European Championship 2006

Martin is Euro victor again

Graham Brown reports: Keith Martin may not have managed a win at Tipperary until Sunday’s final, but that was the one that mattered, the popular Ulsterman utterly dominating the 50-lapper to retain his European title.

As is becoming traditional for the European, a large and cosmopolitan entry was on hand, with 38 cars in the pits. Without wading through them all, suffice to say there was representation from almost all areas covered by the NHRPA and even beyond, with itinerant racers Mike Oliver (Wales) and Winnie Holtmanns (Germany) joining in the fun.

Amongst them all, there were some items of interest for students of Hot Rod runners and riders. Alan Wilson turned up without his regular TT, but brought instead the ex-Mark Willis/Billy Bonnar (and maybe others – I didn’t recognise the met. green paint job at all!) Corsa. This car is a previous winner of the European of course. 

Joey Butler turned out in his new Haird built 206cc – and very nice it looked too, as indeed did the similar car of Richard Spavins, his Focus replacement resplendent in a very orange colour scheme. Nobody is going to miss this one coming, in other words. Mark you, it wasn’t going anywhere fast on the Saturday unfortunately, first suffering engine problems with its regular motor, and then more trouble with its scheduled replacement. Like I always say, how come you need to go to Tipperary to wreck a motor or two – it can never be somewhere right on your doorstep can it?!

Andy Steward was another one changing major units after practice, a gearbox in his case.

Former 2.0 Hot Rod and more recently, BriSCA F2 driver Mark McKinstry, was in doubt as a starter right up to the eleventh hour, but the Ulsterman finally took his NHR debut at the helm of his ex-Ian Thompson 206. 

Four heats were run on Saturday to determine Sunday’s grid, to the fairly usual format, each driver doing two of the four with drawn and then reversed grid positions. 

Dermot Meenehan led the first of these, by dint of hanging back on the rolling start and then taking a flyer at the green. He still eventually lost out to John Christie, by running wide on the pit bend exit.

Meenehan wasn’t the only who’d made a bit of a demon start, Tom Casey taking a flyer of his own, something he probably figured he needed to do from the very last grid position. Apparently, this didn’t quite come off, as he ran into Terry Hunn, proving beyond doubt that the back of Terry’s car is a lot tougher than the front of Tom’s VW! I never actually witnessed this, I just saw Tom retiring with most of the Corrado’s front hanging off, so I could be doing him an injustice there.

Meenehan lost a couple more places when Des Cooney and Joey Butler went by, but Christie was off and running by this stage, getting further clear with each passing lap. 

He was still leading when the red flags came out for an early finish after Andy Steward went spinning on the pit bend with a locked up gearbox and Hunn took a ride up the wall. Terry took the resulting damage philosophically. 

“I was following Colin Gomm, and thought to myself, ‘I’m going faster than him, maybe I can get by. But I didn’t want to hit him or anything, so I was looking for a way up the outside. Then it suddenly came, and I was feeling all pleased with myself – until I realised why they were all slowing up!”

Heat two featured a terrific four way lead dice between Neville Stanley – another who made a very fast getaway – Gary Woolsey, Malcolm Blackman and Chris Haird. 

This developed into a classic bit of hot rod racing, with young Mr. Haird driving an absolute stormer, and certainly one of the best races I’ve seen all season. He’d started way back on row five and wasted no time at all catching up with the leading trio. At this point, Stanley was still heading Woolsey and Blackman, and Chris went straight for the outside pass as soon as he caught them. I thought to myself, ‘Are you sure?’

But Chris was absolutely sure and quickly overhauled Blackman. Woolsey gave him more of a hard time but Chris hung it out there until he could make good the pass crossing the start/finish. Now: what to do about the leader, who’d made some ground while all this was going on. Unfazed, Chris soon clawed that back just as the backmarking Eddie Wall car loomed up ahead in timely fashion. Wall started to pull wide just as Stanley had decided on an outside pass, enabling Haird to out fumble both of them with a lightning quick dart down the inside.

Hard work all done, it looked like Chris had only to drive to the finish to claim a spectacular victory. But no sooner did he have his hands on the lead, than there was a commotion on the back straight as the 115 car looned all over the track, the resulting moment leaving Stanley up the wall and stopping the race. Several observers reckoned Chris had clipped the wall first, while Chris said that a front wheel’s split rim bolts had disintegrated, causing instant deflation of the tyre. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of what Chris says, but if the wheel bolts fractured all on their own, it’s certainly something I’ve never seen before. What I will say is, I could see no evidence on the car, or its other wheels, of it having been in the wall, even gently. 

Whatever happened, it was a sad end to a great drive.

Woolsey took it up for the restart and went on to win, pulling steadily clear all the way. In fact, the real interest in the rest of the race, was the battle for third engendered by the yellow flag hiatus. This had enabled Oliver to close up on Blackman and then spend the rest of the race not only looking faster, but trying very hard to get past! Clearly, this would have been something of an embarrassment had Malcolm allowed it to happen – but he didn’t.

