It was predicted to be a war of attrition as the 21 teams and 46 drivers visited Whilton Mill for the first time in this years Championship. With four and a half hours of racing ahead, on a circuit that is not only new to the majority of the drivers but also renowned for being fast and physically demanding, the teams were going to have to keep focused if they were going to gain any advantage here. So who would come out victorious and who would falter? Lets find out.
A number of teams laid down their fastest laps early on in qualifying and didn't better them; such is the standard of the field. Auction My Igloo took Pole with an excellent 38.62 on lap 5 with B&R Racing looking very "on it" next to them on the grid only 4/100's of a second behind them.
Also looking serenely fast was KKC as they took the 3rd slot. ee Sport took an excellent 4th with a 38.77 which they produced on only there 2nd flying lap, good effort. After a disastrous Clay Pigeon round, two weeks ago.
Auto 1 Racing's Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson were looking to reignite their season and get back to podium as soon a possible. They set about things the right way this weekend with a great qualifying session taking the 5th slot. RKC Racing 1 took 6th place along side the Auto 1 boys and were only 4/10ths off pole such is the standard at the sharp end this year.
I expected more from the next team in qualifying, as did they I think. Spec Savers could only put it on grid 7. The reason I say I expected more is that Rob Lofting had joined up with ex teammate and "on form" driver, Kevin Schofield to do the 4 ½ hours here. This "dream team" pairing on paper, should had been right at the point of the field but having only done 4 laps in qualifying didn't challenge at this stage. The expectation was still that they would be a major factor in the race.
Next up was Titan Motorsport who showed very strongly at Clay before their engine went south for the winter. They worked hard in qualifying and weren't too uncomfortable with 8th slot.
Next was the first of the GP teams, in this case Roadrunners with Gary Coombes and Ed Munns looking quick. RKC Racing 2 rounded out the top 10 places. JD Vipers looked very quick in 11th and 2nd in GP with both Dawn and Julian Hunt looking determined. Rapid Logic calmly worked the issues to go 12th although, for me, they looked quicker then that.
Special Racing Projects who are among the quickest qualifiers on the grid were starting off a nightmare meeting for them (more of that later) and could only manage 13th. The guys should have taken this as an omen and headed for the bouncy castle! They would have saved themselves a lot of work. Such is their professionalism that they still managed to support their other customer teams fully while they were in the thick of it. Well-played Jason.
Kartsmart only did one flying lap and still managed a very respectable 39.56. Gary, Matt and Gary are always on the pace and as I've said before they know how to get the best out of the Select chassis. Rumour has it, they are going to a Diablo soon so that should see them right back among it. No pressure gentlemen!
Red MAX Racing took a big knock at Clay but bounced back well here with a repaired and sweet sounding kart that put them 15th on the grid. Just ahead of OX Team's John Oxburrow, who reported that he couldn't get the engine to work and wasn't happy with his 16th slot.
The 2old2b Racing boys haven't come to terms with their new Diablo chassis yet and are working extremely hard to get on top of it. This sometimes results in the guys overdriving it and overheating the tyres resulting in more lost time. Although they had moments of greatness during qualifying they could only manage 17th place and from there, they would have a lot of work to do.
Red Stripe Racing's, Tom Robinson and James Michell didn't make Clay Pigeon as a team although James subbed for Zero Racings Simon Bichara there. Tom was now back from holiday duties and Red Stripe in only their second race in this championship placed 18th but looked quicker.
Barry Hammond managed only 4 laps in qualifying but this young man is improving with every race and shows great potential for the future. He shouldn't feel too upset with 19th on the grid and only 1½ seconds off GP pole. After all there aren't many people in the country quicker then pole man Ed Munns.
Zero Racing, who are normally right on the pace had a real struggle in qualifying and placed 20th but seemed to resolve their issues late on and hoped to show better in the race.
Axles of Evil, resplendent in their new kart, were shaking it down but already looked much more at home driving it then I can ever remember seeing them in their previous old Fullerton chassis. This looks as if it was a good purchase and now the guys can get down to the business of making it work for them.
Race 1, GP Round 4 and GP Premier Round 8
The start show the front of the field take the left hander turn 1 but a small error in the middle of the pack saw five karts take to the grass at very high speed with Zero Racing's Simon Bichara airborne momentarily. RKC Racing 1 and Special Racing Projects were the main losers in this incident and Joe Giovannini and Gary Hunter had to work very hard to recover some ground. This was the start of SRP's mechanical nightmare and I can't list of it here but in effect the guys ended up replacing most of the ancillary components of their kart over the next one and a half. I said it was a nightmare!
At the front Steve Stapley pulled out fastest lap after fastest lap to create daylight between himself and KKC with ee Sport looking very menacing in third. A group of 7 karts formed a chain and chased each other round until the fuel stops. This chain included Auction My Igloo who were suffering from an engine down on power but still hanging on in there with some good driving, Titan Motorsport who, although at the back of the this chain seemed to be pacing themselves so I expected them to figure later in the race. ee Sport were in great shape and the only teams that looked sharper were KKC and Spec Savers. Barry Ives in RKC Racing 2 was looking quick and for the first twenty minutes was challenging for the lead before he faded and was swallowed up by the mob.
