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You could be forgiven for thinking that. After all the 2016 Heavyweight Champion qualified in pole position for the Final on his debut after winning Heat 3. He then drove away from the field in the final initially towing former Elite champion Ian Blake, after a busy opening corner, which annoyingly the live stream doesn’t show, and which doesn’t show how front row sitter Parmveer Nijjar fell into the front of the pack. By halfway Blake had realised what Heavyweights have learnt all season, Joe is flat out quick and doesn’t make many mistakes and once out in front he is difficult to hang on to, let alone catch. Behind, in what is now his trademark quiet pragmatism, Steve Brown worked his way back from 6th, after also losing out at the start from grid 4, through James Small, winner of Heat 1, then towards the closing stages passed Nijjar and then Jonathan Lisseter to get back on another podium.
The championship, if his ecstatic father’s maths was right, and who am I to question Dad-maths? Had already been secured in the heats with his Heat 2 win, on a quiet day for his nearest challenger Jay Elliott. It’s one that sees Parmveer Nijjar take a 1 point advantage over Jay into Buckmore Park for what I see as a straight head to head. Whoever finishes with the best 3 heat and Final results will be… Vice Champion (Copyright Ian Blake 2015) and thats not the only head to head, Jonathan Lisseter and Darren Teal have a similar appointment mano-a-mano over a single point for the 4th and 5th place trophies. It’s too close to call either battle so I won’t. It’s a bold assertion to make (for which I may get some stick) that Steve Brown might have just got his championship in just in time, as I don’t think his 2016 approach will work again next season, as I’m fairly certain the opening salvo for the 2017 Elite title has already been fired in the mid pack of heat 2 as he was winning it. Proving that racing in Elite it’s not easy at all, and ultra competitive for every position, even over 10th-12th places, Holmes and James Small went at it hard. Yes I maybe reading too much into it, but I’m sure I picked up some alpha male karting pecking order shiz going down.
They will both, if available, be front runners next season, and the Elite Class may skip a generation for it’s next champion, if any are waiting their turn they will be disappointed. Or maybe it will entice Chris Powell to make a comeback, who knows? I’m just putting it out there but it looks like Holmes is the real deal, much to the relief of Heavyweight Class I’m sure, “he’s a bit quick isn’t he?” as Graeme Coombes once quipped in about someone in Spa 10hr documentary… I forget who. And now that he has heats to race through in Elite to get to start from pole position for a final, we know Joe can race and he likes to mix it. No I could be wrong but the 2017 Elite Championship has started.
Turn 1 decided Heat 1 with Myles Sharman on pole position letting James Small on the outside get the better of him around the outside, the first and only time I saw anyone pull it off. Myles gathered himself, Small escaped, a win never looking in doubt especially as it took most of the first lap, for other young guns, Dan Healey, Harry Neale and Tyler Mays to have a sort out, in Harry’s fave on leading the pursuit. Sharman was resolute, and it would be Mays the first to get by. Behind Blake had picked up the chase in 6th, moving passed Nijjar, while Tom Dix, Jay Elliott fought, rubbing side pods with Tom and a similarly motivated Darren Teal. By lap 5 Sharman’s tenure in 2nd had looked under threat for 4 laps, Neale had fallen away, or perhaps been pushed, down the order, to be replaced by Ian Blake on Healey’s bumper and when Ian jumped in at turn 8, Nijjar followed him through to 5th place into turn 9 before demoting Blake, Healey tailgating Parmveer back to 4th.
This gave Tyler Mays the space and time deliver an inevitable pass on Sharman on the brakes for 2nd place into the Turn 8 hairpin holding the high ground (of the inside) into Turn 9. With the pair slowing each other up, Nijjar had had time to join them, and more momentum down to turn 1, I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered if Myles had gone super narrow, he wasn’t narrow enough, and would’ve risked exiting with Healey and Blake all over him if he had. Blake was also down the inside of Dan and that settled their dice out of turn 1. I’ll spare Myles the post mortem, but the tide that had been out for so long, rushed in at once into the 2nd half and he faded, run out, badly to finish 14th. Mays was forced to defend from the great and the good behind to the finish, Blake and Nijjar sparred over 3rd place, before it broke Parmveer’s way, good for him, bad for Jay Elliott who was struggling to break into the top 10, behind Teal. James Small ran out the winner 10secs clear, of Mays, Nijjar, Blake and Healey. There’s enough Joe Holmes in this piece already except to say it didn’t slip my notice that he’d started 20th on the grid, and sliced and diced his way up to 6th, ahead of Jack Harding, at the back the battling lead group that started with Mays and was nose to tail down to Pete O’Connor in 9th place.
