Chris Harris and Mark Cossar/Gareth Williams successfully defended their British Masters Championship titles on Sunday as they cruised to almost perfect results at GTSA’s British Masters Grasstrack event. If it wasn’t for a fall during an unexpected downpour during the semi-final, Chris Harris would have gone through the meeting unbeaten. Whilst Cossar/Williams did just that, only being headed for half a lap in an early heat.
On the run-up to the meeting, concerns were being raised by the whole Grasstrack community about the possibility of dust due to the very dry, hot conditions which the country had been experiencing. Although there was some dust, the club had pulled off a remarkable feat by controlling the conditions expertly, whilst still providing an excellent racing surface. In fact, the aforementioned downpour between the heats and the finals meant that the circuit was in the best condition during the last few races of the day.
In the sidecars, it became clear very quickly that the situation would be as expected. Mark Cossar and Gareth Williams looked simply unstoppable from their very first ride, setting a race time over two seconds quicker than their rivals. Nevertheless, the scrap for the runners-up spot was ferocious. Several crews battled and scrapped amongst themselves making it very difficult to get into the top six (and thus making the big, winner-take-all final) and to predict a runner-up was impossible right to the last corner of the final.
Brother of the champion-elect Tom Cossar and his passenger Wayne Rickards looked to have plenty of speed. Only Mark Cossar/Gareth Williams were able to best Cossar the younger in the heats and the semi-final. Competing in his 20th British Masters, Matt Fumarola and Andi Wilson looked in great form, but were plagued by mechanical gremlins. They won their opening ride and led their second, only for the machine to begin to slow with just yards to the finish line. Another break down later in the day meant that Fumarola/Wilson didn’t have enough points to compete in the final despite clearly looking fast enough.
Newcomer to full time driving Terry Saunters and experienced passenger Liam Brown were amongst the front runners, as were the vastly improved team of Trevor and Sam Heath. The most experienced driver in the line-up, Colin Blackbourn (who was competing in his 25th Masters) was getting faster and faster as the day progressed, notching three wins on his way to the final, and another seasoned campaigner, Rob Bradley (with Ryan Wharton), was never far from the front, though they never managed a heat win.
Several unfortunate incidents took place and ruled out some of the potential front runners. In practice, George Penfold and Danny Hill took a nasty tumble when their rear tyre burst unexpectedly, sending them flying backwards into the corner. A clash between Neal Owen/Jason Farwell and Clint Blondel/Jordan Smith saw both passengers injured and unable to continue.
In the final, Mark Cossar/Gareth Williams made a perfect start and were never less than 30 metres ahead. The battle for second continued to rage. Colin Blackbourn/Carl Pugh fought furiously with Trevor Heath/Sam Heath for four laps, resulting in a chase to the line. Blackbourn/Pugh managed to keep ahead of the fast-charging Heath crew and finish as runners-up. Despite this, it was a fine display by Trevor/Sam Heath and a best-ever performance. Cossar and Williams were simply peerless, however, thoroughly deserving their title. For Mark, it was a record-breaking 7th British Masters title, making him, on paper at least, the greatest rider in the competition’s history. Plenty of debate as to whether Mark is the greatest of all time continues to rumble on social media. However, it is true to say that there has never been a rider who has been winning for such a long time in such dominant fashion.
The solo competition served up a similar story. Chris Harris, by far the most high-profile name in the lineup (spending lots of his day signing autographs and being subject to ‘selfies’) , was in tremendous form. He won his opening ride against two or three of the potential champions. The rider finishing second to him in that opening ride was Zach Wajtknecht. This was the last time that Wajtknecht would be beaten until the final. Paul Hurry, competing in his 22nd British Masters, could only finish 4th in this tough opening heat- but much better was to come for the 47-year-old.
Late entrant into the meeting James Wright was also involved in this tough race 1. He went on to have several strong rides and found himself high up in the points going into the final. Henry Atkins returned to 500cc action with a fine win in his opening ride and continued his good form throughout the day. Youngster Jake Mulford once again looked fast but struggled to get out of the starts.
The only blip in an otherwise perfect defence from Chris Harris occurred in the semi-final. As the riders prepared for the semi-finals, the heavens opened, making the surface of the circuit change rapidly. Harris, who looked to have the semi-final sewn up, dropped the machine entering the top corner, dropping his maximum points haul in the process. Despite this, he still qualified for the final as the third-highest point scorer.
In the final, Harris made no mistakes. He made a tremendous start and despite being pushed hard in the early stages of the race by an inspired Paul Hurry, he managed to pull away from the pack and win his second British Masters title. Hurry rode the best race of his day. After a determined first lap fighting with Harris, he managed to see off his young protégé, Zach Wajtknecht to take the runners-up spot and step onto the Masters’ podium for the twelfth time in his illustrious career. Wajtknecht had to settle for a solid 3rd. James Wright, who had been comfortably riding in 4th came to a stop in the latter stages of the race, and Paul Cooper was more than happy to inherit the place. Chad Wirtzfeld, who had ridden solidly all day but didn’t quite capture the sort of sensational riding that we have seen at times this year, was rewarded for a consistent day with 5th. Many believe there is plenty more to come from the Dorset youngster, and we have seen glimmers of this all season. Henry Atkins finished a career-best sixth, whilst Jake Mulford completed the finishers in 7th.
Spare a though for several riders whose Masters campaigns were stopped before the day even arrived. Andrew Appleton, Alfie Bowtell, Charley Powell and James Shanes would have, no doubt, been in amongst the leaders on the day, but injuries forced them to pull out of the event.
A fine podium display supplied by the revered Sauly Events team provided a fitting conclusion to a fine day’s racing.
Report by Gareth Bemister
Photos by Amanda Morrison