Words and images: Paul Griffin
James McFadden eliminated a major Blue Ribbon Bogie from his “to do” list last Sunday night (22nd Jan) at Warrnambool’s Sungold Stadium – Premier Speedway.
He was able to strike off “Winning the Lucas Oil Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic” by crossing the line first, a second ahead of a fast finishing Darren Mollenoyux and former Australian Champion Brooke Tatnell.
“The Classic” has eluded McFadden for well over a decade. He has never been able to crack it, succumbing to mechanical issues, racing incidents and generally speaking just bad luck.
The 2017 journey was the usual 40 laps and McFadden’s mission was to beat 23 other adversaries.
In contrast to the cooler weather of the previous two preliminary nights, it was a pleasant and balmy 19 degrees Celsius when the Final was run.
So after three nights of qualifying racing, it was time to do “The Big Dance” and decide the 2017 Classic Champion.
Top point scorer out of the total field of 107 drivers was Brooke Tatnell. He was tied to the Night 1 group of 53 cars.
McFadden was pilled in the night 2 list and in terms of points was just behind Tatnell thanks to very strong heat racing performances and 2nd quickest in his time trial group.
Tatnell elected to go off P2 despite earning the privilege of Pole Position. This made sense as in most of the racing starts in the prior two nights, P2 seemed to make it into turn 1 first – it really did appear to offer an advantage.
For the 2017 Grand Annual Classic Final, this wasn’t to be for Tatnell as McFadden with great reflexes and a “quick launch” car won the drag race into the first turn.
Tatnell battled furiously over the next few laps in an attempt to muscle into the lead, but McFadden simply had too much to offer.
With 5 laps down, McFadden had opened up an incredible 8 car lead and Tatnell and Kerry Madsen were arguing over who should be second. At one point Madsen slipped ahead of Tatnell, but then relinquished that advantage several laps later.
Meanwhile Darren Mollenoyux was rocketing along in 4th followed by Luke Dillon, Brad Sweet, former Australian Champion David Murcott a, Kyle Hirst and Robbie Farr.
By lap 8, McFadden was into traffic. He was brilliant working through the field – always seeming to get a car or two between the W17 and 2nd placed Tatnell.
Individual battles were emerging all over the place – most notably the one between American Brad Sweet and Mollenoyux where they traded places several times.
With 10 down it was McFadden, Tatnell, K Madsen, Mollenoyux, Sweet and Dillon. McFadden despite the heavy traffic placed the W17 at any point on the track – high, low and anywhere in between. The car was set up superbly – the only concern was tyres as the track had been brutal on rubber over the course of the weekend.
The field kept rotating without incident until lap 26 when USA Tourister Domenic Scelzi spun on the slick surface of turn 2 and threw the yellows.
On the restart is was McFadden, Tatnell, Madsen, Mollenoyux, Sweet, Dillon, Murcott, Keller, Hirst, Ian Madsen, Farr, Lines.
McFadden quickly cleared out. This happened on the next two restarts as well – we were later to learn at the presentations that Tatnell was having engine stumbling issues – the car was lazy to launch.
By this stage the track was getting pretty rutted up in turn 2 and 3 and Kerry Madsen had a slack attack with the cushion allowing Mollenoyux through.
Mollenoyux sensed the smell of a podium finish and really dug deep.
SA’s Brad Keller was the next casualty a few laps later.
He had worked past Murcott but then rode out a big one out of turn 2 after attempting to avoid another car and being unsettled by a rut. That created a closed red.
On the restart it was 12 laps remaining. McFadden and Tatnell continued to wage war, as did Sweet and Mollenoyux – the latter prevailing.
Carsen Macedo spun in turn 2 and a luckless Matt Egel with nowhere to go with his SA97 and rolled and impacted the fence bringing on a closed red.
McFadden very nearly collected Macedo but saved the day with a brilliant unconventional “turn right” manoeuvre to slip between the pair.
The lap board now showed 5 laps remaining and the order was McFadden, Tatnell, Mollenoyux, Sweet and Madsen. Mollenoyux (Molly) was clearly sensing better than just a podium third place.
Undeterred, Mollenoyux kept boxing and with 3 left to run went low on Tatnell and made it stick. He then set out after McFadden and closed the gap to within a second.
Mollenoyux tried valiantly to attack McFadden and realise a fairy tale. McFadden’s tyres had gone off and Molly was looking stronger than ever.
In the end Mollenoyux (V52) would come close but McFadden crossed the line one second ahead of the V52, with Tatnell several car lengths back in 3rd and then Sweet, K Madsen, Dillon, Hirst, Ian Madsen, Lines and Murcott rounding out the top 10
The 2017 Lucas Oil Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic was a thrilling race and produced everything we all come to expect of Australia’s biggest Sprintcar event.