Thrills and spills as TOCA supports get underway

There was plenty of action at Thruxton last weekend, as some of the TOCA supports including British Formula 4 and Ginetta Junior got underway - and certainly didn't disappoint. Elsewhere, Donington Park played host to the first round of the 2021 National Formula Ford Championship.

Thrills and spills as TOCA supports get underway

When James Hedley ended the first lap of the final British Formula 4 race of the Thruxton weekend in the barriers at the Club chicane, it looked like he had undone the work he put in to win the opening two contests.

The Fortec driver had bounced over the inside kerb, sending him into the path of Kai Askey, while Matias Zagazeta and Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak also got collected. But, with the timetable behind schedule, the red-flagged race was not restarted until after the touring car finale, giving Hedley a second chance. Three corners of his Mygale were damaged, but the Fortec crew was able to get him back out. And, despite the handling being far from ideal, Hedley completed a remarkable turnaround with third place.

“I wanted to score as many points as I could and would’ve been happy just to stay where I was [eighth],” said Hedley. “The boys and girls at Fortec did an amazing job. The tracking was still out, but what we managed to get out of that race was unbelievable.”

Hedley’s weekend did not have the best of starts when he only qualified ninth at his local circuit, a venue where he had previously won three F4 contests and two Ginetta Junior races. But an inspired call to go for slick tyres on the drying track netted him the opening win, his lead over 10 seconds at one point as those on wets floundered.

“I was a little bit sceptical – my dad [ex-F3 racer Gray] was screaming at me to use slicks and I have to thank him for his wise words,” said Hedley. “I pushed more than the other guys on slicks. I went full attack and managed to get that lead.”

Hedley was one of five drivers to opt for slicks, and Joel Granfors and Zagazeta had a thrilling battle for second, until Zagazeta decided it was better to settle for a podium than risk damage. It then took Hedley fewer than five laps to surge into the reversed-grid (from qualifying) race-two lead, while Zak Taylor defended brilliantly and was only passed for second by Granfors late on.

Aside from Hedley, the other main talking point was the pace of the JHR drivers. They locked out the top four in qualifying but suffered from sticking with wets in the opener. However, Fiesta Junior champion Joseph Loake brought some cheer, fending off team-mate McKenzy Cresswell to win the wet finale.

Josh Steed, Ginetta GT5 Challenge, Thruxton 2021

Josh Steed, Ginetta GT5 Challenge, Thruxton 2021

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Josh Steed was the avenger at Thruxton last weekend, when he took honours in the Sunday Ginetta GT5 Challenge race to make up for what was arguably a lost victory the previous day.

Steed, who had claimed pole in the wet qualifying session by 0.9 seconds, gambled on fitting wet-weather tyres on a drier surface for the opening race. That might still have worked, but a red flag on the initial start was followed by a safety car after Steed had pulled out a mammoth 2.776s on the first lap of the restart.

Still Steed sprinted clear by 3.6s within one lap when the race got going again, with time for 10 laps of racing. But he was living on borrowed time. Within three more laps, he had been overhauled by the chasing quartet of John Bennett, Will Aspin, a guesting Max Coates and David Ellesley. Bennett pulled clear to lead Aspin home by 2.5s, with Ellesley third and Coates fourth after a hairy 360-degree spin at Church.

Steed trailed home sixth, but put things right on Sunday. Bennett qualified sixth but, following another early safety car, he moved up to second when Ellesley got onto the grass at Church. Now he set off after Steed’s steed, but the leader held firm and kept Bennett at arm’s length, eventually winning by 1.5s. As Ellesley fell to fifth, Aspin won a terrific scrap with Haytham Qarajouli to wrest third on the final lap.

Marc Warren looked the class of the concurrent G40 Cup field in qualifying, but was beaten by Nick White in race one before imposing himself on top in the sequel.

Callum Voisin, Ginetta Junior, Thruxton 2021

Callum Voisin, Ginetta Junior, Thruxton 2021

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Last month it was Bailey Voisin who was a winner in his first senior car race in European GT4. Now it was the turn of his younger brother Callum to be victorious in his maiden car racing weekend in Ginetta Junior.

The younger Voisin threatened to win a frenetic opening Thruxton race, challenging R Racing team-mate Josh Miller out of Church on the final lap but ran out of room to make the move and fell to fifth, admitting he was a “bit too eager”.

