The sounds, the smells and the adrenaline-fuelled action returned to Kent over the Bank Holiday weekend with the first round of the Motorsport UK British Rallycross Championship 5 Nations Trophy Presented by Cooper Tires at Lydden Hill Race Circuit. With the season start being delayed due to the pandemic, the crowds were buzzing with excitement for the engines to start early on Sunday morning. Social distancing and enforced face-covering regulations were very well observed and everyone was on best behaviour, it was almost like they had been told that no racing was going to happen if they were naughty and didn’t abide by the rules. There were even a few celebrities racing including cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy driving Pat Doran’s Citreon C4 in the Supercar class, Motorbike superstar John McGuinness and his son Ewan McGuinness racing side by side in the RX150 buggies and even World Rallycross Championship driver Oliver Bennett who brought along his own BMW Mini Cooper S WRX to race against Hoy.
Sunday morning (August 30) started with free practice sessions which allowed all of the drivers to stretch their legs so to speak after such a long time out of their racing seats and even though it wasn’t racing, there were still some impressive driving skills on show. The best time in free practice one was recorded by Mark Donnelly in his Citreon DS3 (previously driven by Liam Doran) with a lap time of 43.644 seconds followed closely by Roger Thomas in his Ford Fiesta with a time of 44.823.
Free practice two’s top time was claimed by World Rallycross Championship driver Bennett in his Mini flying around the track in 43.196 seconds. Behind him on the table was Donnelly who managed to beat his own time by a sliver at 43.559.
The racing finally began at Lydden Hill with the first of the event’s races, the qualifying sessions. There were a few moments that caused delays meaning that not all of the planned twenty-one races could be run due to noise time restrictions in place on a Sunday but it was a great opening day. In qualifier one of the Super1600s, Craig Lomax and Darren Scott came together just after the joker split in the final lap which resulted in both of them creeping back to the paddock with damage. In Supercar qualifier one, the Xite Ford Fiesta driven by Mark Flaherty caught fire. The cause of this was the turbo overheating due to the two false starts and this set the surrounding housing alight. Luckily not much damage but a lot of smoke was produced and it took some time for the fire and recovery crews to clean up the mess before the race could restart.
TCF Off-Road RX Cup regular Wesley Wickens was competing in his very first race weekend and suffered from a number of driveshaft issues which meant that in each of his qualifier races on day one, his BMW Mini failed to finish. Similarly, Mad Mark had an issue meaning that his opening day didn’t go as planned due to turbo issues and couldn’t compete.
Bank Holiday Monday (August 31) was crammed full of racing with the free practice session cut short to make room for the qualifier sessions that couldn’t be run on Sunday. The rest of those qualifiers went smoothly except for a few dramatic moments in the Mini and junior classes. In qualifier three for the BMW Minis, Martin Hawkes was rear-ended by Archie Thomas which caused him to spin and hit the Armco in Chesson’s Drift. Then in the Junior Rallycross qualifier three, Patrick O’Donovan hit Luke Constantine hard in the rear panel which ended in another spin in Chesson’s Drift and a lot of damage to the front left corner of O’Donovan’s car.
By the end of all of the qualifier sessions, we had our grids worked out for the semi-finals and were all ready for some full-on door to door action! The pre-grid lined up for the first semifinal for the Supercars with Bennett in pole position but then the race officials called Bennett into the office with a query. This query was the cause of a lot of controversy which took a while to get sorted. It turns out that the WRX Mini was running on P1 fuel which is an FIA approved fule for the World Rallycross Championship but in the 5 Nations British Rallycross Championship, the cars must all use Carless Hiperflo fuels supplied on-site by Vital Equipment. This led, unfortunately, to him being disqualified from the meeting for a fuel infringement in accordance with 3.12.2. of the Motorsport UK Championship Regulations and Article 19 of the Final Instructions. Bennett was obviously upset with the decision being made so late in the event as he had won all four of his qualifiers and was on top form up until that point.
