‘’I need pushers!’’ With the now legendary call to arms the 2017 Sprint Championships got underway at a damp and cool Buckmore. Unlike some Championships the entry was nigh on full with a smattering of newcomers and a few returnees anxious to do battle with the Club regulars. Something tells me this is going to be a vintage year, Steve Gray reports.
Whilst the circuit was still damp it was beginning to dry as the Clubmen took to the track for the first round of the re-introduced Championship. Harrison Darvill led the field away chased hard by Frankie Hedges with Luke Hornsby dropping to third ahead of Mike Townley and Pietro Pagano. Christopher Powell had a nightmare start spinning to back of the field. One down and the order remained static at the front with just a semblance of a dry line beginning to appear. Darvill was controlling the pace brilliantly from the front with Hedges in his wheel tracks whilst Hornsby, Townley and Pagano were having a frantic scrap for third and pulling away from sixth placed Martin Theodorou who was in turn being pressured by Christopher Murray, Jamie Pender and Justin Buck. At the front
Darvill continued to lead from Hedges but Pagano was up to third and hunting down the leaders. With three to go he slipped by Hedges for second in the top hairpin and a lap later repeated the move to take the lead which he held until the flag, chased hard by Hedges whilst Darvill dropped away a little but still held on to third clear of Townley and Hornsby. James Taylor took sixth after a fine drive up from grid fourteen ahead of Theodorou and Murray. Murray however had knocked over a cone and was demoted one place promoting Pender to eighth with Peter Harris rounding out the top ten after hard drive up from grid nineteen. Rob Moore, finishing eighteenth set fastest lap.
James Martin got a superb start away from pole with the evergreen Simon Lloyd tucked in behind ahead of Stefan Scully. Jack Bolton though was already in trouble spinning out of fourth place to the back of the pack. Peter Harris held fifth whilst Moore was up to fourth but not without drama as he received a contact warning. Shaun Hollingsworth was on a charge climbing from grid seventeen to eighth on the first lap. He too though received a contact warning and would later receive another warning for exceeding track limits. Martin continued to lead from Lloyd but Moore was into his stride and quickly dispatched them both to move into the lead whilst Justin Buck moved himself into fourth ahead of Hollingsworth.
Moore continued to stretch his advantage at the front from Lloyd and Martin with Buck now putting them both under pressure. He duly slipped by Martin for third with two to go and a lap later made it past Lloyd for second. Sadly, for him, he’d picked up a second warning for exceeding track limits leading to his demotion from second to fifth. Moore ran out a comfortable winner with Lloyd second from Martin and Hollingsworth with Harris sixth after a good drive. He’d held fifth at one stage but dropped back to eighth momentarily before recovering strongly. Theodorou took seventh some distance back, but ahead of Murray, Taylor and Darvill. Pagano set fastest lap.
Starting second Taylor got the jump on Hollingsworth to lead whilst Chris Penny slipped back behind Darrell Lowe who made a great start from grid six to slot into third. Stuart Osborn, starting from grid four, was another to get away badly dropping to eleventh, a fate which also befell Chris Dixon who dropped from seventh to fifteenth. Down the order Theodorou got a great start moving up seven places on the first lap to eighth. Excitement though got the better of him and a spin saw him drop to the back of the field. Townley was another fast starter climbing from nineteenth to twelfth whilst in the course of two laps Lloyd used all of his experience to stay out of trouble and move from grid twenty two to eleventh.
Taylor continued to set the pace at the front chased hard by Hollingsworth but Lowe was being reeled in by Whitehouse who was really on it and intent on third. With three run he was through taking Moore with him. The race settled into a rhythm at this point and it looked as though the places were decided but Whitehouse had different ideas, setting fastest lap with one to go and moving ahead of Hollingsworth for second. He couldn’t catch Taylor though who took the win. It was close though at the flag and another lap might have seen a different result. Just three tenths separated the leading trio. Moore was just adrift in fourth with Lowe close behind. Scully was a lonely sixth some three seconds clear of Harris in seventh. Penny, Pagano and Townley completed the top ten.
The grid. Taylor on pole from Hollingsworth with Pagano and Moore on row two. Harris and Whitehouse on three from Darvill and Lloyd on four and Townley and Buck completing the top ten.
Taylor made full use of pole to lead taking Pagano with him into second closely followed by Hollingsworth. Moore slotted into fourth ahead of Darvill, Whitehouse and Lloyd. With two gone Hollingsworth ,made his move for the lead. As the leaders bunched up Pagano and Moore took full advantage demoting Taylor to fourth. Hollingsworth’s lead however was short lived as Pagano moved ahead into a lead that he would never lose. By half distance the leaders had settled down. Pagano led from Hollingsworth with Moore a few lengths back in third with Taylor hard on his bumper. Whitehouse was running fifth with Darvill sixth from Harris followed by Lloyd and Theodorou. And that looked to be it until Whitehouse spun away a good fifth. An ignominious end to a good days work. So Pagano crossed the line first ahead of Hollingsworth, Moore, Taylor, Bolton, Darvill, Theodorou, Harris, Powell and Buck. Then came the penalties. All bar Theodorou for the same offence, knocking over a cone resulting in a one place deduction. Theodorou took a two place penalty for multiple contacts. Pagano lost the win then to Hollingsworth.
A great win for him after two years away. Moore held on to third and set the fastest lap with Bolton fourth from the demoted Taylor. Darvill remained sixth whilst Powell jumped from ninth to seventh. Harris was eighth thanks to Theodorous penalty whilst Buck completed the top ten. Whilst the damp track certainly played a part in the drama I’m sure everyone would like to see a bit more precise driving. The computer could barely keep up!
A great mornings racing then despite penalties reigning down like confetti with the rules being rigidly enforced. No bad thing. Good to see smiles all round on the podium and clearly everyone was glad to be back behind the wheel and racing hard.
The Clubman Championship looks to be very open. As it should be. Shaun Hollingsworth’s win might have owed a little to fortune but it was nevertheless deserved after two years away. And it was good to see Pietro Pagano smiling happily on the podium despite his disappointment. His day will surely come as will Rob Moore’s.
Round 2 will be at Whilton Mill on 19th March 2017.
Report written by Steve Gray
Photography: Jack Mitchell, JAM Motorsport Photography