Club100 Sprint Championships 2017 Review of the Year.
What a great year of racing. Firstly, thanks to all those who have helped to make it so memorable, the unsung heroes, the race engineers who keep the Karts in top notch condition, the Kart testers, the medical teams, race officials and all at the Club who deliver such an outstanding experience across the Championships. I hope everyone forgives me but for reasons largely to do with time for the purpose of the review I’ve concentrated on overall positions and stats based purely on the results in the A finals. Elite Reigning Heavyweight Champion Joe Holmes didn’t look like a Champion in the making over the first two rounds with two fifth place finishes and a fastest lap at round two to show for his efforts. The pace was certainly there but he looked distinctly ragged at times. Round three though was his breakthrough round. Starting on the front row alongside Steve Brown he initially dropped to third behind Ian Blake before fighting past and chasing down the leader. The two of them changed places a couple of times before Joe got the better of Steve on the final lap. It was a big, big, win. Suddenly there was a spring in his step. He took second at the next round before winning again at Ellough after a great battle with Dan Healey and then followed that up with a third and then another win to head the Championship. Then his run of form stalled with a fifth place at Clay. Fortunately the round was won by a returning James Small so his Championship aspirations weren’t too badly hindered. Red Lodge saw him sixth as Jonathan Lisseter took his only podium of the season. And it was a win, albeit somewhat fortuitous as Dan Healey lost a certain win after breaking a chain. The last three rounds however were all about Joe as he simply blitzed the opposition taking two poles and three consecutive wins to wrap up the title in style. I thought he performed brilliantly over the last three rounds. After his wobble he knuckled back down, focused and delivered driving clean and fair. A very worthy Champion. The ever smiling Ian Blake took second in the Championship but he had to wait till the final round to clinch it. Like Joe he was on the podium eight times throughout the season, taking two wins and five runner up spots as well as three poles, one more than any other driver. And just one fastest race lap which was on a par with the rest of the grid as only two drivers, Steve Brown and Dan Healey, had two to their name. He came into the season with a point to prove and he delivered. Eight podiums is testament to a great, consistent level of performance. In any other season it would have won him the title. Reigning Elite Champion Steve Brown looked as though he was going to walk away with the Elite crown again. Having won the final round in 2016 he started where he left off taking the first two rounds to establish a comfortable overall lead. But he flattered to deceive and would not stand on top of the podium again all season. But he remained in the hunt right to the very end. His form dipped badly however after his opening two wins and the next seven rounds would bring just two poles, a second and a third before a late season resurgence saw him take two seconds and a third in the final three rounds. Steve always looks very relaxed in a Kart but I thought over the mid season races he looked a little tense at times. Over the last few rounds he was back to his old self, no doubt buoyed by a brilliant performance in a one off BirelArt drive which saw him come very close to seriously embarrassing the established front runners, but by that time he was playing catch up in the standings. Still, third place in the Championship is no disgrace. Brandon Williams took fourth spot after a consistent season. The ex-Easykarter was always in the hunt at most rounds but had to wait till round nine at Red Lodge to take a podium. He then followed this up with another third at Whilton. Dan Healey took fifth after a season of ups and downs. He took just one podium, a second place after a great battle with Holmes at Ellough and one pole. He was leading by a country mile at Red Lodge when the chain snapped. Cruel luck but he threw away a podium at Bayford with an ill judged last corner lunge on Daz Teal which saw him cross the line second but penalised off the podium. He did however have two fastest laps to his name. Of the rest Ray Norris took second at the first round and fastest lap at round six but his was a truncated Campaign. Jack Harding had three third place finishes and a fastest lap but his season came to a premature end after an unfortunate non racing injury. Jay Elliott started the season as one of the favourites but two poles and two third place finishes were all he had to show for his efforts. James Small returned for just one round and swept all before him, taking pole, win and fastest lap at a damp Clay. Pete O’Connor was never far off the pace but one podium for third at Clay was all he could muster whilst Daz Teal didn’t seem to get going until the season was nearly over taking second at Red