Jack O’Neill – Back to Back Wins, Edging Clear, of Greg Barnard.
It’s now 7 wins for the season to Barnard’s 2, and 5 of Jack’s wins saw Greg Barnard finish 2nd each time. It must feel like reaching for something off a high shelf, you can just finger tip touch it, but can’t get your hand around to really get any purchase on him, for Greg Barnard, “… we stuck together swapping positions a couple times but when the rain returned in the last few laps he stretched out a lead”. One might suggest Jack is slippery when wet, but not unbeatable, not ungraspable in the dry, “he had to go mega defensive on the last lap [of Race One].” Although result was the same, Race 2, was slightly different, Greg again, “I didn’t have the pace so Jack just drove away”, and such consistency from Greg would be championship winning, in any other year, but O’Neill is just doing it very slightly better. Still you’ve got to keep trying as it could all change.
O’Neill’s lead has expanded from 11 points to 17 points, Barnard goes to Rye House, clearly hoping for good weather and a pair of good karts. Mathematics will keep the title battle going to the last round, but Barnard needs to win and someone to get between the pair when he does, to take more points off O’Neill or else it will only be mathematics going into the last round. Fraser Brunton missed Whilton Mill, hopefully he will return, Barnard needs his help, and because he and Christopher Powell are joined 30+ points off the championship lead in the battle for 3rd in the championship. Getting faster Ryan Sandall leads a three cornered battle for 5th with Stephen Westwood and Cameron Noble a further 25 to 35 points off the lead, perhaps Ryan can get closer to the front to help Barnard’s cause, and perhaps join the battle for 3rd in the championship. There are a lot of laps to turn and opportunities to change this picture before the end of the season.
Wet qualifying is always a lottery, although a well timed tow on a fast circuit like Whilton Mill can be the same. When practice went green into qualifying, SP60 new comer James Corpe set the mark at 78.1secs but only just from Westwood and Gregg Crawford. But the next lap moved the mark down to what appear the pole position time of 76.852secs, Sandall moving on to the 3rd row, who would go quicker again. But when the chequered flag dropped Corpe was able to post another fast time and be the only driver to beat O’Neill with 76.843secs, or less than 1/100th of second. Christopher Powell posted 77.5 to go 3rd, Sandall’s time good for P4, Westwood and Crawford lined on row 3, Barnard, Cameron Noble, Kai Crawford and Toby Case making up the top ten of the sell out 36 kart grid.
After a false start that saw the front row get the jump on the field, doing more for the field’s track reconnaissance as it beginning to dry, indeed the sun breaking through from time to time to speed that process.
At the next green flag Corpe got the hole shot and O’Neill, Powell and Sandall lined up through the Oblivion complex. Corpe covered up to Xmas this time, only to run deep into Ashby and O’Neill led again. Off the drier line James was compromised, going narrower than he needed to be into into Chapmans for Chris Powell to go wide in, and beat him to the Boot. Sandall spectating behind was jumped by Cameron Noble having an epic start, going into it, to then straight line passed Corpe’s at the toe, before the trio had to take a break for the last corner. While Barnard running around the outside of Sandall went 5th. All of which gave O’Neill a 2.3secs head start.
Noble was not finished, harrying Powell all the way to Parker to drive a pass down into Chapmans, with Barnard picking off Corpe at the same time. Gregg Crawford dived in on Sandall on the damp track running him all the way out on to the grass with him on the exit, Westwood filling his boots to by the pair for 6th place so cheaply. O’Neill’s lead was up to over 3secs. A lap later Crawford ran wide off to the grass at Chapmans again, and Sandall was back in 6th but 3secs behind Corpe. O’Neill’s lead? 4secs, but lap times were steadily coming down as more of the track was drying. While Corpe had dropped off the battle for 2nd, with Powell moving to the head of it and Noble and Barnard diced, Corpe and Sandall closed back in, only for Barnard free himself of Noble. Leaving Sandall to slipped back and forth with Corpe and Noble over 4th place while dodging lapped traffic, frequent and erratic, with the track condition, and of course the accompanying yellow flags.
By the 10min mark, the track was only 5secs off dry pace, and treacherous perhaps because of it. O’Neill’s lead was pegged at 4secs but now by Barnard who had set off after Powell, picked his moment and struck. Behind Noble was 3.5secs down on Powell, running with Corpe and Sandall. Westwood had slid out to 5secs to bring through the main chasing pack containing Crawford, Daryl Snelling, Lewis Roberts and Kai Crawford 11th.
I can only assume a mistake from O’Neill or a really bad yellow flag (or rather a slow back marker through a yellow flag zone) wiped out his lead, just as Barnard set a new race fastest lap of 55.5secs, Jack clocked a near 59secs lap. The race for the win was on. Through half distance after spending a long time loooing for a clean pass Sandall placed his kart inside of Corpe going into the Boot, James had to yield, Ryan was 5th. The next lap battle was joined for the lead and Barnard was in front, only for Jack to take it back. But the sun had gone again, and it was beginning to look threatening from above.
With 8mins to go, the win was still up for grabs, Powell was heading for what looked like another 3rd place 6.5secs behind, with the battle for 4th very much on, with Sandall shadowing Cameron Noble looking for a mistake, while again, all the while, trying to lap back markers without losing time. Just to add to the mix it was spitting with rain again. Typically you continue to have grip on with the warm tyres still working chemically with the road surface, maybe you get a hint of what’s coming with a lairy corner, from the driver ahead of you, but more often than not you have grip as normal right up until you suddenly don’t!