Incidentally, this one also came to a truncated finish, when Anto Butler stopped on the pit bend exit in a dodgy spot. 

Long time leader Ronnie McMillan and Andy Holtby wound up fighting for the lead in heat three, once Holtby had shrugged off the attentions of Shane Murphy. Almost un-noticed, Haird was out of this one early on when his throttle linkage fell apart, leaving him with a zero score from the heats which unfortunately, was going to leave him in the ranks of the non-qualifiers. 

Further back, Alan White was running sixth and making a fair fist of hanging onto the place as well. But an eventual challenge from Ian McReynolds and Stewart Doak saw them hare past, Alan swooning all over the home straight in their wake before going straight on into the second pit gate – just as Mike Thurley and McKinstry arrived on the scene. The impact between the two Saxo’s was sufficient to eliminate Thurley from the meeting, and needless to say, brought about another round of yellows.

McMillan and Holtby continued their lead dice upon the resumption, but now joined by an eager looking bunch comprising Wayne Woolsey, Murphy and Clive Richardson. A serious dice ensued, with Murphy and Richardson getting past Woolsey, and then Richardson taking Murphy. Having dropped back from the leader for a bit, Holtby zoomed in for the kill once more with four to go. But a clash between the pair saw them traverse the home straight locked together and slowed by the process. This was all the invitation Richardson needed to slip through and away to victory. The steward decreed that Holtby had started his passing move on the kerb and handed down a two place penalty for doing so.

Despite another suspiciously speedy getaway, Tom Casey was soon in command of the last qualifier, and on his home ground, didn’t look very likely to do anything other than stay that way for the duration.

There were some interruptions along the way however, the first coming with a yellow for Hunn, who’d spun in turn one, involving one or two others. Terry’s car looked as though its earlier battering might not have been fully fixed, as it was definitely sitting rather low in the left front and sounded like it was touching the track.

Casey continued leading, tracked by Gomm, Stuart Carter and Dick Hillard, with Malcolm Clein and Martin next up. Martin took Clein down the inside of the far turn, with Oliver and Blackman following on as Clein got railroaded down the order. But the next stoppage – with very necessary red flags this time – was on its way.

Hillard had his throttle jam wide open going into turn three, launching him into a wild and scary ride up the wall, the car showering sparks everywhere and looking for a few seconds as though it was going right over the wall. It didn’t, but it was a close run thing. Thankfully, Dick was relatively OK after the experience (apart from having bitten his tongue, which is what you get for shouting “****!” at the vital moment Dick!) but his passable Herman Munster impersonation the following day made it no surprise that he wasn’t going to take up his place on the final grid.

The restart saw Tom still leading, now with Carter and Martin locked in combat for second. A few months ago, you wouldn’t have had a lot of money on Stuart hanging onto the place against an onslaught from the former world champion, but Carter has looked a different proposition since his acquisition of the Tigra. He stayed in front of the eager Martin the rest of the way, which turned out to be quite significant for the eventual make up of Sunday’s grid. Mind you, Stuart might not have been so keen to get that aggregate second spot from qualifying if he’d known what his reward was going to be…

So: all of that eventually put Richardson on pole for the thirty car final, with Carter right alongside. Row two looked probably the biggest threat to those front starters, with Martin and Wayne Woolsey griding just in front of Blackman and the impressive Mike Oliver.

When Wall departed to the infield with a failed clutch, the eager Haird team were all for getting their man on the back of the grid as his replacement. Unfortunately, even if the steward had been about to halt proceedings and open the pit gate (which he clearly wasn’t – there are time constraints at Rosegreen these days), there were still non-qualifying drivers who actually had some points who would have been more entitled to take the start than Chris, who had none. Unfortunate, but true.

The race was really won and lost on the opening lap, as Richardson got loose going into the first turn and left a yawning gap up his inside. Martin was in it like a shot, Richardson having to slot in behind as Carter got railroaded, with seemingly no way back in from the outside line.

The front four broke away a bit, with Martin heading Richardson, Woolsey and Blackman into the traffic. Clive closed up a bit going through the backmarkers, but Keith went clear again when they got back on open road.

Carter started something of a revival for himself after Colin White and Joey Butler clashed on the far turn, allowing Stuart past both of them.

The order settled down a little, with Martin still leading Richardson and Wayne Woolsey, then a gap back to Blackman, then a bigger gap back to Oliver and Christie. JAC was making distinct overtures about getting by, having already made it past Gary Woolsey somewhere along the way.

But there was a caution flag period coming up (actually something of a surprise it had taken this long), when Doak and Les Compelli went spinning in unison on the far turn exit, Oliver spinning at the other end at almost the same moment.