Lodge. He then missed a round to go marathon running (to be fair it was a worthy cause!) before returning at Bayford where he was punted out of a certain second place at the final corner. He missed the final round after being injured in the Endurance round at Buckmore. It was a disappointment to see the numbers in the Elites fall away towards the end of the season prompting a re-think for 2018. Arguably if you win in the Elites you can rightfully claim to be one of the top Kart racers in the country. It’s just pure racing after all with equal equipment. You can have all the money in the world but if you haven’t got the talent you won’t win. Clubman Class After the first two rounds no one was looking in the direction of Harry Neale to take the Championship. Shaun Hollingsworth took the first round with Justin Buck winning at round two and James Taylor, Jack Bolton and Pietro Pagano running high in the standings. But then Harry got into his stride. The next nine rounds brought seven wins and second place behind a resurgent Pietro Pagano at Ellough. The other round Harry missed altogether. He also managed a couple of poles and fastest laps too. Dominant doesn’t do him justice. Second in the Championship went to Jack Bolton. He had to wait until the final round at Buckmore to take a win and confirm runner up spot. Two seconds and two thirds though were just reward for some hard driving. Rob Moore took third and was in the running for second for most of the season having set off with a podium at the first round. His was a consistent season and third place was just reward after some hard work over the close season. He also took a pole and fastest lap. A win can’t be far off. Pietro Pagano started the season as one of the favourites and he, like Jack, was on the podium five times with one win, two seconds and two thirds. A good effort but I can’t help feeling he underperformed this year. He also had a couple of fastest laps to his name too. No driver had more with only Harry and Chris Dixon equalling him Chris Dixon took fifth. He had a purple patch mid season with a couple of poles and a third and a second place. Another consistent runner. With Harry so dominant it was perhaps not a vintage Clubman’s season but there was some great racing nevertheless with several drivers looking like they might just breakthrough in 2018. Lightweight Class Darri Simms took the first round in some style at Buckmore winning both the pre-final and final with relative ease. And he remained at the top of the standings throughout the year. That stat makes his Championship win sound easy but it was far from it and by the end of the season he had to dig really deep to hold off a concerted challenge from Liam Cochrane. Darri took three final wins and two second places but he scored well in qualifying, heats and pre finals to keep racking up the points. Liam missed the first round, scored poorly at round two and then missed the next two rounds before returning to take pole at Ellough. He couldn’t convert it to a win however finishing second behind Darri. Over the next four rounds though he was spectacular taking two wins and two seconds whilst Darri could only muster one win and a second. Suddenly he was looking over his shoulder. It’s true to say that luck wasn’t running his way. He was taken out at both Whilton rounds and was also having to cope mentally after personal tragedy which has already been well documented and made racing pale into insignificance. Liam’s run of form ended at Whilton but he still scored valuable points as Darri parked up having been punted off and Chris bell also dropped out having been taken out by Sammy Venables. At the penultimate round Liam took another win with Darri fourth and as they arrived at Buckmore for the showdown either of them could still win it. A nervous time for both. Darri qualified second for the pre A final with Liam down in seventh but it was Jon Watkins who took the win with Darri in his wheel tracks only to be docked a place for cone abuse to be classified third one place ahead of Liam in fourth. But he too suffered a post race penalty dropping two places for exceeding track limits. And suddenly everyone realised that no matter what the result in the Final Darri couldn’t be caught. A dramatic end but Liam quickly put it behind him and took the win in the final, his fourth of the season. He missed out by just nine points. One can only speculate what might have been had he competed in more rounds but second place was a fine effort. But Darri truly deserved the title. Chris Bell took third and up until round ten was in with a real shout at the title before as previously mentioned he fell foul of a speculative move at Whilton which saw him slip out of contention. He too missed the opening round but had a third and a second in the next two rounds before taking a win at Lydd and a second at Red Lodge. He finished with a third at the final round behind Liam and Darri which gave the result a certain symmetry. As he said, he would have taken third in the Championship at the beginning of the year. One to watch. Another