Battles Recommence

13.05.15 202 (640x426) The reigning champions make their mark.

That there were several of the usual names out of the final here is hopefully an indication of what’s to come this season; the always competitive and exciting class could well be set to become even more interesting, with a few shake-ups in the order.
Unsurprisingly Jabez Smith was top of the class, but it’s a great prospect to have another season long battle with Matt Manning again, the Evesham driver having last year joined Bryan Neale – now in class three – as Smith’s closest challenger; but Luke Jenkins is perhaps the most exciting addition to the class for this season.
The Welshman, previously a class eight racer a few seasons back, was the only one to beat the reigning champion, driving an excellent first heat race in what looks to be a beautifully set up machine.
He was tied on points with Manning after qualifying and then drove well in the final too, which was a race that Smith took immediate control of. However, the action behind him was a little closer.
Tom Ellis and Josh Simpson had been tied on points in eighth place which necessitated a run-off for the final place on the grid. Ellis was the victor, and then held third at the start of the final behind Manning, with the rest closely bunched at first. Jenkins and Paul Watson occupied fourth and fifth in their 126’s, with Jake Williamson, Graham Cleal and Ian Jones rounding off the runners, but the order was quickly shaken up as the laps counted down.
It was great to see Williamson make the final in his new Berrisford machine – one of the only saloons ever built by the legendary driver/constructor – and he worked his way from the back of the field up to fifth place in the end. Up ahead, Jenkins and Ellis were also having a close nose-to-tail encounter, which was resolved in favour of the Welshman who slipped up the inside in the closing stages, but Ellis held on to fourth with Williamson too far away to make a challenge too.
Cleal had slowed fairly early on and circulated the perimeter, which left Jones and Watson as the last of the full-speed runners on track, fighting for position amongst themselves after Williamson’s ascension. Jones had held seventh position earlier on but by the end of the race it was Watson who had dropped back and finished behind Jones as the chequer fell, with Cleal continuing to circulate to salvage six points for eighth place.

After Danielle Phillips’s performance in the final this weekend it reinforces the notion that the ladies class is also one to watch again for the season, as she and Sarah Bateman resumed their battle from last year.
Phillips was intending to have a year out, instead handing the S33D machine to sister Michelle to share with Ellis, but Michelle’s pregnancy has meant that the car is back in familiar hands once again; and the car itself, though wearing a different number, is last year’s machine with a number of rear-end and setup modifications.
In the final, Phillips had a lead of a couple of car’s lengths through the first turn and then maintained a gap for a few laps as Bateman had to defend her second place from Alice Bevans, who has become competitive very quickly in Neale’s old pickup.
It seemed for a while as though Phillips was safe up front, but once Bateman was able to get a good run at her she closed up quickly and pressured Phillips for the lead. It was at a crucial point that the car showed itself to need a few setup tweaks – which Phillips then stayed for the Bank Holiday Monday meeting to try and rectify – because she understeered a little wide allowing the local lady through into the lead. In the closing stages Bevans drew alongside Phillips but the erstwhile leader was able to hang on to second; though with a couple of excellent drives over the weekend Bevans has quickly shown herself to be a potential champion too.
Linzi Weare had been on Bevans’s tail at the beginning but as Bevans started to break free it left Weare comfortably in position, unchallenged by second qualifier Sarah Farrar behind.
It was great to see Holly Downing taking some strong results over the weekend; the North Shropshire driver following a solid performance in the heats with a sixth behind Farrar, with Natalie Green and Tina Grasby rounding off the order.

Top: Smith nearly took a maximum score from the weekend, losing out by only ten points... Middle: ...because Jenkins beat him in heat two. Not only does the car look sensational, it's fast too. Above: Phillips drove an excellent final but lost the lead to eventual winner Bateman.