In the Bag? Jack O’Neill on the Brink. It’s Just Maths Now.
A win in Race 1 and 2nd place in Race 2, in a rain hammered and shortened event has put Jack O’Neill into 24point lead in the 2020 Lightweight Sprint 60 at Rye House. While flash flooding across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire affected anyone trying to get to the venue (that would be me), once the worst had stopped the Sprint 60 had to be suspended to pump out the overwhelmed drains, the race distances shortened the event to more of a Sprint 40, and the late afternoon test session cancelled completely.
It appears a similar act of god would be needed to prevent O’Neill wrapping up the championship at Whilton Mill on December 5, although if another act of (more government than) god like power occurs to prevent the running of what would be the final round, after Buckmore Park was lost to the latest lockdown. It would require all rounds to count in the championship (not to heap more pressure on John Vigor) for Greg Barnard to win the championship, if no further rounds are held. This prospect has been advanced in the grand scheme of things by the Prime Minister, of all people with the announcement of a national lockdown later in the evening, that ultimately caused Round 9 at Buckmore Park on November 21 to be cancelled. And with it quite probably go Greg Barnard’s title aspirations, save for every round being counted, after the final round at Whilton Mill, but that would appear an unlikely rule change, and surely not the way anyone take a championship from a rival. The sincere hope must be we come out of lockdown on December 3, then 6, 7, or 8 of 9 rounds count and sees O’Neill more or less certain to retain his title when his lowest finish of 2020 is a 6th place. A brace of 10th places would see him home. Missing the previous Whilton Mill visit has made Fraser Brunton’s win in race 2, probably not enough to overhaul Greg Barnard for 2nd in the championship, although the 9 point deficit might make for a nervous Race 2 (worse if Race 1 doesn’t go well) back at Whilton Mill for Greg, but I expect that’s all. Christopher Powell as the 4th part of the class’ power quartet all season is safe in 4th place, a poor race 1 at Rye, sees him fall away, but he is 27points clear of Ryan Sandall, who only needs to finish close behind Stephen Westwood to make up the top 5. And there’s 5 championship trophies in any ‘normal’ year.
It had rained pretty miserably through the E60 trophy presentation, and practice started very wet, but times had come down from 67secs to Barnard’s 57.85secs as the session moved into qualifying, but when it mattered it was O’Neill hitting pole out of the gate, with 59.668secs, joined at the outset by Darren Teal, Pete O’Connor and Jordan Hill, who often as not used to come as a package known as Ministry of Speed. Christopher Powell moved into P5 after a couple of laps, before Teal improved his time to secure a front row start and Barnard moved in on to grid 3. Fraser Brunton was joined by Sandall on row 4, Justin Buck and Andrew Golby rounded out a top 10 in a 34 kart grid.
Or rather the first start, was through persistent rain and heavy standing water, particularly on the main straight and into the early Stadium apex, which would test the sense of anyone who was not a very keen kart racer. I’m not knocking Rye House, but the end of October, beginning of November… Nah not for me anymore. Still while the pace kart probably had better traction due to a pair of lawn mower engines over the rear axle, no one had a lot of grip. But on slick tyres that is part of the special Club100 fun. The field would fish tail and aquaplane in marginal conditions for 5 laps before so much standing water (also on exiting Stadium) brought out a red flag.
Off the 2nd start, in a race reduced to 20mins, O’Neill held the lead into and through Stadium holding off Teal on his outside, Brunton and Hill making strong starts with Sandall cutting from outside to inside around the first turn in the hope he could follow Brunton. When the all washed out going too deep into hairpin 1, Barnard grabbed the lead from Jordan Hill, O’Connor, Brunton, Teal, Sandall, a fast starting Mac White off grid 12, Buck and Cerkauskas. On to lap 2 O’Neill was back in front by hairpin 1. It was contrasting lines in the search for grip, mostly traction, and braking, but with survival about the only gain. Sandall slipped off the back of the group, the next lap Teal slipped to over a second off, Brunton was trying to find a way passed O’Connor as O’Neill, Barnard and Hill edged clear. Not surprisingly down in the midfield drivers were falling off, half spinning, getting going and dropping straight into the front runners, to break up the leading groups further. I heard Rye House described as Monaco-esque this weekend, and yes maybe. Although older readers know that Birmingham Wheels is the ‘Monaco’ of ‘the North’. Brooms and yellow flags were frequently employed. Hill moved passed Barnard for 2nd place on 6mins, O’Connor moving by the next lap, doubtless drawing on Spa deluge experience. At the head of the field O’Neill, perhaps benefiting from the clearest visor, was the only driver dipping consistently into the 57secs lap, O’Connor hanging on to Hill, Barnard falling back into Brunton.
