Thrills and spills as BTCC supports get underway
The British Touring Car Championship began last weekend at Donington Park, and with it came the usual thrilling racing action from the TOCA supports. Elsewhere, close battles raged in the opening rounds of the British Rally Championship and British Hillclimb Championship
Picking a winner for the 350th Porsche Carrera Cup GB contest was always going to be tricky. There was no shortage of contenders on a grid packed with talented drivers. And, after a dramatic race, it was new Porsche Junior Adam Smalley who landed the first blow of the 20th anniversary season.
While Smalley’s Redline Racing squad was on the grid for the very first Carrera Cup GB race – along with Team Parker Racing – it had looked for much of the contest as though a driver from a team making its series debut would triumph.
Gus Burton, full of confidence after winning last year’s British GT4 crown, had laid down a marker by taking pole for Century Motorsport. And then the first lap was the perfect demonstration of how hard-fought this year’s title is set to be.
Burton maintained the lead from 2021 frontrunner Kiern Jewiss at the start but the Team Parker man was soon on the attack. He attempted a move at Coppice and did edge ahead, before Burton cut across, sending Jewiss into the gravel and plummeting down the order. “The rookies want to push hard and they want to win, but sometimes you have to give it [the place] up,” said a frustrated Jewiss.
While Burton continued, Smalley began reeling him in as Burton was battling a slow puncture. And that pressure told, Burton locking up and going straight on at the chicane, gifting Smalley the win. “I never imagined I would be winning on my debut race – it’s a dream come true,” he enthused.
Burton also slipped behind Theo Edgerton (JTR) and Matt Graham (Redline) as he struggled to stay on track. “I had a warning light on, so the tyre pressure was going down,” he said. “The positive is we’re definitely capable of winning.”
Another positive was that Burton got a point for fastest lap – having set an identical time to Smalley – and he was drawn on pole for the partially reversed-grid second contest. But that positive did not last long as fellow front-row starter Graham made a blistering launch and stormed to the win. Burton, meanwhile, dropped behind Edgerton before striking the chicane’s tyre stack, ending his race.
Behind, the main focus was on Jewiss’s progress. His opening lap was stunning as he surged from 14th to sixth and he eventually took third, behind Edgerton. “It’s what I needed,” admitted Jewiss, who felt second was possible. “I did kill the tyres a bit but I’d rather do that and miss out on second than be seventh.”
Sam Weller, JCW Mini Challenge, 2022
Photo by: Jakob Ebrey
Reigning Mini Challenge rookie champion Sam Weller got his 2022 season off to a superb start by claiming two race wins to head home from Donington to Suffolk as the early series leader. But it was a case of what might have been for Lewis Brown.
Brown, who has moved to Graves Motorsport this year, topped qualifying from British GT racer Jack Mitchell, but a poor start from Mitchell in race one allowed Weller’s Hybrid Tune car into second. Brown appeared set fair for victory when, with six laps to go, a vibration since the start manifested itself in a front-left puncture. Weller shot through to win from Jack Davidson, up from eighth, while 2020 Irish Fiesta ST champion Alex Denning won a superb scrap with Mitchell for third.
Weller took another win in race two from Davidson, but the LUX Motorsport-run Scot had a massive fight on his hands for second. He held on from Mitchell and Ronan Pearson, while damage for Denning from this battle left him stricken at McLeans, prompting a last-gasp red flag.
Brown had recovered from the rear of the grid to 13th in race two, but hit drama again when he was wheeled off the startline for the partially reversed-grid finale. This had reigning overall champion Dan Zelos on pole, but the Excelr8 Motorsport man lost places in the early laps. Team-mate Pearson wriggled free at the front, while Jason Lockwood emerged in second to beat Mitchell, Robbie Dalgleish and Weller.
Alex Dunne, British F4, 2022
Photo by: Jakob Ebrey
It was a driver who only confirmed his place on the grid days before the season began that was the star of British Formula 4’s new era at Donington Park as Alex Dunne claimed two wins and a second.
The Hitech recruit blasted into the lead at the start of the opener as Carlin’s polesitter Ugo Ugochukwu was unable to complete his 15th birthday in style as he fell to third off the line, also dropping behind team-mate Oliver Gray. That was how it stayed to the finish, with Ugochukwu never quite able to challenge Gray. Dunne then added another dominant win in the finale, this time pulling clear from Aiden Neate and Gray.
Reversed-grid specialist Georgi Dimitrov maintained the lead at the start from pole in race two, while Neate and Gray clashed at Redgate a few laps later. The race came alive with five minutes remaining as Joseph Loake began pressuring JHR team-mate Dimitrov. A failed attempt at the chicane left Loake cutting the corner and vulnerable from behind and sure enough it was Dunne who surged through to second from ninth.
