The Aprilia Superteen 125cc Challenge went down to the 33rd and final race of the year this weekend, as crowds at Rockingham were given a riveting finale in what will go down as one of the closest championship endings ever with Thundersport GB.
Going into the last round, thirteen-year-old Wayne Ryan was a clear favourite with what seemed a comfortable 44 point advantage over Lee Jackson in second.
Northern Irish star Andy Reid was still able to win the championship in third, and if results went their way, the likes of Connor Tagg in fourth and Australian Matt Davies in fifth, could also win the title mathematically.
What nobody anticipated though, was the series of events that occurred during a thrilling qualifying session that saw Newcomer Danny Murphy take pole, and a very confident Ben Gautrey claim second.
With Wayne struggling due to mechanical problems during the early stages, he was on a personal best lap when he crashed going into the daunting left hander named ‘Pif Paf’.
With no time at all remaining, Wayne had qualified in a season low 20th overall, and with his closest rival Lee Jackson sitting pretty in third, panic set in for the talented youngster.
As the Aprilia 125cc machines set off for race one, pole-sitter Danny Murphy struggled off the line, leaving Ben Gautrey and Lee Jackson to fight for victory.
After just three laps, Jackson took to the front and never looked back. Gautrey had done well to stay with Lee, but nobody could stop the young Lincoln hero as he immediately stated his plans for the weekend with an absolutely stunning victory given the circumstances.
Matt Davies had made it to third overall after he too qualified in a lowly 17th, and Newcomer Chrissy Rouse had his best finish of the season in fourth just ahead of Phil Canessa.
With Connor Tagg sixth and Andy Reid seventh, you had to look as far back as ninth for pole-sitter Danny Murphy, who had succeeded in fending off the championship leader Wayne Ryan, who had to settle for tenth and see his lead cut from 44 points to just 25.
In race two, we were in for a similar treat. Lee Jackson was on cloud nine as he gave the rest of the superteens a master class lesson at the front and took his sixth win of the year ahead of Gautrey again.
Aussie Matt Davies had again flown through to take third, but this time Andy Reid was fourth with Tagg chasing just behind.
Wayne had made better progress this time, but it wasn’t enough, and a ninth place finish overall had completely turned the tables as he went into the final two races on Sunday with just a seven point lead.
Having won the first two races of the weekend, you had to favour Jackson now. The 14-year-old from Lincoln had done the impossible and looked irrepressible at the front, and with Wayne not firing on all cylinders, the atmosphere was now extremely tense.
Both Jackson and Ryan had to be careful of Andy Reid too, if either of them made a mistake now, the Northern Irishman would only be two wins away from the title, and once he’d realised this himself, he soon took to the front with Ben Gautrey, as they formed a dangerous barrier for Lee Jackson to cross during race three.
As the laps ticked by, spectators didn’t know where to look, Jackson had been pushed down to fifth, and Wayne Ryan had woken up a different person as he raced for sixth, seventh and eighth.
On the line, Reid it was that took the win ahead of Gautrey, who had now taken three consecutive second place finishes. Danny Murphy made a better start this time and finished third, Connor Tagg was fourth and a slightly stuttering Lee Jackson ended up fifth.
Further behind though, to Jackson’s relief, Canessa and Rouse had beaten Wayne to the chequered flag, leaving the leader in eighth and taking the championship to the final race of the day, with Ryan four points better off.
Connor Tagg and Lee Jackson could only battle for fourth and fifth overall now, a harsh result for two very talented young men. Andy Reid’s late push meant he could only now take second in the standings, and sixth placed Ben Gautrey just wanted his first race win of the season.
The odds at this point were stacked against Wayne Ryan, being 20th on the grid was a tall ask and when you considered the form that Jackson had so far delivered, Lee was now the firm favourite.
Into the final race, Lee had done everything right. He was amongst a battle for the lead with Ben Gautrey and Wayne was struggling in tenth.
As the front end tussle continued, it was clear to see that Gautrey was going to do all he could to take his first victory of 2009, the championship was certainly none of his concern, although he was well aware of the points standings.
Once Gautrey had made his move, perhaps Jackson should have rolled off, perhaps he shouldn’t, but either way the crowd and Jackson’s family alike, were about to gasp as they witnessed Lee’s dream disappear.
On the sixth lap, both Ben and Lee were fighting for the lead and with Ben getting some good drive out of the penultimate corner ‘Gracelands’, he set himself up for a fine move up the inside of Lee into ‘Tarzan’, the final hairpin.
Lee then adjusted his line to potentially gain better drive onto the start/finish straight, when disaster struck and he fell.
For the first time this season, you could hear a pin drop on pit wall as it took a few seconds for the incident to sink in, but everyone knew that it whatever happened now, the title was Wayne’s.
On what must have seemed the longest lap of his life, Ben Gautrey did come home to secure his first well deserved victory in the end and rounded off a fabulous weekend. Matt Davies came from 17th again to take second and Andy Reid was third, whilst Connor Tagg finished fourth ahead of Danny Murphy.
Wayne Ryan rolled across the line in ninth, taking the Aprilia Superteen Championship in the most dramatic fashion, and proving yet again that it really isn’t over until it’s over.
In truth, both riders did enough to win our hearts throughout the season and you could argue a case for both riders deserving it. Taking away the ifs and buts though, what we have here is two very talented stars of the future, Lee Jackson was superb this weekend, but Wayne fought until the death, and despite the difficulties of trying to win a series from 20th on the grid, the places he made up during the four races at Rockingham was enough to take a very important championship.
“Qualifying 20th was the lowest point of the season, I was still confident we could win, but I made it difficult. I didn’t feel on top of my game this weekend, but finishing the races was the most important thing, I could have pushed to maybe get a few top fives, but the risk of crashing was too high," said Ryan.
"I want to thank the TAG Racing team for all their help and support, Kevin Spurr of KR Performance and Paul and Emma for everything they’ve done for me. Winning the Superteen Championship was a dream, and now it’s finally come true.”
Lee was understandably upset at losing the title in the way in which he did, but must take comfort from knowing he gave it everything and will be a force to be reckoned with when he moves up to the Thundersport GP3 class along with Wayne in 2010.
With definite stars amongst the top ten championship finishers this season, Wayne Ryan’s devastating form mid-season was in the end too much for his rivals and he has added his name to the famous Aprilia Superteen Trophy for 2009.