Oulton Park 21st October 2017
Keeping it in the family – Clarks triumphant
Dan Clark finally secured the MSA British Superkart Championship after a calculated drive netted him sufficient points. Cousin Stephen added to the family celebrations by regaining the F450 four stroke championship.
The MSA Championship returned to Oulton Park after missing out last year. With storm Brian threatening the North-West area, weather conditions were not ideal with the possibility of cancelled races. Following the judicial hearing by the Motor Sports Council and the exclusion of Paul Platt from race 2 at Cadwell in July, the championships points were recalculated. This meant that three drivers were still in with a chance of lifting the number 1 plate. After a free practice session, there was a fifteen-minute timed qualifying session. James Hassall was due to have a run out for the first time this year but wrecked the DEA in testing the day before and Gareth James was also a non-starter. Matt Isherwood was having his first taste of racing a 250 National when he joined the Parker Motorsport team for the weekend, using Barry Weston’s Anderson DEA. Dan Clark had a scare in testing on Friday when a misfire re-appeared on his Gas Gas but it was traced to a faulty ignition wire. In the wet qually session there were no such problems and after 2 laps he had pole position by 1.6s. But the Parker Motorsport team were working in tandem.
Layton was towing round Isherwood and after 3 laps Isherwood claimed pole position with a time of 1m 52.669s. Fantastic. “It’s easier to drive than the 125cc kart I am used to but great fun.” Clark was on a quicker lap when he came across Layton and Isherwood touring back to the pits but couldn’t improve on his earlier lap so occupied the other front row slot with a 1m 52.844s. Layton chipped away at his times but ended up over a second slower than his team mate, third quickest on 1m 53.674s. “The wet tyres didn’t feel great and I am not sure what to do for the race.” Andy Bird had gained 5 points as a result of the judicial hearing which meant he was in with a chance of taking the title. In Friday testing he had run in a new Gas Gas barrel and was confident of a good result. On used wet tyres he set a 1m 54.161s lap to close out the second row. James O’Reilly was slow off the mark in the qually session and with 75s left on the clock put in a time of 1m 54.188s to head up row 3. He was joined by the leading F450 kart of Stephen Clark who was looking to regain the four-stroke championship that he lost at Pembrey last year when the final round was cancelled. Aaron Sifleet had got his Gas Gas running well and headed up row 4 with a time of 1m 55.436s. He was joined by Paul Platt who was having to run reversed used wets and only managed a 1m 55.792s. “I have got two brand new sets for the races though.” Gavin Bennett was also in with a chance of taking the MSA Championship. He struggled to get on the pace but did record a 1m 55.796s before pitting with a water pump issue. The team then set about swapping engines ahead of the opening race. Completing the top ten and second quickest in the F450 class was Charlie Johnson with 1m 55.916s.
The weather still required wets to be used for race 1 and when the lights went out Isherwood kept his cool and led into Old Hall Corner chased by Clark, Layton and Bird. Bennett made a great start from row 5 and was up the inside of Sifleet, O’Reilly to take fifth place as the field headed down the Avenue to Cascades for the first time. Layton dispensed with Clark and set about his Parker Motorsport team mate. But Isherwood was not prepared to give up the lead and they were side by side heading into the Knickerbrook Chicane for the first time. The ‘new boy’ held his ground and at the end of the opening lap had a slight lead of 0.82s. Layton was fending off Clark with Bennett looming large in fourth spot. Bird, the other championship contender, was next ahead of Sifleet with Johnson leading the 450 class ahead of Platt. Bennett knew he had to win the race and passed Clark and then got ahead of Layton for second place at Knickerbrook on lap 2. Bird’s title hopes deflated when he crawled into the pits with a mysterious left rear puncture. O’Reilly spun out of 9th place at Old Hall while Platt went off at Shell. Both drivers continued but they were down in 13th and 14th places after 2 laps. Bennett was in determined mood and took the lead at Knickerbrook on lap 3, but Isherwood clung on. They were only separated by a tenth of a second as they crossed the line to start lap 4. Could Isherwood fight back. Sadly no.
The gap was up to a second at the end of the lap and had doubled next time around. On lap 6 he pulled off when the motor seized after the fuel pump failed. The end of a great drive. Layton took over second place and started to reduce the gap. On the last lap they encountered three back markers that were having their own private dice. Bennett came off worse but held on to get the crucial win by 0.785s from the current champion. “I knew what I had to do after battling with Matt and that was to get the win,” explained Bennett. But he was the first to walk across to Dan Clark in parc ferme and congratulate him on finally winning the MSA British Superkart Championship. Clark had been happy to sit behind the group knowing that fourth place was all he needed. When Isherwood dropped out his job was made easier. But he gave the team a scare in the closing stages. “I backed off to worry my Dad and the team on the pit wall, but I had it all under control.” He crossed the line just over 12s behind Bennett but was still 10.7s ahead of Sifleet who drove a great race to collect 4th place, his best result of the season. Stephen Clark made up for a slowish start to catch and pass Charlie Johnson on lap 3. He reeled off the remaining laps to secure the F450 Challenge and make it a double family celebration. Johnson kept him in sight to claim second place in the four-stroke class. Ross Allen was heading for 7th place but he had a gearbox failure on lap 7 which badly damaged the cases of his DEA motor. Platt inherited the spot but was passed by fellow spinner O’Reilly on the final lap as he set the fastest lap of the race.
With the championship wrapped up Clark decided to sit out race 2. Allen was also a non-starter with his DEA showing a big crack in the cases. O’Reilly had pole position with Layton alongside while Bennett and Isherwood lined up behind. When the lights changed O’Reilly led the field into Old Hall for the first time with Bennett tucked in behind. However, the Viper engine wasn’t on full song. Bennett took the lead and at the end of the opening lap he was ahead of Isherwood and Platt. O’Reilly had slipped to fourth and was fending of Stephen Clark on the 450 KTM with Layton down in sixth place. Andy Bird had started at the back of the grid and was already up to 12th place. Platt took second place at Knickerbrook on lap 2 and was closing on Bennett at the end of the lap with Clark up to third. Layton had gone missing on lap 2, going off at Shell Oils Corner. Next time round at the same corner Andy Gulliford, who was holding 6th place, skated off on the wet, oily surface into the back of Layton’s kart. The red flags were shown and the race was stopped. Jack was expertly lifted out of his kart and into an ambulance but thankfully after precautionary x-rays he was only badly bruised with a sore back while Andy escaped any injury. With the timetable having no room for delays and stoppages there was insufficient time to get a re-start. The race was declared void as only one full lap had been completed by everyone. A sad way to finish the championship but it was good to see later that all the drivers were ok.
Race One (8 laps) 1 Gavin Bennett (Anderson DEA) 15m08.923s (85.29mph); 2 Jack Layton (Anderson DEA) +0.785s; 3 Dan Clark (Anderson Gas Gas); 4 Aaron Sifleet (Anderson Gas Gas); 5 Stephen Clark (Anderson KTM 450); 6 Charlie Johnson (Anderson KTM). Fastest Lap James O’Reilly (Anderson Viper) 1m52.078s (86.46mph).
Final MSA British Superkart Championship Positions after 12 rounds (Best 9 scores to count)
1 Dan Clark 319 pts
2 Gavin Bennett 305
3 Jack Layton 297
4 Andy Bird 287
5 Paul Platt 253
6 Ross Allen 217
Words by Gary James