Is Jack O’Neill Chasing 3 Championships in 2021?!
Round 2, leg 2 of another Jack O’Neill weekender, and after a triple at Clay Pigeon (wins in Endurance, SP60 Lights and the Sunday Light Sprint), Jack O’Neill did it again! This time without the aid of a team mate for the Endurance. ‘Untouchable’ in the morning enduro, and unflappable in defence, in the Sunday Sprints, he qualified pole position and won both races in SP60, from the front, and he was never anything other than out in front, way out in front, by nearly half a minute each race. All Jack lacks is a cape and a good agent, this could be a special year him. He does have a press secretary, his dad Martin, “So another fantastic result and weekend from Jack following on from the same at Clay. [Titan team mate] Mike Philippou came away, happy with his performance [2nd and 3rd and enough for 2nd overall] with 2 great drives, albeit in different ways. It’s a shame, through illness, the other Titans [Owen Jenman and Andy O’Neill] were absent, they could have provided a challenge, making Jack’s job easier on the day. Roll on Lydd when battle can resume.” I’m not sure the rest of the field would quite share the sentiment, preferring to be given a look in here, Anthony Amato with a 9th, and 2nd in race 2, enough to squeeze by Stephen Westwood for the last step on the overall podium. It was good of Titan Motorsport to share some of the pots.
There was head scratching after Jack’s morning pace in the endurance race, but there was little doubt after the afternoon, nor indeed after Sunday afternoon, that in addition to Clay Pigeon being a favourite, we can now add Whilton Mill wet or dry to the list. Just how long might that list grow in 2021?
You’ll not be surprised to learn O’Neill finished 1.2 secs clear after practice, of another massive sold out 37 driver field, in another massive Club100 Racing weekend sell out. Jack helped by a couple of hours or so practice in the morning, for sure, fastest from Fraser Brunton and Philippou. When the session flipped to green for the 5min qualifying that ends the session, it was Jake Wilkins breaking the beam first with 79.2secs until Fraser Brunton 6 karts further back posted 76.3, which was 0.4secs off his practice fastest. Chris Powell moved into P2, but race control was looking for O’Neill, sure enough Jack hit 74.2secs with his first, 2secs quicker than Brunton. Stephen Westwood moved into P3, briefly before Anthony Amato shifted Brunton back to the 2nd row, just for a lap, only 1.7secs off O’Neill, with Philippou going P4, ahead of Ramunas Cerkauskas and Graziano Malvindi, then Westwood, Mac White, Nik Hoyle and Udi Menon in the top 10. Room for improvement, Brunton shot back with his 74.3 on his next lap, perhaps O’Neill might have to work for it after all. Chris Powell moved to 3rd just another 0.2 further back.
The next lap Philippou moved to the inside of row 2, well placed to assist his team mate through turn 1 for the start, if nothing else it would be reassuring, that a punt from behind was unlikely. Leo Stolyarov moved up to P6. The chequered flag was out, last laps to count, no improvement from Brunton, nor Powell on P4, O’Neill chipped another tenth off his time to post 74.11secs, a tenth he wouldn’t need. There was no change to the top 4, but David Joseph moved from P10 to inside of row 3, dislodging Amato from the spot and pushing Westwood, who had just taken Stolyarov’s 6th spot for on grid 6, off the 3rd row, and Cerkauskas also moved Stephen back to 8th. The top 10 made up by Stolyarov and Mac White.
That awkward grid 2, trying not to cross the line ahead of the poleman, but always frightened you’d miss the launch, when the poleman drops drops the hammer, or worse you oil up or bog down and get swamped. The difficult grid 2 struck again, Mike Philippou sliding through from grid 2, leaving Brunton to squabble with the pack over 3rd place, Chris Powell “I spent most of the first lap swapping places practically every corner with Fraser, which let Jack and Mike get away. So I decided we’d had our fun, and let Fraser do the work and close back in on Mike.” Philippou was half a second off O’Neill, but 2.5secs clear of Brunton, Powell, David Joseph and fast starting Mac White, Stephen Westwood, Anthony Amato, Leo Stolyarov and Ramunas Cerkauskas. Martin O’Neill again, “the first few laps Mike did his best to hold on to Jack, but with his metronomic laps [trademark pending – CS] from the leader the gap started to widen. From Jack’s perspective, from what I could see, barring a kart failure or incident, the race was already in his own hands. Mike’s race was more interesting, being caught by the 3rd place battle.”
The track had started drying in the 45min gap between the end of qualifying, the first heavyweight race, and the start of race, with lap times dropping to 1min and on to 56secs for the fast guys, with Brunton and Powell, co-operating, mostly on Chris’ part, Philippou had held steady the gap to them for 5 laps before his gap started to shrink while O’Neill was becoming a dot in the distance. Powell took up the chase and had the gap down to half a second by halfway. Behind this 3 way battle for 3rd, Amato was 3secs behind, then 12.5secs behind Westwood, another 5secs to White, Stolyarov and Malivindi. While the gaps had stretched the positions had been broadly static since lap 3.
