Brands Hatch 27th and 28th March 2010
Reigning champ Rod Birley suffered a troubled build-up to the start of this year’s Dunlop/Motorsport News Saloon Championship when a fire erupted during a test only days before the first round; but the hard-working Now Garages team overcame their problems to score a resounding double at Brands Hatch on Sunday March 28.
Despite race morning problems Rod found the driest route on a damp track to take pole and converted this into an immediate lead in race one. Joss Ronchetti, Mark Biggers, Nigel Craig, Malcolm Wise and Craig Davies (winner of the best prepared car prize) formed a group fighting for the rest of the top leading places while Stratton Mackay came through from last on a 27-car grid to join them and earn the driver of the race award.
If anyone thought shuffling some drivers into different classes would separate Richard Brent and Bill Richards, they were proved wrong as the old rivals duelled over seventh on the road while heading their respective classes easily. Richard and Bill were part of an exciting bunch which also included two other class leaders, David Usher and Ray Barrow, and two of Ray’s immediate rivals, Kevin Bird and Ashley Hargreaves.
If race one looked comfortable for Birley, race two was made much easier when Biggers planted the big Skyline in the Paddock gravel trap moments after the start. Rod amused himself by dipping below the 50s barrier, setting a new class A lap record, while heading to a 29s win. Ronchetti was second again but conceded that a big power deficit would make closing the gap a distant prospect.
Malcolm Wise charged from last on the grid to third before tyre de-lamination hampered his progress for the second time and he settled for sixth place. Richards and Usher won their classes again but a couple of the other title prospects were out of luck. Richard Brent’s bonnet panel was flapping from the start and he lost two laps after responding to a black and orange flag and Ray Barrow’s indecently fast old Escort had an intermittent misfire which restricted him to second in class behind Hargreaves. Steve Dann won the drive of the race bubbly.
BARC South East’s Intermarque and Tin Top series both launched as part of the previous day’s Brands Hatch programme.
Reigning champion Steve Hall made a solid start to his title defence in the Quaife Intermarque League, but not as good as fellow West Country driver Keith White who was a double winner. It took White until lap six to overcome his rival in race one, helped by the intervention of a backmarker. Chris Brockhurst retired with fuel feed problems and Richard Smith slowed with tyre trouble, freeing Rod Birley (treating this as a test session) and Jonathan Hoggarth to contest third place and their class. Rod was stuck with just 0.9 bar of boost due to a blocked air injector (another legacy of the recent fire) and a rather poorly rear differential (which our hard working team changed overnight). Paul Dudley, just inside the top ten, was best of the Tiger contingent.
Hall tried a different set of tyres in race two and felt they had just reached their best when a safety car intervention cancelled out any benefit. He finished closer to White this time, although Keith did lower the class lap record, whilst in fourth place Smith separated Birley and Hoggarth. The caution period was caused by Brockhurst accidentally sideswiping one of the Tigers while on a big charge from 25th on the grid and stranding his car on the track. Dudley was again the best of the Tigers.
Hoggarth and John Macleod (Tiger R6) each took a drive of the race award, whilst Richard Smith’s beautifully turned out Vauxhall Tigra silhouette was voted the best prepared car.
Cannons Motor Spares Tin Top Challenge honours went to Antony Harrison in both races on Saturday. Behind the south coast driver a superb battle raged featuring David Cox, Andrew Mitchell, Michael Cox, Garry Barlow, Gary Chappell, Luke Bennett and Terry Searles, who finished in that order but tried most of the alternative permutations in the course of 15 laps. Several of these were from the always hotly contested T3, which produced the 2009 champion Danny Cassar, a spectator this weekend. Gary Barlow’s last lap pass on Garry Chappell earnt him the drive of the race award, whilst Mr. Chappell got the best prepared car accolade.
Local man Berni Baxter impressed, winning T4 on his first outing with a newly acquired Fiesta but he lost out in race two when the front spoiler came adrift. A dodgy transponder meant the timekeepers were not recording Berni’s progress anyway.
No such problems for Harrison, who won again, but Mitchell out fumbled David Cox for second place on the last corner this time and 2008 champion Gary Chappell was fourth after slowing with gearbox bothers in the opening encounter. Gary did lower the class lap record. Kenny Coleman won the drive of the race prize by just holding off Steve Cassar.