How cam­paign­ers have man­aged to open peo­ple’s eyes to the sta­dium’s fu­ture. By Matt James

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Short Oval Fight - Photos: mkpics.net

There was a huge col­lec­tive sigh of relief last week when the news came through that the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion to flat­ten Wim­ble­don Sta­dium has been called in by the mayor Boris John­son.

The fu­ture of short oval rac­ing at the south west Lon­don venue – one of the rare in­ner city tracks left op­er­at­ing in the coun­try – is in se­ri­ous jeop­ardy. Even with this lat­est move, the outlook is still un­clear but this de­ci­sion to cre­ate a sig­nif­i­cant ex­tra layer of red tape is a sign that rac­ing fans’ ob­jec­tions are be­ing taken very se­ri­ously. There is still a chance, al­beit a slim one, that the Grand Old Lady of short oval rac­ing will re­main as she is.

There was a packed out crowd for what was billed as the fi­nal meet­ing at Plough Lane on Sun­day, March 20, and, as the fans filed out of the turn­stiles at the end of the night, there was a gen­uine feel­ing that the cur­tain had come down on a his­tory that ex­tends back to 1962 – to a time be­fore Boris John­son was born...

Back in De­cem­ber last sea­son, de­vel­oper Gal­liard Homes was granted per­mis­sion to build 602 dwellings on site, and also a new 11,000 all-seater football sta­dium for AFC Wim­ble­don and other busi­ness premises. It seemed as if any re­quire­ments from the short oval or grey­hound rac­ing worlds, which both have strong his­to­ries at the venue, were brushed to one side as the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion was pushed through. This led to cam­paign­ers gal­vanis­ing them­selves to make their voices heard.

Even the fact the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion has been called in was shrouded in con­fu­sion for the cam­paign­ers who have been battling so hard to high­light the plight of the sta­dium.

The ini­tial con­tact to the Save our Sta­dium group came from a lo­cal jour­nal­ist af­ter the cru­cial meet­ing of Lon­don’s plan­ning top brass at City Hall on March 22. The re­porter got his wires crossed and told the group he had bad news: the mayor had ap­proved the ap­pli­ca­tion.

It wasn’t un­til a while later that the jour­nal­ist phoned the cam­paign­ers back, and ad­mit­ted that he had made a mis­take. The ap­pli­ca­tion had been called in af­ter all and there would be a re­view.

By Mayor John­son call­ing in the ap­pli­ca­tion, it now means that the plan­ners at City Hall will re­view the en­tire scheme and will hear rep­re­sen­ta­tions from in­ter­ested par­ties – in­clud­ing the short oval rac­ing fans – be­fore re­assess­ing the per­mis­sions granted.

That will take sev­eral months. The out­come prob­a­bly won’t be known un­til next year and, while it could be the case that noth­ing changes at all, it means that rac­ing will be able to con­tinue at the venue later this year when the sea­son restarts.

And, if the Mayor and his of­fi­cials lis­ten to the 12,500 peo­ple who have signed the pe­ti­tion to keep the sta­dium alive, then there could be good news for the longer term fu­ture.

Mayor John­son’s fu­ture at the helm of the city is, of course, not for the longer term though. He was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, but de­cided not to stand for a third term in 2016 af­ter be­ing elected as the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruis­lip in 2015. That means there will be a new mayor, but be­cause the ap­pli­ca­tion has al­ready been called in, the change in lead­er­ship of Lon­don will have no ef­fect on the out­come of the process.

The meet­ings at the track are op­er­ated by Deane Wood’s Spede­worth or­gan­i­sa­tion, but it is merely a ten­ant on the site and has no di­rec­tor con­trol over what hap­pens in the fu­ture. And, as it is a ten­ant, it can’t shout too loudly against the plans for fear of up­set­ting the land­lords should the de­ci­sion be re­versed in the fu­ture. It has a very thin line to tread and, in many ways, has its hands tied over this en­tire is­sue. It has had to stand by and let oth­ers lead the fight, which it now ap­pears they have done very suc­cess­fully.

Cam­paigner Michael Bur­nage said: “This de­ci­sion, whilst not a vic­tory by any means, does at least give us a chance of re­turn­ing to Wim­ble­don Sta­dium in Oc­to­ber for the new [short oval] sea­son.

“The very real fear was that the Mayor would sim­ply ap­prove the ap­pli­ca­tion for a football sta­dium and houses al­most au­to­mat­i­cally.

