Christie keeps with tradition
It is viewed as traditional for the world champion to go on and win the National championship as well. Glenn Bell did it last year and now his great friend and rival John Christie has repeated the exercise. Qualifying on pole, Christie lost the lead after a spin and then had to fight his way back to the front in order to win one of the few major titles his dad never did.
There was a very healthy number of cars on hand for Friday afternoon’s now traditional free practice session (45 cars actually took part in the weekend’s racing) on a warm but breezy day with a nice dry track. To keep my life simple, once again this was one of those meetings when everyone was driving exactly what we expected them to be driving, with one notable exception – Frank West. Frank appeared to have traded his Audi TT for a rather nice looking midnight blue Mercedes SLK but, in fact, it was the TT, suitably chopped about and fitted with the Merc panel kit. According to Frank, the main part of the car remains unchanged but still inexplicably felt a great deal better in testing.
Of course, there is always interest (and some kudos) in who runs fastest on the Friday, and this year it was Shane Murphy who out-ran Chris Haird by 0.029 of a second to claim the honour of FTD. In fact, the track was running really fast, with (coincidentally) no less than thirteen cars in the 13’s, including the eventual winner. However, just as at Ipswich, Christie was more than a couple of tenths away from what looked like being ‘the pace’ and so still wasn’t giving himself a big chance. Hmm…bit of a pattern emerging here methinks!
The Heats – Saturday
Friday may have been good, weather-wise, but Saturday did not look like being quite so co-operative. The sky was very leaden and overcast all morning and then, right on cue, it started to spit with rain just as the cars lined up for heat one.
Murphy, having drawn pole for this, looked a dead cert here to rack up a win to kick off his campaign although it wasn’t going to be a great start to proceedings for a number of people in actual fact, including Shane…
Indeed, it wasn’t generally going to be a great race for people called Shane, as Brereton was forced to become a non-starter.
And the rest had barely got going when suddenly Haird and Colin Smith were in the wall along the home straight. Chris smacked the Armco twice pretty hard, while Colin only went in once but it was most definitely for keeps as it finished his weekend for him on the spot. Brett Walter was also involved to a greater or lesser extent, as was Stuart McLaird who, although allowed in the restart, was subsequently disqualified after the race.
By the time the cars had been re-lined, it was raining properly and that meant everybody having to return to the pits for wets. Of course, and needless to say, the sun was out again by the time they’d all done that job. The postponement was not quite lengthy enough to enable Team Haird to get the #115 back in the hunt but, as they later discovered a cracked steering rack they didn’t know they had, that may have been just as well.
The field all slithered away again for another try, with Terry Maxwell going very deep into the first turn, and Shane Murphy going even deeper! He did still get the lead but only briefly, as McLaird rushed past on the West bend exit soon to be followed by Jason Kew, Gary Woolsey, Kym Weaver and a host of others. Murphy had decided to gamble with staying on slicks and was paying the price.
It didn’t take long before wet weather lover Weaver was through to second and chasing down the leader, Kym finally going ahead on the East bend exit and then pulling clear. A hard dice between Woolsey and Christie eventually resulted in what was to be a crucial third spot for Christie, although Gary clearly wasn’t happy about being overtaken by the world champion! And in the end, Murphy probably did well to get home tenth after going a lap down.
Heat two and a now pretty dry track saw Billy Bonnar emerge from a side-by-side first lap with David Casey in the lead until Shane Bland took Thomas Dilly for second leaving the West bend before nipping past Bonnar at the other end. Having blasted so decisively to the front it looked like Shane would win easily, so it came as a bit of a surprise to find him having to work hard late in the race to fend off Carl Waller-Barrett. But it was spitting with rain again by then and Carl’s smart tyre choice (he was on two and two) was paying dividends. At the death, Shane was just able to hang on with Waller-Barrett no doubt left wishing there’d been a few more laps.
The third encounter was led away by Danny Fiske with Ken Marriott briefly second until Christie went zooming past down the outside with less than a lap gone.
They’d about settled down with Fiske heading Christie, Adam Maxwell, Adam Heatrick and a hard dicing nine car places pack, when Waller-Barrett got spat out of this lot straight into the unforgiving infield Armco at the approach to the West bend. Glancing off like snooker ball, he rammed straight into Haird and punted him on into the wall. Chris cannoned off and was able to keep going, but Carl’s car definitely looked the worse for wear and a yellow flag was inevitable.
