Premier Sprint Championship, 2014 – Rd.1

After a long, cold, wet and miserable winter break, a new season was finally upon us as the Club100 faithful once again assembled at the familiar surroundings of Buckmore Park in Kent. The promise of a dry weekend was fulfilled, with the Sun beaming down and conditions proving perfect for a rarely-dry Round 1.

The Premier grid has seen dramatic changes to the personnel over the past 12 months and the 2014 season would be seeing no fewer than seven new faces on the grid. Round 1 traditionally yields fully loaded grids before the soft touches and wimps eventually disappear into wilderness after being battered and bruised by the usual Premier Class welcoming committee. Reigning Premier sprint Champion Chris Powell was back and looking to get his title defence off to a flying start. Powell triumphed after a titanic Championship battle with Brian Trott in 2013 and he would no doubt be most people’s favourite to take the honours once more come the end of the year. Trott was nowhere to be seen for Round 1, however, and it would therefore be left to others to provide the resistance to Powell’s seemingly unstoppable dominance on the Class. Ian Blake would be a good bet to take up the fight and will no doubt be looking to push on after finishing 3rd in both 2012 and 2013. Parmveer Nijar always poses a genuine threat when on form and he will be looking for more consistency this year to really mount a serious challenge.

Owen Jenman was on the entry list for Round 1 and is a very experienced driver who would no doubt be looking to mix it up at the sharp end, along with Tom Oliphant who looked in imperious form during the Premier Endurance race in the morning. 2013 HW Clubman Champion Dan Hoy is another new face to the class, along with runner-up Stuart Martin. From the LW Clubman class, 2013 Champion Jack Harding is followed by David Waters and Stefan Child in moving up. Some were surprised to also see the likes of Alex Ring and Ray Norris moving up to race in the top tier. It’s a brave decision that they have made but they have plenty of pace and would no doubt improve quickly through racing amongst Club100’s elite. More new names are due for future rounds but the Club100 community can also welcome back their favourite Scandinavian son, as Sami Seppala also returns to the fold. With the new change of format, it will be interesting to see how the drivers cope with the physical demands of racing Endurance and Sprints on the same day for alternating weekends. Round 1 was one such occasion and the physical nature of Buckmore Park would no doubt mean that plenty of blood, sweat and tears would be shed out on the tarmac!

Heats

As to be expected, both heats were extremely competitive, fierce and at times brutal affairs. Nijar took the spoils from heat 1 after converting his pole position and pulling away to an eventual 2.2sec win. Powell and Blake took 2nd and 3rd whilst a few places further back, Matt Brooks got his day off to a storming start with a tremendous 6th from 21st on the grid. The main incident of note was a nasty-looking coming together between Stu Martin and Jack Harding through the esses. As they vied for position amongst the pack, Martin’s throttle cable apparently stuck which saw him collect Harding and launch the pair of them into the tire wall before the pit lane entry. Harding came off worse and his heat ended there. Somewhat surprisingly, Heat 2 was won by debutant Ray Norris after a solid drive from pole saw him hold off the drivers behind to take the win from Brooks and Scott Martin. An excellent run from Oliphant saw him come home in 8th after starting in 17th. A similar incident to heat 1 saw Harry Landy and Stefan Child tangle with each other through the esses early on and also plough into the tire wall on the exit. Chris Powell also had his heat ruined when he was unceremoniously dumped into the tire wall on the exit of hairpin 1 after trying to hold a move around the outside. Stuart Martin was also caught up in that to compound a miserable start to his day. Geoff Saunderson was another victim early on in the proceedings.

