SEVENS, SUN AND SIDE-BY-SIDE AT SNETTERTON
What originally looked like was going to be a grey and overcast weekend turned into two days that delivered mostly warm, sunny and bright conditions for the drivers at Snetterton in Norfolk, for the opening races of the season for four of Caterham Motorsport’s championship roster, along with the second meetings of the year for four more championships and series. The action was expected to be fast and furious, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Starting the weekend on Saturday were the Draper Tools Caterham Roadsport Championship, with drivers fresh from last year’s Caterham Academy ready to tackle their first double-header weekend racing amongst each other. Daniel Halstead set the early pace with pole position, but a poor start put him as the fourth car in what would turn out to be the leading 5 car group all weekend. Eventual race winner James Murphy would end up leading all but one lap throughout the first 20 minute encounter, with Halstead, Matt Sheppard, Daniel French and Oli Pratt swapping places hand over fist. In the end, Murphy won the first race by an un-Caterham-like 2.6 seconds with Halstead in 2nd place, while Oli Pratt just beat both Sheppard and French to the flag to pick up the final podium spot. Murphy would also pick up the special Peter Swinger Memorial Trophy for his victory too.
In Race 2, French would run the best opening lap to lead from 5th on the grid, but quickly Halstead took his turn at the front before Murphy made it through at half distance. Murphy would admit later on that his subsequent drive to do the double by taking the win, he had to work harder than he’d ever done before. French picked up P2 with Sheppard completing the podium, while a mistake from Halstead shuffled him down to 7th place by the flag.
Moving a step higher, the ALACO Motorsport Logistics Caterham Seven 270R Championship would see one of the most intense and exciting finishes of the weekend in the first race with a . There was celebration before racing started as Caroline Everett put in a sensational lap in qualifying to become the first female Caterham racer in some time to take set a pole position time. When racing did get underway, Everett was sadly unable to convert her pole into the lead, as she would drop down the order with damage to the nose of her car and eventually finished an unfortunate but valiant 13th. At the front, the lead trio comprised of Pete Walters, Jamie Falvey and Jay McCormack, the group making a clear break at the head of the field.Falvey would lead for the majority of the race before Walters took over at the front on Lap 12. With the final laps ticking down, the positions almost looked set but McCormack, who had sat in 3rd for almost the entire race, had other ideas. Passing Falvey on the penultimate lap, McCormack set himself up for the sprint to the flag and in a classic Caterham finish, stole the victory on the line by a mere 0.024 seconds – something which had happened to him in Roadsport a year earlier when he lost the win right at the last possible moment. Walters took second with Falvey 3rd, all three cars crossing the line covered by 0.094 seconds!
The second 270R was a slightly more conventional affair as the same trio of Walters, McCormack and Falvey circulated together. In a reverse from race 1, Walters led most of the way before Falvey took his turn to lead with just two laps to go, while McCormack again looked on in 3rd. However, they had to look in their mirrors come the final moments of the race as in a sensational drive from 12th on the grid, Gary Smith had caught the top 3 and was threatening for a podium place. Falvey would brilliantly hold on in the end with the Team BRIT driver picking up a very popular win, with Walters again taking second. As for third? Well, the aforementioned Smith gave McCormack déjà vu, as again the Irishman would see himself lose the final podium place on the run to the flag.
Much was being made about both the size and quality of the entry for the Santander Caterham Seven 310R Championship, with a mammoth 40 car entry lining up for the opening rounds – the biggest single grid out of all the championships on Caterham’s roster. Christian Szaruta took a superb pole position in his first race after moving across from the old Supersport championship, but initially didn’t get the chance to make the most of it. A first lap incident at the Wilson hairpin would spell the end of the race prematurely for at least 6 cars that failed to take the restart, leaving everyone to regroup for a second attempt. When racing did get underway finally, it was Gordon Sawyer who took the accolade of leading the opening tour of the 300 circuit, but Szaruta quickly fought back as the pair swapped places once again. Sawyer would then remain in front for the majority of the race with Szaruta keeping him honest and 3rd placed Chris Hutchinson in tow. Unbelieveably, yet again the win would decided in the race to the flag as Szaruta passed held off Sawyer in the final lap to finish ahead by 0.102 seconds to take his first win for 3 years, with Hutchinson taking a delighted 3rd place a further 7 tenths back.
For Race 2, Szaruta was able this time to lead from pole position before Sawyer took the lead on lap 2, a reverse of what had occurred in the first race. Both drivers were never more than just over 0.6 of a second apart with Szaruta briefly back in the lead around mid-distance. Eventually, Sawyer repassed and remained in front until the end. Sawyer won with Szaruta 2nd and Chris Rankin picking up the final podium place in 3rd.