When they got going again, a terrific scrap developed over fourth involving Heatrick, Kew and Murphy, all three trading places until Murphy spent a whole three laps alongside Heatrick to finally clinch fourth. He subsequently worked his way under Maxwell going through the East bend to claim third behind Fiske and Christie but, following an extremely lengthy steward’s enquiry, was eventually to face disqualification.
Obviously, second spot was another great result for Christie here. John was not only driving well but now matters were starting to look as though they might be playing into his hands too, as his chief opposition were all running into problems.
The draw had placed Winnie Holtmanns on pole for heat four, and the German led up until a stoppage after John Sibbald spun on the back straight and partially blocked the track. Holtmanns led for the resumption too but soon lost out to Stewart Doak shortly before John vd Bosch spun into the home straight wall to bring about another pause.
Doak carried right on where he’d left off when the green flag was out once more, the Ulsterman going on to take the win. But Holtmanns was still valiantly holding onto second despite loads of pressure from Keith Martin, Tom Casey and Gavin Murray, and yet another yellow flag period. This eventually became a red and chequered early finish after Terry Hunn crashed hard in the East bend and shed a wheel.
Fiske pulled off the grid before they even properly got under starter’s orders for the fifth qualifier, a sheared driveshaft leaving him no choice.
This was to be another race bothered by a red flag restart almost before they’d gone anywhere, when Glenn Bell, Simon Kennedy and Ian McReynolds all tangled at the start. The defending champ was able to restart but the other two were out.
It was Andy Murray who leapt into an immediate lead when they did get going, a lead which became a lot bigger after Bell – who’d been putting up a stiff pursuit – was forced to abdicate second with a disintegrating rear axle which appeared to be ‘steering’ from the left side and was obviously a legacy of the earlier incident.
Murray carried on to win by a large margin of very nearly half a lap over Mike Riordan, Mark Heatrick and Dick Hillard.
The last heat was perhaps the best race of the day, with Jack Blood out front initially but soon to be caught by Gary Woolsey, Weaver and Gavin Murray. This was also, not incidentally, an important race for Christie. If he could avoid the one (at least) poor result all the opposition seemed to be recording, he was almost bound to be on pole or something like it.
Those first four went clear at the front (Murray sneaking past Weaver somewhere) but had to spend a lot of the race wading through backmarkers. Blood showed both a cool head and considerable maturity in dealing with this tricky traffic where Woolsey might well have ambushed him. Instead, the leader actually extended his advantage for a well taken victory, helped slightly in the closing stages by Gary coming under pressure from the hard-trying Murray. Rob McDonald managed to pip Weaver out of fourth place in the dying seconds, while an interesting dice for seventh/eighth between Christie and Haird went John’s way. It may not have been a scintillating result for Christie (according to my notes he started seventh and stayed that way) but it was all that was needed to set the seal on pole for the world champ.
* Non-starters. Although the original grids as published were incorrect, there were two gaps in the field when the cars lined up, roughly approximating to where 39 and 162 (who both had damage) should have started. There should still have been a further gap representing 467 (who had hurt his wrist in a crash on Saturday) but I could only spot two spaces. These various non-starters allowed original non-qualifiers 970 and 963 onto the rear of the grid.
The Race – 75 Laps
Although Christie having bagged pole may not have been that much of a surprise, Weaver being on the outside front row really wasn’t a predictable outcome and he must have been justifiably pleased with his qualifying performance. Kew and Woolsey made up row two – also no shocks there – while Mark Heatrick being on the third row inside probably counted as another eye-opener, although there was no denying his speed in the heats, when he’d looked right at home on the Hills track. His row three partner was Dick Hillard and given his pace at Hednesford over the last couple of years he definitely didn’t look out of place there.
After a nice parade, led out by Gordon Bland in the beautifully restored ex-Doug Warner Modified Hot Rod the “Fairwood Beetle”, and Tim Foxlow in that icon of 1970’s hot rodding, a Mk2 Escort, the grid assembled.
Very fine spitting rain at the start of the main event still meant it was a slick-shod field that came under the green flag on what was still essentially a dry track, with Weaver able to power ahead of pole sitter Christie into the first turn.
The fine drizzle stopped altogether after a lap or so, although Brereton and Tom Casey both still went spinning at the West bend, the spun cars foiling an early attempt by Kew to pass Christie. The caution for the spinners wasn’t long in coming and, by the time they’d cleared the track (and after a disgruntled Haird had got disqualified for having lost his bonnet), the rain was back, not all that heavily but definitely enough to make the track slippery.
