away, with Cowley staying in touch behind the front four.
As the race reached half distance the 390 car was evidently the quickest car on the circuit, as Smith Jnr expertly sliced his way through traffic and built a sizeable gap between himself and Johnson and remained firmly in control of the race.
Green was now alone in third after Fairhurst’s challenge ended as the 217 car headed for the infield, promoting Wainman and Harris up the order. Both traded positions several times, with neither driver able to mount a serious push towards the podium positions.
With the field now beginning to get strung out, Green concentrated on reeling in the leading pair. The pace of the 445 car began to show, as the reigning champion began to chase down Johnson.
Green was now homing in on the 4 car’s rear bumper with Johnson noticeably struggling with a lack of grip as tyre wear started to increase. The Green Tarmac car has developed a reputation for coming good in the later stages of big races, and with the laps counting down, Green was starting to make an impression on the long-time leader, after fighting his way past Johnson.
Smith Jnr’s dominance was not to be undone however. Even with the advancing Green closing the gap towards the 390 car as the lap boards were shown, Smith showed little sign of letting the pressure get to him. The Rochdale man seemed at ease as he continued to move through the traffic in the final laps. With Green never in a position to attack, Smith would enjoy a trouble-free route to his second world title.
As the last-lap board dropped, the 445 car was still the length of the straight away from Smith Jnr’s rear bumper. Smith Jnr turned on the style as the 390 car rounded the final corner, much to the delight of large sections of the crowd who cheered home the current British and National Points Champion, as he added the gold roof to the list of titles claimed this season.
With outgoing champion Green taking second place, Johnson was able to hang on for the final podium position, ahead of Wainman and Harris. Ryan Harrison capped an uneventful race in sixth position, in front of Mat Newson who picked his way through the field to round out the top seven with an impressive drive from row 15 of the grid after earlier coming through and winning the Consolation Semi. Willem Zwerver (H195) was the highest placed overseas driver in eighth place.
Green took some consolation from the night with a commanding drive to win the Harry Smith Memorial Trophy, before Mat Newson rounded off events with victory in the Ben Turner Memorial Trophy, denying Green a memorable Final and Grand National double.
With the 445 car sweeping through the field from the one-lap handicap, heading down the back straight for the last time, Newson used all of his experience to stand on the brakes entering the final turn, preventing Green from sending the 16 car wide. This allowed Paul Harrison (2) to barge his way past the 445 car as Green was himself forced wide. Newson retained the lead and the win, with Harrison second and Green in third.
Words by Simon Hughes
Photos by Colin Casserley