TCR UK & CO THRILLS SPECTATORS AT CROFT
If you wanted a race weekend filled with plenty of action and drama in equal measure, you would have been hard pressed to have found an event to match that of the TCR UK Race Weekend at Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire. With several championships beginning to draw to a close and champions waiting to be crowned, it was always going to be tense times at this stage of the season – and this weekend was no exception.
After WestCoast Racing’s Andreas Backman took his first TCR UK pole position piloting the Sean Walkinshaw Racing Honda Civic, due to his regular car being used in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship on the same weekend, the Swede dutifully went on to pick up an impressive lights to flag victory in Race 1, his first in the championship and his so far short circuit racing career. Behind him, it was battle lines drawn between the two championship contenders, as Pyro Motorsport’s Ollie Taylor was able to fend off points leader Dan Lloyd in his WestCoast Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR to take 2nd place and edge closer to the lead in the points table.
Then, the unthinkable happened. At the start of the reverse grid race with the two Pyro Motorsport prepared Honda Civic Type R TCRs of Finlay Crocker and Taylor, Lloyd clipped a kerb at the Esses just moments after the lights went out, damaging his right front suspension and ultimately forcing him to retire from a race for the first time this season. Taylor did what was necessary and took an unchallenged victory to reduce the points gap to Lloyd to just 33 points with the season finale at Donington Park looming in a few weeks’ time on October 13/14. Honda fans and indeed JAS Motorsport, the preparer of Honda’s TCR cars, would have been delighted at the Race 2 result, as Finaly Crocker took his first podium with 2nd place and Race 1 winner Backman taking 3rd to complete a Honda 1-2-3 on the rostrum. It’s all to play for with just two races left in the 2018 season.
In terms of championship connotations, at least one has effectively been settled already over in the Avon Tyres National Formula Ford Championship – although the result of Race 1 may have made spectators think otherwise at that stage. Points leader Niall Murray was only able to qualify 9th for the opening race of the weekend, but a broken push rod thanks to hitting a kerb forced him out of the race halfway through. Meanwhile at the front, former Northern champion Joshua Smith was able to collect his first National victory of the season as he beat Joey Foster and title contender Michael Eastwell to the flag.
Smith would go on to do it again in the first of Sunday’s two races in drier conditions to those of Saturday’s contest. Once again fending off Foster for the first half of the race, he then had to deal with an unexpected challenger, as James Clarke brought himself into the fray in his first race weekend since joining Cliff Dempsey Racing. Forcing his way up to 2nd place at Foster’s expense, he came close to stealing a surprise win, but Smith had enough to hold him back to make it two from two. Eastwell would pick up 3rd place, while Murray moved up from the back of the grid to 7th, leaving him on the front row for Race 3 thanks to the reverse grid draw.
Murray picked up the better start compared to pole man Jack Wolfenden and duly pulled out a lead which he would never lose. Driving as only he knew how, the Irishman had to deal with fellow countryman Jordan Dempsey for most of the race, making an appearance back in the championship after spending most of this season racing in FIA F4 over in China. Nevertheless, Murray got the job done and took victory to effectively seal the 2018 National Formula Ford crown with a round to spare. Eastwell did enough to maintain his consistent form with another podium with 3rd place, as his task is now to defend his 2nd place in the points standings from those behind him.
Over in the Mazda MX-5 SuperCup, there’s still no separating title contenders Jack Harding or Luke Herbert at the top of the table, albeit they were only able to do battle over two races rather than the originally scheduled three. The first race of the weekend sadly had to be abandoned thanks to two red flags in the opening laps of both starts due to sizeable incidents in the middle of the pack. This meant that the second fastest qualifying times would set the grid for the first of Sunday’s two races with James Blake-Baldwin starting on pole, while Herbert lined up 3rd fastest and fellow title contenders Aidan Hills and Harding both back in 10th and 14th, as both had misjudged the wet conditions during the session.
