WINGLESS sprint officials say they are vindicated in their fight to uphold the disqualification of Warrnambool driver Phil Johnson from the 2011 Victorian Title.
Johnson won the title at Ballarat’s Redline Raceway by half a lap but was later disqualified because officials deemed his engine had breached specifications.
The inadvertent breach was that his aftermarket valve springs were not the same dimensions as the original factory springs — required under class rules.
Johnson, who also copped a nine-month ban from racing, lodged a magistrate’s court claim in April denying any wrongdoing.
As part of a settlement agreement, Australian Wingless Sprint Racing (AWSR) acknowledged Johnson was not a cheat.
The settlement also granted Johnson the right to appeal the disqualification in front of a three-member tribunal.
That hearing went ahead on August 22, with the tribunal upholding that the valve springs did not comply with the rules.
David McKay, who was the third driver across the line behind Johnson and Daniel Obst, retained the title.
The verdict has only come to light after AWSR president Allan Woods issued a statement to The Standard, condemning Johnson’s actions.
Woods said the AWSR was “relieved” at the judgment, which justified officials’ initial decision to strip him of the title.
“It’s not a good look for the wingless sprint class, let alone the whole sport of speedway, when a driver takes a matter to the courts,” he said. “It has not only seen our committee devote a lot of time but also spend in excess of $20,000 of our members’ money in legal costs.”
Woods said the judgment was “a warning for all competitors who want to challenge the rules”. “Rules are there for a reason and they’re there for everyone to abide by,” he said.
“This whole matter has shown that our club has acted with honesty, transparency and fairness in the face of a difficult situation.”
Maddens Lawyers principal Robert Cole, counsel for Johnson, said the verdict was not a case of AWSR being right and Johnson being wrong.
“All that was determined ultimately by the independent tribunal was that the standard aftermarket valve spring used by Johnson and indeed at least 75 per cent of the competitors … did not conform with the original valve spring required by the rules,” he said.
Cole said Johnson had cleared his name back in April and “did not lose his fight to overturn the decision to disqualify him”.
He slammed AWSR for “deficiencies” in its racing rules and appeal procedures, arguing the fact that a review into both justified his stance. “AWSR failed to spell out the clear requirements until after the initial disqualification,” he said.
“It is noted that long before the tribunal determination, AWSR had acknowledged that Phil Johnson was neither a cheat, nor had intentionally breached the rule.
“For the betterment of the sport, I would personally challenge AWSR to make good its undertaking to both review its rules and its appeal procedures.
“Until there is a genuine review and rewrite of those rules, all competitors in the class are at risk of a denial of natural justice.”