NEWS Monday 15th January 2018, 10:13am
After (nearly) four championship rounds, 80 heats, four semi finals and three main finals we arrived at the ultimate race of the series with Rohan Tungate and Brady Kurtz locked together on points and the title on the line.
The equation was simple, which ever of the two crossed the line first would be the Australian champion for 2018. The tension grew as the riders picked their gate positions and then ventured out to the start line.
Sadly for the crowd that was as exciting as it got. Tungate in blue got to turn one narrowly in front of the red helmeted Kurtz and Kurtz knew he couldn’t let Tungate get away from him. Unfortunately for Kurtz he slightly over did it, got a little crossed up and lost a couple of places and and himself in last behind Max Fricke and it was game set and match to Tungate by the time they reached the back straight. Meanwhile Jack Holder wasn’t watching the Tungate / Kurtz battle, he was preoccupied in zooming round the outside to race away and record his second victory on the trot after his stellar performance at Mildura two days earlier. Holder had earlier advanced from the semi final and it was a feather in his cap to win both finals. Max Fricke kept Tungate and Kurtz apart while finishing third. Kurtz and Tungate had both qualified on 14 with Fricke one point back in 13.
The semi final was well won by Holder (11) from seemingly perpetual Semi finalist Jordan Stewart (10), the much improved Lidsey (10) and the again impressive Mason Campton (9). Once Holder made the start and got a break on the field it was race over and the other three largely went through the motions.
The excitement had all happened a bit earlier on when Tungate and Kurtz met in heat 20. At the first time of asking Tungate must have been perilously close to being excluded after jumping early and nearly touching the tapes. In the rerun Kurtz held sway from the gate but Tungate soon cut underneath to assume the lead. Not to be outdone Kurtz then followed suit to dive under Tungate to move clear. Adrenalin must have been pumping as it was Tungate again hard under Kurtz on lap two and again lead.Then the most controversial moment of the entire series, and the end of lap two Kurtz was exploring an outside line with Tungate on his inside. Tungate then slightly moved out exiting turn four causing Kurtz to back off which in turn caused Kurtz to glance off the fence near the start / finish line and lose momentum. Was Tungate sufficiently clear ? Could Kurtz have reacted differently ? Who would have been excluded if Kurtz fell ? We will never know as Kurtz is not one to drop the bike and hope for a favourable ruling from the referee and the race continued. Even though Kurtz got close at the end it was Tungate taking the win to ensure they finished the heats on equal points after Tungate had earlier dropped a point to Max Fricke.
Josh Pickering was again well in the hunt for a semi final spot and only missed out on a countback from Mason Campton with both finishing on nine points. No wins for Pickering but four solid second places saw him consistently nudge his score sheet upwards. It was a happy / sad series for Pickering, he would have been ecstatic with his second overall at Kurri Kurri but disappointed he seemed to be finishing that point or two short of being able to progress deeper into the following three rounds.
Disaster struck for Sam Masters before the meeting even started. During practice James Davies had fallen in front of Masters and with nowhere to go Sam clattered into the bike of Davies that was lying in the middle of the track. Sam copped a nasty knock to his ankle and had to be helped back to the pits. He lined up for his first ride and actually made it to turn one in the lead but immediately pulled up and was obviously in a lot of pain. It was a disconsolate Masters who slumped over his handlebars in the infield and who then withdrew from the meeting, it was not the finish Masters wanted with a possible podium finish in the series with the associated benefits that go with it.
Max Fricke was again prominent in making his second major final of the series but didn’t quite have the presence that Tungate and Kurtz demonstrated. Not that Fricke rode poorly or was lacking in ability, but he didn’t seem to be able to raise his game that extra notch when it mattered. One wonders if he has yet to return to peak form after his injury shortened 2017 European season.
Jye Etheridge was again similar to Pickering and well in the mix for a semi final place. His night was hampered when he fell in turn two when on the outside of Mason Campton. It was a 50/50 incident, Campton had moved out slightly but there was no contact and Etheridge was the one adjudged to be at fault.
For the record the wash up from the four rounds
62 Tungate, 60 Kurtz, 53 Fricke, 51 Holder, 39 Campton, 37 Masters, 37 Pickering, 35 Stewart, 31 Lidsey, 28 Etheridge