The 2011 Kent Cams/Hoosier Race Tires NHRPA
National Hot Rod Championship of the World
Blackman’s wait is over
Ipswich, Saturday July 2/Sunday July 3
Graham Brown reports: It’s been seven years since Malcolm Blackman’s only previous World Final victory but the drought finally came to an end when Blackman – running fourth at the time – seized his chance to grab the lead as those ahead tangled. 2010 runner-up Shane Murphy got home second again, having fought for the lead with Matt Simpson early on, while Ulster favourite John Christie took another third place to go with the one he earned back in 2007. And, after some previous World Final disappointments, Gavin Murray managed a highly respectable fourth spot in this one.
The entry was exactly as expected in terms of who was there and what cars they were due to be driving, so no eleventh hour surprises this year. Although not a surprise of course, it was certainly nice to once again be able to see some genuine Scots qualifiers (as opposed to Scots who’ve qualified in England) among the assembled cars in the world finalists’ area of the pits.
As ever, the World final race really begins on the Saturday with the traditional ‘hot laps’ to determine the grid.
Ominously – very ominously as things turned out – Steve Burrows had some last minute problems with his car ‘missing’ shortly before the hot laps were due to start. The team had changed an ignition coil which appeared to have it sorted just in time, but maybe it wasn’t that after all…his car still sounded a bit “fluffy” when it went out, although a best of 14.71 wasn’t too bad.
Mark Paffey had been the man unlucky enough to draw number one out of the hat, meaning that he’d been saddled with going first and setting the benchmark on a fairly green track, of 14.51s. There were a few people watching and waiting to see if the fourth man out – Phil Spinks – could produce something special enough to leap out of group two and snatch pole and he certainly didn’t disappoint. His second lap at 14.38 was a corker and for the next sixteen drivers and fifty laps, it really did look like he’d done enough.
By contrast, fifth man on track – Keith Martin – could only manage a best of 14.84, which was going to put him on the very last row of the grid. This seemed a fairly unlikely proposition for a former world champion, and I did actually ask him what went wrong, Keith explaining that his car had felt funny when they were pushing it down through the pits. A subsequent inspection had revealed swarf and chippings in the diff and a limited slip hub that had been acting like a locker. Not good.
Glenn Bell was another who’d been suffering morning sickness in the motor department but, although the car still didn’t sound great on track, he nonetheless managed a passing fair 14.51. This time was also matched by 2004 champion Blackman, in another solid performance.
With nothing below a 14.47 (Christie) in the sixteen drivers that followed Spinks, his pole start was looking safer by the minute – and then came Shane Murphy. Everybody was looking for him to put in a good one so it wasn’t that much of a shock when he shaved a further two hundredths of a second from Spinks’ time. Well, I say “everybody” was looking for him to put in a good one, that meant everybody but Spinksy’s crew of course; I could see their shoulders slump when Murphy’s 14.36 went on the board.
A bit galling to lose out by just 0.02s, but no matter, somebody was about to knock all that into a cocked hat. Those of us privileged to have seen the times from the “un-timed” morning practice session (the timing computer was turned on, un-timed or not) already knew that the quickest car out there then had been Matt Simpson. Oddly enough, second quickest had been Murphy and third fastest, Spinks! But they were all up in the14.4’s, so it would be fair to say no-one was expecting the blistering 14.20 dead that Simpson slammed in on his second lap, and even his third of 14.22 would still have been way good enough for pole.
There remained some quick ones to come though, that could have dislodged Matt, but Gary Woolsey’s 14.47 failed to turn the trick, as did fellow Ulsterman Stewart Doak’s best of just a hundredth quicker, although this was still a lot better than Stewart usually manages around Foxhall.
There was still a driver left to come who’d drawn a high number for his hot laps and that a lot of hopes were resting on to change the front end of the grid. This was the defending champion of course, and there was to be no messing from Chris either. He put in two tours in the 14.3’s, one of them just enough to clip Murphy’s best by a hundredth and claim the outside of the front row. Drivers in blue = dns
The Race – 75 Laps
There were the usual few dramas prior to the race, rather more than usual this year in fact. Dick Hillard discovered major problems with his motor and, despite having initially still felt able to give it a go, was eventually forced to non-start. In the same boat was Steve Burrows, his miss having returned with a vengeance. Steve was obviously extremely frustrated with his situation but still found the grace to apologise for not being able to make the line-up.
Meanwhile, there were others about to be forced to join the list of non-starters too. Glenn Bell, Tim Moody and David Casey all faced the heartbreak of failing pre-race inside weight checks and the inevitable disqualification that goes with that. We all know that rules are rules and, particularly after what happened to John Christie last year, there was never going to be any choice but to exclude all three. However, it seems pretty clear now that this particular rule is causing problems and probably needs to be reviewed. Like Christie in 2010, it appears especially harsh for long distance travellers like Bell and Casey to be excluded for such small incremental failures. As for Moody, well, that small stretch of tarmac at Foxhall that extends from the scrutineering bay to the pit lane must just be the unluckiest place on earth for him. In fact, I’d say he ought to be really really careful, if he even just walks over it again….
