Premier Sprint Championship, 2014, Rd.3

photo 1

Introduction

Following on from what seemed a never-ending mini-break, it was time for a return to action as Whilton Mill took centre stage for Round 3 of the 2014 Sprint Championships. The track has seen some recent modifications and tweaks which include fresh cement having been laid on the run-offs of certain corners, along with the removal of the much-feared bark chips on the exit of the final corner and the modification to some of the vicious kerbs that would routinely cause an increase to the workload of the Club100 mechanics! Concerned voices amongst the driving contingent have expressed their opinions regarding the changes already, with fears that the changes will only serve to make it a more forgiving track and less of a challenge to get round. With the new Vega RH8 tires providing extra grip over the old Bridgestone YDS variants, it would almost certainly result in much tighter and closer racing throughout the grids.

If the grid sizes so far this season are anything to go by, then Club100 is more popular than ever! Once again it was a full grid for Round 3 as the Premier drivers prepared to get their groove on under the blistering heat that had enveloped the Northamptonshire countryside. With soaring temperatures and clear skies, conditions were perfect and the drivers would need to take on plenty of fluids to stave off dehydration as well as any chance of dipping below the 85kg weight limit. The main players were all present and correct, with Championship leader Parmveer Nijjar hoping to enter life as a married man with his Championship lead still intact after this round. Hot on his heels is Mr Serious, Ian Blake. After a very positive outing in the morning endurance racing, he’d be looking to translate his form and evident speed into big points as he looks to take the fight on for the title. Reigning Champion Chris Powell hasn’t had the best of starts this year, but he proved his bouncebackability last year after a slow start and will be hoping for more of the same as he looks to turn his fortunes around here with a strong showing. Matt Brooks has so far shown that he is a credible contender and certainly has the ability to win races. He would also be taking his place on the grid and aiming to come away with a trophy at the end of the day. One man in the frame is Tom Oliphant. He was back on the grid after missing Round 2 and, if his showing from Round 1 was anything to go by, he’ll also be up there fighting for the wins. Other drivers back in the fold after missing Round 2 were Tim Clark, Harry Landy, Stuart Martin and Geoff Saunderson, albeit the latter apparently struggling with illness. Four drivers opted to sit this round out after competing last time out. Amongst these were Chris Hanson, who was forced to cancel his entry on medical grounds. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him back on the grid soon. Marc Craddock, Dan Hoy and Sami Seppala were the other three drivers sitting this one out.

Heats

Surprisingly, Heat 1 was not won by Pole-man Chris Powell despite most people expecting it to be a foregone conclusion. It was Jay Elliott taking maximum points after an excellent drive in which he started 3rd on the grid. After immediately ousting Lisseter for 2nd, Elliott began to put the pressure on Powell and successfully got ahead just a couple of laps later. Powell had no answer and soon found himself under pressure from baby Prem Stefan Child. The latter pulled a great move to get ahead and showed his evident pace as he held the 2013 Champion behind him whilst maintaining pace with Elliott. Despite Powell’s best efforts, Child was able to ward him off to secure a thoroughly deserved 2nd after starting from 5th. Parmveer Nijjar completed a brilliant drive to secure 4th behind Powell after picking his way through the pack from 12th on the grid. The usual intense and physical battles ensued, with Jonathan Lisseter losing out the most as he tumbled to the back from 2nd on the grid. Other drivers making up plenty of ground were Trevor Randall, Jamie Crease and Dan Milner who finished 6th, 7th and 8th respectively. However, the most impressive was Tom Oliphant, producing a scintillating drive from way back in 21st to claim 9th.

Heat 2 saw the grid take to the track one kart light due to Saunderson pulling out as a result of suffering from his illness. The 24-kart grid produced another frenetic affair which was won superbly by Matt Brooks. He put his ballistic pace to good use by muscling his way through the order from 12th to secure the victory ahead of Pole-man Peter O’Connor. Darren Teal followed over the line, finishing exactly where he started whilst Tim Clark amazingly came through from 17th on the grid to snatch 4th amongst the chaos. Nijjar also drove brilliantly to take 5th from a starting position of 14th. It was a very close fought race with the top 4 separated by less than a second as they crossed the finish line. An explosive start had seen multiple drivers shoved off track, one of which was Alex Ring who had started 2nd on the grid. His race was over in the blink of an eye as he fell victim and dropped down the order like a stone. Champion Chris Powell was an early retiree on lap 2 after he injured himself by hitting a nasty pothole on the exit of Chapmans when pushed out wide. Fortunately he would be ok to continue for the rest of the day’s racing. Further into the race there was a coming together involving Randall and Waters as the pair tangled into the boot and took each other off. Jonathan Lisseter was an innocent bystander who found himself getting collected by the pair and having another heat ruined. There were some heated exchanges between Randall and Waters out on track and the former was subsequently excluded from the race for his part in causing the collision.