to watch is Sammy Venables. He is quick. Yes, he overdrove at times and was a little impetuous which brought him a degree of critisism in some quarters but two poles, a win and a second in his maiden season was a good effort. And he was always in the mix at every round apart from the two he missed. He also had two fastest laps to his credit, one more than anyone other than Chris Bell who racked up three. Jon Watkins took fifth. He too had a win and took second on the podium at the second Whilton. He had a couple of pre Final wins too but never quite seemed to make it in the finals. For all that though he ran Sammy close and could so easily have been fourth. Fifth though was still a very good effort. There were others who impressed in the lights. Chris Woodger took a win and a pole and was always competitive as were Freddie Fincham, Bobby Dawes and Ben Atkinson. Heavyweights and Super Heavyweights Classes Championship finales don’t get more exciting than this one for the Heavyweights. With just one lap left to run of the season Mark Ridout was in a Championship winning position. By the end of the lap he’d lost out as Adam Wright passed Andrew Dawson in the hairpins to claim the crown by just a single point. And in so doing became the first driver to win a Club 100 title without finishing on the top step at a single round. But that should not detract from a fine effort. He was third three times and second three times but he kept racking up the points to always be in contention without ever heading the standings until it mattered. He also set the fastest lap five times. More than any other driver in any of the other classes. With three rounds to go most people in the paddock thought Mark Ridout was going to ease away from the other contenders and take the title with ease. He’d had two wins plus a second and third but was a consistent front runner but after winning round nine at Red Lodge his form dipped and he didn’t trouble the podium again. Too many mistakes. I don’t think James Browning would argue with that assessment. Two wins, three seconds and a third plus three poles and two fastest laps. After finishing second at Red Lodge he felt that the top three on the day, Mark, himself and Adam would finish that way in the Championship. Yet he fought back brilliantly to take the win at Whilton and keep his hopes alive. But defeat at round five at Ellough proved to be a defining moment. Leading the last lap he spun under pressure from Mark at the final hairpin. At Buckmore he spun in the pre-a Final again costing himself vital points. Still, I think he can still count this as a successful campaign. Tim Hill finished fourth. He had only one podium to show for efforts and a pre final win but was his usual feisty self all season. Sometimes he gets a touch carried away but to still have that passion and drive when you’re heading towards collecting your bus pass can only be admired. A top competitor and a top bloke. Andrew Dawson took fifth and he had a win to his name too. A good season where more often than not he was running near the front. Of the remaining drivers Steve Bosley caught the eye with two wins but lacked consistency. Mike Bodnar took a hugely popular win at a damp Clay whilst James Hattersley took the spoils at Lydd in what was a one off drive after dropping from the Elites. He would complete the season in the Clubmans. JJ Aiston took the first round on his only appearance with Stuart Jones taking the win at the final round. And let’s not forget Mathew Forkes who arguably put in the performance of the season at the penultimate round. He was simply in a class of his own at Bayford. Nick Trafford took the Superheavyweight crown. He was good enough to mix it with the Heavyweights too on occasion but was nigh on untouchable in his class taking seven wins. Pete Gillet, James Johnstone, Paul Goddard, Andrew Clarke and Stuart Germon all took a win each. Stuart joined the series at round seven. He immediately felt that the Superheavyweights were getting a raw deal in terms of exposure and I can’t disagree with that assessment as I’m as guilty as anyone. Part of the problem is a tendency to focus on the front due to time constraints but it is something I intend to rectify for next season. Stuart decided to sponsor the final few round through his Essexflatpack company. A great initiative this and very welcome. Club 100 Driver of the Year Great champions all but who is my Club 100 Driver of the Year? I can make a case for all of the Champions. A very focused Joe Holmes? Darri Simms for overcoming everything thrown at him both on and off the track? Harry Neale, who should possibly have been in Elites? Adam Wright for his sheer grit? There is an old football saying that runs along the lines of you can only beat what’s put in front of you. I mean no disrespect to rest of the Clubman’s field but Harry Neale did that in some style with his seven wins. For that reason he is my Club 100 driver of 2017. Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! Words: Steve Gray Photography: Jack Mitchell, JAM Motorsport Photography