NEWS Thursday 9th January 2020, 11:15pm
Max Fricke has one hand on the 2020 Australian Championship trophy after a stunning round the boards ride in the final at the 4th round at Mildura.
This secured his second win on the trot following his triumph at Undera. Fricke now enjoys a healthy 11 point margin over nearest rival Chris Holder, then follows Rohan Tungate and Jaimon Lidsey who are one point further back, closely followed by Jack Holder another point adrift.
With the top four earning spots in the SGP qualifying events the quest for one of those spots is heating up. Brady Kurtz could possibly come into the mix but at five points behind Jack Holder you would think Brady would need luck on his side plus a few snookers to leapfrog the riders above him.
The final was one of those that will long live in the memory. It will be a pleasure in years to come to proudly say "I was there". Fricke was out of gate four and rather than choose the cut back option decided on the blast round the outside once the tapes rose. By the back straight Jack Holder and Brady Kurtz were already in his wake with the target of Chris Holder in the Fricke cross hairs up ahead.
Fricke didn't worry about settling and seeing what might develop and instead just kept the throttle on out wide. It was actually hard to accurately determine when Max passed Chris as round the turns they were at vastly different widths across the track but by the end of lap two Fricke had clear air ahead of him and two comparatively uneventful laps followed.
I think local speedway fans are being spoilt by Max but we don't yet quite realise exactly how spoilt we are. Fricke was gracious in acknowledging that Chris Holder had given him room to race, with Holder also gracious in return in acknowledging he had been simply been beaten by a better ride. For the record Jack Holder was third with Brady Kurtz finishing fourth.
A controversial semi final 1 featured Chris Holder (14), Fricke (13), Tungate (11), and Ryan Douglas (9). Chris Holder was well away with Fricke languishing at the back after losing out in turn one. Fricke soon eased on by Ryan Douglas but needed to do likewise to Tungate to reach the main final. At the entry to the back straight on lap two Tungate momentarily slowed which allowed Fricke up to second. Tungate was soon back on the gas but it later transpired that someone in the crowd that owned a device with a red light had taken a photo and Tungate claimed to have seen the resulting red light and that it was the cause of his slowing.
The race continued with Tungate making a valiant dive at the line in an attempt to snare a main final berth but after a slight delay Fricke was given the verdict which must have been by only centimetres. Luckily the club uses transponders and the electronic read out was consulted before giving the nod to Fricke. A bonus for Fricke as Tungate had been one of his nearest challengers and Rohan would now have one less ride to potentially earn points.
Semi final 2 was a much more sombre affair featuring Jack Holder, (13), Lidsey (11), Josh Pickering (9), and Kurtz (10). The younger Holder and Kurtz were best away and no placings ever looked like changing hands. Disappointment for Mildura local Lidsey on his home track as he trailed home in third place and that was another of Fricke's closest challengers coming up one ride short of the main final and with every ride counting towards the series points total it was hurting Lidseys series chances. Pickering finished in fourth.
Another "bottom of the finalists / top of the others" type day again for the current Monarchs. This time it was Sam Masters missing the finals by a point in totalling eight. Again Sam hadn't been able to take any points from the top contenders, and his downfall was probably his third ride where he trailed home in last behind Chris Holder, Pickering, and Justin Sedgmen after being squeezed out at the start.
At the after meeting presentations the riders all complimented the track on how good and smooth it was, but in a perverse way it was maybe a bit too good because with a few notable exceptions unless riders in front made mistakes it wasn't easy to get by, and that seemed to cost Sam dearly in that heat. The Masters highlight was a fifth ride heat win against Kurtz, Robert Medson, and Jordan Stewart. Sam would have held some hope that eight points may just be enough to sneak into the finals but the cards didn't fall his way so unfortunately no extra rides for Masters.
Josh Pickering had better luck in getting a semi final berth but bowed out when finishing last in his semi. Josh seems to have found his level at about 8th or 9th in this field and competing with the likes of Ryan Douglas (and in this round Sam) for the last remaining spot in the finals. Josh dropped points to just about everyone you would expect him to but would have been well pleased with a win in his fourth ride and keeping Lidsey behind him. Josh is not far off bridging the gap between himself and the top contenders and this series has been a useful measuring stick for him to find out exactly what stage he is at.
Ex Monarch Justin Sedgmen managed a picket fence scorecard of 1 1 1 1 1 to total five points in all and match his efforts from the earlier rounds. I had expected him to do a bit better on his home track. I can't exactly put my finger on the difference in the Sedgmen from 2017 when he nearly won the title to the Sedgmen of 2020, although he has had a wretched run with injury since 2017 and the cumulative effect of those injuries might not be doing much for his confidence.
Top six in the series
55 - Fricke
44 - Chris Holder
43 - Tungate
43 - Lidsey
42 - Jack Holder
37 - Kurtz
And the Monarchs are next in 7th & 8th
29 - Masters
25 - Pickering