 

Final 1

So with the heats out of the way, it was time to see the grids for the first point-scoring Final of the day. The man taking his place on Pole under the scorching Sun was Championship leader Parmveer Nijjar after two outstanding heats saw him outscore his competitors. Lining up alongside in 2nd was Jay Elliott, whilst Peter O’Connor and Darren Teal would provide the immediate competition from row 2. 2012 Easykart World Champion Jamie Crease took 5th, with Baby Prem Stefan Child looking to keep his impressive form going from 6th. Championship contender Ian Blake would be one to watch from P8, whilst reigning Premier Class Champion Chris Powell had recovered from his injury in Heat 2 to take his place in 15th. Again Geoff Saunderson failed to make the grid as he struggled with his illness. The 24-kart grid flew out of the blocks as Nijjar dropped the hammer immediately. Elliott held position as O’Connor and Teal failed to make any early impression on the leaders. Behind them, Blake immediately got to work, taking both Alcock and Crease early on to climb up into 6th. Further back there was plenty of shuffling around as Powell made a good start to move up to 12th. Behind him, Scott Martin got the better of Tim Clark into Ashby to snatch 16th. As they negotiated the infield section, Elliott got the run on Nijjar and made his move, claiming the lead and taking control of the race. As they came round to begin lap 2, Nijjar was trying to find a way back through however Elliott looked in good shape and comfortably held off the challenge. 2secs down the road, Matt Brooks was busy pulling a firm move on Alcock as he maintained his steady climb through the top 10, now finding himself up into 8th. Another position was gained after Stefan Child was barged out of 5th by Blake, causing him to drop back to 10th by the end of the lap. There was a great scrap developing in the mid-pack as Powell looked to continue his progress. A late lunge to the inside of Chaplin at Ashby saw the pair lose momentum and allowed Stephen Hicks to do the pair of them. Powell fought back at the following left-hander, however Hicks was having none of it and muscled his way back through to cling on to the position and keep the number 1 kart at bay. As they came through the boot, Powell received a little ‘love tap’ from Chaplin which succeeded only in costing the latter another position as Milner dived in to take the opportunity and steal 13th. The following lap saw another good move from Brooks to take 6th from Jamie Crease, whilst more squabbling in that middle order saw Powell making a move stick on Hicks and Milner losing out as Chaplin fought back to reclaim 13th.

As the race began to settle, Jay Elliott remained in control with Nijjar doing his level best to make life uncomfortable for the leader. The pair were nose to tail with O’Connor barely a couple of kart lengths behind them. Nijjar thought about launching one up the inside at Christmas Corner but ducked out of it at the last second. Further back, Stefan Child was looking to recover the ground lost by outmanoeuvring Simon Alcock for 9th. He had plenty of work to do to catch the karts in front, however, with 8th-placed Oliphant 1.5secs clear of him. Milner was still finding himself at the centre of all the action. This time Tim Clark was his adversary, making a move at Christmas Corner and seemingly making it stick. Milner wasn’t having it though and immediately countered, keeping his foot down and diving back through at Ashby to hang on to 14th.At the back of the pack, Waters and Randall were resuming their feud from Heat 2 as the pair fought to avoid the wooden spoon. Randall got the upper hand as Waters slipped to last. The following lap saw Darren Teal slip backwards as Blake made a good move to climb into 4th. Teal was left in the firing line of Brooks and the latter wasted no time in going on the offensive out of Crook and up the hill. Brooks held the inside line and closed the door on Teal to take 5th, with the latter falling into the clutches of Oliphant, who had got ahead of Crease after a better exit out of the final corner on the previous lap. Teal ran wide but Oliphant couldn’t capitalise, losing momentum as a result which enabled Crease to sneak back ahead of him. The rest of the pack remained fairly settled and all the action seemed to be coming at the front end of the field. Lap 7 saw another great move from the oh’ so serious Ian Blake as he catapulted himself past O’Connor at Christmas Corner and up into 3rd. He was now barely half a second behind the front pair and looking in the mood to do them both. Behind them, Oliphant had managed to get back ahead of Crease for 7th, whilst Hicks and Chaplin were getting rather too intimate with each other in the fight over 12th. As they came to the end of the back straight, Chaplin tried sending one up the inside of Hicks into the Boot. Hicks turned in and the pair touched. It could have gone horribly wrong but both men kept control of their karts and Hicks held on as they came round to see out the lap. A few positions behind them, Lisseter was making gradual progress and successfully ousted Stuart martin to take 16th. Attentions soon switched back to the front as Blake was at it again. This time Nijjar was his victim, with Christmas Corner yet again the preferred location of the assault as Blake stole 2nd.