He says he will “take the rest of the year as it comes” but, after such a convincing series debut, dovetailing a British title bid alongside his main Italian campaign could be on the cards.
Ginetta GT5 Challenge, 2022
Photo by: Jakob Ebrey
It was less than a week since the opening Ginetta GT5 Challenge event and round two at Donington Park continued many of the same themes. There were again three different winners, there was again an unfortunate failure on frontrunner Will Jenkins’ G40 and there were again shortened races with red flags.
The opener’s first stoppage was not the fault of the drivers, instead troublesome start lights meant some competitors reacted and others did not. But, on the second attempt, a safety car period and second red flag for incidents reduced the contest to five racing laps.
During those, Nat Hodgkiss passed polesitter Harley Haughton – who was later given a false start penalty – on the opening lap, before Hodgkiss was shuffled back to fourth. Instead, Will Orton grabbed the lead and claimed his maiden series win from Jenkins.
Race two was also halted early but this time it was Jenkins who was ahead, having passed Hodgkiss and then Orton on the inside at Redgate on consecutive laps. But the Elite driver’s weekend ended in misery as a rear-right suspension failure sent him spinning out of the lead through the Craner Curves in the finale, causing another red flag. Connor Grady was the winner, Orton and Hodgkiss having tangled at the Old Hairpin.
Ginetta Junior, 2022
Photo by: Jakob Ebrey
There seems to be something about Donington Park and Ginetta Junior. On the category’s last visit to Leicestershire six months ago, there were some brilliant lead battles between Aston Millar and Liam McNeilly, and the circuit played host to some more scintillating racing last weekend.
Three sophomore drivers were in the thick of the action, Winter Series victor Josh Rowledge being joined by Harri Reynolds and Joe Warhurst in fighting at the front. Yet, discounting November’s standalone contest, none of them had achieved a podium in the main series prior to the weekend. Things were certainly different after the Donington dicing.
It was one of the rookies, R Racing’s Sonny Smith, who was quickest in qualifying but he was instantly demoted at the start of race one by Reynolds. However, his lead did not last long either as Rowledge snuck ahead at the end of the second tour. Despite the best efforts of Reynolds and Smith, Rowledge was able to cling on to win as the race finished behind the safety car – Rowledge just crossing the line after the 15 minutes were up to prevent a nervy one-lap restart – after Flynn McHardy’s off.
While the opener was close, race two provided the pick of the action, with the second half of the contest being frantic at the front. Reynolds maintained his lead from pole for the first eight laps before he ran slightly wide at the Old Hairpin and Rowledge pounced. Reynolds tried to fight back the next time around, a huge lunge at Redgate proving unsuccessful, but he did creep ahead at Coppice, only for Rowledge to get a better run out of the corner.
Reynolds still didn’t give up and, on the penultimate tour, reclaimed the lead impressively around the outside of the chicane. Rowledge tried to fight back through the Craner Curves the final time through, but ended up briefly losing out to Warhurst. He was soon back ahead though and was only 0.068 seconds behind Reynolds on the drag to the line.
Having achieved Assetto’s first series win, Reynolds then doubled up in the finale. He scampered clear at the start as Warhurst was busy defending from the next five cars. Eventually, the Elite driver broke clear from the pack and homed in on Reynolds, attempting a move at the Old Hairpin on the final lap but could not quite squeeze past.
“It’s never easy!” laughed Reynolds about the close nature of the series. “Two months ago, I didn’t think I would be racing, so to get two wins is amazing.”
Pryce on the money with British Rally Championship redemption
Osian Pryce/Noel O'Sullivan (VW Polo GTI R5), British Rally Championship 2022
Photo by: Jakob Ebrey
Osian Pryce’s British Rally Championship title hopes were turned, quite literally, upside down just over five months ago, as his Volkswagen Polo R5 lay the wrong way up in a field on the penultimate stage of the Ulster Rally.
Last weekend was the best possible start to his redemption. The Welshman snatched a sensational victory from four-time BRC champion Keith Cronin and took the spoils at the opening round of the season, Rally Tendring & Clacton. Pryce grappled with Cronin during the final two loops and wrestled the lead from the grip of the ultra-experienced Irishman to secure the perfect start to his campaign.
“That win is really special,” said Pryce. “I didn’t think it was possible to be honest, but big thanks to the team, they turned the car around this morning and made it into that sweet thing that we were really looking for.”
It had been a hard week for Pryce, who suffered from last-minute funding issues and the loss of a close friend.
“I’m well chuffed really,” he added. “I almost wasn’t coming on Thursday. We have had a rocky road but I’d really like to dedicate this win to a good friend Richard Lewis who sadly left us this week, so this one is for him.”
