Carl’s controversial climax
Graham Brown reports: The National Hot Rod season reached its traditional zenith with the World Final at Ipswich, the annual 75-lapper coming to a thrilling and controversial climax when Andy Steward and Carl Boardley clashed on the last lap. Pre-race favourite Boardley pressed on to ultimately take the win, with Steward heart-breakingly denied victory right at the death for a second time, exactly ten years after it last happened.
The timed laps produced the usual crop of woes and some surprises. Simon Bentley lost another diff in practice but got this sorted before the timed laps, although definitely in the woes department came Stuart Carter, who wrecked his motor before he even got on track. The engine produced at least one impressively mangled bearing shell, which no doubt gave rise to the rumour – untrue as it turned out – that the mill had never had any oil in it to start with. The team attempted to acquire a spare being carried by Tom Casey, although with several cars now using his motors, Tom was understandably reluctant to allow his solitary spare to end up anywhere else. Ultimately, it was Team Haird who came to the rescue with another motor, but it was never going to be fitted in time to allow Stuart to get in any timed laps.
Dick Hillard was another who lost a diff right at the end of his session, while Andy Holtby got to run his laps, but then the beautiful new Tigra sadly failed a weight check – only by about 1Kg – but unfortunately enough to get his times disallowed. Davy McCall very nearly met with the same fate when word was passed to the steward’s box that his new cc was carrying too much inside weight. This turned out to be a false alarm, but nevertheless gave rise to a second lot of grids having to be prepared.
Defending champion Keith Martin was another who ran into motor problems and was painfully slow by his standards. This was brought about by a fairly last minute change of cam wheels, which were not marked in the usual manner. By the time Keith realised that the valve timing was way off, it was too late. Fellow Ulstermen and expected front runners Gary and Wayne Woolsey were similarly off the pace, their immaculately presented new cars simply failing to live up to expectations, despite the previous day’s testing at Northampton. And McCall, even with his times reinstated, also looked to be sat in a new car which probably wasn’t going to permit a repeat of 1990 or 2002.
No real surprise about the speed shown by Phil Spinks, who annexed his now traditional position at the head of group three, but only by a scant 1000th of a second from the surprisingly pacey Bentley Colt. Not for the first time Chris Haird also posted a quick time for a driver excluded from group one, another such being Mike Thurley.
Not much surprise about Boardley’s pole setting run either, unless you count the fact that he was the only driver to break into the 14.5 second bracket, at 14.529 to be precise. And if anyone were in any doubt about just who the favourite was here, even Carl’s second best lap would still have been good enough for pole, while the 14.529 put him anywhere between three and four tenths of a second ahead of almost all his immediate rivals. OK, Spinks, Haird and Bentley all managed 14.6’s, but they were not in the group one sort of “immediate rivals” category. Although no one can ever repeat qualifying lap times in the race, if the nett margin between the 41 car and the rest were maintained, a relatively easy win was now looking a distinct possibility.
But perhaps the biggest shock came from young John Christie, who managed to put the same car his father used to win the race ten years ago on the outside front row, outrunning a lot of much more modern, costly and better funded equipment. As such, he certainly did qualify as an immediate rival for Boardley, and John’s achievement in gaining a front row start at his first attempt simply cannot be overstated. But even the persistently cheerful and enthusiastic pilot of the 962 Fiesta was level headed enough to know that a two tenths of a second deficit to the man now due to be starting on his inside, wasn’t going to be overturned in the race without either a big struggle or divine intervention.
Away from the lofty heights of the top groups, came the last minute struggle to make the field even in a reserve slot. With Hans Frey a no-show, the first reserve to step up would be Hughie Weaver, and with Hughie therefore almost guaranteed a start, another reserve would be required to fill his shoes. Fairly or otherwise, these are still currently drawn from the English series, which raised a problem – the next driver after Hughie on the table was in fact two drivers, Ken Marriott and Andrew Burgess having tied on points. Thus, they were both sent out to do lap times in order to split them, with Marriott winning that particular battle. However, once Weaver came off after his lap times, he declared the car unfit through a persistent misfire and abdicated his position to Marriott.
The Race – 75 Laps
With race day temperatures well into the 30’s Centigrade – as indeed they had been the day before – this was always going to be a hard one on cars and drivers, with brakes and motors bound to go through mechanical Hades. This situation might have given the rest of the field some faint hope regarding Carl’s notoriously fragile brakes in days gone by, so it was probably just as well most would have been unaware that there has been a completely new braking system under the 41 car recently…
That the teams knew just how bad the temperature situation was going to be, became clear when the time came for the field to form up. Several cars at the sharp end of the grid remaining over by the wall in the narrow strip of shade offered by the grandstand roof until the last possible moment.
