SPARKS FLY IN WORLD FINAL
Northern Irishman fends off the reigning champ – just. By Graham Brown
dam Maxwell took a popular maiden win in the National Hot Rod world championship after a close fight with defending champ Shane Murphy.
Their duel ended in controversy as a clash between the pair left Murphy in the wall, but the stewards had no hesitation confirming Maxwell as the winner after determining he had no case to answer.
Southern Irishman David Casey claimed second ahead of English points champion Carl Waller-barrett, while Danny Fiske’s drive through to fourth from grid position 25 was one of the highlights of the race.
Although fancied to do well by many prior to the event, Maxwell’s dream result had begun to look more likely after Saturday’s hot laps. It seemed for a long time as if reigning champ Murphy might have annexed pole with a 14.67s lap. But Maxwell’s second lap time of 14.66s would have been enough to beat it, while a third tour 0.09s quicker set the seal on it. Maxwell was in fact the penultimate driver to qualify while Murphy’s draw had forced him to go fifth and run on the still relatively green and unrubbered track.
Indeed the three quickest times all came from the last 10 drivers, Maxwell’s rival in the NI points championship, Derek Martin, claiming the outside front row with a 14.62s, while two-time winner Chris Haird got grid position three with his 14.66s.
While much of Saturday’s racing was dogged by heavy showers and not all forecasters were predicting a dry world final race on the Sunday, in fact the day dawned with clear blue skies and hot sunshine beating on the track.
During the typically frantic opening gambits, Martin got the best launch from his outside berth. He managed to stay alongside Maxwell through turn one, along the back straight and, with his car almost but not quite ahead of Maxwell’s, he tried to cut down to the inside line entering turn three. Not surprisingly, Maxwell was having none of it and the pair collided going into the bend, Martin somehow saved the spin and managing to stay in second.
But the other aces were queueing up to pounce. Murphy edged ahead of Martin at turn one and Haird followed suit just before the yellow flags were waved on lap four for a multi-car fracas all over turns one and two.
By the time hostilities resumed, Martin was down to fifth, having lost another spot to Casey.
And the British champ Casey was clearly on the move too, as he darted under Haird coming off turn two. To be fair, Haird did not appear to resist the pass very strenuously and when he stepped aside for Martin as well a lap later, it was obvious the double champ was in trouble. In fact, a gradually seizing motor would eventually lead to his retirement on lap 43.
But with Casey already quite a long way adrift, it was becoming clear that this was probably just going to come down to Maxwell v Murphy; young pretender versus the reigning monarch.
For many laps the pair circulated together, with Murphy just sitting back and waiting for his chance. And when Maxwell finally started to encounter the really sticky traffic, Murphy suddenly closed up those couple of yards and began nibbling at the leader’s bumper.
As Martin called it a day almost unnoticed, Murphy piled on the pressure.
Maxwell continued to negotiate the backmarkers neatly and safely, but a moment’s hesitation was all it took for Murphy to dive for the opening inside line.
He was alongside down the back straight and ahead as they closed fast with another lapped car. As Murphy tried to cut back to the outside to pass him, he found Maxwell already started on the boxing in manoeuvre, the resulting impact turning the gold-roofed Tigra straight into the wall.
That was game over right there. From that point on, Maxwell just had to keep up a reasonably steady pace while counting down the laps and praying that the car kept going…it did.
Casey was too far back to mount any kind of challenge (and now fast running out of laps in which to do so anyway) with Waller-barrett a further quarter of a lap down.
Those who’d been able to tear their eyes from the leaders had been treated to a superb climb up the field by Fiske, the son of the 1975 champion Derek.
Nearing the finish he finally caught the dice for fifth through to eighth place and battled his way to the front of that too to eventually claim a thoroughly deserved fourth position.
By then there were only eight cars left on the lead lap as Maxwell headed for home, the popular Northern Irishman taking the flag before performing the customary doughnuts and then heading for the winner’s circle, where the right-rear tyre went down. That was before the champagne was even uncorked.
Richard Petty once said that if he could be lucky or good, he’d rather be lucky.
On this day Adam Maxwell was certainly both. ■