Final 1

After excellent work in the two heats, Matt Brooks found himself taking the first Pole of the year for Final 1. Alongside him was Parmveer Nijar, whilst Oliphant and Scott Martin lined up on row 2. Defending Champion Chris Powell had it all to do from 15th on the grid. The start was converted well by Brooks, who held the lead as the pack swarmed through Conways and piled down towards Hairpin 1. Oliphant wasted little time in attacking Nijar, stealing 2nd after taking full advantage of his inside grid slot. As the drivers jostled for track position, Trevor Randall found himself forced out in the mid-pack and was sent barrelling head first into the tire wall on the exit of Hairpin 1 to ruin his Final. Meanwhile another veteran truly riding his luck was Jamie Jakins, who went for a trip across the astro-turf on the way down towards Symes Sweep after being barged out wide. With tires and other bits of track furniture being flung across track on the exit of Paddock and through Damon Hill, one driver to benefit from the chaos was David Waters. He carved his way through the pack to find himself in 13th by the end of lap 1, having started down in 20th. Attentions returned to the sharp end however when Oliphant made his move for the lead. He struck at Hairpin 2, diving to the inside of an unsuspecting Matt Brooks to take over the lead of the race. Nijar, Martin and Hanson were all in close pursuit but unable to take advantage. Oliphant looked in very good shape and soon began to edge out a small gap as Brooks struggled to maintain pace. Before long, Brooks was again looking over his shoulder and was powerless to prevent a determined Nijar from snatching 2nd, also at Hairpin 2 and on lap 3.

As the race progressed, Oliphant really began to flex his muscles as he opened up a comfortable gap to Nijar and the rest of the pack. Nijar, Brooks and Martin were now locked in a three-way dice for 2nd which was clearly playing into the race leader’s hands. Hanson was still within touching distance too but Jenman was beginning to drop away in 6th. Ian Blake was on the attack now and he pulled off an expertly-timed move on Jamie Crease into Garda, before following that up with another impressive move on Jenman to climb up into 6th. Behind them, Waters was continuing to make good progress through the pack and pulled a forceful move on Lisseter at Hairpin 1 to climb into 10th. The loss of momentum resulted in Craddock also sneaking past Lisseter through Hairpin 2 as the latter dropped to 12th. Further back, Jack Harding and O’Connor were slugging it out over 15th, just behind Tim Clark and Darren Teal. Ray Norris was getting roughed up and found himself sliding down the order after having started in 10th. He was now getting pressured by two other ex-Lightweight Clubman drivers in the shape of Alex Ring and Geoff Saunderson. Norris was the man losing out, forced into conceding yet another couple of positions to slip down into 20th. But it was proving an even more frustrating race for Chris Powell, who was failing to make any kind of impression and found himself needing to regain positions that had been lost earlier on following a scruffy start. As the battle at the front began to intensify, it was becoming apparent that Brooks was struggling with his kart and he soon found himself losing out several positions. After coming under attack into Garda from Martin, Brooks tried desperately to fight back and refused to yield. It backfired as he caught the edge of the tire wall on the exit and lost all his exit speed. He was soon swallowed up by the drivers behind and had tumbled down to 8th as a result. Jenman then took further advantage by springing a move on Blake to move into 5th.

Whilst everyone else was busy squabbling over the scraps, race leader Tom Oliphant was pressing on and maintaining a decent gap to Nijar. The melee involving Brooks had allowed some breathing space between 3rd and 4th as Martin now turned his attentions on chasing down Nijar. Brooks was once again in the thick of the action as both he and Waters fought their way past Crease at the Hairpins. A couple of laps later, Blake had regained 5th with another good move on Jenman through Conways. Waters was there to capitalise and threw himself up the inside of Jenman to gain yet another position as he continued his forward charge. Waters then attempted an overzealous lunge on Blake into Hairpin 2 which succeeded only in allowing Jenman back through. The fighting between these guys had enabled the rest of the pack to close in, with Craddock and Crease having now latched onto the back of Brooks. Dan Hoy was also closing in, however with the end of the race approaching, things started to get a bit more desperate for some. With Blake starting to creep away, Waters again went for Jenman. This time he barged his way through at Garda on lap 10 to finally claim 6th. Tim Clark found himself forced off track at Hairpin 1, with Darren Teal pulling past for 13th. Harding had also lost out to Powell for 14th, whilst Jakins was busy pulling a move on Norris in the scrap over 20th. The final couple of laps were fairly sedate. Oliphant had continued to stretch his advantage and as the chequered flag came out, he cruised over the line 3secs clear to claim a first ever Premier Sprints victory. It was very close racing between the following pack, however no one was able to make a move of any sort and it was left to Nijar and Martin to come home in 2nd and 3rd. Hanson followed in 4th, with barely 0.25secs separating them. Blake and Waters crossed the line in 5th and 6th, however the latter’s excellent run was marred by a 2-place penalty for multiple contact. He was demoted to 8th despite another late lunge on Jenman at Garda on the final lap. That move had also allowed Crease to slip past Jenman on the climb up and into Cafe Curve, meaning Crease was subsequently promoted to 6th.

