Gillespie, Cuckow show their class
Former Oreti Park Speedway president Fraser Gillespie and swinger Nigel Cuckow were popular winners in the sidecars final of the Speedway Spectacular on Saturday night.
Gillespie and Cuckow had to fight their way into the four-bike final the hard way, through the repechage round, but showed their class and experience.
The Southlanders had the benefit of grid one during the final, and got off to a positive start to take an early lead after the first lap. Longtime rivals Kevin McDonald and Karl Hosie fought to the end, finishing strongly, but were unable to rein in Gillespie and Cuckow. Luke Thwaites and Neville Chalmers came third, with fourth going to Craig McMaster and James Dawson.
The sidecars had their largest field in the seven-year history of the Burt Munro Challenge on Saturday night, with 26 teams lining up at the start.
Gillespie said it was always a special feeling to win a title at the premier speedway meet of the season in Southland and was delighted with their ride in the final. "It's very awesome being a Southlander. I'm 58 years old now . . . I feel it's not a bad achievement. I thought, if we can get the start here, there's a good chance we'll be able to keep our nose in front and that's exactly how it went down."
The sidecar field was packed with a star-studded line-up and many talented teams tasted elimination in the repechages. Defending champions Aiden Thwaites and Daniel Gillett's night ended up in the semi-final repechage when they finished second to McMaster and Dawson, with only the top team going to the final.
"They're all getting better. They're all good bikes and the class of racing has really lifted," Gillespie said. "If you want to be successful, you've got to win the start."
The hard luck story of the night went to visiting Australian riders Josh Wells and Lance Tulloch, who had shown pleasing form earlier in the night and progressed through to the final.
They were unable to compete, however, after problems with their bike and not getting to the start line within the two-minute callout.
Gillespie's success at the Speedway Spectacular was a dramatic contrast to a year ago, when his young son, Jake, was badly injured in a crash and flown to Dunedin Hospital.
Jake has made a full recovery and was riding in the 250cc solo class on Saturday, finishing second behind Kahurangi Tanirau.
Gillespie and Cuckow's Burt Munro Challenge victory will give them huge confidence ahead of the New Zealand sidecars title at Moore Park in Christchurch over January 11-12.
Other class winners at the Speedway Spectacular included Oreti Park's Pete Stenning in the solo classics, Andy Walker in the solo support, Travis Carruthers in the junior solo 200cc, Sam Taylor in the junior solo 125cc and Hayden Brookland in the peewees.
- The Southland Times