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Hindsight is a wonderful thing. After all, it’s obvious now isn’t it? Take the best drivers from Super 1 and Stars of Tomorrow, assemble an enormous prize fund, attract some big name sponsors, throw them all together and see who comes out on top. Only no one thought of it. Well, until John Surtees did. So it’s appropriate that the only man to win world championships on two wheels and four, came up with the concept of the Champion of Champions.
There was a real buzz in the paddock on the morning of Sunday 30th October at Buckmore Park. With the sense that this was a really cool, exciting end of season bash. Renault’s enormous media and hospitality unit added to the impression that the Renault Champion of Champions was already a major fixture in the karting calendar. What’s more, the event had attracted numerous other champions and not just from karting. Boxing legend Barry McGuigan was clearly enjoying the racing and SEAT touring car star Luke Hines was present to support the Zip Young Guns team, while sporting huge sunglasses and pink and white shoes!
Katherine Legge was busy chatting about her Toyota Atlantic exploits in the USA while keeping a keen eye on the on-track action. The inimitable Perry McCarthy entertained everyone with stories about his Formula 1 career and, of course, about being ‘The Stig’. As Renault’s guest of honour, Perry was also responsible for handing out the trophies which he did with genuine pleasure, constantly beaming at the youngsters collecting their big cups and even bigger presentation cheques.
The one downside was the lack of entries overall. Junior Gearbox only attracted six drivers and what should have been the blue riband event, Super Libre, could only pull in some 14 competitors. Ironically, British champion Mark Litchfield and fellow Formula A star Jason Parrott were both in the paddock but merely to support drivers in their teams. Bill Sisley aims to address this and have a strong field of established Formula A drivers next year. The absence of big names in some of the classes only made the event far more open and unpredictable. And that made for awesome racing. The CADETS never fail to entertain and the Pre-Final was no exception. In the first few corners there was contact aplenty with Mackenzie Taylor biffing eventual winner Chris Warburton through Cafe and Chris Thomas shoving Ben Palmer into the downhill esses. But once the race had settled down, it became a straight fight between Warburton and Taylor. Whatever the Fusion driver could throw at Warburton, it was resisted with incredible coolness. At the flag, the two sportingly shook hands.
You know I mentioned unpredictability? Well, British Number 1 Sam Jenkins rocketed off grid 13 in the Final and started a stunning drive to pick his way past driver after driver. As the chequered approached, Jenkins passed Taylor for 5th, then Pirie, before disposing of the squabbling Palmer and Warburton. Once in front, the others had no response and were left to sort out who would be first of the losers. The JICA Final produced another upset. Especially for Oliver Rowland. The clear winner of the Pre-Final, Rowland could have been forgiven for thinking that the Final would merely be a formality. Not that you could ever discount the likes of Kartmasters winner Richard Bradley and the ever-quick Nigel Moore. But Rowland had won the Pre- Final by over 6 seconds. As the lights went green, the form book was about to be shredded. In his first JICA race, combative Yorkshireman James Godbehere got a flyer and slotted into 2nd behind, not Rowland but Ben Cooper. From 9th on the grid, the Wright driver had an absolute screamer of a start and powered into the lead. This seemed to wake up the prerace favourites and they set about closing in on Cooper, Godbehere and the other faststarter, Anthony Moss. Bradley led the charge and was soon 2nd, as Godbehere started an eventual slide into retirement. Rowland was now 3rd. Despite having a 2 second lead, Cooper was slower than the chasing trio. Rowland was a tenth quicker than Bradley and used that extra speed to take 2nd. At the pace they were running the slightest error would cost and, as Bradley ran wide, Moore nipped through. In midfield, Paul Marsh’s dice with Jordon Lennox-Lamb came to a nasty looking halt as he clipped the Birel driver’s rear bumper and
launched into Lennox-Lamb’s back. The red flags flew and a single file restart was scheduled. At the restart, Cooper got the jump on his rivals with Bradley nicking 2nd from Rowland. Not to be outdone, Moore joined in the fun and briefly held 2nd before the Top Kart top gun Rowland resumed his pre-red flag position. However, Bradley was in no mood for giving any quarter and proceeded to bang wheels with Rowland as he tried to wrest the place back. This was his undoing as Moore, unsighted by Bradley, saw a gap, went for it and clinched the third step on the podium.
I don’t know why, but Buckmore always seems to produce superb Junior racing. We’d been spoilt already but could the JUNIOR ROTAX brigade also deliver? You bet they could! Chris Palmer took the early advantage from pole but that man Adam Christodoulou was keeping him honest in 2nd. David Sutton and Sam Bennett were also piling on the pressure. Christodoulou was clearly eager to lead from the front and waited just a handful of laps before making his move. However, he couldn’t make it stick and Palmer regained the advantage. As the leading pair went into the first corner, Christodoulou sized Palmer up before lunging down the inside into the first hairpin. What he didn’t plan was to leave a barn door sized gap, allowing Sutton and Bennett through. At the same hairpin, Christodoulou relaunched his bid for the lead and managed to take 2nd from Bennett. The Tonykart driver shadowed and stalked Sutton for several more laps before going for it. Like a pantomime audience the crowd gasped and ‘whooohed’ as Christodoulou and Sutton fought for the lead. This was a belting race but these two were not the sole source of drama. Stefan Wilson gave it everything to edge Sutton further back to 3rd. After the muted response to his victory at Kartmasters, Christodoulou was generously applauded by the spectators. In the fading light, he really had shone. I’m not a betting man but before the SUPER LIBRE Final, my money would have been on Dan Cruttenden. In the morning warm-up he’d been throwing some spectacular Scandinavian Flicks for the cameras, looked fast and had a body language in the kart that said, ‘I’m well up for this’. His win in the Pre-Final simply underlined all of the above. But in the main Final it all went ‘Pete Tong’. Despite taking an early lead, a puncture put paid to his chances and he retired. Making his debut in this class, Scott Malvern looked like an old hand and took the lead with Richard Kent now 2nd. Sharper by name and by nature, Alex Sharper was out to make a name for himself and scythed past Jonathan Walker.