By half distance O’Connor had moved into 2nd place, and perhaps the heaviest of the rain had passed although conditions were still heavy going. Brunton made his move to go 4th passed Barnard, to stay 2.5secs behind Hill. The rest of the field was spread fairly wide, Teal 6th 2.5secs behind Barnard, to a similar margin ahead of Sandall, Buck 7secs further back, White and Westwood working his way into the top 10, from here the pace 2-3secs off O’Neill’s pace, with the exception of Christopher Powell who was on something of a recovery drive, and back in the top 20.
Into the closing stages Brunton closed on to Hill, but not before, in the seesaw, of grip and traction, Barnard closed to pass Fraser for 5th, his championship slipping away, especially when Fraser returned to take it back on the last tour. Jack O’Neill controlled the race, while barely being in control of his kart, but barely is the winning edge, to run out 5secs clear from O’Connor, Jordan Hill fresh from penalties in the morning E60 added another 4 place penalty for advantage by contact to promote Brunton to 3rd, Barnard, Teal a distant 5th, Sandall, and Hill. Ramunas Cerkauskas had continued his race long battle with Stephen Westwood in a 4 cornered battle with Cameron Noble and Mac White. And thats how they finished.
Sadly I may have to reuse some of my wet metaphors for although there was some breaks in the cloud to blue sky for the second race, the autumnal chill and the late afternoon time of day, along with the spray, meant the water, much of it still standing, was only being moved around but not evaporated.
On the charge into Stadium, Pete O’Connor ran wide from grid 2, or was pushed wide, and came back into the field of play ahead of Sandall in 6th, meanwhile Teal off the inside of Ryan’s row had gone barrelling up the inside of Greg Barnard off grid 4 and Fraser Brunton off grid 3. By the time they’d exited hairpin 1 Sandall had lost out to Cerkauskas, Westwood and White, although the latter pair went deep into hairpin 2 to leave Ryan back in 7th place but a second down on Cerkauskas. Ahead of Ramunas, Brunton was neck and neck with O’Neill for the lead, Barnard, O’Connor and Teal were lined up behind.
O’Neill tried inside and outside through Stadium to wrest the lead from Brunton but he’d have it back later in the lap, it also offered up opportunities when passes didn’t work, with Barnard moving to 2nd place ahead O’Connor and O’Neill. Cerkauskas couldn’t live with the pace falling back into Sandall, Westwood and Noble, Ryan briefly passing him into hairpin 2 before being out dragged up to Pylon and falling off trying to stay ahead. He dropped to 14th.
By half distance, Brunton was in his flow, he’d pulled into a comfortable lead of 5secs, unhindered by dicing between Barnard holding off O’Connor and O’Neill. By then Teal had just slipped off the group. 10secs behind Noble and White battled over 6th, while Sandall had made rapid progress through Daryl Snelling, Christopher Powell, David Hamer, Joshua Sangster and Cerkauskas to be 8th again. You can get the positions back but you can’t regain the time. O’Neill moved by O’Connor and with Pete losing touch in the trio, it set up Jack to take his time and pick his moment pass for 2nd place. By then Brunton was 7.5secs up the road, and the top 4 was settled. 3secs behind Darren Teal was heading for 5th, 20secs further back Sandall was running down Mac White, although White was driving with a 4 place penalty, Ryan diving up the inside of hairpin 1 for 6th place in the closing minutes. And thats how it finished on the road. Cameron Noble was elevated to 7th, Christopher Powell, Daryl Snelling and Justin Buck rounded out the top ten, with Mac White classified in 11th.
On to Whilton Mill on December 5. Probably.
WORDS: Chris Simpson
PHOTOGRAPHY: John Patterson