The 1000cc sidecars made their second visit to Somerset’s Oak Tree Arena last Friday night, in what was billed as ‘International Sidecar Speedway’, including former World Champions Mick Headland and Brenton Kerr.
Although the night was fraught with some high profile break-downs, some excellent sidecar speedway racing was still served up. The final two races of the evening certainly lived up to the meeting title, rounding the evening off with two spectacular races.
The semi-final repercharge (an import from sidecar racing Down Under) has proved very popular, with only the winner progressing to the final. As the tapes went up, it was multi-British Lefthand Champ Will Penfold, partnered by multi-British champ Liam Brown for the first time, who led from the tapes. They came under pressure early on from perhaps the surprise package of the night; Andy Cossar and Wayne Rickards. With youngest son Tom unavailable and eldest son Mark suffering terminal engine failure early in the meeting, it was up to father Andy to represent the Cossar fraternity. He did an excellent job, winning two heats and always being at the pointy end of the action. As the race progressed, however, Mick Stace/Roddy Stirling, who had been sitting in 3rd, gathered pace progressively. They disposed of Cossar/ Rickards before setting their sights on Penfold/Pay. Entering the 4th lap they managed to take the lead and pulled a gap over the rest of the outfits. Try as they might, including a heavy connection with the Somerset boards, Penfold/Brown couldn’t make up ground on Stace/Stirling. An excellent ride from the back to seal their place in the all-important A Final.
As well as Headland/Kerr, the other rider billed as ‘international’ was long-retired Kenny Hammill. The diminutive Cornishman was a top Grasstrack rider in the late nineties and early noughties, twice reaching the top six in the British Masters. Nowadays, Hammill resides in New Zealand and has recently returned to sidecar racing against the Kiwis. It was fantastic to see Hammill back, and paired with his former passenger from his early days, Jason Barry. And they duly won their opening ride in excellent style, beating eventual winners Paul Whitelam and Alan Elliott convincingly. Sadly from here, the fairytale began to unwind. A blown clutch at the beginning of their next race meant that they had to switch to another machine. Although they had a great race against Will Penfold/Liam Brown in their 3rd ride, they locked the outfit up whilst leading and ended up on the in-field. This effectively ended their hopes of making the finals, but they still had enough left to have a good race against a former adversary Rob Wilson/Terry Saunters in their final ride. Hopefully, we’ll get to see Kenny in action again before he heads back to New Zealand.
The final saw three outfits tied on points. Wilson/Saunters, Whitelam/Elliott and Headland/Kerr had all won three rides. Headland had only been beaten by Whitelam in the heats, as had Wilson. And it was Kenny Hammill/Jason Barry who had served Whitelam/Elliott their only defeat of the evening.
As the tapes went up, Whitelam/Elliott leapt into an early lead, with Headland/Kerr giving chase. Try as they might, the Aussies had no answer for the speed of Whitelam/Elliott. Headland had to use all of his skill as a driver to control a huge slide entering the third bend on lap three. Wilson/Saunters were able to capitalise, inheriting the second place, but Headland/Kerr were fast enough to retake their second position. As the drama unfolded for 2nd, Whitelam/Elliott made no mistakes. They took a fantastic win, much to the delight of the partisan crowd. A good evening for Headland/Kerr ended in second place, with Wilson/Saunters third.
The Sidecar Spectacular once again showed glimmers of why sidecar speedway is so hot in the UK right now. The inclusion of Mick Headland/Brenton Kerr did so much to add a bit of spice to the meeting, and it was fabulous to see the return of Kenny Hammill. Now all sidecar speedway roads lead to Kings Lynn for the 3rd round of the British Championships. The event will take place on the evening of Saturday 14th July. It will be unmissable! Report by Gareth Bemister Action Images courtesy of Corinne Stokes Photography