Premier Sprint Championship 2014, Rd.9
With only three rounds remaining, it was time for the battle to resume as the 2nd trip of the year to Whilton Mill meant a chance to race the National circuit, nicknamed “Zulu” owing to the tight and twisting infield section of the same name. With the title fight looking like going to the wire, the main protagonists were all on the entry list. Reigning Champion Chris Powell had some ground to make up as he continued to search for a first win of the season. Ian Blake was the man in the box seat going into this round, closely pursued by Parmveer Nijar. Heat 1 saw Pole-man Chris Powell make no mistake as he took a flag-to-flag victory. He was kept honest by Ian Blake, however proved to have too much in hand with 1.7secs separating the pair over the line. Darren Teal fought well from 5th to take 3rd, having battled past Harding and Lisseter. The latter had a torrid time, getting fired wide early on to drop him to the back of the pack from 4th on the grid. Parmveer Nijar came through from 10th to complete the top 5. History repeated itself as Trevor Randall and David Waters clashed at the Boot, just like last time out in Round 3. The pair took each other off and both received exclusions as a result. Heat 2 saw improving fortunes for David Waters, who looked a man on a mission as he picked off the drivers in front to eventually take a comfortable win from 3rd on the grid. Dan Milner and Scott Martin also did well to come through for 2nd and 3rd respectively, ahead of Jay Elliott. Darren Teal drove a blinder, navigating his way through the scrapping mid-pack from 16th to secure a top 5 finish. O’Connor, Hicks, Blake and Powell all followed from the back of the grid as they made the most of the mid-pack holding each other up. Pole-man and debutant Calum McGregor had a tough time of it, getting pushed and pulled back down the order before finishing an eventual 14th. Lisseter again found himself getting shoved off track and out of contention, compounding a bad start to his day. Tim Clark was the only recipient of a penalty in this heat, taking a 4-placer for ABC. Final 1 After two excellent heats, Darren Teal had done enough to secure Pole for Final 1 ahead of current Champion, Chris Powell. The man looking to take his crown, Ian Blake, found himself starting 3rd, with Stephen Hicks alongside on row 2. O’Connor and Elliott formed row 3. Championship contender Parmveer Nijar had given himself some work to do, from 7th on the grid. As the race got underway, Teal kept his cool to lead the pack through turns 1 and 2. Blake made the most of his inside line through the Hook to get a better run up to Christmas Corner and steal 2nd from Powell. Hicks held 4th ahead of O’Connor, however Jay Elliott was the biggest loser. He got shoved wide and was left hung out to dry as most of the pack barged past, dropping him to 16th. He fought back to snatch 15th from Alex Ring through the final corner. Ahead of them, Stuart Martin was having a good early battle with Ray Norris, having made a move into the Boot on the baby prem and holding it well. Lap 2 saw more action at the front as the order changed considerably. A great move by Blake saw him steal the lead from Teal, who also lost out to Powell and slipped to 3rd. Directly behind them, O’Connor lined up a move on Hicks. He went for it at Christmas Corner, however Hicks fought back and refused to yield. O’Connor had the inside line for the Hairpin, holding onto 4th whilst Hicks got pushed wide by Nijar, Scott Martin and Matt Brooks. The latter barged through and also got the better of Martin into the Zulu section to climb into 6th. The following lap saw the order settle down at the front, with the tail end now supplying the talking points. Lisseter put a good move in on Harding at Christmas Corner for 13th, whilst Jay Elliott was getting himself into more trouble as McGregor came barging through at the Hairpin. Elliott was once again shoved wide, allowing Ring, Randall and Waters through in the process. Now out of contention, Elliott backed off from the pack and turned his attentions to setting a fast lap for Final 2. The following lap saw Parmveer Nijar surrender 5th to Matt Brooks after a failed move on O’Connor compromised his run through Zulu. Out in front, Blake and Powell were nose-to-tail as the pair began to stretch open a lead over 3rd-placed Darren Teal. The championship rivals were in a race of their own as their blistering pace proved too much for the opposition. Teal was under pressure from O’Connor and co. as they fought it out for the final podium position. Lap 5 saw yet another change in that small group as Brooks found himself losing out to Nijar and Hicks to slip back to 7th. The following few laps saw no real change to the order as the front two continued to pull away. Powell knew that wins would be needed if he is to retain his title. Lap 8 finally saw him make the breakthrough. A brave dive to the inside at the Hairpin was enough, with Blake unable to counter and having to slot in behind. With Powell now out in front, did Blake have anything up his sleeve? With the halfway point surpassed, things were beginning to get tight in the battle for 3rd. Teal was somehow clinging on despite a train of six karts breathing down his neck. Brooks once again was forcing his way through on