When racing did finally get underway, Blake-Baldwin sprinted into the lead from pole and ended up remaining in front for the entire race, taking the win ahead of Herbert who spent the entire race tailing the #4 car in his pursuit of the win. Eventually they were joined by a hard-charging Harding who made his way up to 3rd place and benefitted from a mid-race safety car to close in on the top two and take the final place on the podium for his troubles. Harding then wasted no time in hitting the front in Race 3, and was able to fend off Herbert, Blake-Baldwin and Will Stacey for more than three quarters of the race. Then on the penultimate lap, Blake-Baldwin muscled his way through and edged Harding out wide as he slipped to 4th. Harding aggressively took 3rd back from Richard Wicklen and while JB-B took his second win of the day, Herbert just beat Harding in a drag race to the flag for 2nd place. Provisionally, this now puts both drivers level on points yet again with the Donington Park finale looming.
Jamie Bond was another driver looking to maintain his grasp at the top of his respective points table in the Milltek Sport Volkswagen Racing Cup, and was able to do so in perfect fashion in Race 1. Starting on the front row of the grid, Bond got the better of pole sitter Owen Walton at the restart of the race following an opening lap red flag, and was able to grow the lead to a significant 7.1 seconds by the finish. With maximum points scored, Bond won ahead of Walton in 2nd place and Mark Wakefield in 3rd. However, the reverse grid second race didn’t end up being as straightforward. Darron Lewis was quick to assume lead from the front row and would end up proving to be a bugbear for points leader Bond, as he seemed determined to overhaul Lewis by any means necessary. All of this preoccupied battling allowed Wakefield into the mix and in one of the overtakes of the weekend, he stormed down the inside of both drivers in one move at Clerveaux to steal the lead. From there, Wakefield pulled away to collect his first win of the season, followed by Lewis in 2nd and a slightly dog-eared Golf of Jamie Bond salvaging 3rd place. The VW Cup will also be ending their season at Donington, albeit in just 3 weeks time.
The Speed Group F1000 Championship braved both wet and dry conditions across both days of competition and proved its competitiveness with a different race winner in each of the three encounters. A rain-soaked opening raced ended up going the way of Dan Clowes as he managed to take vital points away from leader Michael Watton who ended up in 2nd place. Undoubtedly the star driver of the championship for this weekend was young 18 year old Reece Lycett, with the karting graduate qualifying 6th for his first ever race and then braving the conditions to collect a stunning 3rd place on his debut. Watton went on to collect another race win in Race 2 to extend his tally and points lead ahead of Clowes and former champ Lee Morgan, who then took his turn to pick up a victory himself in the partially reverse grid race later that day ahead of Elliott Mitchell and Clowes; Watton wouldn’t make the finish after retiring with just two laps to go.
On both occasions, the race winner in each of the pair of Kerax Hyperdrive ST-XR Challenge races came from outside of the front row, as Steve Poole took the lead on Lap 3 after starting 3rd on the grid and promptly drove away from the pack to collect victory by almost 4.5 seconds from Adam Brown and top XR3i runner Michael Blackburn. With the grid set by the Race 1 result for the second encounter, former champion Michael Heath (who had started on pole in the race prior) incredibly flew from 5th on the grid to the lead before the end of the opening lap and, just like Poole, raced into a lead that he wouldn’t end up losing. Therefore, Heath took his #18 car back to winning ways ahead of XR2 points leader Justin Roberts and Race 1 winner Poole.
Also in attendance to add a local flavour to the timetable was the DDMC Northern Saloon & Sports Car Championship with their final rounds of the season. Out of a fantastically varied entry of cars, it was left to Daniel Irving in his Ginetta G50 GT4 to claim pole and the victory in Race 1 ahead of Bill Addison’s Caterham Superlight R400 and Andrew Morrison’s SEAT Leon TCR. Out of those three drivers, only Morrison would make the podium in the second race as he ended up collecting the win, followed by the Darrian T90 of David Brewis and Neil Finnighan in another Caterham.