As promised, glorious sunshine bathed the unique Roche circuit owned by the Mid Cornwall Premier Motorcycle Club as they hosted the 2018 ACU British Pre-75 Grasstrack Championships on Sunday.
Glorious sunshine was matched with glorious racing across all classes as veteran racers battled to win the ‘big one’. Dust was kept to a minimum by the hard-working track staff, no doubt au fait with their permanent racing venue and how to best handle baking hot conditions. The racing threw up some cracking races, with track modifications proving to greatly improve solo racing, though sidecars were as spectacular as ever at the Cornish Boarded Circuit.
As predicted in the build-up to the meeting, the 250cc Solos looked to be a two-horse race between two long distance travellers; Essex rider Phil Ranson and Lincolnshire journeyman Tim Greig. Greig had been loaned the 2017 British Championship winning machine owned by outgoing British champ Antony Worrall to compete on. Anyone who keeps a keen eye on the 250cc class will know Greig’s pedigree in the quarter-litre class. And Ranson had returned in 2017 to win the British Classic Upright Championships at this very venue, so he knew his way around.
As racing commenced, the first clash between the two was won by Ranson. Try as he might, Greig couldn’t get on terms with the flying Ranson. Greig didn’t have to wait long for revenge however, reversing the result in the second heat. It was one win each and beautifully poised after two rides. This class, however, proved to have a few more contenders than previously predicted. Luke Tuck, comparative ‘youngster’ in this class, put in a solid heat win in the opening ride, deposing of Giles Dismore in a good race. Tuck went on to win another race in the third set of races, taking advantage of mechanical problems for Ranson. Roger Taylor also took a heat win in the second set of heats, making four different winners in four races. The class was wide open and it would come down to the winner-take-all final.
As the tapes went up, it was Ranson who leapt from the start, with Greig making a comparatively poor start. Greig tried everything to come onto terms with Ranson but just didn’t quite have enough to overcome the deficit which Ranson had built in the early stages of the race. For Ranson, it is a second British title in as many years, and all at the same venue. Greig, clearly crestfallen, will surely fight another day? His presence added a real special quality to the class. Taylor completed a solid day’s racing by finishing 3rd. Sadly Luke Tuck failed to complete race distance but certainly raised a few eyebrows with his performance.
In the 350cc class, it would be between two legends of the sport; Chris Mackett and Gerald Short. The two diced and duelled throughout their opening two rides, each taking a win each. Mackett scored a second win in the third heat before problems for Short ended his meeting in the fourth leg. The former European Champions’ absence from the class meant that Mackett could take a relatively straightforward British title win, his fifth in a row! Mackett remains unstoppable in this class.
The 500cc class was struck with drama as early as practice. One of the meeting favourites, Tim Curnock, twice came to a grinding halt whilst practicing, and sure enough his meeting was done before it had even started. A real shame for the Worcestershire man, who has been in devastating form all season. There were several other mechanical gremlins creeping into the old machines as the day progress, with some races only seeing 2 finishers.
Two riders doing all of the winning in the heats were reigning champion Dave Hammond and Coventry racer Ian Ian Gutteridge. After seeing his 350cc solo hopes disappear, Gerald Short seemed rejuvenated in the latter stages of the 500cc class. He won his final heat convincingly.
In the winner-take-all final, Hammond made a fantastic start and immediately pulled a gap on the rest of the field. Behind him, all sorts of chopping and changing occurred. Gutteridge had made a poor start and had to claw his way through the field to make his way up to third, not quite having enough to chase down and pass Gerald Short, who, in turn, was desperately chasing Dave Hammond. But for Hammond it was a fourth successive British Championship win, and a well-deserved win too.
There was plenty of action available in the support classes, as several top names were attracted to the Cornish venue. The 1000cc sidecars were once again breath-taking around the venue, the quads and old/new sidecars seem to serve up better action on this circuit than anywhere else in the country, and the youth competitors fought each other fiercely, despite the hot conditions. Several stars of the future put in outstanding displays.
One rider tipped to be a ‘star’ is young Cameron Taylor. The young Junior racer, no doubt supported Grandad Roger’s bid to become 250cc champ, looked in a class of his own. Such was his speed, many commented that it would be interesting to see how he would have fared up against the adults, despite the smaller engine capacity. Taylor was followed home in each race by Westcountry youngster Zak Batey, who definitely seemed to get quicker throughout the afternoon. Max Derrick finished a comfortable 3rd.
The other youth race was made up of both Auto-Cadet and Cadet classes. In a similar vein to the style of Cameron Taylor, Oliver Bovingdon was a cut above the rest in the class. He looked tremendously quick, clearly enjoying the challenge of the multi-cornered circuit. Long distance traveller Archie Rolph could make the long journey back to Essex delighted with his showing, finishing 2nd overall. The best placed cadet of the day was Kayden Munday.
