The Australasian Finals - 1979
Yes this was still THE biggest meeting Down Under and anyone with World Final aspirations had to ride in it. However, after three years, it no longer held Quarter Final status. From here, the top six went to the Commonwealth Final at White City on July 1. Then to the Intercontinental Final, also at White City on the 5th of August with the World Final at Chorzow, Poland on September 2nd.
The Australasian Final would still be hotly contested of course BUT, the magic was gone. Six to qualify instead of four took a lot of that heat off.
Shocks from the Australian qualifying rounds as Mick McKeon was injured at the Western State Final and failing to get through. While the Northern Zone Final saw the elimination of Phil Herne and Ricky Day. [ Treble Schnapps for Graeme Frost ]
Mildura hosted the Australian Final on January 27, home town legend Phil Crump scoring the maximum. Danny Kennedy 2nd from John Boulger. The elimination of Mike Farrell and Glen McDonald being the jaw droppers. Across the ditch, Roger Abel, undecided on his future, did not enter. Also held on January 27, the NZ Final at Christchurch was won by Canterbury's own Larry Ross, he too being unbeaten. Mitch Shirra 2nd while Ivan Mauger and Templeton ace Roger Wright shared 3rd place. Sadly, Mike Fullerton, James Moore and Robin Adlington were the big three failing to qualify.
Rowley Park, Adelaide hosted the Australasian Final on Febuary 23. Special guest was World Speedway Champion, Ole Olsen. Another VIP was the event's referee, Tore Kittlesen from Norway. He had been in charge of the previous 5 World Finals and was in no-ones pocket. With this level of excellence, check out how many riders got done for tape breaking !
There was drama before the start as sixteen year old Kiwis, Tony Briggs and David Bargh were declared 'underage' ! After lengthy negotiations, it was decided they could ride but their points would not count.
Highlights from Round One included Heat 1, seeing Billy Sanders, riding under an injury cloud but determined to make up for last year, thumping Mitch Shirra, Ivan Mauger well back with mechanical issues and Graeme Stapleton. Heat 2 and Danny Kennedy sees off Glyn Taylor with a shock third place for John Titman. Then in Heat 4, the home favourite John Boulger was well clear until a broken footrest forced his retirement. John Goodall then had the lead until Phil Crump got by on the last lap but Larry Ross drops two points.
Round Two and Danny Kennedy takes a heavy fall in Heat 6 trying to pass Sanders. In the re-run, Crump makes it two in a row. Heat 7 sees Boulger again in the lead but is taken out by Steve Koppe and Mitch Shirra on the second lap. And that makes it two in a row for Koppe. There is a brilliant scrap between John Titman and Larry Ross in Heat 8 with a blanket finish and the win for Titman.
Round Three saw Mauger pushing the tapes a number of times in Heat 9, Ole Olsen would have been grinning with Danish Delight, but he is outgated by Kennedy and Ross. Then Koppe takes Mauger on the second turn. Koppe then went after Ross and got him on the second lap. Then he chased down Kennedy and took the lead on lap 3. Kennedy went from first to last while Steve Koppe made it three in a row ! More disappointment for Boulger who comes in third behind Gary Guglielmi and Sanders in Heat 10.
The halftime leader ? Queensland's Steve Koppe ! Back in September of '78, Koppe won the 2nd Division Riders Final at Wimbledon. Who would have thought he could repeat that run of form in this one ?
Koppe 9. Crump 8. Sanders & Titman 7. Goodall 6. Mauger - Ross - Shirra - Guglielmi 5. Nine riders going for the six places and John Boulger is out of it !
Round 4 sees Mauger score an effortless win over Crump in Heat 13. Then the two 2nd division stars were put in their place, as Heat 14 sees Sanders win from Titman, Koppe and Goodall. No problem for Koppe as he stayed firmly in contention but for the Kiwi, he could no longer sing 'Don't dream it's over'. Larry Ross stepped up to the plate , winning Heat 15 and putting all the pressure on Shirra. A consolation win for Boulger in Heat 16 gave him at least one smile for the evening.
Going into the last round saw the table as; Koppe - Crump - Sanders 10. Titman 9. Mauger & Ross 8. Shirra 7. Goodall 6.
Time to book the tickets now as Round 5 sees a Heat 17 win for Mauger over Titman, both through. Heat 18, same for Sanders but Ross is now in the hot seat as Shirra takes 3 points from Heat 19, so they both have 10 and will run-off for the last place. Heat 20 sees Koppe and Crump aiming to equal Sanders 13 points forcing a run-off for first. Having already qualified however, there was no pressure and when Guglielmi made the gate, they both were happy to play 'follow the leader'. Crump pulled rank on the run to the flag.
Twenty heats done and Billy Sanders is Australasian Champion. Koppe 2nd and Titman wins the 3rd place run-off. One place left with the run-off for 6th. It's an even start with Ross and Shirra level until turn three when Shirra gains an advantage. Ross held his nerve, stalked his prey, pounced and won comfortably. Another superb night of World Championship Speedway was all over. Steve Koppe had to be 'Man of the Match' while Mitch Shirra's report card would read, 'Should have done better.'
Aye, fair enough, a brilliant meeting with all the fun of the fair. Still a shame about the demotion and the beginning of the end I fear. Now off to White City with whatever Pommy Mischief awaits there. Maybees Peter Collins, Mike Lee, Malcolm Simmons oh dear oh dear !!! [ Divint fret man, I'll stop there. ]
Heat 1. Sanders, Shirra, Mauger, Stapleton.
1st Billy Sanders 3 2 2 3 3 13
This article was first published on 12th February 2019
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