National Championship 2012

2012 NHRPA National Championship
Double gold for Bell
Hednesford Hills, Saturday 4th/Sunday 5th August 2012
Graham Brown reports:  The difficulties of painting a gold stripe on an already gold roof is a nice problem for Glenn Bell to be faced with following his National championship victory in another wet race which didn’t quite match the excitement or controversy of the World. After a lengthy pursuit of long-time leader Gary Woolsey, in the end Bell was handed the win after fellow Ulsterman Woolsey crashed following a sudden tyre deflation.

A big entry of 50-plus cars did become somewhat whittled down as the weekend approached and in the end just managed to hit the half century, with Ralph Sanders being the final cancellation.

Those 50 cars were made up of (taking no account of what areas they normally race in) six ROI drivers, eleven Northern Irish, four Scots and solitary Welsh, Dutch and German representatives. The remainder were naturally the biggest single group, the English, with twenty six cars. They included the debuts of Team Ningbo drivers, Ben Taylor and ex-Touring Car (etc.) racer Chris Stockton, plus an extremely smart Merc SLK for Darren Owen. This is the ex-Tim Moody car – although you’d never guess it with the peppermint green paint long gone in favour of almost blinding scarlet – and equipped with an AMG-style front panel.

Friday’s now customary practice session didn’t really throw up any surprises, with Shane Murphy running out the fastest at 13.564 secs, while Carl Boardley (still in the ex-Luscombe car destined for Diss straight after the meeting) showed he was still very much a contender – part time or otherwise – on 13.601. Chris Haird was a wee bit slower at 13.683 but obviously still one of the men to beat.

The weather certainly looked like it could be an issue early Saturday morning, but as start-time approached, it all looked much brighter. For a while…

Heat one kicked off with an early showdown between 2011’s National championship protagonists, Murphy and Haird. Stewart Doak was the first to break but Murphy’s getaway was even better. However, they were soon interrupted by an early yellow flag when Mike Oliver crashed hard on the East bend. With Haird having passed Doak shortly before the stoppage, after the restart 115 and 970 were straight into a virtual repeat of their 2011 duel for the title itself. Just as in that race, it was Murphy who gradually gained the upper hand and, perhaps surprisingly given where he normally races, it was in the traffic that he made most of his gains. Thus he turned pole into a flag to flag win, also setting fastest lap, and all this despite spending about half the race locked in traffic. Haird still claimed second with a what-might-yet-be-significant sixth spot from Boardley who’d carved through from the back of the grid.

Heat two saw the early departure from the meeting of Ulster favourite John Christie when the timing disc in his motor let go on lap one. Unfortunately, this created terminal damage and it was back on the trailer for John. The race also started less than well when Terry Hunn didn’t go at the first time of asking and Les Compelli got disqualified for failing to stop fast enough under a red flag for the steward’s liking.

Sammy Shuddall took an initial lead from his now solitary spot on the front row but he was fairly quickly relegated as a terrific fight for the lead ensued between Tom Casey, Glenn Bell and Kym Weaver, with this trio subsequently being joined by Jason Kew.

Bell made repeated unsuccessful efforts to pass Casey, often down the outside (he was joined out there by Kew with four laps to run) with the world champ ultimately being rewarded with the win only by a quirk of fate and the rules. Tommy Maxwell blew his motor on the last lap and laid oil. With cars spinning and crashing all over the track, the steward threw a red flag. Technically, this made the race unfinished, despite the leader having already passed the chequered. That meant the result had to be taken from the last completed lap and, at that point, Bell had been in front for a vital couple of seconds as they’d crossed the start/finish.

Returnee John Sibbald was the early leader in the third heat but quickly lost out to Chris Lehec who in turn was forced to give over the front spot to Shane Brereton. World final runner-up Gavin Murray charged through to second but couldn’t get close enough to the leader to mount any sort of challenge. Rain was beginning to spot the track in the last couple of laps of this and there were some extremely ominous looking clouds gathering over the Chase too.

The spitting rain continued at the start of heat four and very quickly turned to the real thing once the cars were all lined up on the grid, mostly on slicks. Very sensibly the race was postponed, the cars returned to the pits and the event run later, this time in pouring rain. Mind you there had been an absolute deluge by then which the Nationals were lucky not to encounter. At one point during this the infield and figure eight track were flooded to a depth of several inches.

With Boardley on the front row for the re-run of heat four, a win for him looked a forgone conclusion, particularly after he’d rocketed past Terry Hunn and into the lead at the green. But he was soon being pursued by Mark Heatrick and Gary Woolsey and it quickly became clear that Carl couldn’t drop them either. Memories of Heatrick’s Ipswich pace resurfaced, while maybe Woolsey’s undoubted speed was even more of a shock, Gary never having been noted as a wet weather performer.

Whatever the reason, the Ulster pair gave Boardley a more than good run for his money. Woolsey managed to out-fumble Heatrick as the trio lapped Dicky Burtenshaw, while Boardley made some space out of the incident too. Carl also found a drier line very high up on the bankings and got even further away for a bit, but Woolsey still managed to regain all his lost ground and it was only in the dying seconds that the win was assured for Boardley. Lots of significant results in the top five here too, with Haird having got up to nick third spot off Heatrick with three to go, while Murphy got in another telling result in fifth.

