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The 2015-16 season Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic is once again set to be one of the blue-ribbon weekends on the Australian Sprintcar calendar, with the weekend on January 22 to 24 forming part of a massive 10-day stretch of Sprintcar racing at Warrnambool’s Premier Speedway in Victoria.

As was always, the intention of the Premier Speedway Club management and board, a working party was selected post the second of the three-night Grand Annual Classic’s back in January to discuss a number of matters regarding the event – both on and off the race track. This meeting, coupled with feedback from right across the speedway industry, has resulted in some minor changes to the original three-night format, all of which have been designed to maximise the excitement and prestige of the event, especially on the third and final night.

For the 44th running of the Grand Annual Classic, prize money has been increased with the competitors set to vie for more than $212,000 in prize money, which will be accompanied by an attractive tow-money package. The feature race on Sunday night will offer $102,000 to the 24 entrants – with the winner taking collecting $30,000.

The format, for the opening two nights of competition will remain as has been for the past two seasons, with the field to be split into their respective qualifying nights. On each of the qualifying nights, the Australia-America World Challenge Cup event will pay $10,000 to win. The field will then assemble as one on the Sunday Night.

The first significant change is that, should the total entries exceed 96 cars, only 96 cars will be a part of the final night’s program, meaning that a maximum of eight heat races will be contested as opposed to last year’s 10.

17 10 2015 150125 premierPhoto: Corey Gibson Photography

The format for the final night will be a D main, two C mains and two B mains before the 40-lap Grand Annual Classic deciding feature race, which will again take 24 cars.

Both B-main fields have increased in size from 16 to 20 cars, with the top-four from each to progress through to the feature race.

“By limiting the field to the top 96 cars in points, it gives us a set figure to work with and one that we are confident of keeping a decent race track beneath as well as providing the punters with an action packed, tough night of racing, that is befitting of the Lucas Oil Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic,” explained Premier Speedway general manager David Mills.

“We looked at a number of options, whether they be locking in so many cars to the feature race based on points or capping the field along with many other different and varied suggestions and we feel that the 2016 Classic format is fair to the racers, the punters, our officials and track prep guys.”

With the current dip in the Australian dollar, severely impacting on a vast majority of race teams, it remains to be seen as to whether the number of entries can again exceed the magical 100 mark for a third straight season.

“Despite having capped the field at 96, we are well aware that the number of entries may dip beneath this figure anyway,” commented Mills.

“But we felt that the changes as made, along with a slight increase to our pit size, will hold us in good stead come the Classic and the 54th Australian 410 Sprintcar Title which will be conducted, also over three nights of competition, the following weekend.”

Those cars that don’t make the final cut of 96, will receive a small gate refund payment in addition to their tow money and any prize money as accumulated from their qualifying night.

Arguably the most contentious of any of the changes to the Classic program, is notification that, given all things being equal, hot laps will not be conducted on the third and final night.

“The matter of hot-lapping on the final night actually came from the competitor input to our meeting – it was something that we had been tossing around and then, wham, the competitors asked why do we hot lap?” Mills said.

“In reality our track guys spend a number of hours after the races on Saturday night preparing the track and then they are the first ones back here on Sunday morning. They do an awesome job and then we put 100 plus cars on the track for hot-laps and then destroy all of their hard work.”

Mills continued on by saying that it was all in the name of making the track the best it can be for the Grand Annual Classic decider.

“We then ask them to build a track for arguably the most important night of the season in about half an hour, it simply doesn’t make sense,” he explained.

“Obviously should we have inclement weather during the day or whatever, then, yes, we may have to re-visit the whole hot lap thing, but as it sits right now, we will engine start the cars and then get into the heat race action.

“We are quietly confident that we have put some measures in place to keep the Classic as a great event. The late finish in January was unacceptable, we know that, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault really; however, by making these changes we are very much looking forward to an event that is everything to everyone that the Lucas Oil Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic should be.”