Massive crowd at wet Shielfield for Grand Prix qualifier

A crowd of over 2,000 watch the action at Shielfield
A crowd of over 2,000 watch the action at Shielfield

A huge crowd estimated to be over 2,000 crammed into Shielfield for the Grand Prix qualifying round, which went ahead on a very heavy track despite a day of torrential rain in Berwick.

At a meeting that attracted some of the world’s best, riders found it tough going on the sodden track. The treacherous conditions made it difficult to slide into bends, which made for slow and processional racing. But pre-race favourite Chris ‘Bomber’ Harris, the Coventry skipper, kept his concentration to score a perfect five-ride maximum and win the meeting with 15 points. Poole’s Australian rider Sam Masters edged out Danny King in a race-off for second and third. All three booked their place in the semi-final and were joined by seven others.

BSPA management committee member David Hoggart, Sheffield’s promoter, said: “We have to thank all the paying public for coming out to support this important event in their masses on a night where the weather might well have made them think twice about going out of their front door – let alone spending money on speedway in this weather.

“Huge credit must also go to Berwick Speedway and their tireless track staff who worked so hard against the weather to get this meeting on, and make sure it ran to its full conclusion as well, as the cooperation of our FIM officials. But mostly the fans who deserve massive thanks for coming out on an awful night.”

Although the afternoon practice session had to be cancelled to preserve the track, the protective covers did their job by ensuring that the highest-profile meeting in the 44-year history of host club Berwick Bandits went ahead.

The rain, exceptionally heavy at times, fell for most of the previous 36 hours or more, and most intensely between 3pm and 5pm.

Had it not been for the covers the meeting would have been off by mid-morning, but with a slight delay it got underway, although with the unusual, but naturally heavy surface there was cause for more track grading than usual which got the track in reasonable racing condition, improving through the night.

The meeting featured 16 riders from around the world, battling for ten places in the semi-final of the Grand Prix Series, effectively the world championships of the sport.

The fact that it is the only GP qualifier to be staged in Britain this year underlines just how hard the Bandits promotional team have been working since they took over the running of the club almost four years ago.

The last thing they needed, after all their efforts, was torrential rain. But the weather certainly didn’t put the crowd off. There were so many speedway fans from near and far that the football pitch outside the ground soon turned into a car park.

A pipe band played on the pitch before the action got under way, but when it did it soon became obvious that the track was causing problems.

Heat one was the worst victim of the heavy surface with Harris taking a very tentative win as all four competitors fought hard to even broadside the bikes round the clumpy bends.

The following few races were also somewhat processional but the race times certainly started to speed up with the racing line nicely setting in as the meeting progressed.

The rain returned after heat eight, but it did not stop the action from continuing.

Heat 14 was the most exciting of the night, with King and Finland’s Tero Aarnio passing and re-passing each other. The British rider edged it in the end and qualified in third place overall.

The other qualifiers on the night were Australia’s Davey Watt, Finland’s Tero Aarnio, American Ryan Fisher, Poland’s Krzysztof Buczkowski, Denmark’s Kenneth Hansen and Sweden’s Linus Sundstrom.

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QUALIFIERS

1. Chris Harris (GB) 15pts

2. Sam Masters (Aus) 12

3. Danny King (GB) 12

4. Ryan Fisher (USA) 11

5. Davey Watt (Aus) 10

6. Linus Sundstrom (Swe) 9

7. Krzysztof Buczkowski (Pol) 9

8. Tero Aarnio (Fin) 9

9. Kenneth Hansen (Den) 7

10. Emiliano Sanchez (Arg) 5