The Old and New Sidecars produced something of a duel between two excellent crews. Mark Courtney/Leon Torres have virtually dominated this class this season. So, a real treat was in store when newcomers Mark Seward/Patrick Keat leapt out of the gate in the opening heat and held Courtney/Torres off for four furious laps. Courtney/Torres tried to get on terms with their adversaries before mechanical gremlins hit and they were forced to retire. In the second race, however, it was a similar story as Seward/Keat won again.
In the final two heats, Courtney/Torres made no mistakes from the tapes. In both heats, they made lightning quick starts and were able to hold off Seward/Keat, meaning both crews had won two races. Once again, it would come down to the final.
In the final, Courtney/Torres once again made an excellent start and immediately began to pull away from the rest of the pack, who squabbled keenly over second position. As the pack entered the second lap, Seward/Keat pulled off and their race was done. A huge shame as this crew had been excellent. Courtney/Torres lead the final from tapes to flag, continuing their dominance of the class. Steve Urrell/Julie Williams rode solidly to claim 2nd, with Brian Hatch/Lewis Wharton (who have turned to GS500s themselves having campaigned a Pre 75 machine in previously) came home in 3rd. It was a torrid day for the Newton Brothers, Thomas and Dillon. The Cornish youngsters’ machine was dogged with mechanical failure throughout the day, though they were always right in amongst the battles in every race, until the outfit failed.
This circuit seems to almost force excellent racing for the Old/New Sidecar class and the same can be said for Quad racing here. However, the four-wheeled-brigade put on a meeting full of drama and action which surpassed any previous meetings.
In the early heats, Bodmin racer Paul Skelton was in excellent form. He won the opening two rides and followed these up with a fourth in his third ride after making a poor start. Steve Udy looked like he would give Skelton plenty to think about too, finishing second in the opening ride before disaster struck the local racer. He flipped his quad whilst chasing through the pack, suffering a suspected collarbone injury and putting him out of the meeting.
Several wheel-banging, heart-stopping dices took place throughout the pack, with Gary Williams fighting his way to the front in the third heat. In the final heat, Paul Skelton made a dreadful start, leaving the start line several seconds after everyone else. In fact, the leaders were coming towards the start line by the time he set off. Several quads fought fiercely over the top three spots. One machine, skidding on the freshly watered circuit, found themselves stopped in the middle of the track and very nearly being collected by another. Thankfully both were able to continue. Another Bodmin man, Chris Williams, won the melee, and Skelton’s 6th place finish was enough to see him crowned winner in a highly entertaining afternoon’s four-wheeled, flat-out action.
The final class to report was the 1000cc sidecars. The only outfit to notch up maximum scores through the heats was Welshman Neal Owen and his Cornish passenger Jason Farwell. For others, bad luck and mechanical issues caused them headaches throughout. Young Cornishman Kieran Hicks and passenger Kieron Ivy led twice in heats before coming to a stop when victory seemed highly likely. In their opening ride, they led convincingly before their rear tyre burst on the third lap. And again, in their third ride, they led Owen/Farwell and just as it looked like a final lap duel would take place, Hicks/Ivy slowed dramatically and stopped, having to push home for the remaining points. Similarly, Simon Heal/Rowland Broomfield had several issues through the day. After finishing 2nd in their opening two rides, possible clutch problems saw them barely start in their third ride. They did get the outfit going again for their final ride, but they could only follow Hicks/Ivy home for second. Cornishmen Matthew Matthew Huddy/Ben Evers were in good form in the heats, winning a heat and finishing second in another.
In the final Hicks/Ivy made an excellent start and led the pack. Owen/Farwell tried everything to get on terms with the youngsters, but fortunately for them, their bad luck had been served earlier in the day. An excellent win for Hicks on home turf, and no doubt a win made the long journey up from Kent much more satisfying for passenger Ivy. Simon Heal/Rowland Broomfield came home a very creditable 3rd whilst another local crew, Stewart Togneri/Chris Dugdale disposed of Simon Beaney/Gareth Bemister early in the heat to claim fourth. Huddy/Evers had a tough race at the back of the field, but can be satisfied with their heat form, finishing as second highest point scorers.
Reports from the meeting seem unanimous in that the circuit has greatly improved once again. On such a hot day, dust was always going to be of concern, but was controlled well. What must be pleasing, however, is that such a healthy crowd (no doubt starved of Grasstrack action in this centre) assembled at the Roche circuit. Hopefully, this event can now be built on and the club’s hard work will really start to come to fruition.
Report by Gareth Bemister
Photos by Methanol Moments Photography