There were no such troubles in the second encounter. After a slow start, Voisin hit the front by passing Aston Millar out of Church on lap six of nine, then resisted a gaggle of cars to the flag. A delighted Voisin did not expect to win on his first weekend in the category and said his brother – third in last year’s standings – “helped me a lot with little tips”.

Earlier, Millar and Seb Hopkins had battled initially in race one but it was Millar who grabbed the advantage until a caution period. Star 2020 rookie Tom Edgar pounced on the restart out of Church before it was then Miller’s turn to lead.

He just stayed ahead until the final tour when his stern defence let Edgar through to win and Hopkins, being coached by Porsche ace Harry King, was promoted to second after Miller cut the chicane.

Theo Edgerton, Porsche Sprint Challenge, Thruxton 2021

Theo Edgerton, Porsche Sprint Challenge, Thruxton 2021

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Theo Edgerton staked an early claim for the Porsche Sprint Challenge GB title after a comfortable double win at Thruxton.

The wet qualifying created a topsy-turvy grid for the opener, with Am drivers Ian Humphris and Nigel Rice starting on the front row. But it took less than a lap for Total Control Racing driver Edgerton to storm into the lead and he soon built a comfortable advantage. Ethan Hawkey did start hunting him down late on, but Edgerton was still nearly three seconds ahead of his fellow former Ginetta Junior racer by the flag.

Edgerton then led throughout the second contest, while Jack Bartholomew grabbed runner-up spot from Hawkey on the inside at Noble with three laps to go.

The best battle of the weekend was for the Am class spoils in the opener. Rice had been closing on Humphris for several laps and challenged him into the final corner, but spun and then had no answer to Humphris in race two.

Matt Hammond, Mini Challenge Trophy, Thruxton 2021

Matt Hammond, Mini Challenge Trophy, Thruxton 2021

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Single-seaters usually provide some of the best slipstreaming contests at Thruxton, but last weekend it was the Mini Challenge Cooper class that produced some thrilling action at the Hampshire speedbowl with three breathless races.

The first was held in drying conditions on Saturday afternoon, and this meant the Goodyear wets took a pounding with drivers battling on the ragged edge. It was Matt Hammond who grabbed the initial advantage, going around the outside of polesitter Alex Solley at Allard, but his lead did not last for long.

Solley, Louie Capozzoli and Lewis Saunders all had stints at the head of the pack as the power of the tow meant there was a new leader at the chicane each time, before Capozzoli began inching away during his third spell in front. But Hammond, who dropped to sixth at one stage, grabbed top spot back on the penultimate lap with a move at Club.

He was under intense pressure from 2020 runner-up Dominic Wheatley heading into the chicane on the final lap, and Wheatley almost hit the pitwall in his desperate attempts to outdrag Hammond to the flag, but ultimately fell 0.094 seconds short. “I thought I went a lap too early as I got a really good tow and crossed the line with a minute to go,” said Hammond. “Coming into the last corner, I was fully locked up, sideways.”

Wheatley added: “It was pretty wild with places changing all the time. It was like we were all racing on jelly – I was trying to preserve my tyres for the end. It was about slowly picking them off and I was one metre away from winning!”

The second contest had to be restarted after Josh Porter tipped Capozzoli into a spin at the Complex, with the stranded LDR driver then collected by Morgan Wroot and Mike Paul, with Paul sent onto his roof. Reigning champion Harry Nunn snatched the lead midway through the shortened contest, while Wheatley claimed another second.

It was virtually five-abreast out of the Complex on the opening lap of the finale, and Solley was the one to lose out as he had a massive slide through Noble and dropped to 11th. But the Junior Saloon graduate staged an impressive recovery, twice grabbing the lead. The decisive move came through Church, and he withstood an attacking Hammond into the chicane for the final time to land a maiden win in the series. “I didn’t think I would actually save that!” he admitted about his opening-lap moment.

Donington Park BRSCC: Walker battles to double FF1600 success

Alex Walker (Spectrum 011C) National Formula Ford, Donington Park 2021

Alex Walker (Spectrum 011C) National Formula Ford, Donington Park 2021

Photo by: Mick Walker

Rising stars took on the established names and came out on top in the opening weekend of the National Formula Ford Championship at Donington Park. Alex Walker led the way with two storming wins in the dry after Rory Smith’s wet-weather success on Saturday.

A thinner field than in recent years did not reduce the sharp end’s intensity. American teenager Max Esterson (Ray GR18) harried polesitter Chris Middlehurst’s Van Diemen LA10 in race one, before Festival winner Smith maximised his Medina JL18’s traction to close in and passed the pair in one move at the Roberts chicane.