Where the first heat had been tidy and well mannered Heat 2got off to a messy and crowded start from the apex of turn 1 to track out. It gave pole man James Hattersley the only unhindered run, and he’d be clear of Stephen Docker into the infield, Steve Brown emerging to be well placed on Stephen’s bumper and clear of the P3 man Dan Truman, towing a returning Stuart Martin and Stuart Osborn slipping back from grid 4. Joe Holmes was 7th, only he had started 15th, and we were only 3 corners in! Brown ran Docker wide into turn 2 and set off after Hattersley. Martin dived into turn 4 on Truman, only to have to go through the flat out turn 5 together, then 6, before Stuart was through to 4th, by which time the pair had invited Osborne back on with Nijjar, Harding, David Longman, Holmes was suddenly back to 10th with Teal, Lisseter and Small.
This latter quartet caught my eye and proceeded to start the battle for supremacy in 2017, using Longman as a canine soft toy. Tom Dix tried to join in but was rejected, and replaced by Ian Blake ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ (Simpson) even Andy Cowell tried to get on on the act. But mostly it was watching Small and Holmes. Upfront Martin passed Docker for 3rd, Brown caught up Hattersley on halfway passing him into the hairpin at Turn 8. James hung on his bumper for half a lap then Steve edged away. I’m not even going to bother about trying to work out the Dad-math just 2 races into a 4 scoring race event but Brown Snr was convinced enough to seek me out to tell me the championship was won at the finish. A choking it back ‘Proud Dad’, thats a karting Dad and Son thing I reckon, you have to be a man understand… Brown was half a dozen kart lengths clear of Stuart Martin, who’d caught up with and passed Hattersley just as Parmveer Nijjar and Jack Harding had caught up with him, James would need to defend into Turn 8 and 9 but the chequered flag meant no further.
After a false start to Heat 3 Ed Barrs and Pete O’Connor went into turn 1 side by side for a second time at the start with the same result, Pete on the longer outside route and Ed led again. This time he kept up more momentum so Lisseter couldn’t get into the apex of turn 2 as he had before. But Barrs couldn’t get rely on a dice behind to get a gap, out of turn 4 Ed and Pete had Lisseter, Ray Norris and Joe Holmes off grid 10 in touch. After it settled down Barrs had seen off O’Connor to be replaced by Lisseter, Holmes marched through O’Connor on the brakes into turn 8. And when Ed and Jon swapped the lead into Turn 1 Holmes, who had begun to gap O’Connor picked up the tow to put himself in position pass Barrs again into Turn 8 a lap or so later. In danger of losing Holmes’ tow, and at risk of being demoted by Ian Blake, with Jay Elliott and Ray Norris on his bumper, O’Connor put one down the inside into turn 4.
Ed was pushed into the escape road on the outside and by the time he rejoined into Turn 5 he was behind Norris, down to 7th place, Holmes was clear and racing Lisseter for the win. Two laps later Holmes put down a marker for the Final, securing pole position for it comfortably, after driving away from the cream of the Elite Class, O’Connor, Blake, Elliott, Norris (?)… He towed up to pass Lisseter into Turn 4, but Jon wasn’t going to roll over and struck back inside of turn 1, but like the false start, Holmes had enough of his nose inside the apex of 2 to lead into Turn 4. Hard on his bumper, Holmes had to narrow the track in places but Lisseter never got close enough to put the pass in before Joe edged out half a kart length, then a length, then 2 and then he was safe to the finish.
So to the Final, by now in darkness and under floodlights, you’ve read the highlights already, the question going in was would Joe Holmes be able to repeat his usual practice of driving away from the Heavyweight field, and you also know the answer. He had a gap off Turn 1 from Ian Blake coming off grid 3. Ian pushed to get back to his bumper, but gave up after halfway. Jon Lisseter would hold 3rd place picking up more points on Darren Teal, who’d worked his way from grid 10 to 7th place, initially before fading out to 12th, to set up a closer finish for the championship trophies than it might have been a few rounds ago. Jon held off Nijjar only to be first replaced by new champion Brown, and then Parmveer Nijjar working his way to 4th place, picking up good points of his own on Jay Elliott running pack to emerge a solid 7th at the finish, to leave Parmveer that single point ahead in 2nd place in the championship going into the tricky final round of the season.
Indeed the field had reached it’s natural equilibrium and the best racing had been in the heats, Joe Holmes signalled his intent for 2017 winning by 5secs, from former champion Ian Blake, and new champion Steve Brown, 3secs further back, maybe that will be the front runners for ’17. Brown was chased in by Jon Lisseter holding off Parmveer Nijjar and James Small. Jay Elliott had not had his usual duelling verve all day and was 2secs off in 7th, and I expect this group to be running in the 2017 battle for supremacy. Jack Harding, demoted to behind Tom Dix post race, then a gap to Stuart Martin rounding out the top 10 on his return. It felt a little flat afterwards, Steve Brown’s championship clinched was almost a footnote, maybe because it was dark and chilly, and everyone wanted to be away to a long drive from Suffolk. Maybe everyone was processing the result. The Elite order of things looks to have changed, but we’ll see at Buckmore Park.
Report written by Chris Simpson
Photography: Jack Mitchell, JAM Motorsport Photography