Boardley is crowned world champion

THE annual Ipswich Spede Weekend, held at the Foxhall Stadium on Saturday and yesterday, produced a sensational National Hot Rod World Championship race which was anything but the runaway that many observers were expecting.

THE annual Ipswich Spede Weekend, held at the Foxhall Stadium on Saturday and yesterday, produced a sensational National Hot Rod World Championship race which was anything but the runaway that many observers were expecting.

There were more than 40 races, around 300 drivers and a host of different classes all on the agenda over the two days.

While some of the other races were superb, the National Hot Rod World Final has been the centrepiece of the weekend ever since 1972, and is oval racing's most prestigious title.

At 75 laps it is also the longest, and the sweltering conditions of the weekend meant that this had to be the ultimate test of man and machine.

Local star Carl Boardley qualified on pole, which raised already high hopes to a fever-pitch level. He has been fifth, fourth, third and second in past world races, and after a storming drive to win the Thunder 500 here just a fortnight ago, some were already suggesting that the main interest would be in who came second.

As is traditional, the 33 cars lined up for the race at exactly noon - only mad dogs, Englishmen and Hot Rod drivers would do it - and as they broke from the line Boardley immediately settled into the lead, pursued by Irishman John Christie, son of four-times previous winner Ormond.

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Hardly had they started when the dangerous Phil Spinks, who always finishes the World Race very strongly, was out with mechanical problems, and it got better for Boardley on lap four when Tom Casey spun, Ricky Hunn ran into him, and Boardley's arch rival, the 2004 champion and runner-up last year Malcolm Blackman, went in as well.

Out came the red flags for a race stoppage and subsequent re-start. Amazingly both Casey and Blackman managed to mend their cars although there had to be doubts over how long they would last.

Boardley led them away again for another 75 laps in the baking sun and, as before, his main rivals were soon falling like flies. Dark horse Chris Haird from Newmarket retired on lap five, while Blackman, who never looked comfortable, slipped down the order and retired on lap 10.

Defending champion Keith Martin from Northern Ireland was the next big name casualty.

Colin Gomm then blew an engine, Boardley half spun but just held on, but was safe anyway as the officials ordered another race stoppage to clear the oil left on the track by Gomm's blown engine.

Once again, the local star led them away, but now it was Essex driver Andy Steward in second. Boardley always looked comfortable in his Tigra while Steward was driving the race of his life in his Peugeot 206.

The moment that changed the race happened on lap 51 when Boardley collided with the back-marking Ken Marriott, struggled to regain his line, and when he had, Steward had gone by.

Boardley chased hard, sometimes to get within inches, other times the gap was three or four lengths, but as the last lap approached it had to be now or never.

He took a wide sweep on the outside of Steward down the back straight, they collided going into the final bend, Steward spun into the wall, Boardley kept his foot down and made it to the flag, knowing that an inquiry by the clerk of the course was inevitable.

It took them a long time to decide, but they eventually ruled that Steward had cut across Boardley's line and the result would stand in the order they crossed the finishing line.

So it was Boardley's win, at the seventh try, with Steve Thompson, Simon Bentley and Ricky Hunn taking the other podium places.

It is probably fair to say that the decision met with a mixed reaction from the crowd, particularly as it was 10 years to the day since the popular Steward lost in the closest finish ever, after leading the race going into the final bend. But, he accepted the verdict philosophically saying he would be back for another go next year, while Boardley also promised to be back.

His initial explanation of what happened was: “I was prepared to race round the outside of Andy and make it a two-abreast dash for the line. Whether I would have got there or not, or whether he would have held on, we'll never know.

“Of course, I feel sorry for him, he's a very popular driver who has done a lot for our sport. I hope he wins it one day, but I'd like to come back next year and win it with no controversy and no official inquiries.”

Few would deny that he deserved his success after so many close calls, and after doing everything right in the run-up to the Worlds. He topped the English points, he won the Thunder 500, and he put himself on pole for the big race. However, you have to sympathise with Steward, who is a renowned wet weather expert, so to turn in a drive like this, on the hottest day of the year, was truly a remarkable achievement.

The rest of the weekend's racing was mixed in terms of the classes on track, and how they performed. The Two-Litre Hot Rod National Championship on Saturday evening was a classic, with Mark Paffey from Havant snatching it from Jason Wilks on the last lap in a repeat of their epic European Championship at Wimbledon earlier this year, although on that occasion Wilks got the verdict by the same margin - less than six inches.

The Superstox race for the Howard Cole Memorial Trophy on Saturday night was another spectacular race with four cars flashing across the line almost four abreast. That came after Colin Aylward had gone on the rampage over the last couple of laps to move up from fifth to third with some very aggressive hitting, accounting for World Champion Jason Cooper as he went. Another top East Anglian, Gary Sparks, eventually won the race, Colin Bradley was second and Aylward's death or glory at the end netted him third.

Sparks also won the National Championship on Sunday and with the World Championship scheduled for Foxhall in October, he is beginning to look a very serious contender again after a couple of barren years.

Other major events settled at this feast of oval racing included a win for George Morphy from Peasenhall in the prestigious Budweiser 500 race for the Lightning Rods, a not unexpected win for multi-champion Sonny Sherwood in the Bangers English Championship, and a really good win for young Owen Gibbs from Lingwood in the Stock Cars Supreme Championship where the versatile Morphy made second.

Alistair Calvin from Northern Ireland won the Stock Rod European Challenge Cup, ahead of Scotland's David Philp and England's pre-race favourite Stuart Smyth.

There was plenty of other things as well, including a guest visit by the BRISCA F1 Stock Cars, the usual mega-loud fireworks display, some vintage Stock Car racing, and some very lively races from a new Two-Litre Stock Car formula. The Banger team racing was as hard hitting as ever, with Norfolk-based Legs & Co taking the win.

All in all, this was the best of everything - speed, action, rollovers (at least 15 over the weekend), controversy, close finishes, all of which kept the big crowd entertained for two whole days. And football was barely mentioned.

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