As the race unfolded, Malvern and Kent eked out a slight cushion and so began to worry solely about each other. The tension increased as Kent launched his kart over the Cafe kerb but Malvern blocked him. Behind them, Walker repassed Sharper who responded by chucking his kart into the first hairpin, keeping it on the black stuff and found himself back in 3rd. Persistence always pays off and eventually Kent found a way past Malvern for the lead. Malvern however knows every millimetre of every overtaking place at Buckmore and as the two entered the last sequence of corners of the last lap, he pushed up Kent’s inside and got through. A jubilant Malvern was in stark contrast to the dejected figure of Kent as they crossed the line. Sharper hung on for a fine 3rd spot from Walker. The predicted rain finally fell, just before the MINIMAX Final. And it made tyre choice a lottery. Those who remained on slicks had little or no chance. Tom Ingram practises kart control by testing in the wet on slicks and showed just how good he is at it by driving from 11th to 1st within a few corners. Polesitter Devon Modell was powerless to respond and sank to 14th. As the rain increased, so did Ingram’s domination, to a 12s lead. Sarah Moore displayed great skill and courage in overtaking two drivers in one corner on opposite lock for 6th! Jack Harvey paddled round in 2nd, some five seconds ahead of Alex Widdrington and Patrick Fletcher. A superb win for Ingram and judging by the grins of his family, well after the racing had finished, they’re probably still smiling as you read this.
Though still damper than a baby’s nappy, the track began to show a drying line for the SENIOR ROTAX Final. Trouble was, not everyone saw it. Ed Cockill did. Initially, Michael Simpson, Chris Lock and Iain Inglis led the opening laps but, as the rain stopped and the circuit dried rapidly, Cockill began his irresistible charge from back to front. Nearly half of the field gave up the ghost as their wets started to cook, with only Dan Holland and Chris Trott able to press on regardless. But they were completely unable to do anything with Cockill. He won by over 40 seconds.
Like Cockill, Lee Jenner also had a remarkable Final. Driving from 27th on the grid to 4th. But on wets! He described his tyres as “roasted” by the chequered. The weather finally made it’s mind up in time for the JUNIOR GEARBOX Final and promptly lashed down. With just six karts on the circuit, we were never going to be in with a real treat. Henry Surtees did however do his utmost to give his father a fairy tale ending to the day. Running 2nd for most of the race, he snatched the lead from ‘O’ Plate champion Thomas Duggan with just a couple of laps to go. But rather than attack, Surtees defended and so came under enormous pressure from Duggan. It was nail-biting stuff as the pair went into the last lap locked together. Into the right-hander by the pit exit, Duggan got his nosecone up the inside of Surtees but he held his lead as they hurtled towards the next right hander. Under braking, Surtees could not defend from the outside. Duggan slithered through, shut the door, snicked through the gears and won by the smallest of margins. Winner of the Pre- Final, Dean Stoneman could not find his earlier pace and trailed in a lonely 3rd. And lastly, the points tally. By adding the scores from the Kartmasters GP to those won at the Champion of Champions, the Renault Elite League saw Richard Bradley win the JICA title and Daniel Rowbottom, Super Libre. So, the building blocks are there for another high profile, quality race meeting. If Bill Sisley and Big John can attract more stars, perhaps even international drivers and bigger grids, then before long Britain could have an event to not only complement the Kartmasters but perhaps become an attractive season closer for the top European teams too.
Report: Adam Jones
1 Sam Jenkins (Zip), 2 Chris Warburton
(Zip), 3 Shaun Pirie (Shark).
Fastest Lap: Sam Jenkins.
1 Ben Cooper (Wright/Parilla), 2 Oliver
Rowland (Top/Parilla), 3 Nigel Moore
Fastest lap: Max Chilton.
1 Adam Christodoulou (Tony), 2 Stefan
Wilson (Tony), 3 David Sutton (Gillard).
Fastest lap: Adam Christodoulou.
1 Scott Malvern (Gillard/TM), 2 Richard
Kent (Tony/Vortex), 3 Alex Sharper
Fastest Lap: Richard Kent.
1 Tom Ingram (Tony), 2 Jack Harvey (Tony),
3 Alex Widdrington (Gillard).
Fastest Lap: Tom Ingram.
1 Edward Cockill (Cosmos), 2 Dan Holland
(Gillard), 3 Chris Trott (Gillard).
Fastest Lap: Edward Cockill.
1 Thomas Duggan (Birel/Honda), 2 Henry
Surtees (Gillard/Honda), 3 Dean Stoneman
Fastest Lap: Thomas Duggan.