But it was the fifth heat encounter which turned into the race of the day, some said, of the season.

A collision between Jack Blood and Burtenshaw at turn one saw Burtenshaw run wide and gave Blood both the lead and a black cross. The pair were quickly caught by Rob McDonald, the Scot then going to the front pretty swiftly. That was going to be the end of the matter as far as the lead was concerned, but the battle for second place became an absolute classic.

Boardley had been blitzing through the field from grid position sixteen until he reached fifth man Murray, who always looked like being a tougher nut to crack. But Boardley was looking absolutely electric as he went outside Murray and then under Billy Bonnar all in one flowing move.

Blood and Burtenshaw had no answer to the four time world winner either but, despite having been passed, Murray stayed close at hand with Haird rushing to join in now as well!

Haird and Murray locked horns, with Chris going ahead momentarily only for Gavin to just manage to slam the door. But they still spurred one another back up to Boardley’s bumper and an amazing dice developed through the backmarking traffic, with Boardley nearly losing out when he tangled with Tom Casey, and then actually losing out when he was the first to find some oil going into the West bend. He held onto the huge moment of understeer and didn’t crash but it was enough to let Haird past, with Murphy following this powerful triumvirate home just for good measure. McDonald’s victory was almost incidental to all this and, as was remarked at the time, he hadn’t really picked a good moment to record his first win in Nationals.

Almost as though they didn’t want to be outdone, the heat six protagonists also turned on the style, although not before an early restart was caused by Colin Smith’s BMW launching an errant wheel over the catch fencing and onto the boot of Hughie Weaver’s previously immaculate Mercedes!

With that all sorted out, and a very light drizzle still in the air, David Brooks led them away briefly until Kewy went ahead before the completion of a lap. With Keith Martin through to second almost equally fast, the race was already shaping up to be something a bit more than run-of-the-mill. And so it turned out, with Kew and Martin putting on a complete race long duel.

Kew left a gap up his inside going through the East bend, which Martin instantly took advantage of to go in front, only to have Kew go powering past the former world champion right around the outside of the West bend. But Martin wasn’t done yet by any means and came back hard at Jason, and with backmarkers looming up ahead to maybe trip the leader up as well, it was definitely going to be a close run thing. There was, as we used to say, nowt but a fag paper between them at the flag although the verdict was still just in Kewy’s favour.

Almost unnoticed, Brooks hung onto third all the way with some fairly significant results behind him too, as Heatrick got home fourth ahead of Woolsey and Doak.
115 970 95 940 348 960 278 961 271 66 39 615 261 629 339 963
41   9   174 996 162 117 994 76  67 100 10 871 31 444 209 28
The Final – 75 (70) laps
Sunday’s weather forecast was a good deal worse than Saturday’s had been, with much more frequent and prolonged bouts of rain predicted. Sure enough and right on cue, the cars were on the pace laps when the suddenly spattering rain drops caused race control to abandon the start, offering ten minutes grace for tyre changes. Of course, many (most even) of them were on slicks, although the word from trackside was that there were seven who’d been going to go with wets anyway. With conditions as they stood, tyre choice was going to be a total lottery and anybody who got it right was never going to be able to claim any more than good luck being on their side. Mark you, there was one driver who never wavered, and that was Boardley, Carl having told us he was adamant about going on slicks whatever the weather was at the start. That’s just for all you 41 fans who were wondering how come yer man got lapped a couple of times…

By the time the race did get underway, it was pouring down (although with the sun trying hard to come out too) and five more installation laps were deemed wise to allow everybody to acclimatise a little, with the ultimate race distance shortened to just 70 laps.

The front runners were obviously all out to try and establish an early lead. Boardley went straight out front in an opening lap, three wide moment, only to immediately lose out to Murphy before Kew came bursting through to take it up in another three wide manoeuvre. As Boardley rode high in the turns looking for some asphalt with a bit less moisture, Woolsey came into the mix too as he, Bell and Murphy all relegated the four time world champ.

Then Woolsey began challenging Kew hard as the pair were now able to leave the rest behind, and once again, it has to be said that Gary’s wet track pace was outstanding. Yes, yes, I’m sure he was on four wets, but that certainly hasn’t usually made him the man to beat in the rain in the past.

With the lead pair already running into lapped traffic, Woolsey was eventually able to out-wit the leader as they worked their way around the backmarking Tom Casey on the West bend.

The race had begun to settle down a little now, with Woolsey heading Kew, then a gap back to Bell before a big gap back to Murphy. Next up was an unlikely looking scrap between Neil Stimson and John vd Bosch, with both men already further up the field than maybe they’d expected to be. Next up were Boardley and Haird, both still plodding on with what were clearly less-than-great tyre choices, with Kym Weaver right behind them and starting to look pretty good at this stage.

