One Mistake Leads to an O’Neill One-Two
The long trip to the south west for Round 2, and the second event of the month, still saw a healthy 27 on the grid for the new championship. Clay Pigeon weather wise is very Forrest Gump’s ‘box of chocolates’ it was wasn’t perfect but the event got in under the wire before Clay did, what with it’s strange micro climate sometimes does, and did to the afternoon Sprint 60.
The very first obvious change for position came even before digital check in with round 1 winner Max O’Shaughnessy and 2nd placed Oliver Allwood, the latter back to racing MX5’s the previous weekend at Snetterton, not appearing on the entry. This technically put Class B winner Alex Edwards into the lead of the championship as a whole as leader on the course, to use a confusing golfing analogy, but going into practice Murray Knott was the leading A Class runner. However I think for pace Tarik Almou was perhaps the main beneficiary and after having good pace at Shenington would have been my favourite to leave with Class A championship lead if he could only sort out his mid race race lube stop.
The competition would be stiff though with the Titan Motorsport body deploying 2 O’Neill limbs in their continued bid to monopolise Club100 Saturdays for the concern. Andy O’Neill would leave it late with the track taking a while wear off the very last of the moisture that was hanging around, to take pole with 40.809 taking it from (there’s a theme developing already) Jack O’Neill and Matt Wileman, the latter who’d also shown well in Oxfordshire the previous fortnight. Wileman had been one of the early qualifying pace setters when practice went green for qualifying, Jon Buck would line up on the 2nd row, Clive Morphett was leading Class B runner on P5 with Knott on the 3rd row, Stuart Kirk, JJ Aiston, the returning Steve Brown and Chris Lewis-Evans, a double barrelled surname I haven’t typed for a while rounding out the top 10. The Broadbent, who’s constantly being recommended on my YouTube feed, had recovered from his Friday’s ‘destroyed neck’ , to be on the 6th row with Matt Horgan. Darri Simms, Tim Hill, Jason Kirk, Bobby Dawes, Tarik Almou, Michael Ballinger all long on experience or pace at Clay Pigeon languished in the second half of the grid, B Class leader Edwards could only qualify 20th.
Sixty minutes of racing with a crucial chain lubing stop somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes, telepathy, team play but but it was Titan’s Andrew O’Neill leading brother Jack with Wileman looking to have that 2nd back at the end of lap 1, and thats where things get messy… And in retrospect possibly where the whole race was settled. Buck, Brown, his line had got a better start off the start, Simms and Horgan making most progress up to 6th and 7th, while further to come Almou and Edwards were moving swiftly into the top ten, up half a dozen places, that can only be done at Clay Pigeon at someone’s expense. Indeed, Jimmy ‘my neck has gone’ Broadbent had dropped it in the chicane on lap 1, forcing everyone to scatter in avoidance, Murray Knott, Clive Morphett, and Stuart Kirk came through off the back, at least two of those had been off at the following hairpin. And no the race wasn’t settling down, on lap 2 Jack O’Neill fell down the order, after coming to a halt Wileman was apportioned the blame for Jack’s off at the hairpin, described to me as a “punt” and this penalty completely changed the race, if a single penalty can, and assuming we could know what the race would’ve been in it’s penalty free counter factual. We don’t.
The penalty is not a time penalty, or a run through the pit lane or even a stop and go. It was a six place position drop on his finishing position. This is harsh. But they are the rules. It didn’t matter if Matt had a very good kart, he did, and he’d brought his A game, he had, if you could sit on his bumper and be towed along, so long you were not overtaken, and you could drop the rest of the field, assuming you knew or saw his penalty announced on the digital screen, you would be elevated above him in the in final results in 59minutes time. Titan had enough people sharp enough to know it, and able to pass the message to the other brother race leader Andy O’Neill. And thats precisely what he did.
Wileman was instead on Buck’s bumper for now, a second behind Super GT Brown was 4th, Simms, Horgan and Dawes again benefiting as the field spread. After a fairly hectic sort out over the remainder of the first 5mins the race established it’s order Andy O’Neill just out of towing range of Wileman and Buck, Brown for now at least had missed the bus, but had no distractions, Matt Horgan had passed Darri Simms, who was beginning to worry about his top end, which had been a query in practice, but was now a question mark. Darri would let team mate Dawes go and Almou who could not be stopped.
