The 2012 C. P. Dynes/NHRPA National Hot Rod Championship of the World
Bell is raining champion! Ipswich, Saturday July 7/Sunday July 8
Graham Brown reports: In the first wet World Final of the new millennium, the weather undoubtedly created a real nail biter of a race which saw multiple lead changes and desperately close racing throughout. In the end it was former Stock Rod world champion Glenn Bell who took a sensational first world title from a controversial race, with Gavin Murray, Matt Simpson and Kym Weaver filling the other podium slots.
The GridOutIn9701157296295303940911608441621169209 1741178015599692 39994555100467278339261101529618711876699The entry was exactly what we were expecting in terms of who was there and what cars they were due to be driving, so no surprises there. That said, Scots rookie (no, I didn’t believe it either until I checked while doing the entry list) Ronnie McKenzie had, in the run up to the race, switched to an unusually modern – and likely to be more competitive – car in the shape of the ex-Ian Donaldson Tigra.
Undoubtedly, the biggest shocker here was the forced withdrawal from the race, on medical grounds, of Dick Hillard. Dick collapsed in the pits very early on Saturday morning and was rushed to hospital. The medical consensus seemed to be that he was not in any great danger or (even better news) particularly ill and he was soon back at the track, looking quite recovered. There had been some talk that he would be well enough to actually race but, in the end, common sense prevailed and reserve Sam Holland was pitched into her first World Final. You had to feel for Dick though, who has now fallen at the final hurdle two years running, engine woes having kept him out of last year’s race.
As for Sam, well, she would obviously have known there was a chance – however slight – she’d end up in the race. But I still entertained amusing visions of her spending Saturday morning mostly imitating Scarlett at the start of Four Weddings!
And so to the traditional ‘hot laps’ to determine the grid. The weather forecasters (to say nothing of the weather itself) had definitely been making everybody very twitchy about what the conditions were going to be like during the qualifying session. In the end, there turned out to be nothing to worry about, as it stayed dry throughout.
And there weren’t to be any huge shocks with regard to the actual times set, either.
Just for interest, John Christie had been fastest in “un-timed” morning practice (the timing computers and transponders are still working in any case) with a 14.21, while Chris Haird was the second quickest.
The draw had placed the unfortunate McKenzie in the number one slot and the green track certainly didn’t help him on his way to a 14.88. But there were rather more representative showings from runners two and three as Dickie Burtenshaw and Kym Weaver managed 14.57 and 14.62 respectively and this despite Kym smacking the wall at one point.
Murray’s 14.57 gave no real hint at this stage that a podium might be on the cards for Sunday. He was followed by Shane Murphy who all the form spotters certainly had their eye on. He didn’t disappoint either, as he cracked off two laps of 14.25, the second of them acting as a tie break between Shane and Christie, when he too put in a 14.25. In fact, Murphy made a big mistake on his first lap and clambered all over the kerb, still managing to set the fastest time of the day up to that point.
Ms Holland caused a bit of excitement by spinning on her third lap while it was, in the end, the 2010 winner Chris Haird who took the pole with a time identical to Simpson’s 2011 FTD of 14.20. Matt was more than a couple of tenths off that this time though (his 14.47 matched by Neville Loosemore, oddly enough) Murphy and Christie having eclipsed both Matt and all the other group one runners with their 14.25s.
As for the “ties across groups” in the points, the one in group four was resolved when Hillard dropped out of proceedings and allowed everybody behind him to move up on the grid, while the Paffey/Weaver tie in group two fell Paffey’s way.
It was at this point that the controversy arose over some tyre logging discrepancies involving Willie Hardie and Carl Waller-Barrett. It was a situation which was going to have far reaching consequences.
A hastily convened meeting of officials initially relegated both men to the back of the grid (significantly, putting Hardie out of the top group), working on the same revised principles which were now to be applied to drivers failing a weight check. But an appeal was later entered, allowed and heard, which would see even this penalty rescinded. As the usual price to pay for this particular transgression is a load up plus a couple of meetings off, the original penalty would have been something of a fudge, if an understandable one. But the eventual outcome of ‘no penalty at all’ was clearly a fudge too far and it was perhaps no surprise that Dave and Carole Longhurst, after having carefully policed tyre logging for so long, saw this as a complete affront and resigned virtually on the spot. With them taking no further part in the meeting, this obviously had clear implications for the scrutineering of the cars throughout Sunday. GB
Martin Kingston’s photos MORE
The Race – 75 Laps
The weather forecasts for Sunday had been pretty dire all week, with the prediction of rain for most of the day having firmed up to an almost cast iron certainty by the end of Saturday.
