After basking in the Spanish sunshine for the opening round of the World Rallycross Championship, it was back to the waterproofs again for my trip to Lydden Hill and the second round of the British Rallycross Championship.
Having perused the entry list before arriving at Lydden, it was notable that the numbers in the Supercar class are lower than in 2016. That may seem a rather negative note to open this blog with but, although a number of regular competitors have elected to sit this season out, there has also been an influx of new drivers, all of whom have bought competitive machinery to the Championship.
Former British Touring Car Championship driver Warren Scott is one of those who has made the move to rallycross for 2017, with Warren driving the LD Motorsport Citroen DS3 used by Dan Rooke to take the Supercar title last year. Sadly Rooke is one of the familiar names who hasn’t returned to the British Championship this year but, with a recently announced deal to race in RX2, rallycross fans will at least have a chance to see Dan in action at Lydden next month.
Scott is joined in the LD Motorsport garage by Jake Harris – in the DS3 formerly used by Steve Harris – and last year’s Suzuki Swift champion Nathan Heathcote. Heathcote will initially be utilizing the Citroen C4 driven by Pat Doran in last year’s Championship, before switching to a DS3 later in the season.
After being denied a podium spot at round one of the Suzuki Swift Championship from Croft, Simon Ovenden was clearly on a mission at Lydden. No one seemed able match the pace of Ovenden in the heats with Simon winning all three heat races. He went on to claim first in the opening Swift semi-final and then drove to victory in the final. Morgan Bailey and Christoffer Lia completed the podium while round one winner Chris Woollett had to settle with fifth.
In the Swift Junior Championship Tom Constantine qualified top and took the pole spot for the final. It looked like Constantine might finally break Tom Llewellin’s undefeated streak, but Llewellin seized the lead on the opening lap of the Junior final and led all the way to the flag.
Victory at Lydden marked Tom’s sixth consecutive win in the Swift Juniors. I touted Llewellin as a favourite for the 2017 Junior title last year and, with his current winning streak, that’s looking a very strong possibility.
Chrissy Palmer was untouchable in the RX150’s last year and Palmer carried that dominance into 2017 with a win at the opening round. After topping the qualifying standings and winning the first RX150 semi-final at Lydden, Palmer claimed the pole spot for the final and seemed destined for another victory.
Tom Ward had other ideas though and, after starting from second position on the grid, pushed hard throughout the RX150 final. Following contact with Chrissy, Tom was able to seize the lead and finally oust Palmer from the top step of the podium.
One critique that I have made of the British Championship in the past is the grid size in some classes. Although no one wants to see any cars excluded from competition, the low numbers have resulted in some heats and finals running with just a handful of cars.
Consequently the decision has been made to amalgamate the Super 1600, BMW MINI and Hot Hatch races together in 2017. I applaud whoever is behind this move as, although the total number of races in the day has been slightly reduced, multiple races with near empty grids have been replaced by just a couple with full grids. Ultimately this is more entertaining for spectators and, while the drivers still have separate class titles to chase, there is the added bonus of inter-class battles that you wouldn’t get with separate races.
Having secured second place at the opening round, Craig Lomax had made clear his desire to stand atop the podium at Lydden and, with consistent times in heats one and two, challenging for the victory looked feasible. Unfortunately Lomax pushed a bit too hard in heat three and rolled his C2 coming through Chessons. After some hasty repairs, the team had the car back out again but, despite some very hard driving (and a couple of very sketchy looking moments coming through the chicane), Craig was unable to qualify for the final.
With Lomax out of contention, round one Super 1600 winner Paul Coney led the field, posting fastest times in heats two and three to win qualifying. The biggest challenge to Coney came from Darren Scott, who won the second semi-final and earned the grid slot next to Paul for the final.
Scott wasn’t far behind Coney, but never quite close enough to deny him the win. Second was still a fantastic result for Scott though on just his second outing in a Super 1600 specification car.