Basing everyone’s form initially from qualifying in the Avon Tyres Caterham Seven 420R Championship, you’d be forgiven for thinking that reigning champion Danny Winstanley was struggling for pace compared to the front row of Elliott Norris and Jack Brown. But come the race, any doubts anyone had about Winstanley were put to bed. It took him 5 laps to move from 9th on the grid to the lead, with position swapping all the way through the order. In fact, at one point the top 15 were all covered by less than 10 seconds! The win was uncertain right until the last moments as Winstanley pipped Brown to P1 by 0.054 seconds with Sean Byrne battling his way through to pick up 3rd place. Winstanley them made the most of his Race 2 pole to lead, as he constantly repassed both William Smith and Sean Byrne on the pit straight to lead most of the race’s laps. A red flag within the last minute, however, was a saving grace for Byrne as he had crossed the line of the last complete lap before the stoppage in the lead. This gave him the victory on countback with Winstanley 2nd and Stephen Nuttall taking 3rd.
Elsewhere in the paddock, the Mazda MX-5 Championship saw another sizeable entry of just under 50 cars, with reigning champion Will Blackwell-Chambers hoping to extend his win streak after his domination of Brands Hatch. Ultimately, he couldn’t; Instead it would be Oliver Allwood who would end up as the man to beat all weekend. Having taken pole for the first Group A race, he remained ahead both of Blackwell-Chambers and Oliver’s AB Motorsport teammate Brian Trott to pick up his first win since Donington at the end of last season. Blackwell-Chambers’ teammate Samuel Smith didn’t make it further than the opening couple of corners as he retired with power failure, pushing him down to Group B for his second race.
In Group B’s first encounter, BC Cars Motorsport would have been delighted with the sight of Sam Gendy and Adrian Burge heading the field as they circulated 1-2 at the front, however the main story behind them was what was going on throughout the field. After having his times disallowed in qualifying after his car was found to be underweight, Harry Deane was forced to start at the back of Group B with a 10 second penalty. However, in a storming display of driving, Deane clinically picked his way through the field and eventually had Gendy and Burge in his sights. On the last lap, Deane was right there behind the pair as they entered the pit straight, but it was too late as they took the chequered flag together with Gendy winning from Burge and Deane. Had there been one more lap, Deane almost certainly would have had a real chance at the victory!
The second Group A race once again saw Allwood take the lead from pole position with teammate Trott attempting to keep with him as he swapped places with Blackwell-Chambers several times throughout the 20 minutes. But the most extraordinary part of the race came in the final moments before the chequered flag. In the lead, Allwood was able to make to the flag first by almost a second, but the sort out behind was incredible. Trott ended up missing a gear coming out of Murrays which in turn also held up Blackwell-Chambers; this allowed both Jason Greatrex and Mike Comber to power past both of them on the run to the chequered flag to clinch 2nd and 3rd places respectively. Incredibly, however, it would get even closer later on…
The second Group B race appeared on paper to be something of a formality. Despite starting in 5th place after his power failure in Race 1A, Samuel Smith wasted no time in tearing through to the front as he and Adam Bessell quickly moved clear of the rest of the field. In the end, the pair were so far ahead that their ensuing battles for the victory hardly slowed them down at all. Come the end of the race, Smith had just held on from Bessell by 0.087 seconds, another very close finish. Back in 3rd place, original pole sitter Martyn Canning made good use of Sam Bailey’s old Mk1 MX-5 to enjoy a superb battle with Lewis Cannon and Clive Powles. Canning would pick up the final podium place despite not having raced in the championship for two years – a great comeback!
The final Group A race on Sunday proved to be the most entertaining of the season so far, as after the opening few laps, Brian Trott had taken the lead from teammate Allwood and was leading a 7 car train containing Allwood, Blackwell-Chambers, Greatrex, Comber, Charlie Burge and Stephen Foden. A tangle between Trott and Blackwell-Chambers pushed the reigning champion down to an eventual 11th place, while Trott was able to scamper back up from 4th place and repass Mike Comber to end up on the podium in 3rd. But just ahead of them Greatrex had designs on stealing Allwood’s glory of claiming a hat-trick of wins just as Blackwell-Chambers had done at Brands Hatch. In a drag race to the line, Greatrex’s momentum was strong enough to pull alongside, but in an incredible photo finish it was Allwood who JUST made it past the post first. The TSL timing image from the trackside camera showed the winning margin to be just 0.003 seconds, one of the closest in BRSCC Mazda history!
The final Group B race ended up being something of a formality for eventual winner John Langridge, as the regular Group A runner made the most of being pushed down into this race following being spun on the opening lap of the second Group A race. He charged relatively unchallenged to an unassailable 9.3 second win, with Paul Tucker also making the podium in 2nd place. For third, the two BC Cars Motorsport drivers Adrian Burge and Sam Gendy had an entertaining duel amongst each other for the final rostrum spot, with Burge coming out on top by just 0.6 seconds.