The rain started again, Chris Powell, “It started to get damp again. Fraser got passed both of us, but then got crossed up amongst some back markers, had a half spin and that was the last I saw of him”, Brunton recovered quick enough, to stay 4th (oh the beauty of clutches, no waiting for pusher karts – CS) 2.5secs down on the battle for 2nd and still 2.5secs ahead of Amato. Philippou got his game face back on dropped Powell, as the lap times went back up to full wet again, and the race ran to a conclusion. By which time Jack O’Neill was 27.5secs clear, Philippou coasting the last few corners, allowing Powell back into 1.6secs behind, Brunton had blown away Amato as the conditions worsened to nearly 15secs, while Anthony had held Westwood at 5secs, healthy gaps to Mac White and a big one to Graziano Malivindi, as the last driver on the lead lap. But thats never the end of it, as there’s always penalties. Amato had a 4 place penalty for gaining a place by advantage (typically by contact – just saying CS), Malivindi had a +2 for spinning under yellow, amongst a lot of others to be fair, it moved Mac White up to 6th, David Cunningham 7th, Hussain Rashid to 8th, Amato and Malivindi made up the top 10.
Fifty minutes later the field returned, I wish I could tell you a different tale from race 1, but I can’t, or maybe I can add more colour, Martin O’Neill, “Mike’s tyre warming looks lovely, but reached an unrecoverable angle resulting in a spin (on grid 2) and facing the oncoming pack. A bit embarrassing really, but then starting at the back of the grid, gave him the chance of a great comeback drive.” Chris Powell, “I saw Mike spin during the roll up and knew he’d have to start at the back (I read the rules!). I knew the extra pace the top four of us had in the wet so I told myself, with Mike out of the way, to take it easy as a fairly easy podium was in reach. Little did I know an extra slippery patch of track lay waiting for me in the outside of turn 2 and despite recovering to the back of the field, [watching Mike flashing by] I got tangled up in an incident at Christmas just a couple of corners later. And that was basically my race over.”
Jack O’Neill emerged around the last corner with 1.4secs lead, on the track wet once more, and that would be as close as Fraser Brunton would ever be, O’Neill driving away from the field at around one second per lap, most laps, and sometimes a little more. Brunton fell off, a trip on the grass all by himself, on lap 4 while trying to hang on the leader, and made it 3 of the race 1 top 4 on recovery drives. Mac White briefly took over 2nd place, but Anthony Amato had started strongly on grid 9, to be chasing White, and he moved through to 2nd place himself the next lap. Trailing Anthony was Graziano Malivindi, moving passed Westwood. Everyone jumped up one with Brunton’s exit, Ramunas Cerkauskas looking to move passed Westwood for 5th, Leo Stolyarov, David Cunningham, Nik Hoyle and Zac Cuff made up the top 10.
By the end of lap 5, Philippou’s run from the back of the grid had reached, and replaced, Cuff in the top 10. He was 21secs behind the leader, a number that was academic, as O’Neill was a second faster than the field, but he was also only 13secs off 2nd place with only Amato in 2nd, along with O’Neill noticeably quicker. While O’Neill, Amato and Powell (34th) were in 75secs bracket, only Philippou, Gregg Crawford, 14th, Brunton 26th were in the 76secs range. Third place for Mike was on. Hoyle fell on lap 7, Cunningham on the next lap, Stolyarov and Cerkauskas on the following lap. It would take to half distance to catch and pass Stephen Westwood for P5. By then White and Malivindi were joined in battle over 3rd place, and were probably unaware of the rapid Titan closing quickly. Mike caught passed the pair 2 laps later. Anthony Amato was an altogether taller order 13.5secs up the road. In the conditions, in distance, it’s was equivalent of turn 1 to the top of the hill at Xmas. Not impossible but Anthony is no slouch and gap remained static to the finish.
With the top 3 effectively settled, the minor placings, Mac White faded away to 7th place, replaced in 4th by Graziano Malivindi, with Gregg Crawford continuing his rapid earlier pace to finish 5th on the road ahead of Cerkauskas, White and Westwood. But Crawford had picked up a +4 Positions, rule 15 (a) – Gaining single place advantage, so from the ladder he climbed he slithered down the penalty snake to 10th, David Cunningham and Iain McGregor also moving up one position each in the top ten, just in time with Fraser Brunton closing quickly in 11th place.
In terms of the event there’s really not a lot to say. Jack O’Neill. Philippou aside from his pre race 2 gaffe deserved 2nd place, as Brunton and Powell imploded, and Anthony Amato’s Race 2 2nd place was worthy of the final podium step and a trophy.
Championship Round Up? Jack O’Neill. That really is all there is.
Words: Chris Simpson
Photography: John Patterson