2018 SEASON REVIEW: KERAX HYPERDRIVE ST-XR CHALLENGE
A missed gearchange at Snetterton in June by Justin Roberts proved to be the turning point of an incredibly dramatic 2018 Kerax Hyperdrive ST-XR Challenge.
Prior to the series’ arrival in Norfolk, Roberts had taken 4 wins from 5 races in his Fiesta XR2 – only too adventurous rear suspension settings which resulted in a couple of spins at Anglesey and led to a third place finish blotted his copybook.
His steamroller of a season appeared to be continuing when he took victory in the first part of Snetterton’s Triple Header before he crashed in the second encounter. The XR2 was repaired in time for race 3 and he was leading from the back of grid exiting Murrays for the final time but selecting second instead of fourth gear caused his engine, and his title hopes, to disappear in a cloud of smoke.
A lack of budget meant he couldn’t afford a replacement engine of a comparable standard and a deficit of power deprived him of front running pace from then on.
Up to this point, Roberts’ team mate and fellow XR2 driver, Steve Poole, had been his closest challenger and could have expected a smooth run to the title now his main opponent had a lack of grunt however Snetterton was the weekend when Mike Heath’s campaign turned around with 2 wins after engine, rear hub and brake problems thwarted his progress at Oulton Park and Anglesey.
Following his Norfolk renaissance, Heath strengthened his claim to the title when the Challenge returned to North Wales by becoming the only driver this season to take victory in their double points joker round when he found more traction than anyone else as a light rain shower caused grip levels to ebb away. Wetter conditions in the other 2 races saw Poole have greater pace, swinging the destiny of the Championship back in his direction although all the XR2s were beaten by Michael Blackburn’s Escort XR3i in the final encounter.Heakj
After a win apiece for Poole and Heath at Croft where the category supported the TCR UK Championship, Heath appeared to have thrown away his title hopes during qualifying at Oulton Park’s last meeting of the season when an experimental variation on his usual line through Cascades resulted in heavy impact with the Lakeside barriers.
Thanks to the hard work of many supporters in the paddock, Heath made it on to the grid for the penultimate round of the year although there was hardly a straight panel on his car. Not only that but he won both the remaining races which featured some superb battles with Will Heslop to take both the overall and XR2 Championships.
The final standings couldn’t have been much closer as, after dropped scores, Heath ended the year tied on points with Poole but got the verdict having scored 2 more wins than his rival.
Blackburn was pretty much unbeatable in the Escort XR3i Class although Lee Bowron often rubbed door handles with him and took class honours when contact with another car put Blackburn out of the first Anglesey round.
For 2018, the ST-XR Challenge needed a rebrand with the addition of a class for the younger, and more easily obtainable, Fiesta ST model. Chris Rowlands was the only regular contender but more than 10 STs are being built for 2019.
Also new was a Class for Mk2 XR2s without LSDs and a lower weight limit than their regular XR Challenge counter parts. This category was headed by former Pick-Up racer Tony Mumford.
Finally, a mention for Mark Noble who once again took the Fiesta Si honours.