With Bennett out of the competition, Ollie O’Donovan took his place in pole position but couldn’t hold it and ended semifinal one in third behind Roger Thomas and race winner Julian Godfrey. Semifinal two for the Supercars started with Dominic Flitney’s Subaru Impreza billowing smoke caused by his dodgy turbo which then ended his race in just lap one. Donnelly showed impressive pace, fully sending the car sideways at every opportunity and finishing first with just over a five-second lead on Steve Hill’s Mitsubishi Evo 10.
The remainder of the semifinials all went without too much drama and then we had the final races with the top trophies to be claimed by the best drivers of the weekend.
The 2018 BMW Mini Champion, David Bell had a great weekend, taking the win in all four qualifiers, his semifinal and then the final. Reigning champion Drew Bellerby took second place followed by ex-drifter Ryan Cooper. In the Junior class, local boy Tom Ovenden took the top spot, closely followed by Ben Sayer and Luke Constantine. The SwiftSport category produced its own battles with cousins James and Tom Constantine fighting throughout the weekend leading to James taking the checkered flag just ahead of his cousin and James Phillips in third place.
In the retro classes, the reigning Retro Rallycross champion Stephen Cozens took the win in his Citreon AX a whole 3.2 seconds ahead of rival Terry Moore’s Austin Mini. Over in the Super Retro class, the Fords were the ones to beat with Paul Barrett in his Escort G3 claiming the win ahead of Ray Morgan in his Escort BDA.
Then to finish the retro class came the brand new category for 2020, the Group B +4WD Rallycross. The final for this class was an eventful one with Steve Harris’ replica Ford RS200 nudging the rear of Mad Mark’s Citreon Xsara causing both cars to spin with one car going one direction and the other through not one but two large plastic barriers before coming to a rest nose-first in the Armco. Mad Mark’s brightly coloured Xsara was the most unfortunate one, suffering both front and rear damage and needing the services of track recovery. This unfortunate event resulted in a red flag whilst the cleanup operation went ahead. By the time the ready to race light came back on, the grid consisted of just three cars, Doran’s Ford RS200 Evo 2, known all over as Rosie; Dave Halford’s Audi Quattro and Ian Flitney’s Subaru Impreza. Doran suffered from a terrible start being left behind by the other two drivers but with Doran’s experience and his no-holds-barred driving style throwing the car around the track, it wasn’t long before he was chasing them down and then ended up winning the race a whole fifteen seconds ahead of Halford!
Latvian driver Robert Vitols had a clean sweep this weekend in the Super1600 class winning all of his races with Darren Scott claiming second on the podium and the 2019 champion Craig Lomax coming home in third.
The Supernational class provided us with some great racing leading to the final where Paige Bellerby fought hard to take the win in her tried and tested Lotus Exige with new-comer Jason Bleasdale’s Vauxhall VX220 in second and Polish driver Slawomir Woloch completing the top three in his BMW E92 a mear 0.664 of a second behind.
Stephen Jones was the driver to beat in the RX150 class after winning all four qualifiers which left the Isle Of Man TT legend McGuinness in second place after a fierce battle on his four-wheeled debut. Third place eventually went to Brett Harris post-race following a five-second track limits penalty and then the younger McGuinness was trailing in fourth.
The big race, the Supercar Final, the one everyone had been waiting for was the last race of the day and everyone was excited to see how this would turn out. The ready to race light lit up, the rev limiters hit maximum, the anti-lag systems were making an absolute racket and then Hill jumps the start light. Once the grid was lined back up with Hill receiving a double joker penalty, the final race of round one of this new rallycross championship started and wow, what a race! There were battles throughout the whole pack, Donnelly versus Godfrey, O’Donovan versus Godfrey and even Hoy had upped his game and was fully in Tristan Ovenden’s mirrors nudging him a few times to make sure he knew he was there. In the end, Donnelly claimed his first-ever Supercar win by beating the reigning champion Godfrey by 4.27 seconds with O’Donovan just 0.4 of a second behind him in third. Our big celebrity, ex-Olympian Hoy came home in a very respectable fifth place.
Round Two of the Motorsport UK British Rallycross Championship 5 Nations Trophy Presented by Cooper Tires takes place at Knockhill Racing Circuit in Scotland over the weekend of September 26/27 and if this season opener is anything to go by then the 2020 season is gonna be the best British Rallycross season ever!