For the third year in a row, Frittenden and District MCC hosted their grasstrack with a twist at their superb Sandhurst Bridge Raceway in Kent on Sunday. The Open Pairs meeting has become a staple in the Grasstrack calendar, and one which both spectators and racers have been looking forward to. Riders paired up to score points in collaboration, with the highest scoring pair in the final claiming overall victory of the meeting. Despite pre-meeting concerns, the weather played its part in making the third pairs competition a rousing success.
The 250cc solo class saw a virtual domination from Ben Ilsley and his in-form partner Russell Little. The pairing had a scare in their second heat as both made poor starts and had to fight their way past second-place pairing Chris Still and Danny Curl. Little clambered his way to the front with time to spare, but Ilsley left it to the very last bend to round Still and maintain a perfect score for the Grasstrack Banter admins, who were defending their title which they had won in appalling conditions in 2018. They duly won the final in their fourth 1-2 effort of the afternoon.
The 350cc solo class saw a fine display by Andrew Whitaker. He stormed through the card unbeaten, twice beating newly crowned British champion Rob Finlow in the heats, and then repeating this feat in the final. His partner, Jamie Fenn-Smith, who was recovering from his nasty spill in the Floodlit Whoppa the previous week, packed in the places to finish no lower than third all afternoon. Only Finlow got the better of Fenn-Smith, meaning that he and Whitaker were comfortable winners overall. Finlow’s partner, Tom Davis got quicker and quicker as the day progressed, finishing an excellent 4th in the final and securing the runners-up spot for he and Finlow.
The 500cc solos saw an expected whitewash by two of the world’s best riders. Whoppa champion Edward Kennett and former European champion Paul Hurry were in a class of their own, finishing first and second in all of their heats and the final. Local racer Martyn Sturgeon gave Hurry a little to think about early in the heats, though Sturgeon was competing alone and was never going to trouble the points haul gathered by Kennett and Hurry. Bristolians Rod Melksham and Jody Hodgson rode a fantastic meeting to claim second, despite Melksham being plagued with mechanical gremlins all day.
The Upright class was arguably the most entertaining solo class of the day. Midland visitors Mike Dowling and Tim Curnock rode consistently to pack in the points through the heats, though it was another Midlander who was catching most eyes. Darren Phillips, who was paired with his son Ben, put in several outstanding rides, including one of the races of the day in a bar-banging tussle with Bob Dolman in their opening heat. Despite losing this effort, Phillips Snr went on to win his next two heats in sensational style. Dolman must have thought this meeting was plagued for him on the run up to it. He had previously planned to be paired with Nigel Coates, only for Coates to pick up an injury. Dave Mears then stepped in to pair with Dolman, but was badly injured at the Brits. All of this meant that Dolman had to call on his Dutch counterpart Martin Cazemier to come to the UK to contest the pairs event.
In the final, Dolman produced his best ride of the day, winning from tapes to flag. His partner managed to cling on to 4th place in a highly competitive race. This was just enough to secure the overall victory for Dolman and Cazemier. Phillips rode well once again to claw his way up to second, though partner Ben’s 8th place relegated the father and son team to third. With Curnock and Dowling finishing 3rd and 5th respectively, they claimed second overall in a great day’s racing for the Upright class.
The 500cc sidecar class was by far the most open of the day, right up until their final outing. All three pairings provided heat winners in the heats, with four different race winners throughout the day. James Hogg/Scott Goodwin looked very fast in the opening heat, but then finished 4th in their second ride. This really demonstrated the highly competitive nature of the outfits in action. Rapidly improving former solo rider James Hartley, with passenger Shay Minihane once again rode well, winning the final heat of the day. Consistent performances by Hogg/Goodwin and their partners Aaron Vale and Stephen Vale meant that they had a healthy lead heading into the final heat. However, only three outfits came to the line for the fourth heat, including both Hogg/Goodwin and Vale/Vale. This almost certainly secured the win for the pairing, though Hartley/Minihane made sure it wasn’t all plain sailing by beating both in another excellent 500cc sidecar race.
The 1000cc sidecars saw some chopping and changing of pairs before the meeting had begun. Both Matthew Fumarola/Gareth Williams and Myles Simmons/Robbie Simmons suffered terminal mechanical failure before the meeting commenced, leaving their partners without a pairing. This bout of bad luck brought these two outfits together to form a new partnership, and the new partnership went on to put in a stunning performance and win the event overall. Former British Masters champion Paul Whitelam, passengered for the first time by Ryan Wharton, were forced to pair up with reigning British Masters champion Gareth Winterburn, passengered by younger brother Billy Winterburn for the second week in a row. The pairing dominated the competition, taking first and second in all of their heats and the final. Whitelam/Wharton came under immense pressure from Rob Wilson/Terry Saunters in the final, but managed to hold them at bay. But the Winterburn brothers were outstanding, showing tremendous speed and style. Kieran Hicks/Kieron Ivy, who were making superb starts all afternoon, finished 4th, and therefore second overall with their partners Wilson/Saunters. Neal Owen/Jason Farwell had been looking very fast in the heats, but a dramatic wheelie leaving the line left passenger Farwell stricken on the start, and their race was run. They, and partners John Hiscock/Terry Madley were left with third overall. Channel Islanders Clint Blondel/Kev Bennett and rising stars George Penfold/Bradley Steer were heat winners and looked very fast all afternoon, but narrowly missed out on the final. Penfold/Steer were beaten only by the eventual winners, and were notable absentees from the final. Their partners, Will Penfold/Ricky Pay had a miserable afternoon mechanically, desperately trying to diagnose a niggling problem before the day was over. This meant that they were nowhere near their best, and unable to provide the necessary back-up to their partners.
Tommy Penfold and William Naden also started their day with a niggling mechanical problem. But they quickly were able to rectify this, and were by far the fastest crew in the class for the whole afternoon. They won all of their heats and the final convincingly. Their partners John Morris/Dan Woodbridge provided adequate back-up to ensure that the pairing claimed the overall win. Newly crowned British champions Rob Heath/Kyle Fish paired with Alex Balman/Mark Hopkins to try and attack their Kentish adversaries in their own backyard, and managed a strong second place overall. Both crews managed to beat Morris/Woodbridge in the final, but had no answer to the pace of Tommy Penfold and William Naden. Sadly, a nasty crash involving Steven North and Steve North Jnr saw a lengthy delay in the meeting as the father and son crew were attended to. Up until that point, they had been riding well, winning their opening ride.
It was another excellent meeting which has come to be expected by the Frittenden club. The pairs element always adds extra-special interest, and this year was no different. The club’s final meeting of the year, the Frittenden Flyer, takes place at the same venue on Sunday 6th October, and will serve as something of a grand finale for the 2019 season. It is sure to be unmissable, compelling viewing for all race fans.