In the sidecar class, drama began in
the first meeting of the two favourites. Five times champions Mark Cossar and Carl Blyth, reunited for the British Masters after Carl’s few months out, looked
very fast as they led home their main rivals, Gareth Winterburn/Liam Brown. But just as the leaders approached the finish line, their Suzuki GSX-R
engine blew itself apart, leaving Winterburn/Brown to pass the stricken
Winterburn/Brown, the reigning/defending champions, were having a reunion party themselves, after Liam had sat out
a few weeks pending disciplinary action regarding an incident earlier in the
year. From this dramatic first heat win, they went on to win their next two
races in tremendous style. A blip of sorts came about in their final qualifying
heat as they were involved in what was possibly the race of the day. They made
a poor start and were boxed out at every quarter. Eventual winners of the race,
Matthew Fumarola/Gareth Williams had ridden a fabulous race to take a well earnt victory in this
spectacular sidecar heat. Winterburn/Brown found themselves finishing 4th.
Paul Whitelam/Alan Elliott seemed to recover some form when they needed it. They rode consistently
well throughout the heats, picking up two excellent heat wins. This saw them
comfortably into the top six. Similarly, Colin Blackbourn/Carl Pugh made sure that they were never out of the top 3, winning their third
Rod Winterburn/Billy Winterburn were also very quick, winning their very first race on a machine having
its maiden voyage on a Grasstrack circuit. Another win in their final heat
meant that the other Winterburn outfit had virtually secured their top six
Fumarola/Williams, who were suffering
with poor starts, still were managing to haul themselves into the top 3 in
their heats, but a difficult semi-final saw their meeting end at this stage.
Rob Wilson/Terry Saunters was on the cusp of reaching yet another British Masters final.
Crucially however, Wilson had failed to win a race in the heats and the final.
This would mean that they would just miss out on the all-important top six.
Young Cornish racer Kieran Hicks and passenger Kieron Ivy began their day with a 4th, but then made an excellent start in their
second race to take an important heat win. Another 4th followed, and then
contact with another outfit in their final heat saw them tumble down the points
order and all seemed lost. But a tremendous semi-final victory meant that
remarkably, Hicks/Ivy would creep in as the final qualifier in the final.
Whilst all of this was going on for
these crews, the Cossar/Blyth pit was alive with commotion. After blowing up
his engine, Mark Cossar was forced to revert to his speedway outfit for his
second race. The outfit, clearly not set up for this type of terrain, made a
poor start as expected. But one by one, Cossar/Blyth picked off the other crews
and won in superb style, passing Myles/Robbie Simmons in the last lap of the
Realising that the suspension-less
speedway machine was not going to be the tool for the job on this day, Cossar
decided to pluck the Suzuki engine from the speedway outfit and put it in his
Grasstrack frame. Whilst this took place, Cossar/Blyth called upon Carl’s older
brother Stef to lend them his outfit so Mark and Carl could complete their
third race. Remarkably, they appeared in their fourth and final heat back on
board their Grasstrack bike, complete with newly fitted speedway engine. They
won the race and saw themselves safely into the latter stages of the day in a
real test of attrition and fortitude on the part of Mark and Carl. Plenty of
others would have thrown the towel in when engine number 1 expired.
In the solo class, from the very
start James Shanes looked like he was a cut above the others. Bear in mind that this field
of solos had 8 riders who will be competing in the European Championships final
next week. This was one of the strongest fields of riders in the world. But
Shanes looked unstoppable, winning all of his heats and the semi-final by a
Four-times champion Paul Hurry continued his good form. He immediately showed great pace in the
opening race, beating the 2018 champion Zach Wajtknecht convincingly. Early on in the meeting, Edward Kennett looked very fast, but struggled as the conditions changed.
Problems for Andrew Appleton in his opening ride spelled the end for his 2019 campaign. He made a
superb start and led Kennett into the first bend before throwing a chain, and
nearly throwing himself off too. Clearly, the sudden stop had caused an injury
to Appleton, who wasn’t the same rider in the next ride. He was forced to
retire from the meeting.
Another big name suffering misery was
Chris Harris. After struggling on the grippy circuit in his opening ride, he
then looped his machine in his second. He completed all four of his races but
was far from his best.
Sadly, the only accident of the day
came when Tim Nobes fell heavily. He was treated for a broken arm, but later it appeared
that no bones were broken. It marked the end of Nobes’ day after riding
Heading into the all-important,
winner-take-all final, several riders had claimed victories including
Wajtknecht, James Wright and Tom Perry. But it was Paul Cooper who claimed a win in his semi-final. He had finished second in all of
his heats, but had found the right set-up just at the right time to win the
semi-final and hit form going into the final. Shanes duly won the other
semi-final with another dominant performance.
Love them or hate them, the
winner-take-all, first-over-the-line British Masters final creates a dramatic
crescendo to finish the meeting with. The riders heading into the highly
pressured race chose their gate positions carefully, knowing that all will be
won and lost over four laps.
The solos saw the sixth win of the
day for the sensational James Shanes. In truth, he never looked like being
beaten. Exiting champion Zach Wajtknecht made sure he claimed second place but
had no answer to Shanes, who joins Andrew Appleton, Paul Hurry and Kelvin Tatum
as a four-time British Masters champion. At only 22 years old, it’s difficult
to believe that he will not surpass the current record of five titles, held by
the late, great Simon Wigg, before he is done.
The battle for the final rostrum
place came down to the last bend. Paul Cooper got himself into third and looked
to have another rostrum sewn up, but a back wheel puncture in the latter stages
of the race allowed Paul Hurry to blast past and claim yet another Masters
The sidecar final saw a similar
dominant victory for Gareth Winterburn/Liam Brown. They made the best start
they had made all day in the final, and rode sensibly and conservatively on the
inside line for four laps. A fine performance, and a tremendous defence of
their title. Behind them, plenty of squabbling took place. Colin
Blackbourn/Carl Pugh had got themselves into second and defended their
runners-up spot with all they had until, eventually, Mark Cossar/Carl Blyth
made their way past and claimed an extremely unlikely second place after the
The GTSA club, synonymous with
Lefthand sidecar racing for so many years, naturally provided a Lefthand
Sidecar support. Tommy Penfold, who was passengered by Terry Draper in Terry’s
first ever appearance on a sidecar, showed great speed to win three out of four
of the races. They made a mess of the start in one heat which allowed Alex Balman/Mark Hopkins to get away, but they were passed right on the line by Rob Heath/Kyle Fish in a highly entertaining race. The overall victory was
Penfold/Draper’s, who simply had too much speed for the others.
This was an absolute triumph for
Grasstrack racing in this country. The circuit rode well, the crowd was
fantastic, the venue was setup perfectly and even the weather played its part.
The added touches of the magnificent winner’s rostrum, the pre-Masters party
and the music, provided by Matt Saul, made the event just feel special- exactly
what it should be in a meeting steeped in so much history.