With the race approaching the business end of the proceedings, Elliott was doing a great job out in front, albeit with a rapidly advancing and seemingly unstoppable Ian Blake to give him some unwanted company. Behind them, Darren Teal had succumbed to the challenge of both Oliphant and Brooks as he dropped to 8th. Meanwhile, Powell was making a great move on Child into Ashby under braking to take 9th. Down the order, Lisseter had gained another position after getting the better of Scott Martin, whilst Randall had risen to 20th after getting himself ahead of Landy. The following lap saw things remain the same, however Stefan Child brilliantly battled back past Powell after forcing himself up the inside through the Boot. Christmas Corner was seeing yet more overtaking as Jack Harding pulled off a clean move on Stuart Martin to climb into 17th. It was all eyes back at the front by the end of the lap though as Blake was preparing to make his move for the lead. As they climbed up the hill towards Christmas Corner, Blake went for it, however Elliott refused to yield and was able to cut back across and cling on to the lead. The resultant loss of momentum saw contact between Blake and Nijjar, who almost went over the top of his opponent’s rear bumper. Elliott was afforded some breathing space as a result and now Blake had to work to close that gap down once more. His ballistic pace saw the half a second gap disappear almost immediately though and before long he was ready to have another go. As they came round for the penultimate lap, Blake was latched on to the rear of Elliott’s kart. The move didn’t come at Christmas Corner this time, but a great exit out of Chapmans saw Blake get the run down the back straight and that was all he needed. As Elliott turned in, Blake lunged in and pulled off a spectacular Boot move, to which Elliott had no answer. With Blake in the lead and with just one lap remaining, could Elliott or Nijjar find a way back through? With O’Connor and Brooks now also having joined the party, it looked like a spicy finish to the race. As they came out of Ashby, Blake was holding Elliott and Nijjar at bay. O’Connor found himself getting too close to the back of Nijjar’s kart at the following left-hander and contact saw him ride up onto the back of the latter’s kart. O’Connor managed to unhook himself and keep going, however the loss of speed gifted 4th to Brooks as they came down into Chapmans. As they came onto the back straight, Brooks fancied a go at Nijjar and applied the pressure, however Nijjar held on by his fingernails to stay ahead. As they came out of the final corner, Blake crossed the line unchallenged to seal a fantastic victory, closely followed by the unlucky Jay Elliott, who had led the race for so long. Nijjar led Brooks and O’Connor over the line as they completed the top 5. Oliphant was a little further back in 6th, having maintained a narrow advantage over Jamie Crease in 7th. Teal crossed the line in 8th, ahead of Powell who had managed to get back ahead of Child in 10th. The only other position changes were down the order as Stuart Martin made a late move on Harding to steal 17th, whilst Norris found a way past Waters to take 21st.

 

