Jack O’Neill Keeps His Head in an Incredibly Tense Finale

May 19, 2021
Steve Gray

After the deluge on Saturday the expectancy was of a wet round at Whilton but the day dawned nice and bright if unseasonably cool. But as the country comes out of the grip of the pandemic it’s great to get back to racing. Hopefully it won’t be long before we all back to normal. In the meantime the racing is keeping us all sane. Here’s how the day unfolded.

The Road to the Finals

Alisdair Irvine started Heat One from row three but by the end of the second lap he was at the front with poleman Andrew Ward sitting in his wake. And they ran that way right to the flag with Christopher Powell third just holding off Bailey Morgan at the flag by 0.074. James Martin grabbed fifth from Matt Collier on the final lap.

Heat Two produced a fantastic battle for the win between the top six drivers which eventually went the way of Peter Knight. At times it got a bit hairy with Jonah Barker airborne at one point through Ashby. But although the racing was hard, it was always fair. Daz Teal claimed second and never ran outside the top two but he had to give best to Knight who also set the fastest lap. Dan Seager was third from Barker and Dan Healey.

Jack O’Neill opened his account for the day with a comfortable win in the third heat finishing over six seconds clear of Pietro Pagano. Good to see Pietro back and on form as he held off Mike Coppin who crossed the line third but was demoted four places after a penalty and handing third to Reece Pope. Hussain Rashid was fourth with Aaron Stillwell fifth. Chris Alcock managed to lose ten places to penalties. Unlike him.

Heat Four went to Ashley White who started from pole but fell to second behind Jason Bradbury after a couple of laps before re-taking the lead two from home. Bradbury lost out on the final lap dropping to fourth behind Rhianna Purcocks, up from grid nine and James Wattis, up from grid twelve. Adrian Mertens was fifth.

Josh Adams claimed a fine win in the fifth heat. Starting from the third row he was up to second behind Dan Healey after the first tour. These two were already pulling clear of the chasing pack and in a class of their own. Adams took over at the front after three laps and thereafter held his more experienced rival at bay to cross the line a Kart length clear. Poleman Adam Wheeldon was third. Making amends for his exclusion for being underweight in his first heat with Chris Alcock fourth after working his way up the order cleanly from grid ten. Andrew Ward took fifth.

The threatened rain finally arrived just before the start of Heat Six causing the inevitable chaos as drivers struggled to adjust to the new conditions. James Wattis started from pole but it was Jack O’Neill who led across the line at the end of the first lap. He was never headed taking his second comfortable win of the day with Daz Teal second after starting beside O’Neill on the third row. Wattis drove a sensible race to take third well clear of fourth placed Peter Knight and fifth placed Dan Seager.

Mike Coppin took a fine win in Heat Seven leading from lights to flag and setting fastest lap in the process on the still wet track. Rhianna Purcocks was second with Hussain Rashid well back in third in what was a somewhat processional heat. Adrian Mertens claimed fourth courtesy of a last lap pass on Archie Hobson.

As the drivers came out for Heat Eight the rain had stopped and the track began to dry but it was still very slippery in places. Ed Barrs needed a good result and delivered it leading the field at the end of the first lap and never being headed. Steve Hicks kept him honest though and looked to be heading for second before Ashley White moved up two places on the final lap. But it was in vain. He suffered a four place penalty dropping to sixth and handing second back to Hicks. Callum Brewell was third from Christopher Powell and Stef Theodorou.

The track had dried out as the drivers came out for Heat Nine but the rain clouds still threatened.   Chris Alcock led after the opening lap and quickly opened up a sizeable gap as the rest of the pack sorted itself out. Two laps in and he was almost three seconds clear but Healey quickly closed in along with O’Neill Coppin and Teal. Penultimate lap and Alcock still led but Healey went by up the hill taking O’Neill with him. Two corners later and Coppin and Teal had also made it by. And that was how it finished. Healey, O’Neill, Coppin, Teal and Alcock the top five.

Heat Ten resulted in a comfortable win for Steve Hicks. After starting from the second row he was at the front two laps in and never threatened. Dan Seager came home second with third going to Josh Adams who made up three places on the final lap. Oscar Lancaster and Hussain Rashid completed the top five.

Rhianna Purcocks took the penultimate heat. Starting from grid nine she had to work her way through the field before taking early leader Darri Simms three from home. Simms hung on to second a few lengths clear of Callum Brewell with Garrett Berry fourth from James Martin.

The final heat resulted in a second win of the day for Ed Barrs. A fine drive too after working his way up from grid eight. Peter Knight came home second. He’d started on the second row but was down to sixth at one point before climbing back up the order. Alisdair Irvine took third with Jonah Barker fourth after a last lap pass on Daniel Cohen.