The more contemporary counterparts in the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Super Series, for Mk3 SuperCup-spec MX-5s, once again would see a battle between Joshua Jackson and Jake Bailey, arguably the two quickest drivers in the field. From the start of race 1, Bailey took the lead but it only took Jackson two laps to reclaim it after starting from pole and from there wasn’t headed for the remainder of the race. Jackson’s winning margin was over 3 seconds from Jake Bailey, while 3rd place was a very intriguing battle in itself. After getting a great start from the second row, Jeremy Crook managed to bravely hold station in P3 for the first few laps, until eventually he succumbed to the pressure from Richard Breland. However, the position would change hands one more time when Sam Bailey found a way through and beat Breland by over a second at the flag.
For the second race, Jake Bailey’s second shot at race victory disappeared on lap 2, when he went too hot into the Agostini hairpin, locked the rear brakes and spun out across the grass on the outside of the track. Almost down to the back of the field, Jake went on to carve his way back up the order and by the end of lap 6 he had the top 5 in his sights. Passing Simon Fleet for 4th and with a little indirect help from sibling Sam after he dropped down to 6th place with an error, Jake managed to catch and pass Jeremy Crook for 3rd place, denying him what could have been an incredible podium finish. At the front, there was no stopping Jackson again as he once again took another victory, although this time it was Breland who took the fight to him all the way to the end.
Jackson looked odds on for the hat-trick in Race 3 from pole, but as it had been in the third race from Brands Hatch, it was Jake Bailey who picked up the lead yet again and held the advantage for the majority of the race. In the closing stages, Lap 7 would be the time for Jackson to pounce as he snatched the lead away and held on in front to complete 3 wins out of 3 for the weekend. Breland again made his third appearance on the podium with 3rd place, once again heading Jeremy Crook who did well to fend off Sam Bailey’s advances to grab 4th.
In single seater action, the Speed Group F1000 Championship certainly enjoyed stretching their legs on Snetterton’s long straights. From qualifying and the result in Race 1, the rest of the weekend’s fortunes looked rather ominous in favour of Brands Hatch dominator and reigning champion Michael Watton. After extending something of a comfortable lead, Watton ensured he brought home victory number 4 home with ease having never been headed all race. In 2nd place, local hero and 2016 champion Rob Sayell picked up 2nd place after Paul Butcher’s engine expired on Lap 5, before Sayell then saw off the attentions of eventual 3rd place man Dan Clowes.
For Race 2, the drama heightened even further as this time it was the turn of champion Watton to suffer mechanical misfortunes of his own. With the top 8 reversed, Elliot Mitchell superbly took the lead from the front row and amazingly displayed enough pace to remain in front for the duration of the race. However, he was sadly hit with a 10 second penalty for an out of position start, meaning that while he did still end up 3rd in the result, it was Dan Clowes who took the win with Sayell in 2nd place. Watton, meanwhile, began slipping back with engine problems as smoke began to emit from the rear of his car. He would struggle to the finish in 9th before his car stopped metres after the flag and wouldn’t see track action for the rest of the day. Clowes also received the Henry Rilett Trophy for his race victory too.
Race 3’s dramas began with more issues for Butcher as he was pushed off the grid to leave Sayell as the man to beat. That, in fact, he was as he created enough of a comfortable margin to score a much coveted home win ahead of Clowes and Alok Iyengar, who took his second career F1000 podium in 3rd. Daniel Levy would also win the Sonic Equipment Invitational Cup as the sole representative in his slighty enhanced Jedi Mk6.
Sunday’s track action for the Nankang Tyres BMW Compact Cup was delayed first thing in the morning as qualifying was put back by just over 40 minutes due to thick fog all around the circuit. Once it cleared and reigning champion Steven Dailly had taken pole, the Scotsman then had to fight off massive pressure from Matthew Parkes, Ian Jones and Owen Hunter behind. Eventually, Dailly cracked and Parkes slipped through on Lap 4 and with his foot down, he pulled away to take an incredible first Compact Cup win from Dailly and Jones who completed the podium. The same quartet were at it again in the second race, now with the added element of Tom Griffiths in 5th place chasing them around the 300 circuit. In a reversal of roles, Dailly became the hunter as he stayed with and then passed Parkes on Lap 6 to pick up his third win in four races, as Jones also slipped by for 2nd and Parkes eventually ending up 3rd.
A massive thank you to all of the teams, drivers, BRSCC officials and our magnificent marshals for all ensuring the first Snetterton race meeting of the season was a roaring success! We’ll be back there in June when the FunCup get to test their mettle against each other in another endurance epic. For the last couple of seasons, FunCup’s encounter with Snetterton has been a severely wet one at that. Will it be three years in a row that precipitation makes an appearance again?
For the full breakdown of results from Snetterton, you can find all the of the TSL Timing files HERE.