Final 2

After what was an exciting and action-packed Final 1, attentions turned to Final 2 and it was Baby Prem David Waters lining up on Pole after setting the fastest lap of the day during Final 1. An excellent, if somewhat forceful, Final 1 drive would surely give Waters plenty of confidence that he could go on to convert Pole into a debut win. There’s always intense competition in the Premier Class though and Jack Harding would be looking to spoil his day from 2nd after he set a very good lap time despite struggling in Final 1. Winner of Final 1, Tom Oliphant would again be starting off from 3rd on the grid, whilst O’Connor lined up alongside in 4th. Chris Powell had the opportunity to turn his day around after he put it on row 3 in 5th, with rival Ian Blake in 6th. The grid was shaping up to supply yet another intense and exhilarating race and onlookers would not be left disappointed. As the action got underway, Waters controlled things well to come out of Conways with his nose still in front. Oliphant repeated his trick from Final 1 by holding the inside line and gently ousting Harding from 2nd. Powell was right there with them and he did the same to snatch 4th from O’Connor. The latter got off to a nightmare start and lost further places to Jenman and Scott Martin after a lousy exit from Hairpin 2. Further down the order the usual hectic scramble for positions ensued. It all ended in tears when Alex Ring and Stuart Martin tried going for the same bit of tarmac through the esses. Heavy contact saw both drivers plough off the track and into the barrier, somehow managing not to collect anyone else on their way. As the pack came back through to begin lap 2, Powell found himself in a position to strike, getting the run on Harding and launching his kart up the inside at Conways to take 3rd. A few karts behind them, Blake was busy pulling a move on Brooks for 9th as he looked to repair the damage following a bad start. Jamie Crease was also making his way past Randall in the fight over 18th. As the pack came back through the Esses and streaked past the stricken karts of Ring and Stu Martin, Oliphant had latched himself onto the back of Waters. As the leader came out of Paddock, Oliphant lined him up and dived to the inside at Garda to snatch the lead. Waters had no reply, leaving Oliphant to take control of yet another Final. Powell could now smell blood and wasted little time in despatching Waters through Conways on the very next lap.

As the race progressed, Oliphant held off the charge of Chris Powell to maintain his lead. Both drivers were separated by barely a blink of an eye as they went toe to toe for glory. Behind them, Waters was doing his level best to remain in touch, whilst a great move by Jenman at Conways saw him take 4th from Harding. Further back, Brooks was coming under heavy fire from Jonathan Lisseter in the race for 10th. Lisseter went for it at Garda but couldn’t make it stick as he ran wide. Nijar was there to snap up the opportunity as he leapfrogged the pair of them to climb into the top 10. Craddock and Dan Hoy were locked in a fierce battle over 14th and neither man dared to lift as they came through the Esses side by side. Hoy seemed to have the line to defend his position, but Craddock bravely kept his foot in around the outside of Symes Sweep and held it brilliantly to beat his opponent into Pullmans and Paddock and snatch the position. The man on the move though was Ian Blake. He really looked to have found his rhythm at last and made a succession of passes on Teal, O’Connor and Scott Martin to battle his way back up to 6th. At the front, things were really beginning to heat up as Powell went on the offensive, diving up the inside of Oliphant into Hairpin 1 to take the lead. Oliphant was undeterred though, immediately countering at Garda. Powell did his level best to hold on around the outside but he was fighting a losing battle. As they came up the hill and towards Cafe curve, he was forced to yield, allowing Oliphant back into 1st. Waters was still right behind them although not quite close enough to get involved. Owen Jenman was also still within touching distance, whilst behind him Ian Blake was again lording it at Garda, this time pouncing on Harding for 5th. Scott Martin found himself dropping another position when O’Connor emerged ahead out of Hairpin 2. At the back, Tim Clark was trying his hardest to make some progress as he came through Cafe Curve three-abreast with Saunderson and Randall. Clark was forced to lift though and he slotted back in behind. Just in front of them, Sami Seppala was having a relatively low key race as he struggled to make any progress from 21st. Eyes switched back to the front as Jenman made a brave move on Waters into Paddock to move into 3rd. The pair were now being dropped by the leading duo though, with the gap out to 2secs.