And so it turned out. The overnight rain was pretty much constant and, although it had slackened away to a complete stop by the time the cars were being pushed down from the paddock area, virtually every car I saw was on wets and it looked like they were going to need them. Mark you, the rain had been stopped for some time by then and I could well see a “1990 scenario” developing all over again only this time with every single entrant seeing themselves in the role of Davy McCall!
But such thoughts were banished when the heavens had well and truly opened once more as start time neared. The lengthy spell without the rain did look as though it tempted a couple of people into last minute gambles however, and I think (although I’m not 100% certain) that Paffey and Tom Casey both switched to two-and-two while on the grid. If that was the case, it was a roll of the dice that was destined not to work. And on that same subject of last minute tyre changes, Murphy’s crew had at least one if not two slow punctures to deal with as the seconds ticked away before twelve noon.
There were no unfortunates left back in the pits with mechanical troubles this year, the only real drama prior to the race coming when Sam Holland’s car refused to fire up on the grid. It looked like she was definitely a non-starter for several minutes, as the car was pushed off to the infield. But the problem was eventually traced to a faulty isolator switch, no lesser mechanic than Deane Wood ‘hot wiring’ the offending component to finally get the #10 running and into the field.
At the off there were huge puddles of standing water all over the track. Haird and outside front row man Murphy bumped each other as they came down for the green, but it was Haird who managed to get into turn one first with Christie also making it past Murphy.
From that point on the destination of the title was always in doubt. Although there were actually only three different leaders, so close were the main protagonists throughout that it felt like more, and that’s without mentioning all the incidents going on with the rest of the field!
Haird managed to hold point for a couple of laps with Christie, Murphy, Simpson and Blackman all latching on behind. Then Haird got into turns three-four a touch too deep and, in a trice, Christie was under him and in front at the other end of the track. Haird stayed out wide though and was definitely going for the lead again as they came up on the backmarking Tom Casey, going really slowly and (probably) struggling with his optimistic tyre choice. In fact, so slowly was the Merc going that he was instructed to pull off via the Raceceivers.
But for the moment he was just a bit of a chicane for the leaders to negotiate. Haird continued up the outside and looked to have Christie boxed in, only for John to somehow worm his way between Haird and Casey to hold onto the lead for a second before Haird forged in front once more.
That didn’t last long though, Christie taking it up once again before the completion of another lap, while Murphy had his car snap sideways through a lake, putting the pressing Simpson up to third. Hardie and Gary Woolsey came to rest out by the wall on turn four after some sort of coming together and then Simpson made another place at Haird’s expense. Matt was really getting into his usual wet weather stride now and was closing in on Christie fast when he came across the limping (and now a lap down) Hardie car going into turn two. Hardie turned in but then ran wide, taking Simpson with him almost out to the wall, immediately dropping the 303 car from second to seventh.
Given that Hardie had a flat in the left front from his previous incident and the prevailing conditions, Willie would probably claim mitigating circumstances, which was no doubt why he only got loaded up for incident when the stewards reviewed the video later.
This now re-shuffled the order to Christie, Blackman, Haird, Murphy, Murray, Weaver and Simpson, at which point the yellows came out for some debris on the course, a door from Keith Martin’s car lying on the home straight after the 2005 champ had been involved in some incident or other which had escaped my notice.
The retirements were beginning to mount up now, with Graeme Callender and Wayne Lee joining them as the rest restarted. With the enormous puddles having filled up again during the stoppage, the cars were looking more like power boats than ever as they trailed huge rooster tails of spray along the straights.
Murray got the jump on Murphy at the resumption and now Blackman was able to pile the pressure on Christie, eventually being rewarded with a hole up the inside going into turn one. That was all the invitation Malcolm needed, the defending champion hitting the front for the first time as Haird and Murray tried to muscle in on Christie too. In fact, this battle over second became very intense at this point, with Murray taking Haird and then Simpson following through in his wake, before Murray and Simpson also swept past Christie as the 962 car seem to slow up quite suddenly.
All of that dicing robbed the placemen of a bit of pace though and suddenly the leader was left well clear for the first time in the race. He was going to stay that way for quite a while too, as the chasers continued to go at it tooth and nail. Simpson looked like he’d made a successful inside pass on Murray only for Gavin to just manage to shut the door and then Matt still got through anyway at the end of the back straight. Then Simpson ran wide at turn three – all the front runners seemed to be having problems keeping it consistently tight through there. Murray also ran on into the bend and into Simpson as well, thus going ahead again.
There was no doubt this dice, entertaining as it was, was slowing both of them down quite a bit and the leader was now a quarter of a lap clear and actually looking pretty secure. But there was a big shake up coming.
