Wangaratta Speedway played host to the 2018/19 season Grand Prix Midget’s Australian Title recently. The finishing placings were dominated by visiting New South Wales registered race drivers with a lone Victorian (Jason Crawford) finishing amongst the top five, whilst heartbreak bestowed itself upon Chris Fowler who led the title race for the majority of the distance before mechanical breakdown curtailed his charge.
Rod Saville from Goulburn in New South Wales had won the national title twenty-four years earlier at Bendigo Showgrounds in 1995, and this season he has done it again in a fairy-tale result for the ages.
With heavy rain in the area on Friday and then Saturday into the afternoon, it looked like the race meeting might not get a start, however it was a minor miracle produced by the Wangaratta track crew that brought the track to racing condition at all, albeit a tad rough for the first two rounds of racing.
Another period of track preparation before round three made the track near perfect for the last round and the title race itself, a credit to the Wangaratta staff.
Ten Victorian registered cars and seven from New South Wales entered the title and each driver were allocated three ten lap heat races to compete in before the starting positions for the title race could be determined.
Current Victorian and New South Wales state champion leading into the big night Rod Saville was hoping to add his name to the great history of drivers to ever hold the three major titles at the one time in the one season whilst Trevor Perry (#1 Perry Bros Chassis – Suzuki GSXR 1000) was looking for a three peat having won the last two seasons national titles.
The first of six qualifiers began with Rod Saville and Lisa Chalcraft on the front row then came Steve Bennett, Trevor Perry, Mark Blackeby (#10 Spitfire Restaurant & Bar Rosebud – Yamaha R1), Chris Fowler, Shawn Ward, Andrew Ward and Paul Perry. With the green flag unfurling Saville led Trevor Perry, Bennett, Fowler and Chalcraft past the steward the first time around.
On lap four Fowler passed Bennett into third and the next lap Trevor Perry moved into the lead. At the end of ten Trevor Perry had won from Saville, Fowler, Bennett, Chalcraft, Shawn Ward, Paul Perry and Blackeby with Andrew Ward (#88 Huntsmen Products – Suzuki GSX1100) a non-finisher.
The remaining competitors began their night in heat two with Janelle Saville, Anthony Lea, Dennis Myers, Crawford, Sean Denning (#52 Truck Moves – Yamaha R1), Gary Bowyer and David Bacon was supposed to start along-side Troy Buis, but Bacon (#36 DB Cleaning & Kanga Hire – Yamaha R1) didn’t make it due to battery issues.
Myers lead the first lap of heat two after Saville was sent to the rear of the field for jumping the first attempted start. Myers (# 11 Super Balance Automotive – Suzuki GSX-R 1100) led from Crawford at the end of the first lap, a determined Saville who had ripped through to be back in third place, then came Lea and Denning before Crawford assumed control of the race on lap two.
Bowyer started to get a handle on the tough Speedway Wangaratta venue and moved to fifth on lap six before Denning picked him off the very next lap. On lap nine Saville moved ahead of Myers and finished second to Crawford with Myers next then Lea (#7 AOK Trophies– Suzuki GSX 1100) and Bowyer who once again passed by Denning.
Into the second round and Denning began with a front row start with Fowler with Trevor Perry and his brother Paul, Crawford (#50 Pitstop Mowers– Yamaha R1), and Rod Saville all in this exciting race. Fowler lead from lap one over Saville, some moves on lap two changed the order up and Fowler led Saville, Myers, Trevor Perry and Denning. Myers succumbed to the pressure of Perry the next lap around and Denning drifted back in the queue.
Fowler (# 13 Ballistics Performance Parts– Yamaha R1) out front continued to stake his title aspirations for the night, Trevor Perry moved into second by lap seven and at the finish line Fowler had defeated Trevor Perry, Saville, Crawford, Myers, Paul Perry and Denning.
Shawn Ward (#44 Whisper Trailers – Yamaha R1) who has at times shown some speed behind the wheel of his car bagged a win in the fourth race of the night leading each and every of ten laps. With Bowyer chasing him Ward was able to finish in front of Bowyer, Chalcraft, Bennett, Blackeby, Lea and Buis at the finish line.