Hicks for 6th. With a loss of momentum, Hicks found himself under attack out of the Boot and was pushed wide out of the final corner, with Clark and Scott Martin coming through. One lap later, Stu Martin was ahead of Hicks and Scott Martin as the pair fought each other. Lisseter tried to make some progress at the back of that pack but once again found himself dumped out and to the back of the grid. With the end of the race approaching, all eyes remained on the leading pair as Blake went to work on Powell, looking for a way back into the lead. Twice he went for it at Christmas Corner, but Powell had it covered and kept him at bay. Again Blake tried on the switchback out of the Hairpin, but again Powell had the answers. It looked like going down to the wire, with the pair inseparable and now over 3.7secs clear of Teal. The group behind were still fighting tooth and nail and Brooks once again was the man making ground, getting himself ahead of Nijar to take 5th. With not much going on elsewhere, focus remained on the battle at the front. Blake was now throwing everything but the kitchen sink, but the wily Chris Powell defended well and kept himself ahead. Blake looked determined to take the win and it looked like being achieved when he lunged in at the entry to the Boot on the penultimate lap. Powell kept his cool though, ensuring good drive through the corner to creep back ahead of Blake before reaching the final corner. All hearts were in mouths, but Powell was able to tip it in ahead, clinging onto the lead as the last lap board came out. Behind them, Nijar had fought back to reclaim 5th from Brooks, with Teal still somehow keeping O’Connor at bay and holding on to 3rd. As the leading duo came through the Hook, Powell went narrow to prevent Blake from coming through at Christmas Corner. Blake found his path blocked and Powell again went defensive into the Hairpin. The Boot looked like being Blake’s last chance and he looked to be close enough as they came out of Zulu and onto the back straight. However a better drive out from Powell had given him a kart-length over his rival and it proved enough. Blake couldn’t repeat his Boot-move and was forced to settle for 2nd. As the pair came out of the final corner, Powell was left to take the chequered flag and secure his first win of the season, with Blake taking a very useful 2nd. Over 4secs down the road, Teal was going all out to hold onto 3rd and he somehow succeeded. Despite O’Connor’s best efforts, he was unable to get ahead and crossed the line a mere 0.042secs behind in 4th. Nijar was forced to settle for 5th, with Brooks narrowly behind in 6th. There was less than a second separating 3rd to 7th over the line, but no one was ultimately able to make any late moves and the order remained unchanged. Stephen Hicks received the only penalty of the race, demoting him two places to 12th. Final 2 The battle for fastest lap proved an extremely tight affair, with the front 2 rows separated by less than 0.01secs! It was Ian Blake securing Pole for Final 2, with Championship rival Parmveer Nijar alongside in 2nd. Jack Harding found himself with a good chance of scoring some big points from 3rd, with Chris Powell keeping him company on row 2. 5th and 6th went to Matt Brooks and Tim Clark respectively. As the action began, Blake made sure he got the break and preserved his lead going through Hook and up to Christmas Corner. Behind him, Nijar just about held onto 2nd, with Powell having immediately ousted Harding from 3rd. Stephen Hicks made a good start from 8th and went for it on Harding at Christmas Corner. A slight coming together saw Harding just about hold on, with Brooks having taken advantage to slip through into 4th. Further back, the usual handbags were out as the karts clobbered their way through the Hairpin and Zulu complex, Jay Elliott getting squeezed out and losing positions as a result. Lisseter and O’Connor also found themselves shoved down the order in the melee. Out in front, Blake ran wide through the Boot and appeared to be struggling with his kart. He was able to fend off the advances of Nijar, however, who was being kept busy by the hungry Chris Powell. Lap 2 saw the front four begin to break away from the rest as Hicks made a good move on Harding to snatch 5th. Behind them, Darren Teal got the better of Scott Martin on the run up to Christmas Corner to climb into 7th, with the latter also losing out to David Waters as a result. The battle was really intensifying at the front, however, with Powell really looking in the mood. He tried to forge a move on Nijar and got himself alongside on the exit of the Boot. Nijar kept his foot in, however, with the pair touching side-pods as they came out of the final corner. Nijar was pushed wide over the rumble strip, but he kept it planted and somehow held 2nd. The following lap proved a bad one for the race leader. Taking a wider line through the Hairpin, Blake left himself open to attack and Nijar needed no second invite. The lunge came, with Powell also barrelling through. As they entered zulu, Blake tried desperately to defend, but found himself shoved wide instead, costing himself a further 3 positions to Brooks, Hicks and Harding. By the time he’d slotted back into line, Blake was down in 6th. Further back, Scott Martin got himself tangled up with Ray Norris and