Bell, who’d gradually been working his way up fairly unobtrusively from his seventh row start, was now in a position to really start making his presence felt, as he by-passed Haird next to snatch fifth spot. Haird pulled wide and slowed right off the pace as though he’d had enough, while the Murray/Simpson fight brought the pair into contact again, Gavin spinning this time between turns three and four, and Matt taking a black cross for it.
So spread out was the field by this stage (50 laps to go) that Murray was able to rejoin still inside the top ten, with the order now reading Blackman, about a quarter of a lap up on Simpson, a gap to Murphy, a gap to Bell, Jason Kew, Stewart Doak, Haird, Murray, Weaver and Christie.
In fact, Blackman remained in charge for many laps in this mid part of the race, as Simpson and Murphy disputed second, although with Bell very much in the frame now too. But as the laps continued to count down Blackman’s quarter lap lead was being gradually eroded as he struck traffic trouble. He also had several sizable ‘moments’ going down the straights, when a lesser driver would definitely have spun, and it looked as though Malc was having to back off before he dropped the ball altogether. He was still picking off backmarkers too, but getting delayed more and more frequently.
Luckily for the leader, his placemen were still racing one another, or at least one of them would have been on him sooner. Simpson, for example, was coming with a big run on the outside of the traffic for a while, until a small error (again on that bothersome 3-4 turn) let Murphy and Bell past. Matt managed to re-take Bell; Glenn re-passed once more and then cannoned into Murphy at turn three, sending the Irishman spinning. At the same time the leader still hadn’t been able to break free of lapped cars, finding the duelling pair of Mike Loosemore and Colin Gomm particularly awkward. An outside pass had just got Blackman ahead of them when the yellows flew again for Holland’s spun and stranded car. Murphy also pulled out at this point with a bent axle.
Of course, that meant Blackman’s increasingly slender lead had now vanished altogether. At this point Bell was up to second but with two back markers between himself and the leader, while a further lapped car buffered Bell from Simpson and the recovering Murray.
At the restart it was still Blackman very much in charge but with the backmarkers swiftly stepping aside at the green, Bell and Simpson were soon reeling him in again.
Haird’s dogged pursuance of another title (“I just don’t do the wet!”) finally came to an end after he tangled with Mike Loosemore and retired with a flat soon afterwards.
Back up front, Bell was closing in ever faster on Blackman and leaving Simpson behind, so it was definitely Bell going quicker and not Blackman going slower. At slightly more than 22 laps to go the two were together and the fight for the gold roof was back on with a vengeance.
Bell wasted no time trying the outside pass but got way too deep into the pesky 3-4 turn. But Glenn came straight back up to Malcolm’s bumper, so he obviously still had something in hand. Again and again Bell went outside but couldn’t make a pass stick. As he continuously dived outside and Blackman continuously defended, memories came flooding back of Phil White versus George Polley in the pouring rain almost a quarter century earlier; was the challenger ever going to get ahead this time?
And all the while the two were scrapping away, they were slowing one another down, and Simpson was catching them up. This was far from over yet and then over the R/C comes the news that there are just ten laps left. A lap later and the trio are within touching distance. Eight to go, no change. Seven to go, six to go…and Blackman finally leaves enough of a gap up his inside at turn three for Bell to go for it. They clunked together, Blackman tries to shut the door and Bell is forced up onto the kerb but comes out of the clinch with the lead.
Surprisingly, Simpson didn’t manage to follow him through but at the same place a lap later, the scenario is repeated. Maybe Simpson went for it harder – because it was Blackman. And maybe Blackman tried a lot harder to slam the door – because it was Simpson. But the outcome was almost the same. I say ‘almost’ because, as the two locked together briefly in a semi-t-bone situation, Murray nipped past both of them, leaving Simpson still only third and Blackman now fourth.
With Bell a quarter of a lap to the good now and only four laps to run, it really did look to be all over this time, although of course, there was still time for the leader’s car to go on three cylinders or something in this weather!
But there were no more shocks left in the goodie box and Bell simply drove on to the flag with no problems. Murray completed his amazing recovery with an almost miraculous second place, and if anyone can remember when somebody last got a podium position in a World Final after a spin, answers on a post card please!
Simpson came home (and kept) third, ahead of Blackman, who only kept fourth as long as it took him to refuse his trophy. The subsequent disqualification all of that entailed brought rookie entrant Kym Weaver up into what must have been a hugely satisfying fourth place. GB
World Final: 9,95,303,(911),209,116,962,844,278,100,261,339,555,66,187,155,11,152. NOF
Penalties: 911 disqualified for refusing to accept his World Final fourth place trophy and refusing to make his car available for post race scrutineering