The Australasian Finals - 1980
For Ivan Mauger, the new decade started just as the last. He was Speedway Champion of the World. However, the decade at the top had taken its toll and the now 40 year old even had a spell in hospital during the season Down Under. Mind, he could still ride.
A week after the Australasian Final, there was a one-off Test at Western Springs, Febuary 23, New Zealand V Australia. The Kiwis won 68-40 and Ivan top scored with 16 out of a possible 18. Billy Sanders also scored 16. Then the following Saturday, March 1st at the Sydney Showgrounds, he won the biggest individual meeting in the Southern Hemisphere that summer season. Only dropping 1 point on the way to the Grand Final, where he beat Bruce Penhall, Billy Sanders and Mitch Shirra. The Field also included Ole Olsen, Bobby Schwartz, Tommy Knudsen and Glen McDonald.
Here's how one report went;
'When the dust had settled and the winner Ivan Mauger mounted the rostrum with the help of promoter Ron Wanless, the crowd literally brought the house down on probably the most exciting meeting ever staged at the famous oval.'
WOW!!! So how had he gone at the Australasian Final? Well, he hadn't! As defending World Champion, he had been seeded to the next round. Now this suited Ivan down to the ground. But for the Australasian Final, this was a disaster! Whoever came up with the idea had no consideration for Speedway in this part of the world and even less for the club in charge of running the event.
Now, it was the same situation as 1978. But more so as the Australasian Final was held in Christchurch, Mauger's home town. The advertising could have been manic; 'Mauger to leave sickbed in attempt to defend World Title!' '40 year old Mauger starts World Title defence right here, right now!' The pulling power would have been unlimited and necessary as there was plenty going on in Christchurch that weekend. But without THE biggest name in the game, The Christchurch Speedway Association were hung out to dry! 'Boston Legal' without Denny Crane. 'Breaking Bad' without Walter White. Or let's get politically incorrect, Punch without Judy!!!
With Mauger seeded, the top 5 would qualify for the Commonwealth Final at Wimbledon on June 29. From there, it was on to the Intercontinental Final, White City on the 3rd of August. Then to the World Final, Gothenburg, Sweden, September 5.
John Boulger withdrew from the Australian Final where Billy Sanders was unbeaten. Sadly, Danny Kennedy did not get anywhere near a place in the top 9. A week later at Western Springs, Larry Ross wins the NZ Final. Only upset there was that John Goodall was not in the line-up. He had qualified but was under suspension for a previous verbal spat with a steward. Oh no, life was not all beer & barbeques down here.
And so on to Christchurch at Ruapuna Park Speedway [ formerly Templeton ] where the Australasian Final was held on Febuary 16. Less than five thousand spectators turned up for THE most important meeting of the season. West German referee Gunter Sorber told Peter White, "I can't believe it. In Europe there would have been thousands lined up at 6 o'clock for a meeting if this magnitude." Aye maybees - however, what if a meeting of equal magnitude had been held at Kiel without Egon Muller? No, this was all down to Herr Sorber's mates in the FIM. [ Bloody Jormans, why cant they just leave well alone man? ]
Round One, Heat 1 sees John Titman looking all class as he beats Mitch Shirra and Phil Crump. Heat 2 and Mike Fullerton from gate 4 leads Mike Farrell into the first turn but Glen McDonald smacks into them and they all go flying into the concrete fence. It looked nasty but thankfully, all escaped injury. With McDonald excluded, Farrell had no trouble winning the re-run from Tony Briggs and the still shaken Fullerton. Heat 3 saw another spectacular fall as Wayne Brown gave himself a somersault sausage-roll. He too was not badly injured but his stuffing was stuffed. The race continued and Billy Sanders scored an effortless 3 points. Local star Larry Ross took care of Phil Herne in Heat 4. Round Two and the first real upset came in Heat 6 as Phil Herne trailed home last behind Sanders, Shirra and Farrell. One of the favourites to qualify, he was now in big trouble. Tony Briggs had the home town cheering as he lead home the far superior, experienced trio of Steve Koppe, Glyn Taylor and Graeme Stapleton in Heat 7. Larry Ross then thumped his authority on proceedings, winning Heats 8 & 9. Phil Herne struck back in Heat 11 but still had it all to do.
At half time, the scorechart read Larry Ross and Billy Sanders 9. John Titman 8. Mitch Shirra 7. Tony Briggs 6. Followed by Phil Crump - Phil Herne - Mike Farrell 5 points each. Pretty much as to plan with more expected of Crump and Herne. And no real surprise from Tony Briggs whose progress over the last two years was hugely impressive..
Round Four and it's curtains for Phil Herne, trailing home 3rd in Heat 13 behind Titman and Briggs. The BIG showdown, Ross V Sanders goes down in Heat 15. Ross from gate 1 and Sanders off gate 3 make it together but Steve Koppe from gate 2 lifts and takes out Ross who has to take serious measures in avoiding calamity. Ross later said, "I thought Koppe was going to climb right over me and I had to let him go." Sanders took full advantage, diving underneath the collision to open up a massive lead while Ross eventually got two points. Phil Crump hauled himself back into contention with no trouble from Heat 16, all but ending Mike Farrell's hopes.
One Round to go with Billy Sanders unbeaten 12. Larry Ross & John Titman 11. Mitch Shirra 10. Tony Briggs and Phil Crump 8. Mike Farrell 6. Top four are safe, all on for the last place. Round Five, Heat 17 and Billy Sanders wraps it up with Titman an easy 2nd. Heat 18 brings together the top three Kiwis with David Bargh making up the numbers. The result of this one was cooked in the pits and when Tony Briggs hit the first turn from Shirra and Ross, it quickly became obvious to all concerned and a bus load of Aussie tourists were not slow to voice their disapproval! Mike Farrell gets double figures from Heat 19, but it's one short of the mark. All fellow Ockers kept out of Crumpy's way in Heat 20, [ our visitors had no problem with that one ] but it was hard work. Crump was going painfully slow, just a shadow of his real self.
All twenty heats complete and the scores were; Sanders 15. Titman 13. Ross & Shirra 12. All through and mission accomplished. Two run-offs to go. For 3rd overall, Ross obliging his home fans with Shirra paying back the favour. Then for the real action, the 5th place run-off; Crump V Briggs. It was Billy Sanders who came to Crump's rescue with his winning bike. From the gate, Phil looked a different man and had no trouble securing the final spot, much to the delight of our Kangaroo Kousins! Tony Briggs may have been disappointed but he need not have been. There was no hurry, surely there was no hurry!
It had been a very good meeting. Of course it had, a full on, top class World Championship qualifying round. But it had not been great and that had nothing to do with the club who turned themselves inside out to make it happen. First class track and organisation. A grand parade indeed but the Emperor had no clothes.
Heat 1. Titman, Shirra, Crump, Koppe.
1st Billy Sanders. 3 3 3 3 3 15
This article was first published on 19th February 2019
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