Final 2

Having set the fastest lap of the day during the heats, Parmveer Nijjar had earned himself another chance to go for a win with another Pole. Alongside him this time would be Tom Oliphant, with Final 1 winner Ian Blake taking 3rd ahead of the impressive Stefan Child on row 2. Dan Milner and Matt Brooks locked out row 3. Chris Powell once again found himself with a job on his hands from 8th on the grid. As the action got underway, Nijjar came under immediate pressure from Oliphant and the latter was able to force his way through at Crook to take the lead. Child had also done the same to Blake as he slipped into 3rd and moved up alongside Nijjar. The Championship leader was able to hold the position at Christmas Corner and emerged ahead of Child on the exit. Both Dan Milner and Matt Brooks had got off to poor starts, with both Lisseter and Powell able to leapfrog them. Behind them, the fight for early ground was in full flow as the Premier drivers battled for every inch. O’Connor was sent bouncing over the grass on the exit of Chapmans after having gone in three-abreast with Clark and Chaplin. Somehow everyone was able to avoid falling off track properly as they came round to complete the opening lap. Tom Oliphant was wasting little time in opening an early gap and was looking very good as Nijjar and Child slipped back into the clutches of Blake and Lisseter. Blake launched an offensive straight away, boot-moving the baby Prem driver to oust Child from 3rd. Lisseter then barged through at the final corner as Child ran wide, dropping back into 5th as a result. Further down the order there was a good move by Chaplin as he steamed through up the inside of Teal at Ashby to take 13th. O’Connor was again fighting hard, this time with Trevor Randall as the latter took his turn to go grass-hopping on the exit of the notorious Ashby. As they came through to begin lap 3, Child was looking vulnerable as both Powell and Brooks homed in. A sloppy exit out of Crook gave Powell the chance to get ahead which he gladly accepted, leaving Child powerless to prevent Brooks from powering through on the inside and muscling his way into 6th at Christmas Corner. Further back, Dan Milner was also sliding down the order and after Crease had managed to find a way past for 10th, Chaplin sent one up the inside at Ashby to further demote Milner down to 12th. There were plenty of position changes in that group as Clark lost out to Teal in the fight over 13th, whilst Jack Harding found himself forced out by both Norris and O’Connor before slotting back in 17th. The following lap was far more settled, with only a couple more changes to the lower order despite some wheel to wheel racing. Milner was on the receiving end of a good move from Teal for 12th. Behind them, Harding had managed to get himself back ahead of O’Connor thanks to a mistake from Norris which had bunched everyone back up. Alcock also managed to sneak past O’Connor, however it didn’t last long as the latter came back and reclaimed 17th at Chapmans.

As the race progressed, things were looking good for Oliphant who was continuing to pull away from Nijjar and had opened a gap of over 1.5secs. However the same could not be said for Nijjar and the chasing karts as he found himself under immense pressure from a confident and determined Blake. As they came onto the back straight, Blake was latched onto Nijjar’s rear bumper and seized the moment, pulling off another ballsy boot move to steal 2nd. Slight contact between the pair was overlooked by the clerks in what was rightly deemed a firm but fair move. A slight loss of momentum for Nijjar almost threatened to allow Lisster in, but he held it together and saw out the final corner to complete the lap in 3rd. Lisseter, however, had succumbed to Powell who opportunistically made a move as the opening appeared into the final corner. Powell immediately set his sights on 3rd and good drive out of Crook almost saw him launch one up the inside of Nijjar at Christmas Corner. It wasn’t to be though and so the reigning Champion slotted back in behind, ready for his next opportunity. A little further back, Elliott was able to get ahead of Child with a clean move to move into 7th, whilst at the back of the pack O’Connor was losing out to Alcock as the pair continued to scrap. The following lap saw Jamie Crease force the issue on Scott Martin as the pair went toe to toe over 9th. With a better run through the Boot, Crease stuck it in on the inside of Martin going into the final corner. Both drivers ran wide, allowing Chaplin to take advantage and sneak past Martin as the latter fell to 11th. The following lap saw Crease come off worse as the trio continued scrapping, with both Chaplin and Martin getting back through as Crease fell back and also lost out to Teal. Just ahead of them, Stefan Child had fought back and got the better of Elliott to sneak back ahead and into 7th. Back out in front, Oliphant was having a great time of it, rattling through the laps whilst maintaining an impressive charge that even Blake couldn’t live with. By lap 8, he’d opened up a commanding lead of over 2secs and was looking odds-on for the win. Behind him, however, things were beginning to get exciting as Blake and Nijjar found themselves preoccupied by a menacing Powell. Blake had a slight gap to give himself some breathing space, however Nijjar was coming under heavy fire. His resistance didn’t last very long as Powell quickly made his move at Ashby, diving to the inside and out-braking Nijjar to move into 3rd. Lisseter looked to profit as well but it nearly went horribly wrong as he manoeuvred to the outside at the following left-hander and got promptly squeezed out onto the grass. Brooks and Child soon appeared to snatch the positions as Lisseter was again shoved out wide and over the grass on the exit of Chapmans.