With the green back out the first four were naturally all together, which saw Woolsey and Blackman able to relegate Richardson, Clive’s car not looking so great after the brief rest. It wasn’t long before Martin was easing away from the rest once more, but he was also starting to become enmeshed in backmarkers again too.

It looked like maybe Oliver blamed Christie for his earlier rotation, and was definitely obstructing him when John came up to lap the #57. Christie survived the clinch with just a loss of time rather than places, but Mike went on to get involved with other cars following, causing a melee which led to Gary Woolsey taking a ride up the pit gate and out of sixth spot. He was predictably unimpressed.

With no yellow necessary for the incident, the race entered its closing stages, and it was definitely Woolsey who now represented the biggest threat to Martin’s lead. Wayne’s 206cc – which is one of the prettiest Nationals ever to grace an oval and has looked, quite frankly, horrible to drive – had seemed a completely different animal right from Saturday’s practice. I watched him hurtling around, skimming the wall and driving perfect, apex clipping, corners. Even if he was on his ownsome with nothing to compare him to, I didn’t need a stopwatch to see that the blue and silver car had suddenly become a lot more sorted.

Or in other words, very dangerous to Martin’s repeat title ambitions, especially as Keith seemed to be slowing a little for the first time. Indeed, he slowed so much that I started to suspect tyres which had gone off, or maybe even a flat. 

“Oh no, I was just making sure it was safe!” Keith laughed afterwards. 

All well and good, but sometimes that attitude can get you passed. It certainly allowed Blackman and Richardson to get back in on the act too, and with Woolsey looking very keen indeed for an outside pass, the leader suddenly turned up the wick again to make his back-to-back titles safe.

Richardson went very wide exiting turn four with three to go, but lost only ground rather than positions, therefore still finishing fourth. Christie yet again impressed with fifth, a long way clear of Joey Butler, Carter, White, Casey and Steward.

The Davy Evans Memorial featured the usual reverse of the European grid, with non-qualifiers at the front to give them a shot at some glory. Most of us suspected that this was probably all the encouragement Chris Haird needed – if indeed, he needed any at all.

Norman Woolsey joined on the back of the grid, as something of a ‘novelty entry’ in his Classic Hot Rod, and quite incongruous it looked too, out there with all the modern stuff. Perhaps unsurprisingly, giving away around 50-plus bhp, it sounded rather breathless, probably not helped by what sounded like Northampton gearing still in it. Norman wisely pulled the car up not long after they started lapping him.

There was a little amusement caused before the start too, when Holtmanns and Casey collided coming out of the pit gate! Luckily, it was quite gentle and no real harm was done on either side. 

Spavins had finally made it on track for the first time and had clearly decided to make it count too, as he slotted straight in behind pole man Haird at the off. Not that they were going very far at the first time of asking, Des Cooney, McReynolds, Wilson, Murphy, Oliver and Joey Butler all ending up hard in the wall on the pit bend right after the start.

This was of course, grounds for a complete restart, although this made no difference to Haird and Spavins, who shot off at the head of the field once more. 

Not surprisingly, Haird was swiftly off into a nice safe lead of around a quarter of a lap, leaving Spavins to try and fend off the rapidly advancing Casey. Tom went by to claim second with five laps to run, by which time, the leader was all but half a lap away. Casey had eaten into that a little by flag fall, but Haird was never in any danger, going on to lift the coveted Davy Evans trophy as some consolation from his weekend. 

Casey too, had ended the day on an upbeat note, while Spavins must surely have been happy to both get his new car running and show that it works pretty good too. 

All in all, a superb weekend at Tipperary, great racing, great weather, almost impossible to fault in fact. It was just that, without Sean Crotty rushing around everywhere, fag in hand and insulting everybody over the PA in his inimitable fashion, it simply wasn’t quite the same. Get well soon my friend.  Graham Brown.

Heat 1
930  980 777  984 291    –   996  977 198  103
962  921 151  994 467  31    85  278   39 961
Result:  962 921  151 994  85  777 198  31  996 291  977 278  39  930 467  103 980  984

Heat 2
967  940 911  57  179 985    –   55   –    420 21
–      963 718  74  115 976    50  970 61 944
Result:  940 911  57  718 976  50  985 61 970  74  944 55 21 420

Heat 3
944  61    970 50   976  115 74 718  963   –     21
103  198 977  996 –      291 984  777 980  930
Result:  976 50 970  61(X-2) 996  718 944  977 74 777  930 21 198  980

Heat 4
961  39  278 85 31 467  994 151  921 962
420  –   55   –    985 179  57  911 940  967
Result:  961 85 994  278 57 911  151 940  962 985  420 467  39  558 179

Final: 2006 European Championship – 50 laps
976  994 911  940 151  970 996  777 944  977 198  420 21 55 980
85   50   57   961 718  61    278 985  961 74   921 930  39  467 179 (reserve)
Result: 994  50  911 976  962 151
 85  718 961  198 970  985 996  977 278 74 777  467 930  55