The Finals

C Final

Ami Breacher on pole with C2 driver Ramunas Cerkauskas alongside. Two more C2’S on the second row, Jed Toole and Keith Segal followed by a third C2 driver Josh Halloran and Bryn Alban. Row four saw C2 driver Martin Auger alongside Dean Everest. Andrew Bushell and Finn Pharoah were on row five. Row six had Russell Cooper alongside Jagjeet Singh followed by Alex Brandham and Peter Sharpe. The penultimate C2 entrant was Adam Wheeldon, paying heavily for his exclusion for being underweight in his first heat. An honest, if daft, error. He was on row eight with David Hamer. The last of the C2 runners was Tony Philbin, sharing row nine with James Dunnett. Tim Clark and Matt Hugo shared the tenth row with James Browning and Luke Dunnett occupying row eleven. Bartek Baranowski and Mathew Cliffe were on the tenth row with the penultimate row shared by Sam Morris and Ross O’Brien whilst Simon Sharpe and Liam Rogers completed the field. Top four to qualify for the B Final and a trophy for the winner.

The track was by now fully dry but rain still threatened. Breacher led the field away with Toole slotting into second. A great start too from the largely inexperienced field with just a single spinner. Heavies please note. Breacher continued to lead with Toole right on her rear bumper and Cerkauskas third. Segal was fourth but a little way back from the leaders and coming under pressure from Halloran and Alban. Alban then got all crossed up heading into Ashby and spun onto the grass. A few drops of rain then spattered the windows of my vantage point but would it be significant? Certainly the leader appeared a little circumspect as she began the third tour. Toole was unfazed and moved alongside as they went up the hill into Christmas. Clean as you like he was through whilst behind Halloran overcame Segal’s stout defence to move into fourth. 

Toole and Breacher continued to circulate but they weren’t getting away from the chasing pack. Cerkauskas remained just a few lengths back with Halloran still fourth. Everest was up to fifth but was carrying a four place penalty putting him out of the running. And the leaders were now beginning to come up against the back markers. Mid race and the top four were running clear and safe in the qualifying spots. However Breacher kept nibbling away at the leader. Was she lining up to pass?  Risky, but a trophy was at stake. As the laps wound down Toole and Breacher began to ease away at the front. The lapped Alban was running with them just a Kart length back but not interfering in any way with their race. Likewise he kept an eye out for those running behind him so as not to spoil their races. Clearly he had some pace and was using his track time to learn. Sensible fellow. Wheeldon was making steady progress up the order but looked to be too far back to qualify. But he was looking quick and tidy. 

Three from home and Breacher nipped by Toole for the lead whilst Wheeldon moved into sixth at the expense of Segal. Despite setting fastest lap on the penultimate lap he was too far back. Last lap and Breacher led but Toole was coming back at her. Down into Ashby he pulled alongside and they went through side by side. Toole played fair and gave Breacher room and she pulled ahead through Wilkins. Down the hill and Toole went for the inside and took the lead back as they headed onto the back straight. But Toole had compromised his line and Breacher pulled alongside as they entered The Boot. All of which had allowed Cerkauskas to close in. Breacher led round the Boot and Cerkauskas got the better line out of the complex moving by Toole at the last corner. Great clean racing. 

C Final Winner – Ami Breacher

A first win for Breacher after an excellent drive from Cerkauskas, Toole and Halloran. Everest was next across the line but his penalty dropped him to ninth and promoted Wheeldon to fifth. Auger was next from Cooper and Segal with Luke Dunnett tenth. Alban set the fastest lap in C3. But for his spin he would surely have been a factor.

B Final

(All drivers are in C2 unless otherwise noted)

Andrew Rabbage on pole with Darri Simms alongside with Archie Robson and C1 entrant Chris Alcock alongside. Next up, Oscar Lancaster with C1 Jason Bradbury alongside. Thomas Barrett shared row four with Bailey Morgan whilst row five saw Cameron Moss alongside C1 Tom Dix. Row six was occupied by Matt Collier and Stephen Westwood with Daniel Cohen and Ned Douglas on seven and two C1’s Chris Woodger and Rob Langthorp sharing row eight. Dom Cliffe and C3 entrant Aaron Stillwell were on row nine with C3’s Samuel Essery and Rogeiro Mendes on row ten. C3’s Mathew Cockerham and Sean Glennon were on row eleven followed by the four qualifiers from the C Final, C3 Breacher, Cerkauskas, Toole and Halloran. Top two to qualify for the A final and a trophy for the winner.

