FAIRCLOUGH TAKES STUNNING CROFT DOUBLE AT FIESTA JUNIOR OPENER
There was plenty to be excited about for the opening two races of the 2021 BRSCC Fiesta Junior Championship season, as Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire played host to two memorable races for rather different reasons, but with one common element – a brand new race winner taking a brace of victories.
The field for 2021 featured a brilliant mix of returning drivers from 2020 and new faces ready to take them on in a bid to crown a brand new champion. Key names back for more this year included Sid Smith, Jenson Brickley, Albert Webster and Joseph Knight, while the newcomers to watch out for were Jake Maynard, Harry Garman and Archie Handy. Plus, just days before the weekend got underway, two more new names popped up onto the entry list. James Wallis and Deagan Fairclough were last-minute additions to the line-up and welcome ones at that, increasing the grid to 15 cars with just Jake Weston and Alex Sprange missing from the entry due to prior commitments. Both are set to join in from the next rounds at Oulton Park in June.
Qualifying gave us an idea of just how entertaining the first two races of 2021 were shaping up to be as new boy Fairclough immediately made an impact by taking an excellent pole position for Race 1, taking fastest time from Alex Ley by a mere 0.001 seconds – a thousandth of a second! Webster and Brickley were ready to go from the second row ahead of an excellent 5th best time on debut from Maynard, with Knight, Dylan Hotchin, Smith, George Davis and Wallis completing the top 10.
The dry weather early on Sunday afternoon meant the juniors were ready to go flat out for the opening race of the season, albeit cautiously with one or two damp patches still existing from overnight rain. Fairclough got a flying start from pole while Ley bogged down and dropped to the midpack by the first corner, putting Webster into 2nd ahead of Brickley, Knight, Smith and Hotchin. Immediately, Webster dared to go on the attack, taking the outside line on Fairclough through Jim Clark Esses and Barcroft but only opening up the door for Brickley to slot past him in some superb close racing on only the first lap! Fairclough still held a one-second lead in front while behind Smith had a moment at Hawthorns which allowed Knight through into 4th and immediately put him under pressure from Hotchin.
The top three ran nose to tail before Brickley tried the outside line through Sunny In/Out and briefly got in front before Fairclough retaliated and repassed into the Complex with Webster, Knight and Smith all battling themselves over 3rd. Just behind them, Ley and Hotchin unfortunately tangled into Clervaux leaving both stuck in the gravel and requiring the runyourfleet.com Safety Car to appear as a result to allow recovery of both cars.
Quick work from the marshals allowed racing to get back underway after a couple of laps with Fairclough choosing to restart midway through the final corner to his benefit. Brickley resumed his attack on Fairclough for the lead with Knight with more side by side racing through Jim Clark Esses and made the move stick before Sunny In/ Out. Jenson managed to hold on until Hawthorns where he slid wide, allowing Fairclough to pounce into the Esses and repass. Yet again they went side by side through Jim Clark Esses with Fairclough maintaining the place, but at the Complex Knight nudged Brickley wide allowing Smith to pass them both into 2nd place and Webster to also take 3rd.
While all this was happening, Fairclough took full advantage on the final lap to push hard and to the delight of his team and his family, he took a sensational win at his first attempt by 1.3 seconds with Smith holding on to 2nd, while a technical issue for Webster sadly saw him lose 3rd post-race to Knight. Brickley therefore was promoted to 4th ahead of George Davis in 5th, followed by Maynard, Wallis, Handy, Jake Triggs and Daniel Lewis.
While the weather had been somewhat kind to the drivers in Race 1, the same couldn’t be said for the second race later in the afternoon as heavy rain arrived to saturate the track substantially, forcing everyone to put on the dedicated Goodyear wet tyres to cope with the conditions. The grid was set by the second-fastest times from qualifying, putting Ley on pole alongside Fairclough with Brickley, Webster, Knight and Maynard lining up behind.
Fairclough once again got a superb jump away from the front row to lead at Clervaux for the first time while Brickley also slipped past into 2nd with Ley maintaining 3rd ahead of Webster. Heading onto the back of the circuit with substantial amounts of water on the circuit, Brickley approached Barcroft for the first time and hit a patch wet enough to kick the car into a slide. Incredibly in a stunning piece of car control, Jenson somehow managed a full 360-degree rotation without any contact and continued with a few positions lost, much to the amazement of everyone watching!
Fairclough continued in the lead at the end of Lap 1 with Ley and Webster following suit, before swapping positions and then having a moment of their own. Behind them, Garman had his own moment with a spin at Barcroft and just as he rejoined both James Pope and Daniel Lewis arrived on the scene with the latter making a daring pass into Sunny In. Back at the front, Webster incredibly took the lead from Fairclough but then he too also had a spin at Barcroft a lap later while Maynard ran wide in sympathy seconds later, all of which playing back into the hands of Fairclough who once again took the lead.
Sid Smith then tracked his way through the Clervaux gravel as the conditions remained treacherous and with George Davis’ car also parked on the infield grass on the back straight, the runyourfleet.com Safety Car was called to bring the pack back together and allow everyone to catch their breath!
The recovery of Davis’ car to a safe place meant there was enough time for a one-lap dash to the chequered flag with Fairclough again leading the restart albeit in substantially different conditions this time. Back at racing speeds, the front few took Clervaux carefully while Maynard hurriedly elbowed Knight out of the way at Hawthorns with Garman also watching closely behind them. Fairclough carefully negotiated the final lap’s terrible conditions and rounded off a dream debut weekend to claim his second race win of the weekend. Ley and Smith remained on the podium in 2nd and 3rd while Hotchin recovered from a slower first half of the race to pick up 4th and Garman did an incredible job after his spin to claim a top 5 in conditions not unlike those he would have experienced in his junior rallycross days! Maynard also bounced back to P6 ahead of Webster and Knight, with Lewis and Pope also performing well to complete the top 10.
The next out for the Fiesta Juniors is something of an unknown, as while Oulton Park on June 19th sees them visit one of the best circuits in the country, it’s a venue that the championship has never, ever visited since it began in 2012! That means there are new lap records to set and possibly more new race winners on the way, and while Fairclough announced himself in the best way possible, it remains to be seen if he will continue his incredible fortunes next time out. All in all, a thrilling weekend to kick off what’s set to be a memorable Fiesta Junior season!