Perhaps, at this juncture, I should just explain something about the use of reserves, as I’ve been asked about it so often since the race. Most fans will know that we always used to have at least one and sometimes two reserves on stand-by, and that they could sometimes to be seen waiting on the infield, suited, booted, in their cars fuelled up and ready to go. It was decided a while back that this didn’t look particularly professional and in 2009 there were no reserves nominated. Then the matter arose of, what if a qualifier fell ill or got injured the day before the race? A return to having a reserve was agreed upon but that this reserve could only be called on to race up until all the qualifiers have signed on for the event, which must take place by 9.30 Saturday morning. A driver who fails to do that will automatically be excluded and the reserve called. Therefore, once that deadline has passed, the die is cast and the reserve will not be in the race whatever happens.
You may well think that the most likely time for an entrant to fall by the wayside is only after they start actually driving the cars, and so it proved this year. Well, I never said it was a great rule, only just that that is how it is.
And so, five cars light, to the race itself.
At the off, Haird got the best start from the outside front row and oh so nearly managed to beat Simpson down to turn one. But the pole man was having none of that and kept his foot hard in it as Haird tried to cut across. The two were locked together for a few seconds before blasting onto the back straight with Simpson now ahead of Murphy, who’d been able to take advantage of the clinch. Haird was forced back to third with Blackman fourth ahead of Gavin Murray, Spinks and Christie.
With the opening gambits played, Simpson had managed to draw slightly clear but the backmarkers were already looming up ahead. Winnie Holtmanns had had a spin at turn three and rejoined right in front of the leader too, but this caused no problem.
A lap or so later though and a knot of four about-to-be-lapped cars had to be negotiated. Mikey Godfrey and John van den Bosch both stepped politely aside and allowed the four front runners through. Next came Graeme Gordon and Laurens van der Velde. Simpson shot past the Scot and gained some ground on Murphy in the process. The merest touch with vd Velde saw the leader past him too, Murphy still following a very short way back, both men having now left Haird behind a bit. However, the dangers presented by traffic were soon going to become a very grim reality for the leader.
With more backmarkers soon to be encountered, Murphy – who’d been sitting back just a couple of car lengths, giving himself some space and air – moved back up onto Simpson’s bumper. It was a logical tactic; get some pressure back on and maybe he’d be able to force a mistake in the traffic. It became a pivotal moment, as they came up behind the back marking Tommy Maxwell. The Ulsterman clearly intended to let them through but didn’t make it particularly obvious (from my vantage point) which way he was going to go in order to do so. As they raced down the back straight Simpson was forced to make a choice and decided to go inside, just as Maxwell did the same.
Murphy dived for the outside at the same moment the leader realised his gaff and tried to cut around Maxwell to go the same way. With Murphy already partly alongside, the inevitable collision sent Simpson spinning into the wall, which was game over for him right there. Haird came rushing up to try and take advantage of the situation but only succeeded in getting together with Murphy, the impact slowing both men.
It all played right into Blackman’s hands. Malcolm was far enough behind to be able to watch all this unfolding with (in NHR speed terms) plenty of time to think to himself, ‘I’m not getting involved in any of that’ and do something about it. The erstwhile fourth man drove right around all the drama cluttering up turns three and four, picked up the lead, and then ran off with it before anybody could even begin to give him an argument.
It had been just a few scant seconds which changed the whole complexion of the race.
With Blackman long gone, Haird and Murphy were left dicing over second, with Gavin Murray coming on strong now in fourth ahead of the Ulster trio of Gary Woolsey, Christie and Doak. Eventually, Murphy managed to find some daylight on Haird’s inside going through turn three, the pair touched coming across the stripe and then Shane was in front. The Irishman’s car was trailing some ominous black smoke by this point but it definitely wasn’t slowing him down (the team thought after the race that it was probably the gearbox breather chucking oil on the exhaust) as he left Haird to try and fend off Murray and Woolsey.
Woolsey and Christie both managed to relegate Murray somewhere along the way, but Doak was no longer with them by this stage. In fact, he was no longer seventh, as that was now Spinks. His car was going better in the later stages of the race, as it usually does, but it was going to be rather too little too late to do Phil that much good this year though.
Interesting as all this was, Blackman was now over a quarter of a lap clear and not showing any sign of faltering. Although Murphy did start to close the gap as the final ten laps wound down, this was only because the leader was making sure of no mistakes when lapping the still considerable quantities of traffic.
“Yes, I lifted off towards the end”, Malcolm confirmed after the race. “I didn’t want to cut in too tight on anybody and I didn’t want them touching me either! But I always knew exactly where Shane was because I could see him coming into the bends as I was leaving them”.
There was still a race going on behind though, where the places battle involving Woolsey, Christie and Murray came to head when the former pair touched. This put Christie up to fourth, but he was to move up still further as Haird’s tyres conspicuously went away in the closing stages and he fell back down the order.
Despite his careful driving toward the finish, Blackman was still around a quarter of a lap ahead at flag fall and no doubt mightily relieved to be once again ordering up the gold paint.
Murphy had a sizable gap over Christie, with Murray and Haird not too far behind before another long gap to Woolsey and Spinks. Graham Brown
Results: World Final: 911,970,962,95,115,940,14,72,996,60,208,961,66,369,844,278,338,467,78.
Support racing coverage to follow…