World Championship 2005

At last, it’s Martin!

National Hot Rod 2005 Championship of the World
Foxhall Raceway, Ipswich, July 2/3

Graham Brown reports:  After so many attempts and two second places in the last 15 years, Keith Martin finally ascended the top step of the podium in a National Hot Rod World Final, the Dungannon ace taking a popular victory from a real thriller of a race.  Defending champion Malcolm Blackman finished a close second, having been back in fourth at one point, while Steve Thompson took an impressive third from his first ever world event. Eire’s Shane Murphy was an equally impressive fourth, which meant that all the main areas running NHR’s got a look in on the podium.

As usual there were all sorts of minor dramas before racing ever got under way, not least English points winner Ricky Hunn struggling to get his car accepted at scrutineering. There had been all kinds of rumours in the week since Press Day about whether the controversial subject of the missing roof cross bars would be addressed, either by Ricky or someone else, before his car(s) were presented for scrutineering. Jeff Simpson seemed fairly sure that a Corsa would be turning up at his shop during the week for modification, but it never happened and in any case, Team Simpson had other matters on their minds. In the end, the yellow cars showed up at Foxhall unchanged and the issue appeared to come to a head – or rather, not – when chief scrute Mick Reece carefully read the rule amendment sheets and decided that by the letter of what was on there, the 639 car was still legal. This led to a great deal of discussion amongst all the NHRPA officials present, the eventual outcome being that clarification of what the rule actually meant, rather than what it presently says, would be provided and that in the meantime, the scrutineer’s decision was final.

Phew. The prospect of running the World without the English points champion had held no appeal for anyone, fans, other drivers, TV – you name it, so a resolution (albeit temporary) with the “right” outcome was pretty welcome.

As expected, both Clive Richardson and Malcolm Blackman had abandoned any ideas of using their Tigra’s for the race, while Carl Boardley had no choice, having sold his 206 to Billy Bonnar. Speaking of whom, Billy was a welcome arrival at Ipswich and actually brought both cars with him, the pair almost indistinguishable. For the record, the one with the gold wing supports is Billy’s original car; the one with the red ones is the ex-41 car. 

Following Dick Hillard’s last minute engine rebuild, he’d added to his dramas by having the throttle stick open during testing at Northampton, and he’d ended up testing their Armco as well. 

Neville Stanley’s eagerly awaited Ford Puma was – somewhat surprisingly – the car he showed up with, and very nice it looked too – far better than in the “preview” pix. 

Perhaps the worst drama of the early part of Saturday befell Keith Woods, who wasted a motor in practice and was forced to make a swap before the lap times. Fairly crucial stuff this, as Keith was having to use the times to sort out his three way tie with Stu Carter and Colin Gomm about who was going to move up a group on the grid in the absence of Neal Smith. It did look for a while as though he wouldn’t be ready in time, but in the end all was well. 

As usual, the real talking point of lap times though, was whether pole was going to an Englishman or an Irishman this year. It turned out to be the latter, with Martin just beating Hunn out of the top slot by a whisker. Neil Stimson looked pretty rapid in the first session as indeed, he was, beating the rest by almost two tenths of a second. No big shocks in this group though, unless you count the fact that South African Neville Loosemore was able to out-run several English drivers in an unfamiliar car, track ditto. Peter Blood was fairly despondent about being so far off the pace, and was equally delighted when he discovered later that he’d been trying to do the job with an almost flat tyre.

As expected, Phil Spinks and Boardley were the class of the next session, Phil beating Carl out of the quickest time by less than two hundredths. Whacking the wall in the dying seconds wasn’t part of the plan however, Phil having to go all the way back home later to get the car fixed. 

The funny thing was, after all the hoo-hah trying to get his car out there, Keith Woods only managed a handful of laps before it ran out of gas (don’t laugh, Andy Steward did it too), and yet he still managed to comfortably outpace both Gomm and Carter to claim the ‘move up’.

The gauntlet was truly going to be thrown down by the next session which, as last year, featured all the Irish from either side of the border. They were all (Joey Butler apart) down in the 14.0’s, but Martin was seriously quick on 14.598s. It was already looking like pole for the popular Ulsterman, unless one of the English aces had something truly spectacular lined up. Almost (but not quite) incidentally, Murphy was second fastest, and was ultimately therefore, on his way to a row two start for the second year running.