Tomasz Marciniak was the fastest Hot Hatch of the weekend, while Martin Hawkes headed the BMW MINI standings, taking maximum Championship points ahead of David Bell and Drew Bellerby. With wins at both Croft and Lydden Hill, Martin Hawkes has got his 2017 BMW MINI title campaign off to a perfect start.
Barry Stewart made his first Retro Rallycross Championship appearance of 2017 at Lydden Hill, where he held off the challenge of round one winner Ray Morgan to claim first overall.
I have made mention of Vince Bristow in the past but, despite not being a title challenger or even a front runner, he still remains one of my favourite drivers to watch out on track. Bristow’s BMW is perhaps the most standard looking car in the Super National field, but with Vince at the wheel it’s always entertaining. I am of the opinion that Vince doesn’t really care where the rest of the field are as long as he is going sideways!
On the subject of the rest of the field, there are a number of strong contenders vying for the 2017 Super National title. In terms of raw pace though, Tristan Ovenden is undoubtedly the man to beat. Tristan had been very quick at Croft, but an overheating issue with his Clio V6 had slowed him at the end of the day and allowed Paige Bellerby to take victory in the final.
Ovenden absolutely dominated the heats at Lydden and won his semi-final by a ridiculous margin. After opening up a gap at the start of the final it looked like Tristan would romp to the win that eluded him at Croft. Luck was not on his side and, on the approach to the Devil’s Elbow, the left rear corner of the Clio gave way and Ovenden was forced to retire. Once again Bellerby was there to pick up the pieces and victory again went her way.
The relatively small Supercar entry actually made for a rather interesting event as several competitors experienced troubles throughout the heats but, thanks to the lower numbers, they were still able to qualify for the final. Ollie O’Donovan was the first Championship challenger to encounter a major issue when he clipped a barrier on the exit of Chesson’s during the first heat and smashed the front corner of his Focus.
The damage was so significant that O’Donovan was forced to miss the second heat, but he made it back out for heat three where he posted fastest time.
Nathan Heathcote had surprised many by winning the opening round of the 2017 Championship on his maiden outing in a Supercar. Hopes of repeat success at Lydden faltered in the first heat, before going up in flames in heat two. Thankfully the marshals were able to get to the car before the fire really took hold, but it was a disappointing way for Heathcote to end the day.
Kevin Procter topped the Supercar standings and it was his Fiesta that sat on pole for the final. After several abandoned starts the final finally got underway and it was Warren Scott who led the pack as they headed into Chessons for the first time. Mid-corner contact with Procter in turn one caused damage to the rear of Scott’s DS3 which, crucially, induced a rear puncture.
Ollie O’Donovan started the final on the back row of the grid and, after creeping slightly on the line, O’Donovan hesitated as the lights went green. Despite the delay, Ollie was a man on a mission and, after working his way through the field with a combination of passes and a well-timed joker, Ollie reeled in and passed Scott.
Warren looked like he might have to relinquish second position to Julian Godfrey, but Julian made an uncharacteristic mistake on the approach to the Devil’s Elbow when he collided with some trackside furniture. This resulted in significant damage to the right front corner of the car which sent Godfrey ploughing into the gravel on the outside of the bend.
Despite the shredded right rear tyre, Scott crossed the line less than three seconds behind O’Donovan. Third place went to Oliver Bennett who took his first podium of the year and fourth went to Jake Harris. It was surprising to see so many of the newcomers finishing above rallycross veterans Godfrey, Procter and Steve Hill, but I think it’s an encouraging sign for another good title fight this year.
It was a rather protracted day, but some cracking finals justified the wait. Despite the lower entry numbers the Supercars were as entertaining as ever, however with numerous battles throughout the field, the Super Nationals proved the highlight of the days racing. With several drivers still still getting to grips with new machinery and Tristan Ovenden yet to finish an event, I expect the class is going to continue to deliver this year!
Want to see more of the British Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill? Click here for a full image gallery.