Next Woolsey appeared to turn up the wick a bit as he started to pull away fast from Kew now, or maybe Jason was going slower, as Bell was starting to close in. Half a lap now separated Bell from Murphy, who was being pestered by Stimson and vd Bosch, the Dutchman not only giving Stimson the slip, but also putting Murphy behind him too.

Bell finally caught Kew and went by with seemingly no problem along the back straight, while Weaver continued his advances as he overtook Stimson and then vd Bosch to go fourth. Then Woolsey put Boardley and Haird a lap down and that did look like the end of either man’s chances of a trophy this year with no sign of the rain letting up any time soon.

As half distance came and went, Woolsey had slightly less than half a lap over Bell and Kew, then there was another half lap back to Weaver, vd Bosch and Stimson, Neil being the last car still on the lead lap. That didn’t last long and a couple of tours later, Gary had rounded fifth and sixth to leave just four cars on the same lap. Weaver didn’t seem too keen on allowing the leader past (maybe he thought they were racing for position) but Gary forced his way through exiting the East bend. Of course, it might have been that Kym wasn’t making way as he didn’t want to hand his position on a plate to the closely following vd Bosch, because that’s exactly what happened straight afterwards.

As if determined to make me out a liar, the rain suddenly eased right off and, with Hednesford’s steeply banked turns and high grade surface, it was soon drying out under the pounding of the cars.

Of course the first question I’m asking myself is, with over 25 laps still to go, how are Woolsey’s tyres going to hold up? Does it matter? Has he got enough lead to just waste some of it by tapping off a bit?

The ‘tapping off’ thing didn’t look it was happening, as Gary put Murphy and Boardley two laps down and retained his half lap margin over Bell. Murphy was soon to become embroiled in a tangle with David Casey but this was of no consequence to the leaders. 

Something which might have been was that Woolsey had started going rather deep into the East bend. Once may have been just a small error but a second time and I’m starting to wonder if his tyres are rolling off or something. So I wasn’t too surprised when, with ten laps to run, he suddenly slid off and came to rest against the West bend barriers. I didn’t find out until later that he’d had the tiniest brush with the back marking Danny Hunn, the incident having whipped the valve out of the leader’s left front tyre and it was this which had actually ended his race.

It was all just a bit reminiscent of last year, where one driver had done all the hard work and looked to have it in the bag only to have a hard-earned win snatched away by a tyre going down. It was even the same left front wheel.

So it was that Bell picked it up and simply had to drive to the finish, crossing the line half a lap clear of Kew and right behind third man Weaver. In what was undoubtedly his finest hour, John vd Bosch got home fourth after a steady, speedy and all around impressive performance. As I told him afterwards, we always knew you were quick in the wet, just not that quick! A truly satisfying podium I feel, both for John and the spectators he’s travelled so far to entertain for so long now.

The next three men home, Stimson, Carl Waller-Barrett and Shuddall could surely all be proud of their performances too and, although I doubt he’d agree, I’m not sure eighth was too bad a result for Boardley on his slicks.

The Grand National kicked off with the track once again soaked and front row men Haird and vd Bosch immediately going at it for the lead, while no less than a four-wide moment along the back straight caught my eye, as Murphy, Boardley, Murray and Colin Gomm tried to sort themselves out.

As the late afternoon sun came out to reflect off the now blinding spray, conditions became even less fun. Haird finally started to establish a significant lead over vd Bosch and, as he was cutting through the traffic better, looked destined to be a long way clear by the finish.

Perhaps the most interesting dice in the latter part of the race was where Doak and Boardley were scrapping over fifth and sixth. Stewart is another driver we know to be a lot better than average in the wet and this was an intriguing dice, one which the Ulsterman eventually got the best of.

With the finish coming up, the second man began to come up on clumps of backmarkers who weren’t terribly co-operative, allowing Haird to carry a quarter of a lap advantage to the flag. Terry Hunn took a well-deserved third here ahead of Murray with the first real showing in the formula for Brett Walter in fifth.  Graham Brown
Martin Kingston’s photos
in the Gallery
Heat one: 970,115,996,162,278,41,100,66,117,261,348,994,10,467,844,629,992,871,18,979,160.
Heat two: 9,961,209,174,271,444,95,28,67,940,960,31,76,339,615,761,963.
Heat three: 348,95,9,615,76,31,278,996,961,66,994,629,444,27,992,467,10,28,217,8,339,979.
Heat four: 41,940,115,960,970,491,39,162,74,271,174,92,117,871,963,777,100,67,261.
Heat five: 117,115,41,95,970,162,76,9,871,339,100,92,261,844,961,152.
Heat six: 174,994,67,960,940,996,348,39,10,271,278,629,66,467,761,777,979,963.
National Championship Final:9,174,209,66,271,162,444,41,963,115,28,960,278,100,76,339,10,996,871,629.
Grand National: 115,66,39,95,217,996,74,41,963,629
Penalties: 74 disqualified from heat two for various incidents of contact.  777 disqualified from heat two for a red flag infringement. 844 disqualified from heat four for contact with 152.  All results