JONES AND GRIFFITHS TOP DAMP BMW COMPACT CUP OULTON OPENER
Ian Jones and Tom Griffiths ensured that they would be the first race winners of the 2020 Nankang Tyres BMW Compact Cup, as they both took a win each from the opening rounds at Oulton Park while defending champion Steven Dailly had mixed fortunes at the beginning of his quest for a fourth championship title.
With a healthy entry of more than 30 cars on the grid, the drivers headed to Cheshire for what would turn out to be the first wet race the series has encountered since 2015! Therefore there would be a limited number of drivers on the grid that had ever driven a BMW Compact Cup car in anything other than dry conditions, meaning there was always a possibility for a slightly mixed-up grid. However, come the time to line up for Race 1, the front row has a rather familiar look about it.
Ian Jones was determined to start another title challenge in the best possible way – after just missing out over the past few seasons – and would do so from pole position, alongside triple defending champion Dailly who looked at one stage like he was going to be forced to miss the season due to funding. However, the support of a brand new sponsor has helped him get on track in 2020 and a fourth crown is still a very real possibility. Ben Huntley and Tom Griffiths made up the second row ahead of Mikey Doble and defending Masters champion Wayne Flint, also the fastest driver competing in that category on the grid. Oliver Faller was joined by ex-Clio Cup and British GT star Jordan Stilp making his Compact Cup debut, while former Caterham racer Luke Browes and Mark Skeats completed the top 10.
The field slithered away from the line in the damp conditions with everyone getting through Old Hall safely and Jones leading the way from Dailly and a fast-starting Wayne Flint immediately jumping up three places to 3rd followed by third-row mate Mikey Doble, leaving Griffiths and Huntley to duel early on with Stlip over 4th. Doble quickly slipped back behind Griffiths and Huntley before the end of the opening lap as Jones led the pack with Dailly in hot pursuit. Huntley made a move on Griffiths into Shell Oils on Lap 2 but a sideways twitch on the exit allowed Tom to briefly get back in front, but Huntley remained in front but nearly lost it again by running wide into Lodge.. Further back, a spin for Craig Arkell exiting Shell Oils left his car stationary in the middle of the road, but a push from the marshalls allowed him to refire the engine and continue.
Meanwhile back in front, Huntley had managed to catch and pass Flint as they headed onto the third lap, but running wide on the exit of Cascades dropped him down several places as a result, leaving Flint to battle with Griffiths and Mikey Doble over the final podium spot. In the lead, Jones was setting the pace out in front with Dailly in hot pursuit in 2nd place determined to catch and pass one of his main rivals from the past four seasons. Griffiths managed to take 3rd from Flint, leaving the defending Masters champion under threat from the younger of the two Dobles in the field for best of the rest in 4th. Flint did come back at Griffiths shortly afterwards, trying to find better traction exiting Knickerbrook to no avail as the cars behind continued to close in.
As the race headed into the final couple of laps, Jones still wasn’t able to shake the evergreen Dailly off his tail no matter how hard he dared to push, but the speed he was able to drive was just enough to ensure that Steven wasn’t able to make a lunge or a dive at any point. Thus, Jones drove through the murk of the Cheshire conditions to clinch the first win of the 2020 season with Dailly on his bumper all the way just under a second away at the flag. Griffiths ensured all of the top 3 drivers in points from 2019 started the year on the podium with 3rd place, ahead of Mikey Doble taking 4th from Masters winner Flint, while Ben Huntley’s charge to reclaim lost places allowed him to rise back to 6th ahead of new boy Stilp, with Faller, Paul Maguire and Skeats rounding off the top 10 finishers.
The win in the first race handed pole for the second to Jones with Dailly once again partnering him on the front row, but despite the high starting spots, it would end up in vain for both of them. While the pair got away cleanly with Dailly squeezing in front at Old Hall and leading the way into Cascades, by the time the cars exiting Shell Oils it was Griffiths who was in fact in the lead with Flint and Stilp just behind him. Heading through Island Bend, both drivers had run wide and simply drifted off the road onto the wet grass, sending them tumbling down the order. Despite initial reports from some that suggested the pair had made contact, this was proved false as both had simply slipped off the road in separate but remarkably similar incidents, both cars being undamaged.
Griffiths completed the opening lap in the lead from Flint, Stilp, Skeats and Maguire in the top five, while Dailly and Jones would end it 11th and 22nd respectively. There was more drama at Island Bend on the second lap when Lee Dendy-Sadler’s battle with Ray MacDowall over 8th place ended prematurely when he too ran wide, sending him sliding across the grass and just missing the tyre barrier but now forced to climb back through the pack from deep. He would end up involved in another incident just a few corners later, one which left Brendan Murphy briefly stranded on the grass exiting Knickerbrook but able to rejoin.
While Griffiths held a 1.3 second lead from Flint and Stilp, a hard-charging Ben Huntley was revelling in the still damp conditions and was applying pressure to Skeats for 4th place, eventually managing to grab the place taking the outside line through Lodge to pick up the position. Just behind them, William Davison gave an easy pass to both Maguire and Dailly as he too was another driver to slide wide heading into Cascades, dropping him out of the top 10 as a result. Speaking of Dailly, he too continued to make progress as he passed Maguire for 6th and would also attack Skeats for an overtake.
Huntley’s lightning pace allowed him to quickly catch and pass Stilp for 3rd, making a move into Shell Oils and giving him plenty of clean air to set off after Flint for a potential 2nd place. Shortly after, Dailly would complete his move on Skeats to reclaim a top-five place with Stilp now his next target. By this point, the weather was still damp but not as tricky as it had been in the first race earlier in the day. On the last lap of the race, Huntley’s incredible pace had allowed him to not only close in to Flint but once again make a pass into Shell Oils to steal 2nd place. Despite what appeared to be a superior set up for the conditions, there wasn’t enough time or corners left to make a challenge for the lead and therefore Griffiths was able to race to the chequered flag to take victory, heading Huntley at the line by two seconds with Flint claiming the final podium spot and another Masters win. Jordan Stilp completed an impressive first Compact Cup weekend with 4th ahead of defending champ Dailly, with Skeats, Maguire, Tom Langford, Mikey Doble and Race 1 winner Jones completing the top 10, the latter managing to climb back through the order to take 10th place.
With the first weekend of the season now complete the drivers, have a few weeks to prepare themselves for a trip the fastest circuit in the UK, as the epic Thruxton in Hampshire comes next on August 22/23. With plenty of drivers showing race-winning potential, it’s sure to be another intense get-together on track!