Pair to defend title during 'mini-Daytona'
Defending sidecar champions Fraser Gillespie and Nigel Cuckow will be heading into the unknown tonight when the Burt Munro Challenge cranks into gear with longtrack racing at Ascot Park Raceway.
Gillespie has carved out an outstanding sidecar record during his 34-year career, winning South Island, national, longtrack and grass titles and will be aiming for more success in front of his home crowd.
Last year, Gillespie and fellow Southlander Cuckow achieved a major milestone in their first year racing together as a duo, winning the sidecar event of the New Zealand longtrack championships – the first year it had been contested as part of the Burt Munro Challenge.
Gillespie and Cuckow are expected to battle it out with last year's longtrack grand prix victors, Kevin McDonald and Karl Hosie, for sidecar silverware tonight, but Gillespie admitted being unsure about their prospects.
They will be competing on a new bike for the first time after their old machine was destroyed in a horrific crash in Christchurch in January, and left Gillespie with a broken collarbone and rib injuries.
"The practice lap is going to be our first ride on it," Gillespie said. "All going well, we'll have a better idea after that what the situation is." Gillespie and Cuckow's new sidecar is almost a replica of the bike used by world championship-winning Australian rider Darrin Treloar. Gillespie visited Treloar earlier in the year, with the Australian allowing him to take his dimensions home, and they have constructed a bike that is very similar in frame design.
Gillespie was optimistic about the potential of the bike if they could avoid mechanical problems and any on-course carnage. "It all depends on how the new bike goes. If we have a trouble-free run, we've got as good as chance as anyone. With the longtrack, you've got to be really focused. You're doing three times the speed you are on the speedway track."
Cuckow has proven to be a reliable team-mate since replacing Dave Uitentuis as Gillespie's swinger last year. He has been involved in speedway on and off for the past 20 years, and said racing alongside Gillespie, who is regarded as the king of sidecars in Southland, was a real thrill.
"It's great. I've been doing it for 20 years and he's still teaching me stuff. I'm always learning."
Cuckow and Gillespie will also be the ones to watch in the sidecars at Saturday night's Speedway Spectacular at Oreti Park.
As proud Southlanders, Cuckow said it was an honour to be racing in the Burt Munro Challenge and he was delighted with the growth of the event since it was first set up six years ago. "It's a big weekend. A lot of people come to Invercargill. I class it as a mini-Daytona."
Motorsport fans will be in for a treat in the solo section of tonight's longtrack championship, with New Zealand speedway great Barry Briggs, 76, who won four individual world titles between 1957 and 1966, getting back on the bike.
Racing gets under way from 5pm.
The Southland Times