Jack O’Neill Double, Andy O’Neill Cabaret, Greg Barnard’s Championship Lead
So as you recall, SuperGT Brown said of the Enduro 60 race, “It rained 10mins after our race finished”, which ought to have negated any advantage the O’Neill brothers had gleaned from the kart and track combination. But they would both be the benchmark to beat. There is some gossip that this reporter is a Titan Motorsport fan boy based on the experience of one exceptional weekend in Spa a few years, but I actually thought it was strength as a team, but as the absent Owen Jenman remarked, “Haha, I’ll pass your comments onto the ruthless/pragmatic professional brains of the outfit”, hinting that it might not all be quite as I thought it was.
There was more than could be gleaned from a timing screen, Clay Pigeon’s micro climate has a well deserved reputation, that long preceded this event, and Saturday afternoon was not just wet, oh no, Greg Barnard, “It was very changeable throughout combined with raising and lowering of the fog bank from lap to lap providing some unique challenges!” No pirates or sighting of Jamie Lee Curtis (ask your parents) but races have been called off here before by fog.
I’m told this is the O’Neill’s “home” circuit or can certainly be treated as such, so it would be no surprise to see them ‘fast’ out of pitlane and leading the times, with Sam Hampshire, then Fraser Brunton, Adrian Richardson, and it would be Jack O’Neill leading with the only sub 53secs time into qualifying. Jack took it down to 52.5 where it stayed, only his brother could get under 53secs, Sam Hampshire came through the gloom to be one of the few under 54secs to line up on row 2 with Barnard, Ben Leslie, Stephen Westwood on row 3, Fraser Brunton, Chris Powell had been unable to move his first qualifying lap any further, and seen others edge by, Cameron Noble and Nik Hoyle scored a late one to get back into the top ten, when he’d started strongly.
It’s hard to underestimate their pace here, Greg again, “[they] knew exactly where to find the grip from the word go”, 3rd through 14th, Hussain Rashid, were covered by 0.8secs, Jack O’Neill was 1.3secs clear in front, with Andy 0.4 behind.
You’d have to catch them off the start, and get amongst them, would be a good idea, and perhaps that was Barnard’s plan, but in getting by Hampshire from row 2, at the chicane, “they were already building a gap!” Westwood had also got by Sam, but it was Jack & Andy by 2 secs, when the field returned to the timing line. Not only did they have the numbers but they were co-operating while behind Hampshire, Westwood argued over 4th, Noble, Hoyle. Richardson and Brunton had moved forward at the expense of Leslie, and particularly of Powell and Ryan Sandall, the latter had started 11th but was touring around off the back of the field. And what else could Barnard tell us? “Absolutely rapid and switched on from the get go, Jack appeared to have a slight edge,” but in a class of their own, Greg was being dropped at 0.5-1.0 per lap in 3rd, but while he was pulling clear of Hampshire at half a second himself. Sam was edging clear of Westwood as Brunton came through to take just over the 10min mark. The main battle, the pack, started with Chris Powell coming back through the field and fighting over 8th with Richardson and Hoyle.
By half distance Powell had made 8th his own, and Rashid had replaced Hoyle in 10th, Hussain was 35secs off the lead, with 17laps in the books, that was 2secs a lap Jack O’Neill had pulled clear of the main midfield, Andy 5secs off, Barnard had started to find enough to peg Andy at just 6secs, 12secs behind Hampshire had been caught by Fraser Brunton, Westwood was holding Cameron Noble off for 6th. Jack O’Neill was cruising, not easing off his low 52 pace even in lapped traffic but he was already working through in the midfield.
Now so far you could be forgiven for thinking this is just another Titan Motorsport fanzine article, although to be fair, what can one say? There is hope, slim, between Bob and No, remember that ‘brains’ reference from the absent Jenman, that puzzled me when I saw it. Barnard again “Andy picked up overtaking under yellow penalty, I guess Jack saw it come up on the digi board, or got a message from the sidelines, and very cleverly gradually started slowing down. I presumed to gift his brother the win to offset [a little] his penalty but comically either Andy didn’t realise what Jack was trying to do,” or ever the dutiful wingman he didn’t want the lead like that. “I could see them stumbling over each, which allowed me to close in from 15 to 6secs over the last 7 laps”. Or were they just messing about?
Andy briefly took the lead officially with a lap to go, but it was Jack’s race, 5th or 6th on the grid for race 2 made no odds would make no odds to Andy. Jack O’Neill took his 2nd win of the season at the head of the field, though ‘head of the field is misleading, the field began with Brunton 22secs behind (which allowing for the messing about should have been over 30secs). Barnard could console himself, promoted to 2nd by Andy O’Neill’s penalty, and with Titan team mate Jenman’s absence to the head of the championship. Sam Hampshire became 4th just behind, Chris Powell with his innate talent for bad luck, or getting involved in something he comes off badly from, had worked his way back to 5th, O’Neill was slotted into 6th, Cameron Noble, an excellent run from Hussain Rashid to 8th, Nik Hoyle, and Euan Clements was placed 10th as the last kart on the lead lap, as Westwood and Richardson were demoted from the top ten by penalty infractions.