With the Essex-based event on the calendar for the first time in the BRC’s 64-year history, there was no formbook to draw from. And with stages reminiscent of a Belgian and Scottish Borders crossbreed, any one of the top-tier crews could have thrown up some surprises. But some things never change, and it was Cronin who stole the march over the chasing pack during the opening two seafront stages on Saturday evening and headed into day two with a slender 0.6-second lead.
After bedding into his Polo R5 and the tyre lottery that befell crews on the uncharted surfaces, Cronin was on a mission. Closest challenger on the morning loop, Ruari Bell, was forced out after his Skoda Fabia R5 suffered radiator damage, which left Pryce and Cronin to fight all the way to the finish, with set-up adjustments to Pryce’s Polo the saviour of his rally.
James Williams quietly set about doing his own thing during the weekend, working his way towards the front in his Hyundai i20 R5. His very first BRC fastest stage time came on the second test. Technical issues kept him at arm’s length from the frontrunning Polos, but third was a welcome result.
Equally as enthralling as the battle for the top-flight honours, the Junior BRC contenders hustled their way through the lanes within a whisker of each other all weekend too. Norwegian Ola Nore Jr made light work of his British debut and dispatched 2021 Junior BRC runner-up Eamonn Kelly’s similar Ford Fiesta Rally4 in the final throes of the event.
The European Rally Championship ace showed impressive pace to take a somewhat surprising victory. “I really can’t believe I’ve managed to do this,” he said. “I just want to get the experience and mileage, but I had such a comfortable feeling, I just kept going.” Kelly salvaged second spot, while Kyle White took his Peugeot 208 Rally4 to third after initially leading the class.
Moran and Summers share wins at British Hillclimb opening round
Scott Moran (4.0 Gould-Judd GR59J), British Hillclimb Championship 2022
Photo by: Paul Lawrence
The 2022 British Hillclimb Championship started in superb style at Prescott on Sunday with run-off victories for Scott Moran and Alex Summers.
To open up the 75th anniversary season of Britain’s longest running national championship, a fantastic entry gathered at the Gloucestershire venue, with a number of contenders going after places in the coveted top 12 run-offs. After the opening class runs came a ferociously competitive first run-off, with 0.1 seconds covering the top five cars in an absolute thriller, which could be the closest top five for a run-off in the championship’s history.
Moran proved to be the only man to break the 36s mark to take victory in round one with a 35.99s climb in Graham Wynn’s Gould GR59. But his rivals ran him incredibly close, and Summers was just 0.02s back, while Trevor Willis, top-class newcomer Matt Ryder and reigning champion Wallace Menzies all ran in the very low 36s bracket.
“I’m pleased with that,” said Moran as he opened his bid for a record-breaking seventh BHC crown. “Avon has come back fighting and the tyres were working very well.”
At the end of the afternoon, the big guns came out for the second points-scoring run-off, and this time it was Summers who delivered with a 35.43s climb to better Moran by just 0.20s. “We got there in the end, but it took a while to scrub the tyres in,” said Summers. Menzies improved on what was, by his own incredibly high standards, a middling first run to take third, but the half-second gap to Moran will keep Wallace and engineer Tom New occupied this week.
One of the stars of the day was 26-year-old Ryder, making his debut in the big league in Sean Gould’s eponymous GR59, which he is sharing this season with Will Hall. Stepping up from being a competitive 1600cc class runner was a huge challenge for Ryder, but he rose to the occasion magnificently and finished joint third and fifth to show that he is already a contender even at this early stage of the season. “I didn’t think we’d be this high up at the first meeting,” said Ryder. “It’s a massive step up.”
Ryder had a scare in the second class runs when a problem with the traction control system caused the car to stutter away from the line, and he only just scraped into the top 12 times to qualify for the run-off.
The stage is set for a supremely competitive season in the 1600cc single-seater class with a whole gaggle of likely winners. Richard Spedding, David Warburton and Maltese commuter Zach Zammit all qualified for the run-offs and it was Spedding, now with a 1600cc normally aspirated Hayabusa engine in his GWR Raptor, who took the class spoils.
Paul Haimes topped the two-litre division to get his Gould GR59 into both run-offs. Meanwhile, Damien Bradley lopped more than a second off the class record in his mighty Subaru Legacy.
The action resumes almost immediately, with the top guns heading to Craigantlet in Northern Ireland this Saturday.
Reports by Stephen Lickorish, Marcus Simmons, Matt Cotton and Paul Lawrence. Photography by Jakob Ebrey Photography/Motorsport Images and Paul Lawrence. Want plenty more reports from the national motorsport scene? Subscribe today and never miss your weekly fix of motorsport with Autosport magazine
Alex Summers (2.7 DJ Firestorm-Cosworth), British Hillclimb Championship 2022
Photo by: Paul Lawrence
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