lost more positions, slumping to 15th by the end of lap 3. The following lap was less tempestuous, with the order amongst the front 6 remaining the same despite a failed Boot-move by Harding on Hicks. Waters was now up to 7th, having found a way past Teal, whilst Clark had managed to work his way up to 9th. The following couple of laps saw no changes to the order. Lap 7 saw Blake lose yet another position. An attempt on Harding into Christmas Corner failed, allowing Waters to slip through and into 6th. Behind them, Ray Norris was the latest driver to fall down the order after being shoved wide by a Jay Elliott move. As the race moved beyond the half-way mark, things were getting very spicy in the battle for the lead. Nijar was still 1st, but Powell was all over the back of him and trying every trick up his sleeve to find a way past. The 2008 Lightweight Champion held firm though, denying his rival to remain in control. Brooks had managed to latch back onto them and was now well in with a shout too, dragging Hicks with him. In fact Hicks clearly wasn’t content with 4th and set his sights firmly on Brooks. He went for it at the Boot, diving to the inside and storming through. Brooks held firm, however, getting the undercut and taking the inside line for the final corner to hold onto the position. Just a couple of corners later, the move was done. A better drive out of the Hook gave Hicks the run and he launched his kart through at Christmas Corner. Brooks had no answer and was forced to yield. The front two were still fighting it out and again Powell went to the inside of Nijar at the last corner. Nijar refused to surrender and, despite contact, held the lead. Powell was shown a slightly harsh contact warning board for that. Behind them, Waters was trying to find a way past Hicks and Brooks who were slowing each other down. He tried an audacious move around the outside at Christmas Corner which unsurprisingly didn’t work. Blake sensed the chance to regain a position, but once again found himself getting mugged off and shoved wide, thus gifting Darren Teal with 7th. Hicks also found himself losing out to Brooks and Harding as the pair forced their way through into 3rd and 4th. The following lap, Hicks was back ahead of Harding thanks to a smart move. With just two laps to go, things were getting incredibly tight as Nijar somehow continued to hold off the challenge from Powell. Brooks was now right behind them once more and looking to get in on the action. Powell was pushing hard, but just didn’t quite seem to have enough to create a clear opportunity. As the drivers began the penultimate lap, at last Ian Blake’s name rose in the order after he found a way back ahead of Darren Teal for 7th. The final lap board then came out, with a grandstand finish very much on offer. The front 5 karts were now separated by less than a second and things were threatening to boil over. Nijar was now under immense pressure, with Powell desperate to get past. Nijar went defensive to block him off. With the karts now bunched up behind him, Powell knew it was make or break. He went for a good run out of Zulu, but once again Nijar had it covered. As they dived into the Boot, Brooks looked to lunge through into 2nd. It was a half-hearted attempt and one that Powell saw off with ease. As they came through, his loss of speed meant Hicks was now looking to get through but could only tap his rear bumper as Brooks went narrow. As they came through to take the chequered flag, Nijar took it, with a mere 0.78secs between him and Powell in 2nd. Brooks held onto 3rd, however that contact with Hicks through the Boot cost the latter big time, with both Harding and Waters mugging him over the line as they completed the top 6. Blake finished the race a disappointing 7th. So another thrilling contest lowered the curtain on yet another exciting round. Chris Powell was the star of the show, taking the overall round win thanks to a win and a 2nd. That does his dwindling title challenge the world of good, giving it the real shot in the arm that it needed. He still has a bit of ground to make up on the men ahead of him, however, with solid days for both Nijar and Blake seeing them take 2nd and 3rd respectively for the round. With dropped points now coming into effect, things really are getting tight in the Championship fight. Blake currently leads it, with just 5 points separating him and Nijar on dropped rounds. 3rd is reigning Champion Chris Powell, now 18 points adrift of the leader. Peter O’Connor and Scott Martin complete the current top 5. With only 2 rounds remaining and a trip to Rye House in just a couple of weeks, can Chris Powell turn the Championship on it’s head and deny his two rivals a first ever Premier Sprint title? This one may well go right down to the wire! Driver of the Day Despite some stand out excellent drives from Nijar, Blake, Brooks and Teal, this round’s driver of the day is Chris Powell. Consistent throughout the day and super quick, it was almost maximum points but for the excellent defensive drive from Nijar in Final 2. The current Champion was the only man to really produce the goods in both finals, scoring big and giving himself a real chance of holding onto his crown for another year. He’ll certainly be hoping to carry this momentum through to Rye House at the end of October.