21/12/23: Sideways Group 5 – A Cheese Epic

A Cheese Epic.

The final meeting before Christmas was the traditional cheese and biscuits affair with a bit of slot racing thrown in, this time courtesy of Sideways Group 5.

Perhaps anticipating the gluttony that was to ensue, three cars failed scrutineering for being a tiny bit too wide, and no amount of pleading that “I was only making room for the cheese” would make scrutineer Julian soften his stance. When it comes to wielding a caliper, Julian is the equivalent of Chhurpi, allegedly the world’s hardest cheese.

Although the racing was in its usual six-heat format, what it really turned into was a battle of two groups: the “This matters” group of Julian, Simon, Lee and Josh, who was making his first Group 5 appearance of the year, and the “Who cares? Let’s eat cheese!” group made up of everyone else.

Julian, who for so long has been king of Group 5, has had his work cut out to retain his crown this year, Lee having beaten him twice in Group 5 so far. This race proved no easier.

Heat 1 was the worst start Julian could possibly have wished for. He crashed an unheard-of three times to finish languishing in fifth place, almost a lap behind the leading trio of Josh, Lee and Simon who were separated by just two tenths. David was fourth, but going backwards.

Julian lost a further second to Lee and half a second to Simon in Heat 2, and in Heat 3 all three crossed the line separated by two tenths. The order was now Josh leading, 0.025 ahead of Lee, Simon 0.738 further back, then Julian fourth, seven seconds behind Simon. A win for Julian was beginning to look impossible, and even a podium spot unlikely. The king’s crown wasn’t just slipping, it was crashing to the ground. As Josh wisecracked; “The atmosphere can be cut with a butter knife.” A cheese knife would have been more appropriate, Josh, but whatever was used to cut it, the atmosphere was so thick with something that it was almost overpowering. And no, this time it wasn’t flatulence or the smell of cheese. It was tension.

Heat 4 was the first sign that Julian might just salvage something better from the evening than a few leftover biscuits and a half-eaten lump of smelly cheese; Simon crashed. Mystic Meg, a.k.a Neil, who has an uncanny ability to sense a crash before it’s happened, hit the track-call button instantly, so Simon lost almost no time, but on the restart Julian was back into his rhythm much more quickly than Josh, Simon and Lee were, and by the heat’s finish had clawed back four seconds on Simon and Lee and three on Josh. Julian was now only 3.5 seconds off a podium spot.

Heat 5 was another promising one for Julian. Lee crashed, but this time Mystic Meg didn’t trigger a track-call and Lee lost four seconds. Julian was now third. One down, two to go.

So to the final heat. The “Who cares?” group were still munching cheese, enjoying their racing but not really bothered, but at the front it was flat-out racing. Lee crashed again to completely destroy his chance of a podium spot, Julian put in the fastest heat of the night to overtake Simon for second, and starting his last lap was leading Josh by a few metres, but not by enough to gain the time needed to take the overall win. The race was almost done, but there was to be one final twist.

On the last corner of the last lap, with Julian already having crossed the finish line, Josh crashed just before the bridge. He was rapidly reslotted by the marshal, but had it been quick enough to save Josh’s win? Josh crossed the line and then had to wait eleven long seconds for Terry to finish the heat. Everyone’s eyes swivelled to the timing screens.

The result? Josh won, 0.23 seconds ahead of Julian who was 0.83 in front of Simon. Probably the closest ever top three at Molesey. Epic.

If this is what cheese does to the racing, can we have it every night?!

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