WARRNAMBOOL sprintcar driver Stephen Bell believes Shaun Dobson is the man to catch in the Victorian title at Avalon Raceway.
Bell, 42, will chase a third crown in five years on Saturday night, having won in 2010 and dead-heating with Robbie Farr in 2012.
But the class stalwart yesterday nominated Hobart native Dobson as the pre-race favourite after a stellar start to the season.
Dobson, who drives for Warrnambool car owner Harry Droste, is second on the Sprintcar Racing Association of Victoria series standings.
He scored a pole-to-chequer victory in the last round at Avalon to move 229 points behind pacesetter Jeremy Cross, of Dubbo.
Cross and Melbourne’s Brett Milburn, who ran second in the A main last round behind Dobson, are also genuine contenders.
“The top eight or 10 are legitimate shots. They all go well these days. Some specialise on slightly different tracks than others,” Bell said.
“If it’s rough and heavy and there’s a top lane, Shaun Dobson will be hard to beat. If it’s slow and slick and there’s a bottom lane, Jeremy Cross will be hard to beat.”
Forty-two drivers, including Americans Kyle Hirst, Randy Hannagan and Geoff Ensign, have nominated for the Victorian title.
Bell is part of a strong south-west legion, alongside Warrnambool’s Darren Mollenoyux, the defending champion, and Simpson’s John Vogels.
Bell described his season as “not too bad”. He ran 15th at Warrnambool’s Premier Speedway and rose to fourth at Avalon.
“We’re like everyone else, we want to be at the front of the grid,” he said.
“Avalon used to be extremely racy but they changed their surface. We’re finding it’s not as easy to get a hold of as it used to be.
“If the track slows down at Avalon, it’s very racy. With the weather being the way it is, there’s so much moisture in the track, which makes it hard to pass.”
Bell said there was a tinge of disappointment about sharing the 2012 Victorian title with Farr, but was happy to play his role in a piece of history.
Bell had seemingly pipped Farr on the line but the cars’ transponders showed there was 0.000 of a second difference between the pair.
“Everybody realises in the big picture it’s got to be fun for everyone. If it’s a good show for the crowd, the track does well and it flows down from there,” he said.
“Of course I was (disappointed). But there’s disappointment and there’s being realistic you can’t win them all. If equal first to the third decimal is the closest we can get, so be it.”
n Allansford brothers Jack and Billy Bell were yesterday en route to Western Australia to contest the junior sedans’ Australian title.
The pair are the sole south-west drivers in the title at Esperance Speedway, 715 kilometres south-east of Perth.
Seventy-five drivers have nominated. Heats begin on Saturday, with the final on Sunday.
Purnim driver Dion Bellman finished runner-up in the 2013 title. Only one Victorian has won it in the past decade.
n The car count for the 42nd Lucas Oil Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic has reached 99, including 16 Americans.
Tennessee native Jason Sides headlines the latest batch of nominations and will drive for Queensland-based car owner Dave Horrell.
Horrell Motorsports will also have Dave Murcott and Bryan Mann in the field.
West Australian brothers Jamie and Brad Maiolo and former Victorian title winner Tim Rankin, of Simpson, will also chase Classic glory.