And it was all so different in race 2. Well… Only slightly. Conditions had not changed, and Jack O’Neill was off to another fast start, helped in no small part to Fraser Brunton swapping 2nd place back and forth with Barnard off grid 2. Everyone was expecting Andy O’Neill to be moving forward rapidly and on lap 2, in the aquatic challenge, Andy did indeed pass Chris Powell, Fraser Brunton going the other way, after Fraser had tried to go up the inside of Barnard on the main drag to turn one, where there isn’t necessarily grip and slithered off to the grass, and O’Neill also passed Hampshire, but then “I hit standing water and did a 720 degree spin on to the 1st corner kerb. I didn’t hit anything so kept going, but it would take 10minutes to work my way back [from 9th] up to 2nd. My kart had great pace”, reported O’Neill.
Barnard held the other O’Neill out front at 3.5secs, for a while, until Jack put in a quick one again, and Greg was again pulling clear of Sam Hampshire, who in turn was under pressure from a recovering Brunton, gap to Powell, about to lose 5th place to the mercurial O’Neill. Who, by the 10min mark, was back to 3rd, and the fastest driver on circuit, if he just stop making mistakes. Again at around a 1-2secs a lap quicker, Andy had run down Greg Barnard within a few laps to go through to 2nd, and that you would think, perhaps except for some previously unseen sibling rivalry, would be that for the win, wouldn’t you?
No. Andy O’Neill again, “I went outside of a back marker on the back straight, that a blue flag had been waved for them and they expected me to be inside and I was run off the road half way down straight on the outside and as the grass was wet I pirouetted face first into the tyres. After pulling it out and back to the track wet grass I was 12th.” It was half distance. Jack O’Neill had built up a 15secs lead over Barnard, while his brother swung back and forth through the top ten, it must have been dispiriting to see him fly by, fall off, fly by and fall off again. It was not like Jack needed the help. Hampshire busied himself holding off Brunton and Powell for 4th, Hoyle had made 6th his own, Rashid was showing well in 7th but Adrian Richardson, Cameron Noble, Stephen Westwood and Ryan Sandall were close, and then there was that Andy O’Neill, with pace to burn, as well.
Hampshire edged away from Brunton dicing with Powell, and into a clear 3rd place he’d hold to the finish but only because Andy O’Neill had made swift work of everyone to pass Rashid for 7th and closed on Richardson, and was coming up fast.
Into the last 5mins there were only a couple of questions left, could Hampshire hold off Brunton who had seen off Powell, and had just been passed by O’Neill for 5th, or could Andy grab 3rd? After all Hampshire was only 6secs up the road. Fraser Brunton prevented a podium finish for O’Neill by fighting hard to retake O’Neill for 4th, temporarily, long enough for Sam to get through to the finish on the podium for race 2, Andy again, “[Fraser] defended and raced me hard in the last few laps, making a couple of questionable (edit) moves up the inside to keep it close, but fair and fun. But I finally passed him after he tried to out brake me at the hairpin and he went wide.” His take on his race, “All in all, the most flamboyant 4th place of my life”, although there are others running it close I understand, who’d want to be be his team mate for that? It meant Hampshire had his first round podium to add to his 2nd place race finish at Shenington. While the cabaret had been on Jack O’Neill had taken his 2nd win of the event, his 3rd win in 4 starts, 26secs behind Barnard had another 2nd place to cement his lead at 11 points, over Brunton, a further 9 points over Powell finishing 6th. The biggest mover in the race, finishing off his recovery after dropping to the tail of the field early in race 1 was Ryan Sandall finishing 7th from grid 21 in race 2. Demonstrating how important finishing well in race 1 is to a race 2 finish, and to the haul of points from the round, something Barnard has clocked. Adrian Richardson, Hussain Rashid and Cameron Noble rounded out the top ten.
Greg Barnard summed up the problem, “I’m keen to make it as hard as possible for Jack, but the Titan combination of Jack, Andrew and Owen at alternating events makes it a big challenge. Owen Jenman wasn’t here today but with dropped rounds he will come back into the fray.” They have the numbers, and speed, at Clay. But if Barnard is correct and Clay is their “home” circuit then he’s seen it off. Now let’s see about Buckmore Park and who’s “home” that is.
WORDS: Chris Simpson
LIBRARY PHOTOGRAPHY: John Patterson