Getting into his stride and showing speed, Wileman closed down the leader and on the 10min mark moved to the lead, the pair were 3secs clear of Buck, who with Brown, a further 3secs back could not live with the pace. Brown reported he hadn’t the kart to move forward and while first isolated in his own space, he would slowly slide backwards and away from the race lead. Looking down the order only the recovering Jack O’Neill was showing similar consistent sub 41secs pace, he’d pass Matt Horgan, the leading B Class runner around the quarter hour to take up 5th behind Brown, 12.5secs off leader Wileman. Matt had not broken the string to Andy O’Neill, it was short and tight, and not likely to punt Andy off or drop him, but it was leaving the rest of the field behind and approaching the lube window rarely more than a kart length or so. When the window opened, Jack O’Neill was the first to pit, he’d just passed Brown for 4th chipping out 0.3-0.5 per lap to catch Steve, he was 7secs off Buck in 3rd, and obviously didn’t want to wait a moment longer. Jack would return 10th.
Almou peeled off, returned 12th, much better than Shenington, Steve Brown was next, a little slower, he also returned 12th, 3/10ths behind Almou and 2secs behind O’Neill, they’d not see Jack again. It’s easy to imagine friends and supporters (socially distanced) in the venue were wondering when the top 3 of Wileman and Andy O’Neill, then Jon Buck 7secs behind would dive for pit lane, Michael Ballinger was over half lap behind lead Class B in 4th, but also owed the pits a stop, Jack O’Neill closing fast behind Michael in 5th, Jack 28secs off the lead. Michael made way for pit lane and Jack O’Neill went 4th. Passed 30mins, 31, 32, Wileman pitted, returned 3rd, a little slow compared to other stops, but 15secs ahead of Jack O’Neill on track. Andy wasted no time, pitting the next lap, leaving pit lane and to get out ahead of Matt only to be overtaken while getting back up to speed. Jon Buck pitted before the window closed, and the order for the run for the flag was set. Matt Wileman continued to be shadowed by Andy O’Neill, 10secs ahead of Buck, a further 5secs ahead of a rapidly closing Jack O’Neill. 10secs further back during the late pitstops, Almou had passed Brown for 5th, both heading a line of Horgan, still leading Class B, Bobby Dawes and Chris Lewis-Evans, another 10secs to Aiston rounding out the top 10, a gap to Ballinger, 2nd in B Class, with Murray Knott in 12th the last kart on the lead lap.
Into the last quarter of the race, Andy O’Neill was cruising in the wheel tracks of Wileman, the pair pushing more and more drivers off the lead lap, while his brother was continuing to close gradually on Buck in 3rd, Almou was holding 5th place and the lead of the championship but not able to shake off Brown and they started to exchange 5th place with 8mins to go. Inevitably Jack O’Neill regained 3rd place he’d last seen 45mins earlier. With 4 laps to go, Matt’s lead was still just 0.3secs lead, the 2nd O’Neill 18secs behind in 3rd, now safely clear of Buck, a further 21secs ahead of Almou in 5th, Brown, Lewis-Evans, Dawes, Horgan taking B Class honours, with Murray Knott just clawing his way back into the top 10, he’d last seen nearly an hour earlier, in 10th.
And that was how it finished, Andy O’Neill crossing the line still on Matt Wileman’s bumper, not needing to pass him due to Wileman’s impending 6 position penalty he’d been carrying for much of the hour. Jack O’Neill’s early off probably cost him a win but the recovery netted him 3rd on the road, but a 2nd place in Class A, for an O’Neill brothers 1-2 (one of many I imagine). Damn they just have numbers on their side. Ahead of Jon Buck. Tarik Almou and Steve Brown were lapped before the finish, Steve holding off the late challenge of Chris Lewis-Evans. Wileman was slotted back into the results in 7th, Bobby Dawes, Matt Horgan scored 9th to win Class B by 10secs over Clive Morphett, who in turn had worked his way back to and just passed Michael Ballinger for class 2nd by the finish. Alex Edwards maintains a 1 point advantage over Clive Morphett in the B Class championship. Almou leads Class A comfortably from Wileman but that begs the question of what are the O’Neill’s intentions for the rest of the season, is this the beginning of an E60 championship campaign for one or both? Or not.
WORDS: Chris Simpson
LIBRARY PHTOGRAPHY: John Patterson