Chris Haird was commendably the fastest in the last run offs, but couldn’t of course, claim a place at the head of the grid in any case, so it was Hunn who did. But, his 14.628s wasn’t good enough to see off Martin, who thus claimed the honour of pole. 

The Grid  OutsideInside  Ricky HunnKeith Martin(Vauxhall Corsa)(Peugeot 206)  Shane MurphyMalcolm Blackman(VW Corrado)(Peugeot 206)  Simon BentleySteve Thompson(Mitsubishi Colt)(Peugeot 206)  Mike ThurleyChris Haird(Citroen Saxo)(VW Corrado)  Davy McCallDes Cooney(Peugeot 206)(Peugeot 206)  Andy StewardColin Smith(Peugeot 206)(Peugeot 206)  Clive RichardsonPhil Spinks(Peugeot 206)(Citroen Saxo)  Keith WoodsTom Casey(Peugeot 306)(Ford Focus)  Dick HillardAndy Holtby *(Peugeot 206)(Peugeot 206)  Neil StimsonCarl Boardley(Peugeot 206)(Vauxhall Tigra)  Neville StanleyStewart Doak(Ford Puma)(Vauxhall Corsa)  Stuart CarterColin Gomm(Peugeot 206)(Mitsubishi Colt)  Joey ButlerNeville Loosemore(Peugeot 206)(Peugeot 206)  Rob HadfieldBilly Bonnar(Peugeot 206)(Peugeot 206)  Mark BainesWinnie Holtmanns(Audi TT)(Peugeot 206)  Steve Burgess **Peter Blood(Peugeot 206)(Peugeot 206)  * Non-starter ** Reserve 

If there were minor dramas earlier in the weekend, there were more major ones coming once they were on the grid. Andy Holtby had an oil line fail and got pushed off, bringing reserve Steve Burgess into play. Bit of a role reversal there for Steve, who had to cry off at literally the last minute last year, allowing Mike Thurley into the race. 

Of course, the burning question of the day was the obvious one: could Keith Martin finally do it?  He’d got pole, he’d got provably the fastest car out there, and we knew he had the credentials to get a car to the finish. But we also knew he was third as long ago as 1987 (yes really, 18 years ago!) and had managed two second spots since. Had his time simply passed, and with it, his best chances, pole position or no pole position?

We weren’t going to have to wait much longer to find out. But first, the boys were playfully going to try and turn it from National Hot Rods into ‘Formula Restart’! 

Martin was the first to break after a relatively orderly final pace lap and, as Hillard went spinning out of the pack, it was Martin from Blackman, Thompson and Murphy. Hunn got stuck on the outside and was being railroaded backwards, his loose looking car finally going into a half spin rounding the far bend where he got tagged by Haird, which finished the spin off. Unfortunately, the incident soon had Woods, Casey, Doak, Richardson and Hadfield all involved in the aftermath, bringing out the red flags. 

A lengthy stoppage ensued, while Boardley’s crew tried to sort out a mashed oil cooler, damaged in those hectic few tours. He’d plastered the track with a swathe of oil too, so a long clear up and dust off was going on anyway. Even so, the 41 crew didn’t seem to be managing the job with their usual alacrity. They’d gone to swipe the cooler from Holtby’s sidelined car, but then found that (a) the threads had got damaged during the removal somehow, and (b) the fittings weren’t the same size anyway. Finally forced to admit defeat, Carl became a reluctant non-starter, and the rest lined up for another go, with the distance now down to 70 laps. 

This time Hunn stayed alongside Martin all through the first lap. Martin obviously felt a move to a slightly wider line might get rid of him, but not only did it not force Ricky to back off, it allowed Blackman to get his nose underneath and the trio hit the back straight three wide and tried to stay that way. It was all a bit too fraught this early in the race and something had to give, Keith losing it altogether next time through the pit turn, leaving Blackman heading Thompson, Haird and Thurley, with Martin down to fifth. Hunn had lost out in the earlier clinch even more however, and finally tangled with McCall, and then Casey at the end of the back straight. With Stanley spinning at the same place, and Hunn and Casey ending up locked together with Holtmanns, this cued the reds again.

With Casey (severe left front damage) and Hunn (slight right front) both out of the next restart, they got set for another go, with another cut in distance. This was, as one wag put it, Keith Martin’s “get out of jail free card”. Especially as, in Ricky’s absence, he was now alone at the front. Off they went again, McCall had an “off”, and the front runners stacked up in the order Martin, Blackman, Murphy and Thompson. Only they still weren’t going to get very far. This time Gomm and Carter got together at the end of the back stretch, causing yet another stoppage and yet another cut in the number of laps.

