Warrnambool mechanic drives away with historic WA formula 500 title victory

JYE O’Keeffe is soaking up his place in formula 500 history after becoming the first interstate driver to win the Western Australian title.

The Warrnambool mechanic, 22, defeated Thomas Davies and Steven Ellement to win the 25-lap feature at Kalgoorlie Speedway on Saturday night.

Terang driver Dale Sinclair ran fourth, while his brother Ash Sinclair was sixth, with Bannockburn champion James Aranyosi splitting the pair.

O’Keeffe said he ran first, second and fourth in his three heats on Friday night, before finishing third in his sole heat on Saturday night.

He started out of position two for the final, alongside Aranyosi, but raced to a lead he never relinquished on the first lap, despite a stoppage on lap four.

O’Keeffe, who drove for Colac car owner Paul O’Shannassy, said the win was “up there as one of the best”.

He is a two-time Victorian title winner and has twice won the Jack Willsher Cup, contested at Premier Speedway at Allansford.

“We’ve got a lot better car this year. It helps a lot having a competitive car. You’ve got to have the right car otherwise you’re wasting your time,” he said.

“I got lucky enough to get given a car and get the opportunity to go good again.”

The title triumph was the highlight of two weeks of racing in Western Australia for O’Keeffe, one of six south-west drivers to cross the Nullarbor Plain.

He was running fourth in the Australian title in Perth the previous Saturday before crashing out in “a racing incident” with another driver.

His fortunes improved the following night in the time-honoured Bunny Burrowes Memorial at Narrogin, finishing third.

“We were fast both weeks.  We just needed to get the car prepared for the track conditions at the time,” O’Keeffe said.

“We did a few changes for the (Western Australian title) final and away we went.

“We knew we were going to be up there in the points but the competition is that tough, there’s a different winner over there every weekend.”

O’Keeffe thanked O’Shan­nassy for the chance to drive his car — “he’s been a great car owner, I couldn’t ask for anyone better”.

He said he harboured ambitions to step into the sprintcar ranks, having spent almost five seasons driving formula 500s.

But racing against the elite drivers speedway has to offer would not be possible without an offer to drive a car or join a team.

“I’d like to go sprintcars but it’s the money. I’ve got to wait until someone picks me up,” he said.

The rain-affected Victorian formula 500 season continues with round eight of the Stampede Series at Redline Speedway, Ballarat on April 5.

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