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Birtwistle makes successful start to title defence

Reigning DTRA UK Flat Track National Champion Gary Birtwistle opened the 2023 season in perfect fashion with a dominant victory at the Greenfield Oval in Lincolnshire. Making up for his sole 2022 defeat at the season finale around the same venue, Birtwistle returned as reigning Champion, and he looked every inch the number one with three wins out of three, each by a winning margin of at least three seconds.

Birtwistle was briefly headed by a fast-starting Rob Mear in the Final, but hit the front on Lap Two and looked in no real trouble from there, even setting his fastest lap of the race in the closing stages to take a comfortable win. Mear, meanwhile, provided much of the day’s entertainment. After finishing fourth in qualifying, a fall from the lead on the final lap of Heat 3 meant he had to progress through the knockout format the hard way, but he won the eliminator Heat 5 from the back with a daring last lap pass between George Sturgess and Kevin Kennedy, and again came through the field well in the second Semi Final to complete a remarkable recovery and earn his place on the front row of the grid for the Final.

Jack Bell, the former UK number two, went through to the Final unbeaten, and passed Mear for second on Lap Six. But Mear held on for third as Alan Birtwistle, who finished second in the Championship last year and was again second-fastest to his brother in qualifying, ran out of steam in the Final and could only manage fourth. Conrad Little rounded out the top five, underlining the consistency that took him to fifth overall last year, but his wait for a first podium continues as, after making a fast start, he was pushed back from the rostrum spots by the end of Lap One.

It was also a lively display from Thomas Hunt on his pro debut. Hunt was runner-up at Junior level in 2017 and also made the intermediate podium in the 2018 and 2019 Championships, but he proved just how far he has come since then with a combative display. The highlight was a second place finish in the Last Chance Qualifier, coming through from tenth and taking the last place on the grid for the Grand Final by snatching second from Gareth Williamson on the final turn. From the back row of the grid, Hunt finished ninth in the Final and also made it onto the intermediate podium behind George Sturgess.

Gerard Bailo made his first DTRA appearance since claiming the UK National title in 2019, but he sat out the opening Round of the Nationals to rest his shoulder ahead of his upcoming World Championship title defence. He came home second in the Hooligan Final behind Jack Bell.

The pro nationals now move on to Peterborough’s East of England Showground, which stages the MCN Festival on 13th May.

[Alex Raby]

ROUND ONE RESULTS: 1st Gary Birtwistle 3:49.700, 2nd Jack Bell +5.715, 3rd Rob Mear +7.864, 4th Alan Birtwistle +10.584, 5th Conrad Little +15.073, 6th Neil Macqueen +17.715, 7th Charlie Kelly +18.159, 8th Freddy Trott Jnr +1 LAP, 9th Thomas Hunt +1 LAP, 10th Kevin Kennedy +1 LAP, 11th Mike Goodfellow +1 LAP, DNF George Sturgess

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1st Gary Birtwistle 20, 2nd Jack Bell 16, 3rd Rob Mear 14, 4th Alan Birtwistle 12, 5th Conrad Little 11, 6th Neil Macqueen 10, 7th Charlie Kelly 9, 8th Freddy Trott Jnr 8, 9th Thomas Hunt 7, 10th Kevin Kennedy 6, 11th Mike Goodfellow 5, 12th George Sturgess 4, 13th Gareth Williamson 3, 14th Tim Greig 2, 15th Scott Faulkner 1

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