One lap later, Waters struck back at Hairpin 1, reclaiming the position and signalling for Jenman to follow him in order to focus on catching the leaders. Jenman was having none of it though and he again dived to the inside at Paddock to brilliantly snatch back the position. Blake had now reeled the pair in and he wasn’t in the mood to wait around. He immediately forced his kart to the inside of Waters at Conways, taking the position and dragging Harding through with him. It all threatened to spill out of control though as O’Connor pulled alongside Waters on the approach to Hairpin 1. Waters refused to yield and turned his kart into O’Connor’s in a desperate bid to block him off and simultaneously lunge back at Harding. Heavy contact with Harding’s kart saw O’Connor do the pair of them as Harding was pushed wide and lost out a further position to Scott Martin. No penalty was called on Waters, with the incident seemingly going unnoticed, who was able to creep back out ahead of O’Connor and into 5th. By now the front two were well and truly sailing away as they raced wheel for wheel for the lead. Powell appeared to be happy to sit on Oliphant’s bumper and looked to be waiting for the right moment to strike. Jenman was still clinging onto 3rd despite Blake’s best efforts to muscle his way past. This played into Waters’ hands and he launched himself up the inside of an unsuspecting Blake at Hairpin 1 to regain 4th. O’Connor, Scott Martin and the rapidly advancing Parmveer Nijar were now wrapped up in a three-way battle for 6th. Martin attempted a half-hearted move on O’Connor into Garda. He couldn’t pull it off though and Nijar made the most of it by outrunning Martin into Cafe Curve with a better exit. At the tail end, Hanson and Jakins were both having a miserable race by their standards but were locked in a battle over 18th. A failed move by Hanson saw him swallowed up by Harry Landy and Sami Seppala through the Hairpins. As the drivers entered the penultimate lap, Blake went for 4th and took it through Hairpin 2, muscling Waters out of the way. Waters had no response and it looked like Blake had held on. The last lap board soon followed and as they came through, Oliphant was still ahead and giving it everything to hold off Powell. Despite his best efforts, Powell just couldn’t create an opening and as they came through Cafe Curve for the final time, it was Oliphant who triumphed once again. An excellent battle came to it’s conclusion with Powell taking 2nd, barely 0.2secs behind the winner. Behind them, more late drama was about to unfold as Jenman went defensive on Blake through the hairpins. Blake got the better exit and as they powered towards the Esses, he attempted to force it through. Jenman refused to yield and it all exploded into carnage as he ran wide through Symes Sweep. Blake lost momentum and all of a sudden Waters and Nijar were looking at leapfrogging the pair of them. It became an absolute melee as they piled down towards Paddock, with Waters now ahead of Blake and right behind O’Connor. Nijar was trying to force the issue on Blake who was having none of it, whilst O’Connor attempted to do them both around the outside and duly got dumped off the track and out of the race for his efforts. As they dived into Garda, Waters was shown the door by Jenman and he went tearing over the asto-turf before somehow rejoining in 4th where he’d left off. Blake held on to slot back in behind them as they crossed the line in that order, Jenman taking 3rd. Nijar found himself losing out to Martin, Teal and Lisseter before he was able to cross the line an eventual 9th.

So two wins out of two sees Tom Oliphant off to an absolute flying start. He showed his class today and is no doubt going to be a real contender for this season. Looks like Chris Powell might just have his work cut out this year and he knows that he’ll need to be firing on all cylinders for Bayford Meadows at the end of March. His day wasn’t perfect, but a 2nd in Final 2 will have made up for a disappointing Final 1. Ian Blake had a consistent day with two 5th place finishes, although he would no doubt have wanted a bit more from the day. Parmveer Nijar had a strong day and he’ll be pleased to get his season off to a solid start, whilst young guns Scott Martin and David Waters both impressed. Do they have the consistency that it takes to remain amongst the front-runners for the duration of the season? We’ll find out. So after Round 1, Tom Oliphant is the clear Championship leader with maximum points thus far. 2nd and 3rd are Nijar and Scott Martin, both level on 244 points, whilst Owen Jenman and Ian Blake round out the top 5.

Driver of the Day

Tom Oliphant really came to the fore today and picked up his maiden Premier Sprint wins in what proved to be a perfect weekend for him. Faultless driving in every race and without a doubt the Driver of the Day. Special mention also for Scott Martin and David Waters who both drove superbly here today. If they can keep improving, they’ll certainly be ones to watch over the course of the season.