And then the threatened rain returned to add a bit of drama.

Rabbage led the field away but Simms was braver through the first turns and led up the hill. Out front was the safest place to be as Barrett half spun but kept going. Round Christmas it was all a bit chaotic as drivers all tried to claim the same piece of track. By the end of the lap Simms was clear at the front from Rabbage with Bradbury up to third from Hobson. Cliffe was up to fifth from grid seventeen with Essery right behind having followed Cliffe up from grid nineteen. Good driving from them both. Alcock was down to seventh ahead of Dix, Lancaster and Langthorp who had also made up places quickly. Simms continued to lead whilst Bradbury was up to second ahead of Rabbage who was falling back and coming under pressure from Hobson. Alcock was getting his act together as was Dix. Essery slipped by Cliffe and was managing the conditions nicely. 

Three laps in and Simms was keeping out front with Bradbury still second whilst Alcock was the quickest man on the track and now up to third ahead of Hobson who had Dix closing in. Rabbage was falling away and coming under pressure from the impressive Essery.  Half distance and the rain had eased and the track was beginning to dry. Simms remained a second clear of Bradbury with Alcock just few Kart lengths back. Dix was next and beginning to close in on the fight for second whilst the rest of the pack was being dropped.

Five laps  to go  and the lap times were falling steadily. Simms still led whilst Alcock had deposed Bradbury for second. Dix made Bradbury’s afternoon worse as he nipped by for third. Down the order Woodger was making up places and looking on for a top six finish. Morgan was gone from the proceedings after Toole put him onto the grass as they turned into the first corner. Simms continued to lead but Alcock and Dix were right with him. Coming down the back straight for the eighth time they came upon a back marker. Simms was wary of him and although he led into the Boot Alcock had better traction and out dragged him out of the corner. Simms fought back up the hill and Dix went to the inside round Christmas causing Simms to have an arm waving moment as they sorted themselves out. But he remained second. Alcock managed to pull out a small gap as Simms and Dix squabbled whilst Bradbury was now out of the hunt running some three seconds back. Woodger was up to fifth ahead of Essery, Hobson, Lancaster and Rabbage. A lap later though Woodger was down to thirteenth. Penultimate lap and Dix pulled alongside Simms as they went up the hill. Both ran wide at Christmas but Dix had the better drive off the corner and moved up to second. Simms fought back but Dix held on. 

B Final Winner – Chris Alcock

Alcock claimed the win and the trophy with Dix second from Simms. Bradbury was next but he had a penalty for cone abuse dropping him to fifth. Essery was next over the line but contact penalty dropped him to ninth. Still enough though to take the C3 honours on the day. His penalty promoted Lancaster to fourth with Hobson sixth, Rabbage seventh, Cliffe eighth and Langthorp completing the top ten. Ami Breacher collected her second trophy of the day finishing fifteenth and second in C3 with Mathew Cockerham taking third after finishing eighteenth. Dix was the fastest C1 driver although his time was eclipsed by both the fastest C2 and C3 drivers, Toole and Glennon respectively.

A Final

(All drivers in C1 unless otherwise noted)

Jack O’Neill on pole with Rhianna Purcocks alongside and C2 Peter Knight sharing row two with Ed Barrs. Dan Healey and Daz Teal were on row three followed by Steve Hicks and Josh Adams. Next up C2 Dan Seager alongside Mike Coppin. C2’s Hussain Rashid was alongside Christopher Powell on row six followed by C2 Alisdair Irvine and Andrew Ward on row seven. Row eight had a brace of C2’s, Adrian Mertens and Jonah Barker with James Martin and C2 James Wattis on row nine. Pietro Pagano and C2 Callum Brewell were on row ten followed by Ashley White and C2 Garrett Berry. Two C2’s Stef Theodorou and Reece pope were on the penultimate row followed by the two qualifiers from the B Final, Alcock and Dix.

O’Neill was swiftest away from the lights whilst  Purcocks had a terrible start and found herself dropping down the order. Knight was up to second ahead of Healey with Hicks up to fourth after a blistering start. Teal was next but in trouble with the stewards after making contact with Purcocks. Barrs was down in seventh with Seager eighth. Irvine and Mertens were early spinners. O’Neill, Knight, Healey and Hicks continued to set the pace at the front whilst Purcocks was back up to fifth but a second and a half adrift. Teal and Barrs were next. O’Neill led the way whilst Healey put a move on Knight for second at the top of the hill. It didn’t come off and he lost momentum allowing Hicks to nip by. 