“From the start, our strat­egy was to do what­ever it took to make sure that our voice was heard in the process, which it hadn’t been up to this point for many rea­sons. Over the course of the past four months, we have sought to chal­lenge the per­cep­tions made by oth­ers, and en­sure that when it came to the con­sid­er­a­tion, the Mayor would have to look at ev­ery as­pect of the ap­pli­ca­tion be­fore him.”

Peter Gray, who has also been at the fore­front of the Save our Sta­dium cam­paign, added: “It is great to say to the many thou­sands who signed the pe­ti­tion, our voice has now fi­nally been heard. It is no longer the be­gin­ning of the end, but sim­ply the end of the be­gin­ning. Our main task now is to pro­vide as much help and sup­port as we can, in the con­tin­u­ing fight to save Wim­ble­don Sta­dium.”

The bat­tle has been won, but the war isn’t over. Cam­paign­ers de­serve huge credit for forc­ing this sig­nif­i­cant move. If the mo­men­tum can be main­tained, then rac­ing could still stand a chance of re­main­ing at the iconic venue. ■

Or­gan­iser: BARC/ LHRC When: March 27/28 Where: Ly­d­den Hill, Kent Starters: 125

The term ris­ing star is banded about eas­ily in mo­tor­sport. In the case of Dan Rooke, that state­ment is fact.

Rooke, 18, moved to ral­ly­cross from au­tocross at the end of 2014 and con­tested his first full Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross cam­paign last sea­son. In that first year, he won the Su­perna­tional ti­tle in his Citroen AX.

At the an­niver­sary event of his de­but win, Rooke won again, but this time in the head­line MSA Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship Su­per­car cat­e­gory.

Fol­low­ing an im­pres­sive de­but in the LD Mo­tor­sports Citroen DS 3 at the open­ing round at Croft early in March where he was sec­ond to Kevin Proc­ter, Rooke claimed vic­tory at the se­ries’ sec­ond round to lead the points ta­ble.

Proc­ter had started on pole for the fi­nal by virtue of win­ning the first semi-fi­nal, with the vic­tor of the sec­ond semi, Ol­lie O’dono­van, start­ing in the mid­dle of the front row and Rooke on the out­side. As the lights went green, Ford Fo­cus driver O’dono­van made the best start to lead into Ches­sons Drift ahead of Proc­ter and back-row starter James Grint, who made a bril­liant launch to drift around the out­side of Proc­ter to run sec­ond.

In the first cor­ner, Proc­ter touched the rear of O’dono­van’s car, dam­ag­ing his Ford Fi­esta’s in­ter­cooler. Grint ran sec­ond to O’dono­van on lap one, but spun at the in­fa­mous Ly­d­den Hill chi­cane.

Rooke took his joker lap early, passed Andy Grant soon af­ter and ran in sec­ond. O’dono­van took his joker on lap three and re­took the lead, ahead of Rooke, only to suf­fer from turbo fail­ure on lap four. Rooke claimed the lead and, as O’dono­van dropped back, Mark Fla­herty climbed to sec­ond. Grint re­cov­ered to fin­ish third. Bel­gian vis­i­tor Johnny Verkurin­gen crossed the line fourth in his Subaru Im­preza, with O’dono­van fifth and Proc­ter clas­si­fied sixth. Steve Hill and Grant both suf­fered tech­ni­cal is­sues dur­ing the race.

“Af­ter the first round we thought an­other podium could be pos­si­ble here, but I never ex­pected to win,” said Devon-based Rooke af­ter­wards. “Once I got passed Ol­lie I tried to keep it tidy and it just came to­gether.”

For­mer Su­perna­tional cham­pion Stu­art Emery missed the first round of the sea­son but re­turned for round two at Ly­d­den with a re­vised trans­mis­sion in his Peu­geot 206.

He fought back from prob­lems ear­lier in the event to pass Mike Howlin in the early stages of the fi­nal to win at his home cir­cuit ahead of Tony Lynch.

The Ju­nior Ral­ly­cross com­peti­tors ran in two events at Ly­d­den and Sam Jones took vic­tory twice. Nathan Heath­cote claimed a maiden win in the Swift Sports, while Chrissy Palmer beat Ja­nis Bau­ma­nis in the RX150 fi­nal. Keifer Hud­son won the BMW Mini fi­nal.

Hot Rod racer Ja­son Kew won the Best in Bri­tain last sea­son

Fans packed out the March 20 meet­ing

Wim­ble­don al­ways pulls rac­ers

and big crowds

Driv­ers be­hind the cam­paign to

save Plough Lane

Com­peti­tors en­joy the friendly


Photos: Hal Ridge, Colin Casser­ley and mkpics.net

Dan Rooke took a maiden win in Bri­tish Su­per­cars

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