Everybody was certainly sliding about precariously as wet weather fan Weaver pulled away fast while Kew was also able to pass Christie as they crossed the start/finish. Jason then set about catching up with and trying to wrest the lead from Weaver. Unfortunately, the pair touched at the West bend, sending Weaver into the wall and eventual retirement as Christie took advantage of the moment to assume the lead. Kew did pick up a black cross immediately after this incident and the unworthy thought did flit through my mind that there might just be more immediate retribution coming Jason’s way after Weaver had re-joined and was circling the track very slowly. But Kew caught and passed him again without incident and Kym was soon parked up after that.
With everybody driving on eggshells as the track became wetter, Christie was gradually able to ease away from the rest while Kew wasn’t getting any peace in second, with David Casey pestering him all round the track. Casey was actually ahead on the East bend at one point and, although Kew swiftly fought back, David was still having a better time than his compatriots, Mike Riordan and Murphy both having had spins.
Now some distance behind the leaders, Andy Murray was running fourth, some way clear of a duel between Adam Maxwell and McDonald, with further dices behind these between Stewart Doak and Bland and then Hillard and Fiske. Doak passed Bland only to have Shane re-pass, Fiske took Hillard and then Bland managed to follow McDonald past Maxwell, shortly before Adam also spun out at the East bend.
All the while the track was getting wetter and it was about now that there surely must have been a discussion in Race Control about possibly stopping the race and allowing them all to change tyres. But the red flag never came, with opinions sharply divided about whether it should have done. Many experienced watchers felt that letting it run on in those conditions spoiled the race, while equally committed race-goers opined that these are the races which sort the men from the boys and that if you can keep it on the island in those conditions for 75 laps on slicks, you are a proper driver. I tend to subscribe to the latter point of view and wasn’t at all dismayed by the race carrying on.
As for the drivers, it probably depended on how they’d prepared for the race. Anyone who’d gambled on two and two (I don’t think anyone plumped for four wets or we’d probably have noticed!) and/or altered their set up in that direction was obviously enjoying it, as were the wet weather lovers, while those shod with slicks and with a preference for dry asphalt wouldn’t have been so keen. So maybe getting booted off wasn’t such a bad thing, eh Chris…?
The leader had certainly seemed to be coping with the treacherous track perfectly well until he came up to lap Brereton. I didn’t see exactly what happened there and whether Shane’s presence had anything to do with it or not, but suddenly Christie was spinning right by the start line. He was probably lucky that it happened there, where there was plenty of room, John simply letting the car rotate until it was facing the right way to set off again. Ever thought of a career in Saloon Stock Cars, John?
But…Kewy hadn’t been that far behind and now found he was in the lead just as they reached half distance. In other words, there was still plenty of time for Christie to redress the situation, and Jason must have had something of a feeling of déjà vu.
And sure enough Christie was soon closing in on Kew again, going ahead as they left the East bend (Jase driving in the same gentlemanly manner as he had at Ipswich) and giving himself just the job of heading to the finish as carefully as possible.
That wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds either because, after a period of slackening off a bit, the rain had got heavier again and now there was spray getting thrown up by the cars too.
The leaders were becoming seriously spread out as well. With twenty five laps to run Christie had again eked out a bit of a gap over Kew, while Jason had almost three quarters of a lap over the third man, who was now McDonald. There were also only six cars left on the lead lap, while the man to watch at this point was Fiske, who seemed to have suddenly woken up. He’d dealt with Casey and Bland in quick succession and then reeled in McDonald at a heck of a pace. Out fumbling the Scot around a backmarker on the West bend put Danny into third. Unfortunately, the next lap he went straight on into the wall with a loud bang at the same spot! I did wonder if something had broken but Danny had just got into the corner way too fast. When I asked him what had happened he simply stated with a grin, “I got too cocky!”
All of which put McDonald back up to third and now the last car still on the lead lap as they drove on to the finish, leaving Kew with “only” the runner-up trophy again, half a lap behind Christie with just about the same distance separating Jason from Rob. It also means that John has overtaken Jason twice in the World and twice in the National, which I should think Kewy might just be getting a bit tired of now!
Behind these three, the long arguing of the toss between Doak and Bland had finally gone Doak’s way, although Bland was justly quite pleased with his position, still ahead of Mark Heatrick.
