To say that the 2015-16 season running of the Australian AMCA Nationals Title last Saturday night at Lismore Speedway was action-packed would be a massive understatement, but in the end, it was favourite Matt Hardy who came out on top.
In what was a sensational Australian Title deciding feature race, the cream certainly rose to the top, with Steve Potts (Qld) and Matt Hardy (Qld) sharing the front row. From the outset, Potts got the jump over Hardy, and then the pair fought tooth and nail throughout the first 14 laps, before Hardy managed to execute a pass on Potts for the lead. Once out in front, Hardy stayed ahead of his rivals and at the conclusion of the 40-lap distance, which in the latter stages saw Hardy withstand the pressure from a determined Tim Reidy (Vic) and also heavy lapped traffic, saw him record an impressive and popular win.
Although disappointed with running second in the Australian Title for the second season in a row, Reidy was, at the same time, pleased with his outcome for the night. Reidy, who had qualified third for the feature race, admitted that Hardy was too good for him and he was content with his result.
Geoff Hayes (NSW) put in an outstanding drive to complete the podium in third. The former Australian RSA Street Stockers Champion put in a gutsy drive throughout the feature race after starting from position nine in the field and was rewarded with a pleasing podium result.
Jason Molle (Qld) finished just off the podium in fourth place. Molle, who wasn’t regarded as one of leading contenders heading into the event, showed plenty of pace to power from position 13 to finish in an impressive fourth.
After Russ Hardy (Qld) had started from position 10 in the field, he managed to work his way through to finish in a solid fifth-place. The top-10 finishers were completed by Michael Mason (Qld), Nathan Battersby (Qld), Luke Geraghty (Qld), Lewis Gamble (NSW) and Matthew Gamble (NSW). Former Australian Champion Jim Knight (NSW) was the only other finisher. Mason enjoyed an outstanding run to qualify fifth for the feature race and he then went on to finish in a credible sixth place.
The non-finishers were pole sitter Potts, Tony Blanch (NSW), Shane Newstead (NSW), Steve Price (Qld), Stuart Hall (NSW), Matt Egan (NSW), defending and three-time Australian Champion Mark Lincoln (Vic), Thomas Vickery (Qld), current and two-time Tasmanian Champion Daniel Brooks (Tas) and B-main winner Jason Dreaver (Qld). The latter driver was disqualified from the race, due to being the primary cause of two stoppages during the feature race.
One of the hard-luck stories of the feature race was Potts. After running at the pointy-end of field for the much of the feature race, he was forced to retire on lap 35 due to suffering a hole in his radiator. Blanch was forced out with mechanical woes two laps earlier than Potts’s retirement. Lincoln, who had battled engine woes throughout the night, was sidelined from the feature race due to a flat tyre after just 14 laps. In what was drama-filled night, Lincoln had gained a spot in the feature-race field (position 21) due to being the defending Australian Champion. Another driver who battled issues in the earlier heat races was Price, and after fighting back to earn a spot in the feature race via the B main, he was forced to retire on lap 17. Brooks was the first retirement on lap two after contact with Battersby in turn two snapped his rear axle.
Earlier in the night, the B main went the way of Dreaver in a solid drive. Knight, a hard-charging Price (from the back of the field) and Geraghty joined Dreaver as the drivers to tag on to the tail of the Australian Title-deciding feature-race field. Peter Markulin (NSW) and Frank Thierry (Vic) just missed out on transfer spots into the feature race and were put down as reserves. After battling fuel issues all night, Jamie Collins (Vic), the 2014 Australian Title runner-up and current Northern Territory Champion, was unable to gain a transfer spot into the feature race after a seventh-place finish in the B main. Lincoln failed to finish the B main, due to ongoing mechanical issues that had developed in the second round of heat races, but he was able to take up his spot in the feature-race field by virtue of his defending champion status.
The B main was marred by a spectacular crash from local Paul Reeves (NSW). Reeves was the innocent party when two drivers ahead of him clashed, but he was unable to avoid contact and it sent him into a violent accident that resulted in multiple rolls into the turn-two fence. Thankfully, Reeves was able to emerge from the crash uninjured; however, the same couldn’t be said for his car or the safety fence. There was a short delay while the fence was repaired by the track crew.
In the heat-race action, wins were shared between Potts (x 2), Stuart Hall (x 2), Matt Hardy, Reidy, Blanch, Newstead, Matthew Gamble, Hayes, Molle and Vickery. After a second-place finish in the opening round of heat races, Dean Ballard (Qld) had his night brought to a premature end, due to a terminal engine problem.
All in all, the 2015-16 season Australian Title might have taken two attempts to get run and won, but Matt Hardy proved just what a class act he is with an outstanding drive throughout the Australian Title deciding feature race.
The 2016-17 season Australian Title is going to be held at Kalgoorlie International Speedway in Western Australia. In what is going to be the 20th running of the event, it will be the first time the state of Western Australia has hosted the Australian Title.