The 2021 season is shaping up to be one of the best in recent history for the ETSL ST-XR Challenge, with as many as 40 drivers signed up to compete throughout the year and the majority jumping straight into the recently introduced Class D for the Ford Fiesta ST150. Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire played host to the first two races of the new campaign, with 30 cars heading out in a bid to grab some early glory.

Sam Beckett began his season in the best way possible with pole position for Race 1 on Saturday with Chris Jones managing a front row start alongside him in his first race in his new Fiesta ST150. Next on the grid came Ralph Fernihough and Lee Bowron from Michael Blackburn and Mark Robinson, then Ryan and Lewis Bowron, Chris Grimes and Matt Eldridge.

Jones got a superb start to lead into the first corner from Beckett, Mark Robinson and Lee Bowron with the order remaining the same through the opening lap. Beckett tried to challenge Jones at the start of Lap 2 but failed to find an opportunity to pass despite swarming all over the back of the leader’s car, but eventually his over-exuberance got the better of him when he ran wide onto the grass at the Hairpin. Trying to recover while side by side with Fernihough, he clipped the tyre stack inside Clervaux causing damage to the front of his car. Soldiering on for another lap, the tyre stack had now ended up in the middle of the circuit on corner exit and left with nowhere to go when he arrived at the same corner moments later, Beckett hit it for a second time causing enough damage to put him out on the spot.

Oblivious to all that was going on behind him, Jones was calmly and quietly pushing on in the lead of the race and enjoy a couple of seconds’ advantage over Robinson and Bowron behind him. The aforementioned pair behind Jones were nose to tail in their own private battle which was made more interesting when the leaders picked their way through lapped traffic. Eventually a problem for Robinson saw his car slow through the Sunny corners allowing Lee Bowron into 2nd place, but despite managing to put in a fastest lap of the race in clear air, by that time Jones appeared to be untouchable. He reeled off the remaining laps to claim overall and Class D victory with Lee capturing one of his best overall results to date in his new car. As for 3rd, Fernihough had been holding on for a while until Ryan Bowron stole it away in the latter stages to make it two family members on the podium together. Fernihough still took 4th ahead of Lewis Bowron in 5th, with Michael Blackburn, Michael Heath, Chris Grimes, Matt Eldridge and new boy Luke Woodward. In the XR portion of the grid, Simon Robinson’s Fiesta XR2 came home first ahead of Jason Hennefer’s Escort XR3i and Paul Green in another XR2.

The second race on Sunday saw the drivers having to cope with a wet circuit as rain ensured conditions were going to be tricky for all involved. The XR contingent lined up ahead of the STs on the grid with a delayed start for the latter, allowing Simon Robinson and Hennefer to race down to Clervaux together for the lead with Green and Alex Causer right behind them. When the STs got underway the top three picked up where they left off from Race 1 with Jones and the two leading Bowrons ahead of a fast starting Michael Heath in 4th.

Heath went to the outside of Ryan Bowron at the Hairpin for 3rd and with better traction on his line he completed the move before they braked for the first corner to start Lap 2. With the XRs starting ahead of the STs overall, this meant that the newer cars would have to push in the wet conditions to catch up to them, something that was being made a little more difficult due to the older cars being able to hold their own a little better in the rain. Jones and co did get a chance to eradicate their advantage soon enough as an incident for Adam Bissell at Tower led to the Safety Car being called to bunch up the pack.

With a shorter race and a longer than anticipated safety car period, this only left one flying lap to complete the race and by this time Jones had moved to 2nd behind overall leader Simon Robinson in his XR. Heading down to Tower for the last time, Jones’ power and grip advantage allowed him to breeze past into the lead with Hennefer and Bowron immediately pressuring the XR2 for position. Just ahead, Jones completed a perfect brace of race wins for the weekend while Robinson not only remained top XR in 2nd overall but also managed to hold off Lee Bowron on the final sprint to the flag. Hennefer’s XR3i came next from the STs of Fernihough, Heath, Grimes and Blackburn, with Paul Green’s XR2 picking up 8th overall ahead of Class D drivers Ryan Bowron and Mark Robinson, who recovered well from his Race 1 retirement to finish P10.

The next outing is a visit further north than Croft for the ST-XRs, as they venture across the border into Scotland and the awesome Knockhill Circuit in Fife. This should certainly be quite a unique challenge!

Scott Woodwiss


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