Silver for Gilkes at Scunny
Silver for Gilkes at Scunny

Kent TouchTec Kings’ young starlet Dan Gilkes put in the best performance of his career so far with a second placed finish in the GB Under 19s Championship at Scunthorpe Speedway on Sunday.

Beaten only once, in his opening ride, by the eventual champion – his 2019 Kings’ team mate Drew Kemp – Gilkes reeled off four excellent heat wins to take the second step on the rostrum and a giant leap in his still fledgling career.

With fellow Kent Iwade Garage Royals, Jordan Jenkins taking sixth (just one point off a possible rostrum place himself) and Jake Mulford gaining invaluable experience in his first GB Final it was a very satisfying evening up in North Lincs all round for the Kent contingent – one down after Sam Hagon had to withdraw from proceedings after suffering an injury riding at Edinburgh the evening before.

Gilkes found himself pitched in against both Kemp and Jenkins in his opening ride in heat four with twice World Champion at Junior Long Track, Kyle Bickley also in the mix. Initially Gilkes was at the back but overhauled Bickley by the end of lap two and went in manful pursuit of his team mate Jenkins, pipping Jordan on the line.

So close was the finish between the two Royals, that they ended up in an untidy heap after the chequered flag. Gilkes had time only to dust himself down as he was immediately in action in the very next heat, taking on two riders who’d started with heat wins, Henry Atkins and Eastbourne’s Tom Brennan.

The Sussex youth fell in the first staging and Gilkes prevailed in the rerun. It was the first of a quartet of hugely impressive race wins for 18 year old Dan – beating Palin and taking other contender, Joe Thompson from the back in thrilling fashion in vital exchanges before completing his 14 points haul in heat 19 to heap the maximum pressure on his former team mate Kemp.

But as the only rider in the field who rides in the top tier, the holder Kemp was himself in imperious form; and having shown he could pass opponents in earlier heats, even missing the start and trailing third at one point in heat 20 was not going to deny the holder as he overhauled Thompson and Palin to complete a full house as he retained his title: the first rider ever to win back to back Under 19 national titles.

Palin, Thompson and Atkins tied on 10 and the home rider Palin clinched bronze in the run off – but Jordan Jenkins was only one point further behind – claiming the scalps of Leon Flint and Jason Edwards along the way before a final race win to finish in the top six.

With Brennan & the hugely out of sorts Bickley way down from Gilkes it does seem strange that those two have got the junior slots in the senior British Final scheduled for this Saturday at Ipswich – but nothing was going to dampen Gilkes’ enthusiasm at such a great showing and a silver medal.

“I don’t go into any meeting with any expectations, I just wanted to come, get back on the bike in a racing environment and enjoy myself. I didn’t feel any pressure and things went very well. I know what I need to work on and this was the next stage in that – I’ll evaluate today and move onto my next meeting” Of the lost season from a league racing point of view, Gilkes is typically level headed and refreshingly upbeat.

“Of course it’s disappointing that things didn’t work out as we all hoped this year and of course I was looking forward to this season doubling between the Kings in the Championship and the Royals in the National League but it’s been a tough time for everyone in the country and I’m not going to let it get me down. The positive has been the extra time I’ve had to practice and I must thank my parents and sponsors for enabling me in this time without racing to be able to keep practicing”

Dan’s super-fast gating showed the benefits of practicing that side of his craft but he also knew how vital his thrilling sweep from the back against team mate Jenkins was.

“That first heat was a real test on a wet track but I knew that there was likely to be some dirt out wide so I stayed out there, got past Kyle (Bickley) and wasn’t sure I could catch Jordan but I managed to get past him on the final bend. We ended up in a heap together on the track but it’s all good”.