With Smith’s exit compromised, the trio ran three-wide into Redgate, Middlehurst spinning as he clipped Esterson’s right rear. B-M Racing’s Smith was chased home by Esterson, with the Kevin Mills Racing Spectrum 011C of Walker third from seventh on the grid.

Walker’s progress continued in race two. He led within half a lap, passing Smith into Redgate and benefiting from Esterson’s mistake at the Old Hairpin. A mid-race safety car was no hindrance as Walker eased to a 6.6-second victory. Second for Jamie Sharp was his best yet, albeit after making contact with team-mate Smith – who recovered to fourth behind Esterson – as he passed him.

From eighth on the reversed grid, Walker was third within three laps of the final race, then prevailed in his scrap with Smith and Luke Cooper (Swift SC18). “It’s not shabby, is it? Two firsts and a third,” grinned the triumphant youngster.

One-time National champion Middlehurst’s weekend worsened with two punctures, while clutch, brake and engine temperature woes severely hampered triple Festival winner Joey Foster’s updated Firman chassis.

Stephen Nuttall, Caterham Seven UK Championship, Donington Park 2021

Stephen Nuttall, Caterham Seven UK Championship, Donington Park 2021

Photo by: Mick Walker

Last year’s 310R runner-up James Murphy rebounded from stalling on Saturday’s grid to win the next morning on his debut in the Caterham Seven UK Championship. Murphy pounced as the leaders lapped the 310R frontrunners, but was chased down by race one winner Stephen Nuttall. Having nipped past at Roberts on the penultimate lap, Nuttall intended to repeat the move after allowing Murphy back ahead, only to be thwarted by yellow flags.

Nuttall survived contact with team-mate Gordon Sawyer to prevail again in the finale, which was prematurely halted when the two leading packs converged. Murphy was edged onto the grass approaching McLeans but held on to third behind old 310R foe Greg Monks, as several others were left in the gravel. Pete Walters avoided the trouble to take his second 310R win, sandwiching Lars Hoffmann’s success in race two.

Caterham Academy champions Taylor O’Flanagan and Tom Cockerill split the wins in two typically thrilling Roadsport races. The pair swapped the lead with Domenique Mannsperger throughout Sunday’s race before O’Flanagan’s trip through the McLeans gravel as they ran three-wide on the final lap.

Cockerill triumphed over Mannsperger by just 0.136s. Hugo Bush, part of the lead group before an off in Saturday’s wet prequel won by O’Flanagan, carved through from the back of the grid to sixth, despite skating across the gravel as he challenged the leaders on the last bend.

Third in the 270R opener behind Will Rossetti and Harry Eyre, Blair McConachie scored an 11s victory in the sequel from former Ginetta man Rob Keogh and Eyre.

CityCar Cup, Donington Park 2021

CityCar Cup, Donington Park 2021

Photo by: Mick Walker

The 38-car CityCar Cup field included 23 novices, and the experienced Nic Grindrod was unchallenged en route to two sizeable wins. Duncan Stone and top novice Liam Browning headed a terrific tussle for the remaining podium places in race two after Stuart Bliss and Patrick Booth had done so in the less frantic opener.

Past champions Fabio Randaccio and Scott Fitzgerald (UVio/Hofmann’s Lotus) stormed to a Fun Cup victory of more than a lap over Despatch Bay’s Andy Bicknell/Harry Mailer. Former United States Formula 4 driver Teddy Wilson’s rapid opening stint couldn’t be matched by his Track Focused team-mates, so only the Viking Self Storage Car of Nigel Greensall/Mark Holme threatened the eventual winners, but lost a lap fixing a coil issue.

After clearing the four Mike Hawthorn Trophy Jaguar Mk1s that qualified ahead of him, Rob Fenn eased his Lotus Elan to victory in the Innes Ireland Cup. Leading Jack Fairman Cup runner Ian Dalglish (Lotus 17), who also struggled in the greasy morning conditions as he qualified mid-grid, made rapid progress to second.

Reports by Stephen Lickorish, Marcus Simmons and Mark Paulson. Photos by Jakob Ebrey and Mick Walker. Want all the latest news from the world of national motorsport? Subscribe today and never miss your weekly fix of motorsport with Autosport magazine

Wayne Crabtree (Ford RS200), Modified Fords, Donington Park 2021

Wayne Crabtree (Ford RS200), Modified Fords, Donington Park 2021

Photo by: Mick Walker

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