Oulton Park International
The popular Cheshire parkland circuit welcomed us back for the last rounds of the Monoposto Championship. Unusually, there was just Monoposto and GT Cup which meant a spacious paddock. Seasonally chilly but bright weather made for a promising day. I don't think we were disappointed. (Actually I was a bit disappointed as I had hoped the XH558 Vulcan farewell route might go over Oulton but if it did I missed it.)
Testing on Friday resulted in an uncharacteristic accident at Old Hall for the UWR team with front and rear damage. A lot of work resulted in a near perfect car- I say near perfect as the exhaust mounting proved a bit troublesome.
Qualifying was fascinating. As expected Robbie Watts got pole, but Chris Davison held second for most of the session, losing it to Ben Cater only in the closing lap. Mark Harrison disappeared after 3 laps with a brake problem. After checking the entire system, it was only on the way to the assembly area for the race that a split brake flange was detected, and that meant the trailer home. Tony Bishop had an exhaust problem which meant he had only 2 laps, leaving him in 5th with Malcolm Scott taking advantage to get 4th. James Rimmer was pushed to the back due to a flag infringement. He told us at lunchtime “I've never driven here before. I drove the circuit on Base Performance's simulator but last came when I was 14. Fortunately the first corner did turn right as I expected. It's a tricky circuit as all the straights are bendy. “ I now have to type that rare phrase “Russ Giles had an uneventful practice”. Which pleased lots of people in the paddock after the deluge of bad luck he's had.
In Classic, Robin Dawe was on pole by a staggering 3 seconds from Bryn Tootell. Obviously, doing the Tiedeman had been an inspiration.... Will McAteer managed only 3 laps as he spun out at Lodge (“No damage, just pride”). It was good to see highly respected Oulton local Ian Hughes back, if only because he doesn't punch me when I'm even ruder to him than I am to most people.
Robbie Watts had a good start so maintained his lead to the flag. I feel a bit guilty never saying much about Robbie, but he just goes out and wins and only rarely does anything wrong so there isn't much to say. Second place was a bit more interesting. Ben Cater made a slightly slower start and was initially third, but was back in second by the end of the first lap. He held onto the place, and was within 3 seconds of Robbie on lap 6 when a beached Mat Jordan at Knickerbrook appeared to be on fire and a safety car was deployed in front of the 11th placed man, James Rimmer. This did at least mean the front group were in order, an improvement on Donington, and meant that Ben closed up on Robbie. “I thought I might be able to pressure Robbie as he had a group of cars in front of us. But I didn't see the lights go out and dropped a bit. I was trying to make it up and got close behind him by Shell. But then I got a wheel on the grass, the car twitched and I was down to 5th. I'm kicking myself.”
Back to the start. Richard Purcell moved up from 7th on the grid to 4th by the end of lap 1. Malcolm Scott was close behind him but it turned out to be a bit too close when Richard braked a bit earlier than Malcolm expected and he ended up with one wheel too few on the F398. Tony Bishop continued to pursue Richard just as closely and got past on lap 3. Then, just before the safety car he passed Chris Davison who had been running third behind Ben. Chris stayed glued to Tony after the restart, but wasn't able to do anything and they finished second and third respectively, which was an especially good finish for Chris as he had a gear selector issue which left him grateful for the safety car and rather hobbled him on the last laps. Richard was fourth and Shane Kelly fifth. Nathan Corridon in the 2000 spec Reynard 883 was 7th, James Rimmer 8th and after a 2nd lap excursion which I forgot to ask about, Russ Giles was delighted to have a finish.
7th overall was held by Robin Dawe who continued to go indecently quickly for a car designed nearly 30 years ago. (Longer if you take a cynical view of suspension geometry.) But Robin always was indecently quick. I'm looking forward to 2016 with him in the TOMS and Chris in his F301, there should be 2 extra top runners. Robin was initially challenged by Alistair Bell until he fell into the clutches of Bryn Tootell. Nice to see Alistair with a well deserved podium on his last Mono outing.
Nathan Corridon, Terry Clark, Mat Jordan and Mike Hatton started off as a happy little group, circulating close together. On lap 2 Mat passed Terry, but the Northwood Electrical Engineer didn't let go – until the engine did on lap 3. Mat then started pressuring Bryn for third in Classic, getting away a little from Mike. Then he had a bit of an off which caused the safety car, leaving Mike to claim 4th. Peter Whitmore was fifth after what looked to spectators an enjoyable inter-class battle with Russ Giles. And you won't meet 2 more gentlemanly “clean and close” racers than those two.
Chris Lord and Wil McAteer ran very closely and, again to spectators, enjoyably, and swapped places, the FVL man finishing ahead of the 923 man, showcasing the versatility of the Reynard design department.
Ian Hughes had a nasty misfire and dropped out after 7 laps. Kevin Couling also dropped out after 5.
In the last race I commented on Mr Dawe. I suspect he needs some new glasses because he can't tell the difference between an uncompetitive old FVL and a shiny TOMS. That's the only reason I can think for him being third as the pack came down The Avenue (the bit I call the drop down to Cascades), behind Robbie Watts and Ben Cater. But it got better. By lap 3, as the Dallaras and Tatuus of Tony Bishop, Shane Kelly and Richard Purcell had passed and Robin was "only" 6th, Bryn Tootell had joined him and they went on to have a real Monoposto-style battle. For the whole race they stayed nose to tail, except when they were side by side. Brilliant. Robin won the Classic class, overall 5th, but it was a great finish to the season. (NB K Raikkonen - this is how you race rather than crash...).
Back to 2000. It looked as though there could be a bit more of a scuffle than usual as Ben got ahead of Robbie at the chicane, but it wasn't to be as Robbie re-establsihed the lead. Ben ended up a couple of seconds behind, or at least would have done if he didn't have one of those wizzy dashboards that told him he was on his fastest lap on the last lap. So he tried a bit harder to make sure and explained sheepishly to us "I think I probably left the braking a bit later than I should. I understeered off quite quickly at Druids" A bit of damage was done, but the car would have been ready next session if need be. At Druids, you can sometimes need a dustpan and brush to sweep the car up. In any event, Robbie won and was able to celebrate a double victory in the day and, subject to official confirmation, 3 successive Mono 2000 championships. Not a bad day's work.
Shane Kelly had risen to third on lap 2, but in a stunning third lap Tony Bishop rose from 6th to 3rd - impressive in this company. He stayed there, well ahead of Shane and well behind Ben, until the flag where he got an unexpected second while Shane took the third step. He had to work for the position, as Richard Purcell spent most of the race close behind, only dropping back a little at the end. More tight competition came between Nathan Corridon and Russ Giles. Russ spent the race filling Nathan's mirrors, rarely more than a second or so behind. James Rimmer, becoming ever more confident with the tricky up and down circuit, joined their battle after 6 laps and demoted Russ on the last lap. Under a second separated all 3.
Back to Classic and Alistair Bell started very well indeed, being ahead of the 2000's of Nathan and Russ. They passed him, and then he had to defend against Mike Hatton and Peter Whitmore. They weren't quite as tight as some of the fights but it was still close and good to watch, especially as things tightened at the end, to finish in that order. Kevin Couling rounded off the finishers, with James Williams and Chris Lord retiring.
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Closeness at Lodge - Race1
Richard Purcell leads Malcolm Scott
James Rimmer, Mike Hattton
Peter Whitmore, Russ Giles
Wil McAteer, Chris Lord
Robin Dawe, Richard Purcell
Robin Dawe and Bryn Tootell
Robin & Bryn a few seconds later
Kevin Couling and his tunnels