ST-XR CHALLENGE BOASTS BUMPER GRID FOR OULTON PARK OPENING ROUNDS
Over the last couple of seasons, the Hyperdrive ST-XR Challenge has gone through something of a transformation, particularly with the introduction of Class D for the more contemporary Ford Fiesta ST150s and Class E for the non-LSD equipped Fiesta XR2s. Heading into this weekend’s season opener at Oulton Park on Saturday, the championship is set to see 24 cars on the grid at the time of writing, one of the largest the series has welcomed in the last few seasons.
Class A accommodates the ever-popular 1980s hot hatch that was the Ford Fiesta XR2, modified to effectively Group N specification. Last year’s overall champion came from this class, as it has done typically over the past few seasons, but the defending champ William Heslop has decided to switch to another class to give himself a new challenge (more on that shortly). His nearest rivals in 2019 were Greg Speight and Adam Brown, and while Speight is present on the grid for the opening races, Brown appears to be on the sidelines. Heslop took the lion’s share of class wins last season while Speight put up a valiant fight to take victories of his own, but in the end had to settle for a podium place. This time, however, the way may be much clearer for Speight to succeed and claim the title he lost out last year.
Darren Watson may turn out to be Speight’s closest rival in the series after he ended up 4th in the Class A standings last year and will be determined to make more progress starting here. Mark Robinson looks set to make a welcome return to the grid, as will Paul Green who will have ambitions of bettering 6th in the standings this time, while Steve Clapton and Michael Rudge also join the championship this season. Class B for the Ford Escort XR3i may only feature two cars for this first race, but 2019 runner up Jason Hennefer will go toe-to-toe with another returning stalwart, as Chris Jones gets set to bring his Escort out of the garage for the first time in a while and test himself on track once again.
The most popular class is, to no surprise for some, Class D for the more Fiesta ST150s. After a steady growth last year, its popularity has positively exploded to the point where one of these cars could realistically take the fight to the front-running XR2s if pedalled quick enough. For the season opener, no less than a staggering 15 cars will line up in Class D with many being driven by some very familiar names to those who know the paddock well. Top of that list is, of course, William Heslop. Yes, last year’s overall champion has decided to trade in his XR2 for a new car and he’ll be determined to not only score back-to-back titles but to do it in different classes in consecutive years. However, he will have some very stiff opposition that is sure to test him for the duration – defending class champ Matthew Spencer will be a key name along with family member John, as will Chris Rowlands and Justin Rowlands, while ex-Pickup Truck racer Tony Mumford moves across from Class A and the Bowron siblings Lee and Lewis are also ready for a new test. Alongside the returning Paul Brettell and Ron Loftstadt, Class D also welcomes Paul McHugh, Alec Townley, Adam Bissell, Chris Grimes and Sam Beckett.
Class E for the non-LSD equipped Fiesta XR2s has a sole representative for Oulton Park, as Matthew Morton makes a welcome return in a bid to not only find more speed but to enjoy battling amongst the other classes.