So: was it going to be just a cakewalk for Boardley, or was something weird about to happen? After all, this race had so often gone against the form book in the past, and the blistering heat might well turn this into a war of attrition in any case.
A slow and very controlled pace lap eventually saw the green flag fly, with Boardley clearly the first to break. As expected, Blackman was tucked in tight behind, giving Christie no option but to slot into third. Blackman was already piling the pressure on Boardley, but also nearly spun midway down the home straight! It quickly became clear that there was oil down already, as Spinks’ car was spraying oil onto the circuit, his dry sump tank having been punctured in a first lap clinch. Phil soon coasted to a halt on the infield, but the damage was done and cars were sliding about everywhere. Finally Tom Casey and Ricky Hunn collided and spun in turn one, Blackman running into Casey to bring out the reds.
A lengthy halt ensued while Blackman and Casey’s cars were repaired, Malcolm’s requiring a track rod replacing, while Tom’s Corrado looked like an application to Band Aid for sponsorship might be well in order, the VW ending up sporting more tape than Ricky Hunn on a bad night at Wimbledon. Spinks’ problems were rather more terminal unfortunately, so there would be no exciting last quarter charges up the field from The Black Brick this year. As this was a complete restart, Andy Burgess got the call up to join on the back of the grid, and they all set off again. Well, almost all; second row starter Des Cooney had his car quit just before the off, and another likely-to-be-interesting runner was gone.
The rest ploughed through a massive cement dust storm with Boardley again grabbing the lead, this time from Christie and Blackman, but Malcolm’s set up was undoubtedly compromised and after a couple of big moments he fell back down the order fast, eventually to retire.
The order at the front had just settled to Boardley leading Christie (and already pulling out a useful gap), Steward, Steve Thompson and Chris Haird, when Haird’s motor suddenly went sick, and he was gone. That left Neil Stimson and Casey’s battered car fighting over fifth just ahead of Mike Riordan, Simon Bentley and Hunn.
At this stage, Boardley was not dropping Christie behind that much, and Carl appeared to have already selected cruise control. Hunn moved up a place at the expense of the clearly ailing Casey Corrado, which was soon to be on the infield as they began dropping like flies. Gary Woolsey had already been parked for some laps, Dick Hillard and defending champ Martin the next retirements.
Andy Steward was now third and looking like he was getting into the groove as he gradually edged up on Christie, eventually going ahead down the inside on the pit bend exit. Not only that, but during the next few laps Andy was slowly but surely closing the gap to the leader as well, particularly any time the two were running on open road. It began to dawn that Boardley may eventually have to face up to a challenge from a rather unexpected quarter. Even Carl probably thought that if anybody rained on his parade, they would have an Irish accent, and if they didn’t, then it would be Blackman.
But ‘Doughnut’ has been a very different driver these past eight or ten months – quite likely due to Tick’s input – and where he was previously known as a wet weather expert, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s every bit as quick in the dry these days. It doesn’t get much drier than Foxhall on this day, so….
Just the same, it wasn’t going to stay completely dry for much longer, as more drama was about to follow. Something slippery and invisible (antifreeze?) found its way onto turn three, and cars started spinning and crashing all over that end of the track, Riordan, Christie and Gomm going in hard as Boardley and Matt Simpson collided to set the reds flying again.
A significant episode this, putting Riordan out of fifth, Christie out of third, and had that little contretemps done the leader’s car any harm? Worse still for several drivers involved, the race ran on for a lap before the reds came out, giving rise to numerous places being lost when the cars were re-lined up.
The restart, with 36 laps to go or just short of half distance, had Boardley still heading Steward, with Steve Thompson now third ahead of Neil Stimson, Bentley, Hunn and Thurley. But, no sooner were they underway again than Boardley was pulling further clear with every lap. It was just beginning to look like Carl really did have it in the bag, when he came upon the back marking Ken Marriott. Ken – about to go two laps down – apparently motioned Boardley with a waved hand to go by on the inside.
Whether Carl simply misunderstood the signal or Ken’s concentration might have understandably slipped in the heat is unclear. However it happened, the pair arrived in the pit bend only for the leader to find the lapped car going in a completely unexpected direction. The pair collided, Marriott went spinning and with Boardley forced to drive around the outside of the spinning # 2, Steward was able to slip through down the inside.
Despite the psychological blow of not being in the lead for the first time, Boardley quickly recovered his composure and was soon back on Steward’s tail. But with Carl no longer able to speed along as he liked, third man Thompson was now closing in as well to provide a further threat.
Further back, Stimson was beginning to look like he was in trouble, perhaps with tyres that had gone off? First Bentley, then Hunn and Thurley had all gone by.