Lap times dropped 10secs, the weather coming from turn 1, gave Sandall a shock, “I was stuck behind [Cameron] for a long time till the rain came, which i found out fully arrived at turn 1, losing both the back and front ends and only narrowly staying on the circuit.” Powell had been caught in cautious traffic at the same time, Noble dived into it and Ryan followed. A slightly chaotic run through Chapmans would give Ryan his chance, he went left, Cameron got boxed in on the right, Ryan was 4th, Powell was 3.5secs up the road. 15secs further up the road, the weather was playing it’s part again, Greg Barnard, was closing when the traffic or yellow flags played his way and losing when they did not.
It was of course the same for everyone, Powell could not get by Mac White a lap behind in 17th place one, Sandall closed, got the run off Chapmans (again) and went 3rd, 3 laps to go. The weather had changed again, grip was picking up and times were falling, as although it had precipitated enough to affect the track, it had only done just that then stopped. It was rapidly drying. On to the final lap Sandall had a 2secs advantage over Powell and once he cleared the latest backmarker on the run up to Xmas, he had a clear run to the finish and 3rd place. Behind Powell, Noble, Crawford, Corpe were spread out over 6secs, just needing to be careful on the last lap. They were. A further 15secs further back Stephen Westwood, Kai Crawford, Daryl Snelling and Lewis Roberts were spread over another 15secs as the 11 runners on the lead lap.
In the battle for the lead it was close, Barnard again, “I think we went over the line bumper to bumper as it began to dry and Jack had to go mega defensive on the last lap.” But O’Neill had it covered for win #6. There was a small matter of penalties, a list that was long. Many for knocking over cones, by the time they were finished, Powell and Sandall had swapped back to 3rd and 4th, Noble, Gregg Crawford, Stephen Westwood, Kai Crawford, Daryl Snelling and Euan Clements made up the top 10. James Corpe’s cone penalties demoted him to 11th.
Started in late afternoon sunshine, the track was dry, and would stay that way. Poleman O’Neill kept Barnard waiting on the run up to the start line, Jack went for it, the run to the first left so short, Greg dropped in on his bumper, the pair edging clear of the field, on their return to the timing line it was a few kart lengths, Sandall almost losing the tow in 3rd, with Gregg Crawford on his bumper, a few kart lengths to Noble, Powell, Westwood, Kai Crawford, Daryl Snelling and Euan Clements making up the top 10. The next run up to Xmas Barnard was ducking down behind the nassau panel and pulling his elbows but the slipstream was not carrying him back to O’Neill’s bumper, a scrappy turn into Chapmans, the 0.7secs suck zone was exceeded. The gap was 1secs at the end of lap 2, O’Neill was beyond Barnard’s reach.
Up the hill this time sans tow from O’Neill, Sandall drafted in to 0.3secs, and sat there, 1-3 kart lengths off for the next 20mins, Barnard “Ryan kept me honest all race through never more than 2 kart lengths off”, Sandall, “I was just sitting behind him, comfortable, waiting for the end of the race. I had a couple of goes but it was difficult to overtake clean”.
At the 10min mark, Crawford had fallen away from Barnard and Sandall by 5secs, and Gregg was coming under pressure from Powell, who had passed Westwood early on. Stephen was 1.5secs behind with Noble at a similar margin, gap to Clements, Roberts and Snelling. Chris Powell, as expected, made his move on Crawford for 4th, before half distance, to 10secs off the lead, and 5.5secs off Sandall ahead. Although Powell could not shake him and the pair would dice and exchange the position for the next 10mins.
Coming into the closing stages O’Neill’s lead was an unassailable 10secs, as the traffic increased so Sandall had begun to press looking for his clean pass on Barnard, he was still looking. But looking more and more likely. A further 1secs behind, Powell had finally broken clear of Gregg Crawford, Euan Clements had moved up passed Noble, then Westwood, to be towing Stephen with Noble around, Euan in an excellent 6th place. In range and moving up James Corpe was 9th but on the same pace as the Barnard and Sandall, and James would move through Nobel and Westwood into the last 4minutes. And that was that for the minor places.
The lower podium steps battle between Barnard, not getting on with his kart, and Sandall trying to pass cleanly to the finish, Greg driving to the very limit of the usable track, to carry as much momentum as possible, head on the swivel and being wary of a run by Ryan up the inside up to Xmas each lap. He had that covered. A mistake never came, Barnard’s kart positioning fairly astute, the traffic did not intervene to spoil it and a mature approach by the pair left it right there until the last lap or so. A run around the outside of Xmas, was ambitious, and seems to be reserved for the likes of SuperGT or Joe Holmes, Ryan tried twice. On to the last lap, Sandall passed on a lunge into Ashby, Gregg covered to the inside into the Boot, around the outside to attempt inside at the toe, would’ve been a desperate sprint move. And that was that. A shame Ryan had used the kerbs so much, “my penalties were when Greg and I were going through back markers” and monstrous last corner, he would penalised to 6th place. Chris Powell was back in 3rd again, Crawford, Clements, Sandall, Corpe, Westwood, Snelling and Noble, were the top ten. O’Neill took the round, Barnard and Powell the other trophies.
WORDS: Chris Simpson
PHOTOGRAPHY: John Patterson