Carter wasn’t fit to go this time (damaged right front) but the others were and now, they were racing for keeps. Well, it might have been just 55 laps, but it wasn’t going to be boring, that’s for sure.

It was Martin who beat Blackman to the punch, but with Malcolm having several early attempts round the outside. He couldn’t make it by and settled into second with Thompson and Shane Murphy close behind. The rest of the race was clearly going to be all about this quartet. 

Des Cooney lost a lot of places as he got stuck on the outside, then with five laps done, McCall spun into retirement. So, whoever else denied Martin this time, it wasn’t going to be his nemesis of 1990 and 2002!

Experienced watchers keeping a weather eye on the bulk of the pack for any unexpected – or even expected – challengers to the four leaders, noted that Clive Richardson was on the move for a while. But eventually his challenge faded. He got as far as eighth before his march forward stalled, but was never close enough to bother even the lesser placemen like Bentley, Thurley and Haird very much.

But most eyes were glued to the leaders, and with good reason. Nobody would have taken any bets on the likely outcome of this, even with the race well and truly underway. First, Martin would pull out a small gap, and then Blackman would close it up again. Then Thompson and Murphy would stop dicing with each other long enough to reel both the leaders back in. Suddenly Thompson got in place to really have a go at taking second and drove up Blackman’s outside going through turns three and four. He stayed out there for a while too, but couldn’t get it done and in the end, his bravery merely let Murphy past.

With that settled for a moment, Blackman had another good go up Martin’s outside, but couldn’t make that stick either. He hadn’t given up on the idea yet though and was still trying to edge alongside when Murphy managed to close up and drive underneath. Worse still, from the defending champion’s viewpoint, Thompson was still welded to Murphy’s bumper and in a trice, Blackman found himself fourth.

Malcolm may have been put to the back of the lead bunch but he was clearly still spoiling for a fight. Exciting as all this was though, it was just playing into Martin’s hands. Keith was gradually eking out his slender lead now as the places war raged on. Next Thompson found a way past Murphy exiting turn four, Blackman getting “towed” through this time. The reigning champ wasn’t done yet either, as he piled the pressure on Thompson and was eventually rewarded with second spot back again.

Meanwhile, as Richardson’s charge ran out of steam, Phil Spinks became the man to watch coming from the latter part of the field. It’s become a feature of his world finals, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise, but when he finally overhauled Richardson everybody knew for sure, he was at it again.

With the laps dwindling away by this stage, Blackman was obviously back in the groove now and carving huge chunks out of Martin’s lead. He caught him and made a couple of big lunges around the outside, one of which saw him go way too deep into the pit bend. Furthermore, the dice was slowing them sufficiently for Thompson and Murphy to get back in on the act too….

With the five lap board about to be shown, Martin cleared his final back marker hurdle, headed onto what was sure to be clear track for the remaining distance, and it looked to be all over. But Blackman was only gathering himself for another huge effort and again zoomed up to the back of the leader’s car starting the final tour. The slightest of love taps as they rounded the pit bend for the final time could have unsettled Martin’s car, but it didn’t, Keith hurtling over the line still with a sliver of daylight between himself and Blackman to record the longest of long overdue wins. 

Blackman was hardly disgraced, as the defence of his title had been worthy, stubborn and if it had been ultimately unsuccessful, losing to Keith Martin isn’t exactly a disgrace in any case. As for Thompson and Murphy, they’d been very much in the hunt every step of the way, Thompson on his first shot at it, remember. Steve drove an extremely level headed race, not overawed by the occasion or the fact that he was hustling for the lead. As for Murphy, it may not have been his rookie event, but after that performance, he surely now has some claim to the title of “man most likely to” down Tipperary way.
Graham Brown
Keith Martin #994 (NI)
Malcolm Blackman #911 (Eng)
Steve Thompson #170 (Eng)
Shane Murphy #970 (RoI)
Simon Bentley #59 (Eng)
6th: Phil Spinks 14 (Eng) 7th:  Chris Haird 115 (Eng) 8th:  Mike Thurley 291 (Eng) 9th: Clive Richardson 976 (NI) 10th: Keith Woods 25 (Eng)