It’s been 11 years since Gareth Winterburn first appeared in the British Masters Final in 2007, as passenger to father, Rod. But on Sunday, after many near-misses, he and passenger Liam Brown finally landed a British Masters title of his own in an incredibly tough day’s racing at Gawsworth, Cheshire. The circuit provided by the Cheshire club proved to be a real challenge for many to find the fastest route around, and solos, sidecars and quads fought bravely to produce some excellent racing on an amphitheater of a Grasstrack venue. The sidecar competition was absolutely ferocious. Throughout the meeting, each race was a battle, with just six different outfits tasting race victory on the day. In the opening set of heats, reigning champions Mark Cossar and Carl Blyth began their defence with a fine win, as did former champions Paul Whitelam and Alan Elliott and the crew who would emerge as victors, Gareth Winterburn and Liam Brown. The second leg saw Winterburn/Brown come up against Cossar/Blyth for the first time, and it was Winterburn/Brown who saw off a hard charge through the pack by the defending champs to claim two heat wins out of two. After a disappointing third in their opening ride, Colin Blackbourn/Carl Pugh looked excellent in their second ride, winning despite not leading out of the opening turn. Rod Winterburn and Billy Winterburn
also took a heat win after a disappointing start to the meeting by their very high standards. They rode excellently in their following rides to claim another win and a second behind Gareth Winterburn.
More drama occurred in the final leg of rides. After leaving the line, Winterburn/Brown hit a bump hard and shed the drive chain from the outfit. The first chink in the armour of Winterburn/Brown came in the form of a lost chain, leaving Cossar/Blyth to win a hard-fought final heat, disposing of another crew in good form- Simon Heal and Rowland Broomfield. By this race, track conditions had deteriorated to a point that all of the crews were fighting with the bumps, narrowly avoiding being thrown from their machines on several occasions. Immediate track preparation took place, curing the severely bumpy conditions. Sadly, in the same race, Paul Whitelam’s passenger Alan Elliott was thrown from the machine in the opening turn. The team were awarded fourth place after Elliott was able to remount.
After lengthy track preparation, the sidecar semi-finals produced two outstanding races. In the first, Cossar/Blyth diced with Winterburn/Brown for four heart-stopping, thrilling laps. Both crews swapped and squabbled over the lead for four high speed laps before Cossar/Blyth managed to just get the upper hand on the run to the line. Simon Heal/Rowland Broomfield claimed a good third place, giving them 7th overall and a personal best for this team, who fully deserved to be placed so highly.
The second semi-final was equally as entertaining. Another former champion in tremendous form, Rob Bradley and passenger Darren Wilce, managed to fight their way to the front to lead the pack, whilst Colin Blackbourn/Carl Pugh and Rod Winterburn/Billy Winterburn fought tooth-and-nail over second place. Blackbourn/Pugh managed to force their way into second place and showed great determination to catch Bradley/Wilce but could not find a way past. Two fantastic races, setting up a highly anticipated winner-take-all final.
In the solo class, the defending champion saw a much more straightforward route to the final. James Shanes, chasing his fourth successive title, won all of his heats and his semi-final convincingly. Only Andrew Appleton, who looked in the best form he’s been in on home soil for several seasons, gave Shanes something to think about in their third leg. Both of the former European Champions tussled over the lead, before Shanes was able to pass Appleton and take a win, keeping his record intact. David Howe started the day well on his return to Grasstrack, winning his opening ride. Sadly, Howe dropped his machine in his final ride and James Wright was forced to lay his machine down, still collecting some of the stricken bike. Though Howe had scored plenty of points, he’d picked up an injury and was forced to sit out the semi-final.
Zach Wajtknecht had ridden steadily throughout the heats. He started his afternoon with a 4th place, but two wins in his final two heats saw him hitting form at the correct times before the semi final. In the semi-final, however, it was Andrew Appleton who once again proved his class, leading Wajtknecht home. Paul Hurry claimed third behind these two, seeing his way comfortably into the final after some consistent riding throughout the day.
And so preparations began for the winner-take-all finals. For the first time in many years, both finals were very difficult to predict winners as so many had been riding well throughout the afternoon. Track preparation had taken place once again before the finals, trying to keep the circuit in the best possible condition.
The solo final saw Zach Wajtknecht make an excellent start and dive into the first turn bravely. A good exit saw him lead out of the turn, closely followed by James Shanes. Try as he might, Shanes couldn’t get on terms with Wajtknecht and a brand new British Masters champion was crowned. Andrew Appleton completed a fine day’s racing by finishing 3rd, ahead of Paul Hurry who showed he still possesses plenty of class to ride so well throughout the afternoon. James Wright, who hadn’t ridden all season, must be delighted with a 5th place, whilst Yorkshireman Andrew Whitaker completed his best ever performance, coming home 6th.
The big sidecar final saw Mark Cossar/Carl Blyth make the initial jump from the gate, but they visibly lifted and slowed slightly coming over the brow of the hill. They were quickly swallowed up by the rest of the pack and Gareth Winterburn/Liam Brown charged to the front, hotly pursued by Colin Blackbourn/Carl Pugh. Mark Cossar/Carl Blyth found themselves locked in a battle for third, headed by Rod Winterburn/Billy Winterburn. Blackbourn/Pugh drove hard to push Winterburn/Brown all of the way until suddenly they slowed and stopped whilst climbing the hill, just as they looked poised to pounce on the leaders. The outfit was restarted quickly, but Carl Pugh was left on the circuit and Colin Blackbourn rode off without him! Cossar/Blyth won the battle with Winterburn/Winterburn to get into second, but Gareth and Liam had pulled away, claiming Gareth’s first British Masters title. For Liam, it was his third Masters title and he joins an elite group of passengers, Dave Ward and Carl Pugh, in winning Masters titles with different drivers. It was also Liam’s ninth British Masters/British Championship title, furthering his claim to be the most successful sidecar passenger of all time. Nobody has ever won British championships/British Masters titles with three different drivers.
The British Masters event was supported by a strong contingent of Quad racers, who put on some good battles throughout the day. Welshman Dafyd Evans fought with fellow Welsh racer Edward Davies over the top spots in the heats, both taking two wins each, bringing the event to a winner-take-all finish. In-form Lincolnshire rider Nick Wright missed his opening ride, but claimed third in the next three heats but couldn’t get on terms with the flying Welsh racers at the front.
In the final, it was Dafyd Evans who made an excellent start and led the race from start to finish. Edward Davies tried hard to come round Evans, but couldn’t make any in-roads on the impressive KTM rider. The Quads final drew the meeting to a close. Sadly, after sitting so long throughout the day, some spectators has moved away from the circuit by the time the quads finished, meaning that they didn’t receive the accolades that they deserved after several good races.
So into the record books go two new names, Zach Wajtknecht and Gareth Winterburn, with Liam Brown back on top of the sport once more. Congratulations to all of the brave riders who put on some stunning races throughout the day.
Report by Gareth Bemister