Southland rider secures solo Grand Prix win

WINNER: Invercargill rider John Tuffley.
WINNER: Invercargill rider John Tuffley.

Hometown hero John Tuffley received the biggest roar of the evening last night as he saw off the threat of Kiwi speedway legend Larry Ross to take the New Zealand longtrack solo Grand Prix title.

The sixth annual Burt Munro Challenge cranked into gear last night with longtrack racing at Ascot Park Raceway and it was Invercargill rider Tuffley who pulled off the surprise result in the one-off solo Grand Prix race holding off Ross in a thriller.

A jubilant Tuffley said he was elated to gain victory over former speedway star Ross, who was a member of the New Zealand team, which won the Speedway World Cup title in 1979 and raced extensively in the British Speedway League during the 1970s and 1980s.

"It was brilliant. It was awesome," Tuffley said shortly after the race.

"I really respect Larry, he's a legend to me. When I was a kid he was the man."

Tuffley and Ross also fought out some epic racing during the New Zealand longtrack championship earlier in the night, with Ross running out the overall winner after accumulating 17 points to Tuffley's 15. Invercargill rider Alex Cunningham would have been happy with his efforts after finishing third in the solos thanks to some consistent riding over the course of the evening.

Fellow Southlanders Kevin McDonald and Karl Hosie narrowly missed out on making it a clean sweep in the sidecars after Nelson duo Neville Curran and Wolfe McGill narrowly pipped them late in the race to capture the Grand Prix sidecars title.

McDonald and Hosie, who were triumphant in the Grand Prix last year, did not walk away empty-handed, however, after securing the New Zealand sidecar longtrack championship from the Nelson pairing, who kept them honest all night.

Much of the talk heading into the sidecars centred around leading Invercargill team Fraser Gillespie and Nigel Cuckow, who won the longtrack championship last season but they endured a horror night on their brand new bike.

Gillespie badly injured a finger during a practice lap and they withdrew. The experienced Gillespie is expected to front up at the Speedway Spectacular on Saturday night at Oreti Park.

Gillespie and Cuckow's new bike also endured mechanical problems but Cuckow said they hoped to have it firing on all cylinders by the weekend.

McDonald was rapt to add a New Zealand longtrack championship to his collection but was gutted they let the Grand Prix silverware slip from their grasp.

"We made a bit of a mistake there. They did well ... Any New Zealand title is always special," McDonald said.

"It's a bit unfortunate Fraser Gillespie and Nigel had to pull out. They would have been hard to beat."

In the other classes, Christchurch's Andrew Aldridge was a cut above in the solos no gearbox category, dominating his rivals to win both the longtrack and Grand Prix titles. Cromwell's Craig Pointon was equally as clinical in the quad class, snaring both prizes.

In the non-speedway solos, regular Burt Munro Challenge competitor Jason Feaver made a pleasing start to the weekend, winning first place in the championship. Oamaru's Chris Manson, who duelled it out with Feaver all night long in the class, was the victor in the Grand Prix race.

New Zealand speedway great Barry Briggs made an eventful start to his first Burt Munro Challenge event, falling off his bike during a demonstration lap.

Briggs received care from ambulance officials but walked away and confirmed to The Southland Times he would be riding in today's Bluff Hill Climb event, despite suffering bruising to his hand.

The 76-year-old Briggs laughed when speaking about his crash and said after all of his years of riding he should have known better.

"They just watered the track and it looked OK to me. I lost the front wheel.

"I got caught out and I'm old enough to know better," Briggs said.

Today's Bluff Hill Climb gets under way from 10am.

New Zealand longtrack championship results: Solos: 1. Larry Ross (Chch) 17, 2. John Tuffley (Invercargill) 15, 3. Alex Cunningham (Invercargill) 13. Sidecars: 1. Kevin McDonald & Karl Hosie (Invercargill) 18, 2. Neville Curran & Wolfe McGill 14, 3. Josh Wells and Lance Tulloch (Australia) 9. Non-speedway solos: 1. Jason Feaver (Chch) 11, 2. Chris Manson (Oamaru) 9, 3. Greg Baynes (Invercargill) 8. Solos (no gearbox): 1. Andrew Aldridge (Chch) 18, 2. Pete Stenning (Invercargill) 14, 3. Craig Blackett (Chch) 13. Quads: 1. Craig Pointon (Cromwell) 18, 2. Alistair McRae (Rangiora) 13, 3. Tim George (Amberley) 12. New Zealand longtrack Grand Prix winners: Solos: John Tuffley (Invercargill) Sidecars: Neville Curran & Wolfe McGill (Nelson). Non-speedway solos: Chris Manson (Oamaru) Solos (no gearbox): Andrew Aldridge (Chch) Quads: Craig Pointon (Cromwell).

The Southland Times