A big casualty in this race was Janelle Saville (#2 SS Racing – Suzuki GSX 1100) not finishing after blowing her race engine for the ninth time this season; she was at home the next day with the engine out of the car already getting it ready for the next race meeting.
Another talented heavy line-up in the fifth heat of the night began with the Australian Champion Trevor Perry from the front of the field already with a first and second placed finish under the belt. As lap one finished Perry led Shawn Ward, Myers, Chalcraft (#15 Jacobsons Transport – Suzuki GSX 1100) and Denning on lap one and a few laps later we were about to lose a couple of the top guns.
On lap five whilst in second Wards car dropped a chain and headed infield, the very next lap Trevor Perry’s motor seemed to expire. This left five laps for Myers to hold on for a win however Paul Perry (#33 Phantom Stickers – Suzuki GSX 1150) a former national champion himself took the lead with three laps to go and then won from Myers, Chalcraft, Blackeby and Denning.
In the final qualifier, Crawford began at the front of the field with Bennett whilst Bowyer, Fowler and Rod Saville where amongst the field behind. Crawford led lap one from Bennett, Fowler, Saville, and Bowyer before Fowler picked off Bennett (#79 SR Bennett Haulage – Honda CBR 1000) the next time around. On lap six Fowler became the new race leader and went on to win from Crawford, Bennett, Saville, Bowyer, Lea and Buis.
Next up was the twenty-lap title race and the field had been determined minus the defending Australian champion. Fowler, Crawford, Rod Saville, Myers, Paul Perry, Chalcraft, Bennett, Shawn Ward, Denning, Bowyer, Buis (# 5 V & J Parker Photography – Yamaha R1) and Lea were the thirteen drivers to greet the starter for the Australian title decider.
Fowler led lap one from Crawford, Saville (# 59 Saville Racing – Kawasaki 1200), Myers and Chalcraft. The top five maintained position for the first five laps with Ward in sixth. On lap six, Ward’s steering wheel broke and the car flipped over and finished the race infield after the damage was cleaned up.
Anthony Lea and was making a race of things and on lap nine had moved into fifth place, ahead of him was Fowler, Crawford, Saville and Myers.
Saville on lap ten moved ahead of Crawford, as Fowler’s car seemed to be breaking down. Saville took the lead from lap eleven as Fowler tried to hold on to his car and stay in a podium position. Lea dropped out of the top five as Bennett moved into it, on lap thirteen Bowyer (#N5 Arjan Motors – Yamaha R1) also moved forward and Myers struck fuel issues and dropped down the field.
Fowler held on to his position in the top three with Crawford going past him right up to lap eighteen when a caution period was the death knell for the Fowler race car. The caution was to send Lea with a flat tyre infield and on the roll around lap Fowler’s car finally had enough.
The chequered flag rose and Saville took the championship win from Crawford, Bennett, Bowyer, Paul Perry, Myers, Blackeby, Chalcraft, Denning and Buis.
It turned out later Fowler had a shock collapse on around lap six and he was from there trying to hold his position. With two laps to go the bolt holding grimly to the shock dropped out whilst rolling around on a caution lap yellow flag and sending Fowler infield.
Saville’s win made him the third driver in history to have won the New South Wales, the Victorian and the national title in the same season, Lester Appleton who was at the track to see the history made on Saturday night did it in 1997 whilst Ash Booker did it twice, first in 2012 and then again in 2014.
Victorian club treasurer Chris Fowler spoke of after the title to media. “Firstly we as a club want to acknowledge our host and title sponsor Wangaratta Speedway Club. John Patton and his team where tremendous today, we have a lot of respect for what they achieved tonight. To Rod, Jason, Steve, Gary and Paul congratulations on your top five placings, terrific result for you all. Rod in particular has had a stellar season.”
The Victorian Grand Prix Midgets association thank Club Supporters:
Ballistic Performance Parts
TM Lineboring & Engineering
Super Balance Automotive Shepparton
AJ’s Motorcycle Parts and Apparel Shepparton
Vern & Jackie Parker Photography
Rock Solid Productions