The excitement started at the drivers briefing just after midday where Matt James, from Motorsport News, confirmed that the weekly paper he works for are to be joint sponsors of the championship with Dunlop Tyres. Hence we now have the Dunlop Motorsport News saloon car championship, which will soon become known as DMN or DMSN.
With a warm and sunny afternoon in prospect we decided to try out some new wheels and tyres in practice. Along with our new front suspension, this made the Escort more stable and Rod easily set pole position with a time of 43.177 seconds, 2.866 faster than John Cross in his Mercedes V8. Next up was Andy Thompson with his neat Seat Leon, the quickest of three Seats in the field. Andy was also the leading class B runner. Alongside him was Peter Wilkinson with his new acquisition, which is the ex-Derek Hales Nissan Primera Super-Tourer. Row three should have been the driver featured on the front cover of the programme, namely Steve Weatherley, but a differential problem meant that Steve was a non- starter. On his own therefore was Stewart Thomas in a pretty Renault Clio, a former cup car complete with sequential gearbox.
Next came Graham Bahr with his hastily readied BMW E30 turbo. Graham had a mishap in practice when he spun on his own oil and wiped off his front spoiler. Alongside the Beemer was Martin Johnson in his re-painted Mercedes 190 Evo2, which Greg Rose pedalled very quickly last year. The car looks absolutely brilliant in its DTM livery and sounds fabulous out on the track. The distinctive sounding Subaru Imprezzas of Stephen and Nigel Craig occupied the next two slots, followed by the Seats of Ray Adams and Anthony Ahmed. Ray withdrew after receiving some damage in the allcomers practice. Bringing up the final row were Greg Rose in the ex-Laurence Bristow Thundersaloon Ford Sierra (suffering boost problems) and Andy Wickens in the Kalimex Ford Sapphire.
With standing starts the order of the day, Rod blasted away and disappeared into the distance. What was amazing was that the team had put the old tyres back on, in order to save the new ones for later in the day. All eyes focused on the scrap for second place. Initially John Cross had to fend off the attention of Andy Thompson, but scything through from the back of the field was Greg Rose. Somehow Greg managed to squeeze past John on the run to the chequered flag, so not surprisingly Greg won the driver of the race award which was being decided by the marshals.
Andy Thompson held on to fourth overall (winning class B), from a fast closing Graham Bahr. The gap from second to fifth was just 1.9 seconds, whereas Rod’s winning margin was 19.274. In sixth place Steward Thomas had a good debut run, outpacing the four wheel drive Subarus in seventh and eighth. Nigel leading home Stephen, with Anthony Ahmed hassling Stephen towards the end. Martin Johnson was the first lapped runner, followed by Andy Wickens.
For the longer race Rod again took off like a scalded cat, unlike Greg Rose who got badly bogged down. Shooting past five cars was Nigel Craig, who experienced the delights of four wheel drive traction. Nigel was second by the Devils Elbow put unfortunately got tapped into a spin by John Cross at the hairpin. Nigel’s recovery drive was judged to be the highlight of the race and the marshals rewarded him with the Quaife driver of the race award. Meanwhile an interesting, if slightly physical, battle developed over the runner up spot. Greg Rose took a little while to out muscle the silver Mercedes but once clear he quickly pulled away to finish just 3.2 seconds behind a cruising Rod.
This time Cross managed to resist a last bend attempt by Bahr to usurp him. Graham took the class B honours from a somewhat subdued Andy Thompson, who finished 6.8 seconds behind the blue car. Nigel Craig recovered to sixth overall, a bit disappointed after his lightning start, whilst Stewart Thomas had a lonely run to complete the unlapped runners. Stephen Craig again held off Ahmed by less than a second, and Wickens rounded out the field. Martin Johnson retired the Mercedes with a clutch problem.
The races for the class C, D and E runners were very dramatic at the front. In the sprint event Bill Richards beat Richard Brent away, but surprisingly neither of them lasted the distance. Richard pulled off with an engine problem whilst Bill had a driveshaft fail. This left two more Minis (Peter Crewes and Lee McNair) battling with Andy Woods-Dean in his Renault Megane. On the final lap it looked like the yellow French car had it, but a slip up in the final corner meant the yellow Mini (from Devon) took the spoils. Lee nipped through for second place with Andy recovering to third, just over a second splitting them. Crewes took the driver of the race award.
Richard Brent was unable to fix his car, but Bill Richards lined up at the rear for the longer race. Gradually Bill picked off his rivals until he joined the other two Minis at the head of the field. For five laps, the three drivers put on a magnificent display of “on the limit” racing. Every lap they each lifted their rear nearside wheel going into the Elbow. Bill clearly had the bit between his teeth and he finally hit the front around two thirds distance, and held on to take a superb win. He also took driver of the race, and driver of the day awards (this netted him six months worth of Motorsport news). Crewes and McNair were still within a second of the blue Mini at the end.
In the other two classes, Phil Brent outpaced Woody for class C honours, the dark Peugeot taking fourth overall. Phil Usher took third in this class with his re-painted Ford Focus. Although Alex Ribbens triumphed in class D in the shorter race, he failed to start in the longer one when he discovered his oil cooler had split. This allowed Andy Pipe to take a well deserved trophy, especially as two days earlier he did not have an engine. Runner up in class D went to the BMW 318 of Paul Dickenson. This budget car also won the best prepared car award.
Next round is at Brands Hatch, where the BARC South East Tin-Tops will be involved in a team event. The race is on for everyone to get their entries in on time, as there will only be 32 places on the DMN grid.