With the laps starting to dwindle away to a lot less than a normal heat and Thompson getting nearer, Boardley tried an outside thrust, had it parried, Steward took a blue flag and Thompson got nearer still. He wasn’t yet near enough to stop Boardley falling back just a little, possibly ‘resting’ his tyres and certainly trying to get some air through his rad, ready for a final assault on the lead.
Sure enough, the pair were back together again as the laps unwound. Carl piled on the pressure, even love tapping Andy one time but, with little traffic ahead, mistakes by the leader (especially one as experienced as this) looked unlikely. Suddenly, it was five to go. But the laps carried on counting down with Boardley still not making his move until the last board came out.
Carl rocketed up the outside into turns one and two in what might well have been a desperate last gasp shot at a pass which was probably doomed to fail. But Andy, no doubt still haunted by the nightmare of a decade earlier, moved across to try and block the move. With Boardley already alongside contact with each other, and the wall, was inevitable. Video evidence appeared to show Boardley’s car cannoning off like a snooker ball and into Steward, although Carl maintained he was rubbing the Armco for many yards and didn’t remember any rebound.
However it happened, Steward was spinning and Boardley headed for the line, somehow making it home still ahead of the rapidly closing Thompson, despite damaged wheels and deranged steering.
A lengthy steward’s enquiry ensued, taking the dairy off the victory for Carl somewhat, but in the end, the result was declared as the cars crossed the line.
Bentley, Hunn and Thurley claimed third thru fifth, all three having put in steady and commendable performances to both finish and finish well on a day many others had not.
And if the results for those three were commendable, it has to be said that Christie’s eventual arrival at the line in sixth was little short of remarkable. Although there aren’t many circumstances when a driver manages to turn a front row grid position into a sixth place finish and get called ‘remarkable’ for the right reasons, there are always the “what if’s” for every driver. In this case it has to be said that without the unfortunate far turn escapade and its consequences, this rookie would surely have had some sort of podium at his first attempt.
As for the rest, Holtby surely must have been rueing the weigh-in problem, because even with that handicap he still got home seventh. Nigel Steward’s eighth we can reckon would have been a lot higher without his unfortunate qualifying problems, while Shane Murphy’s ninth would probably have been higher had he still been sat in the Corrado rather than the relatively unsorted Mini. Rounding out the top ten came another rookie, Malcolm Clein, who even professed that his car was going the best it had ever gone nearing the finish! Now, if you can just persuade the promoters to make every race 75 laps Malcolm, you and Colin can stop worrying about those pesky set up problems…..
But spare a thought for ‘Doughnut’ in all this. To come so close twice, at the opposite ends of a decade, is frankly soul destroying, however it happened. Remember how he drove that ’96 race with the exhaust burning a hole in his leg and still refused to give in? This time, he’d battled so hard to both get, and stay, in front that his hands when he stepped from the car were blistered and bleeding from the blisters that he had still forced to keep gripping the wheel. The last time I saw a driver get out of a car in that state was at the one and only Crewe Grand Prix round back in ’79, when the rough track and similar high temperatures took their toll on several of the front runners.
Understandably, immediately after the race Andy was all for chucking it all in. But surely, that kind of determination deserves to succeed one of these fine (or even wet) days? Graham Brown.
The result in full, with thanks to MyLaps.com
1 41 Carl Boardley 75 laps in 19:34 mins
2 170 Steve Thompson 75 19:35
3 59 Simon Bentley 75 19:37 4 639 Ricky Hunn 75 19:38
5 291 Mike Thurley 75 19:39 6 962 John Christie 75 19:39 7 61 Andrew Holtby 74 8 75 Nigel Steward 74 9 970 Shane Murphy 74 10 303 Matthew Simpson 74 11 985 Malcolm Clein 74 12 85 Stuart Carter 73 13 141 Rob Hadfield 73 14 996 Stewart Doak 73 15 734 Ralph Sanders 73 16 286 Steve Burgess 73 17 467 Winnie Holtmanns 73 18 277 Andrew Burgess 72 DNF 198 Andy Steward 74 DNF 271 Neil Stimson 68 DNF 2 Ken Marriott 46 DNF 142 Mike Riordan 37 DNF 278 Colin Gomm 36 DNF 942 Davy McCall 33 DNF 50 Wayne Woolsey 31 DNF 844 Billy Bonner 29 DNF 994 Keith Martin 21 DNF 961 Tom Casey 18 DNF 31 Dick Hillard 16 DNF 911 Malcolm Blackman 8 DNF 115 Chris Haird 5 DNF 940 Gary Woolsey 2 DNS 921 Des Cooney 0.