NEWS Sunday 13th January 2019, 9:37am
The Kurri Kurri track was a fitting setting to hold the final round of the 2019 Australian speedway championships with the prospect of crowning a new champion, a lovely balmy evening, and an excellently prepared track.
Max Fricke carried an 8 point lead into the final round from Rohan Tungate with Chis Holder a further point adrift. The only hope for the chasing pair was to remain unbeaten and hope Fricke stumbled on his way to the title. Tungate took up the challenge opening with three wins on the trot but Fricke was not aiding the Tungate cause by notching three wins of his own to maintain the eight point buffer between the pair after three rides. Chris Holder had dropped two early points and it wasn't going to be his year.
The fourth round of heats saw Tungate (gate four) and Fricke (gate two) clash with a win guaranteeing the title to Fricke. Perhaps because of the added pressure both made poor starts with Ben Cook the spoiler out in front with Tungate and Fricke side by side in second going down the back straight the first time. Tungate was the lucky one with a gap appearing in front of him instead of Fricke and Rohan was through. Fricke found a way past Cook a few bends later but Tungate was too far ahead to be challenged so one point clawed back and now seven points the difference.
Tungate kept his part of the bargain with a final heat win after he trailed Jaimon Lidsey from the start but soon got by, so now it was over to Fricke to see how he handled the pressure. By the luck of the draw Fricke had been handed a tricky assignment from gate four in heat 19 with Chris Holder, Brady Kurtz and Jordan Stewart all inside him. A poor start and Fricke was at risk of not scoring at all, and with no score in this last heat ride Fricke would be in the cut throat semi final where anything could happen. There would be an extra four points on offer for Tungate in the main final if he won it so mathematically Tungate could still force a run off for the title if everything went his way.
Tension mounted as the tapes flew up and Fricke found himself in last going into turn one. Max was soon up to second and then proceeded to show precisely why he should be the champion with a stunning ride. After an epic battle with Holder he first caught Holder, and then ducked underneath Holder to lead. Not to be outdone Holder then executed a pass of his own to snatch back the lead. Fricke hadn't quite finished yet though and he found another gap on Holder's inside to regain the lead and hold it to the finish. It was classic speedway and a fitting way for Fricke to secure his first Australian title.
After the Fricke heroics of heat 19 the atmosphere understandably went a bit flat but there was still the winner of the round to be decided. The semi final saw the two Holders, Brady Kurtz and Nick Morris line up for the right to challenge the top three in the main final. It turned out to be a Chris Holder training ride as he gated superbly to easily take the win which ensured the top three in the title all rode in every main final in all of the five rounds. It was a good indicator of exactly how much better the top three had been all series.
In the main final the unbeaten Tungate chose gate one with Fricke opting for the extreme outside to start out of gate four. Sandwiched in between them were Sam Masters and Holder. After an even start Fricke forced his way to the lead but local favourite Tungate was not to be denied the first win of a round in this years series and he went round Fricke to take the lead and maintain it to the finish. It was probably a fair result with Tungate deserving a round win given how well he had ridden all series.
Unfortunately for Justin Sedgmen the story at Kurri Kurri had become all too disappointingly familiar. Apart from Undera where he made the semi final Justin experienced four "tough days at the office" to finish in twelfth place overall after five points in the final round. The highlight of this fifth round was a close second behind Chris Holder when they met, but in general there didn't seem to be enough in the Sedgmen tank to consistently challenge the bigger names and tally up enough points to be a serious threat. He is a better rider than that as finishing second in the title two years ago proved, and I hope a change of scenery and some new equipment turns his UK fortunes around in 2019.
Our thanks go to Howard Williams for, one again, supplying us with these meeting reports from Australia