And for those who’d enjoyed Christie’s victory dance at Ipswich, there was more and better (or worse!) to come here, as John pulled up in front of the West bend stand, stripped off his overalls and then dropped his strides to reveal Hawaiian shirt and boxers as a prelude to dancing on the roof of the car. Never let it be said JAC doesn’t know how to celebrate a victory!
The meeting closed with a revival of the old NHRPA championship, last run in 1995. And, in the furtherance of another tradition, that turned out to be a superb race and easily the best of the weekend.
Riordan was drawn on pole and almost led all the way, which doesn’t tell the whole story by any means whatsoever!
For a start, Mike had Christie drawn alongside. Under the circs this looked like it might just be a relatively dull walkover. However, the track was still fairly wet and Riordan had made the canny decision to go with two and two on the tyres, enabling him to easily beat Christie away. Mike soon had a massive lead after only two laps, while Christie was dicing with Adam Maxwell, who had to pass the #962 twice before he could make it stick. But he did make it stick in the end and went hard after the leader once through to second.
Fiske was the next to relegate Christie who then had to square up to Weaver, shortly before Shaun Taylor, Dilly and McDonald all had a coming together in the home straight. They weren’t the only ones in trouble either, with Hunn, McDonald and Fiske all ending up in a heap on the East bend too. It was obvious by now that someone was dropping oil and, during the ensuing yellow flag period, Dilly got turfed off for it. It transpired though that it was actually Christie, Dilly getting reinstated after John’s removal.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle for the restart, with Fiske originally driving back to where he’d been in the places prior to the stoppage (third), before being told to go back to sixth instead. He wasn’t impressed, judging by him shaking his head upon receiving the news, although he was apparently pretty lucky not to get disqualified altogether seeing that he must have passed some cars under the yellow flag, albeit very slowly.
The restart didn’t get far in any case. Mark Heatrick’s car didn’t go at the off, causing consternation among those following him. Tony Moss spun as the green flag came out, then Weaver also went round, sending Murray high and towards the wall. When Moss ground to a halt by the back straight barriers, a further yellow was unavoidable.
The restart saw Maxwell – now second – go straight for an immediate outside pass on Riordan and he got in front too, going through the West bend. But Riordan fought back to re-take the lead with Kew, Fiske, Hillard and Gavin Murray all right in the mix. As Maxwell and Fiske took to the wide outside, McDonald came rushing up to join in too. When Kew tried to get ahead via the outside groove he only succeeded in letting Murray slip by instead.
Next Murray tried to go by Riordan down the outside and spent ages out there without being able to get it done, the lead group expanding all the time to now include Doak and David Casey too.
Murray hauled himself alongside Riordan again and actually went ahead for a second or two before Mike once again fought back. Just to add to the fun, the rain had started coming down once more (no doubt much to Riordan’s relief, as he’d already been searching out the odd damp patch for a bit of tyre cooling) which looked to catch Kewy out as he slid wide at the West bend, letting Murray and Hillard by.
With four to go this was still anybody’s race. Yet again Murray was up the outside of the leader and if it was going to be won by sheer persistence alone, Gavin ought to have got it. A lap later and Kew was in car trouble and gone from the lead bunch, where it was now becoming necessary to drive at eleven tenths just to stay in it! Murray was still all over Riordan with Hillard pressing both of them. When Murray finally got too deep into the West bend with two to go, Dick was through, giving him just enough time to launch his own attack…and just fail to get by as they took the flag with only a few hundredths of a second between them.
It would have been something of a fairy tale ending for sure if Dick had won it because, after holding the NHRPA title for around about eighteen years, a successful defence really would have been amazing. As it was, he probably needed another lap! But nobody was begrudging Mike Riordan his win, the Irishman having driven a fair line that gave any and all challengers a fighting chance at getting past throughout the race.
And what a great race it was too. Whoever thought of reviving the NHRPA title – thanks a lot!
Heat one: 209,174,962,940,(113),960,152,31,977,
Heat two: 42,162,261,966,9,997,92,39,871,117,76,304,192,27,629,66,369. NOF
Heat three: 304,962,(970),76,342,174,261,115,209,9,42,192,
Heat four: 996,467,994,961,95,615,31,348,960,27,
Heat five: 997,142,960,31,76,994,42,
Heat six: 92,940,95,117,209,39,962,115,174,996,342,
National championship: 962,174,117,996,42,960,261,994,997,76,192,966,963,27. NOF
113 disqualified from heat one following incident with 115 & 491.
970 disqualified from heat three following incident with 162.
348 dropped two places for contact in heat five.
Note that all results & penalties are subject to official confirmation.