As the race entered the closing stages, Tom Oliphant maintained his charge and continued to slowly extend the advantage over the rest of the field. Behind him, Blake was now looking nervously over his shoulder as Powell began to hunt him down. The small advantage that he had in hand was soon gone and now two of the leading Championship contenders were preparing to wage war for 2nd. Nijjar had fallen away and was not close enough to join in, whilst Brooks and Child were a little further behind as the top 6 had detached themselves from the rest of the order. At the tail end, O’Connor found himself ousted from 16th by Alcock and Hicks, which proved to be the only position changes on lap 9. As the leaders began lap 10, Powell was really beginning to turn the screw and was now hustling that rear bumper of Blake’s kart. Despite good drive out of Crook, Powell couldn’t quite get close enough for a lunge into Christmas Corner. However a better exit out of it saw him in position to strike. As they came charging down the hill towards Ashby, Powell made his move, darting out from the slipstream and braking late and hard to pull off an excellent move. He held the line and took 2nd, with Blake unable to cut back or counter in any way. Nijjar had been allowed to close back in on them as a result of that move and he looked to find a way back ahead of Blake. A good run out of the Boot saw Nijjar have a little nibble into the final corner, however Blake stood firm and held on to keep the position. As the penultimate lap arrived, Powell had already opened a slight gap to Blake and was looking like he would be facing a straight-forward end to the race in 2nd. By now Oliphant was almost 3secs down the road and had the win in the bag, barring any catastrophic mistakes or problems. Blake had also managed to pull open a gap of four to five kart lengths on Nijjar and looked to be safe from any late assaults. Behind them, Brooks was having to ward off the advances of Stefan Child, who was having a great race. The latter seemed to have a bit more in his kart and it showed as he lunged in at the boot to make a great move and claim 5th. Brooks didn’t make it easy for him but ultimately had no answer and could not fight back. A little further back, Chaplin was again making a good move into Ashby, which was clearly his favourite overtaking spot on the track. Elliott was the man losing out as Chaplin leapt ahead and into 8th. With the final lap board now coming out for the front-runners, Oliphant was coasting and he calmly saw off the final few corners to take the chequered flag and seal his third Premier Sprints win of 2014 in style. In actual fact, the gap had come down by around half a second by the end of the race, however whether that was down to Powell’s speed or a case of Oliphant easing off in the closing stages is something of a moot point. Powell eventually led Blake home as the pair completed the top 3 positions after a very good fight. Nijjar settled for 4th, whilst Child did a great job of holding Brooks off as the pair came home in 5th and 6th. Behind them, Chaplin was again producing the goods at Ashby. This time Lisseter was his victim as the late move saw 7th stolen from under his nose before the chequered flag. Elliott and Scott Martin completed the top 10, however a 4-place penalty for the latter saw Teal promoted to 10th after the race.

So another great day’s racing sees Ian Blake take the overall win for the round after a superb win was backed up with a hard-fought 3rd. Tom Oliphant was 2nd overall after his dominant win in Final 2 ensured a big points haul, whilst Mr Consistent, Parmveer Nijjar took 3rd overall with a 3rd and 4th in his two races. The day’s results mean that Ian Blake is the new Championship leader, having taken over from Nijjar. With only 5 points separating them, it’s still anyone’s call as to where the title will end up come the end of the year. Of course 2013 Champion Chris Powell is still well in the running despite having a bit of ground to make up. He moves into 3rd overall after a good day today. A steady and solid set of results so far this season sees Matt Brooks up in 4th, just one point behind Powell, whilst Darren Teal rounds out the current top 5. One man not currently in the frame, but sure to be up there provided that he does a full season is Tom Oliphant. Another win today and a big points haul means that if he keeps this up, he will be a force to be reckoned with and a definite title challenger come the end of the season. With only 2 weeks separating Rounds 3 and 4, the end of May will see us take a trip to the South West as Clay Pigeon takes it’s turn to host the next chapter of this year’s epic contest. Let’s hope for more of the same!

 

Driver of the Day

A difficult one to call this time due to there being so many excellent performances throughout the grid. Despite waltzing around the paddock with his garish race suit and looking like he’d dunked his arms and face into a big barrel of Cherry Tango thanks to his delicate, pale skin that can’t cope with anything more than the backlight of a mobile phone being shone on it for more than ten minutes, praise has to be given where it’s due. So, through gritted teeth, here goes . . . Stefan Child drove very well. There, that’ll suffice . . . But in all seriousness, big thumbs up on a job well done for the strawberry blonde bombshell. He drove superbly, qualified strongly and recovered well despite early setbacks to really mix it up with some of the Premier Class powerhouses. He was the highest-placed baby Prem and has every reason to be proud of his efforts today. Blake, Oliphant and Powell all had a good day at the office and Jay Elliott also deserves credit after finishing 2nd in Final 1. However, for sheer consistency alone throughout the day’s racing, Parmveer Nijjar earns the Driver of the Day accolade for Round 3. Despite not converting either of his Poles into wins, he drove very well and ensured two very big scores to add to his tally. If he keeps this up he’ll stand an excellent chance of mounting a serious title challenge for 2014 as, up until now, he’s not quite been close enough over the distance. Could 2014 finally be his year?