The second chain that had formed was no less impressive with a mix of GP and Premier teams fighting for places. Roadrunners were in the mix as was Kartsmart, who had been in the lead group early on but took a punt going round the boot near the pit entrance and lost time. OX team was also in this group but the OX cart was not suited to the fast sweeping circuit and it was going to take all of John's skills to salvage something today. His main advantage was that JD Vipers were trying to recover from the first lap incident and Hammonds Heroes; Barry Hammond was down in 16th again following the first lap fracas. Therefore John's focus was solely Roadrunners.
A recovering RKC Racing 1 were flying and making up places through Joe Giovannini and Ricky Comber continued the fight when he took over. Also in the thick of it was JD Vipers who firstly got hooked up with Auto 1 Racing during a yellow flag incident and both teams lost time while they separated the karts. They then had two more punts from behind, the last one from Auto 1 Racing who, again came up on Vipers on the racing line while they were recovering back to the pits. Unfortunately the differential in speed caught everyone out and Vipers parked it with ten minutes left on the clock. This had not been Auto 1 Racing's day either as they had not only had these two impacts but also managed to leave the fuel cap off after the fuel stop and Mike Robinson exited stage left to apply copious amounts of water to the tingly bits!
Rapid Logic, who had been as high as 2nd with 30 minutes to go faltered in the dying stages of the race and dropped back to 16th at the flag.
Which brings us to the battle for the podium, Titan Motorsport was leading from RKC 2 but both had one stop to make and ducted into the pits late. B&R were just behind Spec Savers in fifth. Once everything had settled down after the pit stops KKC, who had driven a very canny race took the lead from Spec Savers with 3 minutes left on the clock. That's how the flag saw it end with KKC taking the victory from Spec Savers and B&R third. Titan took 4th from RKC 2 in 5th. ee Sport just missed out on a trophy and to add injury to insult Jamie Tanser went off to hospital to get an x-ray for a suspected cracked rib.
Auction My Igloo, who had battled valiantly throughout the race with an engine down on power had done well to bring it home 7th but the disappointment on Ian Norman and Danny Scott's faces said it all considering they started from pole. They shouldn't take it too personally, 7th in the circumstances demonstrates what a good drive the two guys had.
What a strong battle for GP honours took place. Ed Munns and Gary Coombes were flying in the 16 kart but John Oxburrow in the 71 OX Team kart kept them within sight and it was obvious Gary Coombes was in a lot of discomfort towards the end of the race and didn't defend when John Oxburrow took him for the lead with five minutes to go. Gary pitted and handed back to Ed Munns who chased as hard as he could but the gap was 3 seconds at the flag and OX Team took the win. What a great race! RKC Racing 1 salvaged a great 10th place after the first lap disaster and Kartsmart 11th after early trouble. 2old2b Racing salvaged 12th.
Red Stripe Racing lost a top six place when a rear tyre let go in the dying stages of the race and James Michell ended up in the tyres. They finished a lowly 13th but deserved better. Barry Hammond drove as strong a race as I've seem him drive and finished 14th. Zero Racing had trouble following their first lap flight and never recovered, finishing a valiant 15th one place ahead of Red MAX who suffered some mechanical maladies and driver trouble with more sore ribs. Auto 1 Racing ended their AM nightmare in 17th just ahead of Rapid Logic JD Vipers finished the race parked on the grass infield near the pits following their shunt(s).
Axles of Evil had their strongest showing to date and their lap times were comparable to the more experienced teams. Special Racing Projects finished in the pits and in bits with a mountain to climb if they were to take the start of the PM GP Premier race.
Post Race Analysis
It becomes more difficult to find new ways of describing these races without it sounding sycophantic! The reality is though, that these races are great to watch. Any mistakes are punished and such are the lap times throughout the field that it is tough to make back lost time. The nature of the track, which is fast, flowing and with few overtaking opportunities meant that there were a larger number of incidents then anyone felt comfortable with in this race but don't let that detract from the strong performances. B&R Racing drove a superb race and looked like they could win it as did Spec Savers.
KKC did win it though and with style and finesse. They are my team of the race and deservedly so. I felt for JD Vipers and Auto 1 Racing who had terrible luck and Auction My Igloo who would have been there or there about had the engine been on song. There was a lot of work to do for the PM race for the Premier drivers.
In the GP the battle for the top two places was fantastic with only 3 seconds separating these two great teams at the flag. Who knows how it would have ended if Gary Coombes had been fit? Lets not take away though, OX Teams victory as again superb strategy and decisiveness won the day.
This 1 ½ hour race was intriguing and not without incident. Never the less it was a great spectacle and worthy of the championship. Roll on Ellough Park lets get back.
Report by Neil Ashcroft from Fastroc
All photographs are copyright Neil Ashcfroft
Round 9 followed this race in the afternoon.