Purcocks had gathered herself together and was getting back up to speed and cutting the gap to the leading four. The battle for second allowed O’Neill some breathing space at the front. Fourth time around and Hicks got great drive up the hill slipping by Knight. Healey went by as well and then down into Ashby Purcocks got a run on Knight to take over in fourth. Once into second Hicks immediately began to cut the gap to O’Neill. Healey stayed with him content to be towed along by Hicks with Purcocks just a couple of Kart lengths adrift. Knight was staying with her whilst Barrs was edging closer and dropping the penalised Teal. Half distance and O’Neill was just under half a second clear from Hicks and Healey with Purcocks still fourth from Knight and Barrs. Top six covered by less than two seconds. 

Over the next couple of laps Hicks gradually cut the gap to O’Neill with Healey staying right on his bumper waiting to pounce. Purcocks had dropped away as she held off a resurgent Knight with Barrs still in the fight. For several laps the front runners circulated in formation but Hicks was gradually getting closer to the leader and bringing the pack with him. With four to go he was right on the leaders rear bumper as they went up the hill. O’Neill went defensive as they steamed down into Ashby forcing Hicks to go wider with Healey and allowing Purcocks to get closer. By the end of the lap the top six were nose to tail and covered by just eight tenths. Up the hill they all kept to the right with Purcocks darting out at the last moment and taking Healey round the outside of Christmas. Barrs nipped by Knight on the run into Ashby as they sorted themselves out. And so they battled on. 

Two to go and the top six were separated by seven tenths. Still O’Neill led but he was having to defend hard up the hill and down into Ashby compromising his pace. Up the hill for the penultimate time and they stayed to the right again. Hicks darted left and Healey did too taking Purcocks by surprise and nipping round the outside for third. Purcocks lost momentum and both Barrs and Knight slipped by. Healey had great momentum down the hill and went inside Hicks at Ashby. Hicks ran a little wide and Healey was through taking Barrs with him. Hicks lost momentum and by the end of the lap he was down to sixth and out of the hunt.  All the fighting at the front allowed the pack to close in and it was going to be a ten Kart train on the run to the flag. O’Neill defended one last time into Ashby forcing Healey to go wide. Barrs too went wide and Purcocks got half a Kart alongside. But it was not enough. 

O’Neill kept his head through the final turns to take his second win of the season with Healey just a tenth behind from Barrs, Purcocks and Knight. Hicks was sixth with Adams a superb seventh from Coppin. Teal was next but dropped out of the top ten after his penalty promoting Martin to ninth and Seager to tenth, the latter taking the C2 honours from Hussain Rashid, eleventh and Jonah Barker twelfth. Mike Coppin set the fastest lap of the race with Peter Knight the fastest C2 driver. What an incredible finale to a brilliant afternoons racing. 

Watch it all back here.

Championship Round Up

It’s early days of course but with two wins in the first two rounds Jack O’Neill is looking very strong. He really had to work hard at Whilton for the win but he rose to the occasion in magnificent style. Reigning Champion Ed Barrs and Dan Healey are tied on points behind O’Neill with Steve Hicks next from Daz Teal. And watch out for Mike Coppin. When he finds some consistency he will be a serious contender.

Class 2 podium – Peter Knight (centre), Dan Seager and Hussain Rashid

C2 is headed by Peter Knight who I think will take some beating. He’s always up at the sharp end and mixing it with the leading C1 runners. Alisdair Irvine lies second with Callum Brewell third.

Class 3 Winner – Sam Essery

First at the moment in C3 is Samuel Essery followed by Mathew Cockerham and Russell Cooper. This is a Championship which is shaping up nicely and it some point during the year we’ll be doing a special feature on the class.

Reflections

Whilst the Lightweights put on three great finals with some great driving the same could not be said of the Heavyweights. Way too many penalties at Whilton with drivers not showing enough respect to each other. I fielded a number of complaints regarding drivers failing to yield and trying to intimidate others. Not good to hear and not nice to see. Everybody wants to win but hopefully everyone wants to win fairly. Hope the heavies get their act together for the next round.

One last point regarding yellow flags. It was noticeable at Whilton when Sam Morris went off at the Boot the leading drivers were all raising their hands to acknowledge the waived yellow flag on the approach to the incident. (Although a check of the lap times showed they didn’t slow down). Those at the back of the pack were forgetting to raise their hands at all but in fairness they were in the main inexperienced drivers. The rule is, raise your hand and back off the throttle a little. It might be you one day that’s being rescued from the tyres and no one wants another Kart piling into the scene. 

Onwards to Planet Lydd! 

Words: Steve Gray

Photography: John Patterson

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