Polaris British Enduro Championship Rd1- Carnage in Kettering
After a false start to the 2017 season event 1 couldn’t come quick enough for everyone involved. The Track Team had itchy feet and I know the drivers where the same.
The Track Team were on the ground early Monday morning looking to get things off to a great start with a solid but spectator friendly track, easier said than done with a sport like ours. The track layout was done at record pace and the build process was well underway by early Tuesday morning. A long week of early starts and late finishes seen the track nearing completion by Thursday PM. Bad weather predicted for Friday pushed the team late into Thursday night to try and avoid working on a waterlogged surface. Gladly the rain never came.
Brand new for 2017 is the arrival of sponsor boards, banners and flags to add colour and a more professional finish to tracks. Although strong winds stopped us getting them all out, lots were on display and they made a huge difference to the track visually. Huge thank you to all our 2017 sponsors for all their support in making that happen over the winter.
There was an air of belief that this could be a record breaking event with entry numbers predicted to be somewhere in the mid thirty’s. During the arrival process it was clear it was going to smash the previous best event attendance of 35, we broke through the 40 mark and the hard work over the last 12months seemed completely worth while. That said large numbers bring other challenges but nothing the team were not prepared to deal with. The growth racers meant that splitting the groups was a must and an expert/rookie split seemed to be the logical route to take. The decision was made, 2 groups an expert group consisting of 15 seasoned experts and a rookie group of 26 new faces and a few old ones too.
Expert practice was a clear display of experience with drivers doing the bare minimum to learn the route and experience the race surface. Some drivers ended the session with a fast lap just exploring the areas of pace and grip around the circuit.
Josh Barrett set the fastest lap which was short-circuit pace, proving he hasn’t lost his touch over the winter. Machine problems would see Paul Rowland’s up against it to make the start line but with just seconds to spare his team pulled it out the bag with some quick welding on a damaged radius rod. Claire Avis helped the event team with some practice of the upside down buggy drill, a test they passed with flying colours. Thankfully Claire and Chardonnay were completely undamaged and continued on their way a little red faced.
Paul Severn seemed to be back on a solid Enduro pace setting some good early practice laps as he looked to settle into an early rhythm. The Dark Horse of the session was Ultra 4s Rob Butler who in a stock borrowed machine set the third fastest time of the session and made himself one to watch for the race. No issues with the circuit it was time to get to the good stuff.
The well-drilled experts shook into their start order and were released bang on time. Early pace sat with the short circuit racers making the switch to Enduros. Josh Barrett set the fastest lap of the race on lap one, a pace that would later see him tumble down the leader board with early machine damage.
The first hour saw the drivers settle into a rhythm with the lead changing constantly. Tom and Lewis Fletcher swapped the lead on several occasions and seemed to be the ones to beat. Paul Severn, one of the pre-race favourites, race was left in ruins after the failure of a fan switch saw him pushing his way up from the bottom of the leader board. Richard Avis was sat in a solid mid table position in the early stages and seemed to have the long game firmly in his sights. Paul Rowlands couldn’t seem to break into the top five in the early stages but saw himself take the class lead as the struggling Jamie Thwaites took multiple stops to address machine issues.
The later stages of the race saw the podium places settled as Richard Avis took the class and overall win continuing where he left off at the end of 2016. Tom Fletcher followed in 2nd place after his brother Lewis spent some time on his side with a late mistake leaving him 3rd.
Paul Rowlands was the first home for the Open Class in 4th with Shaun Jenkinson finishing off a solid 5th. Mark McCann/Jayne Ind finished in 6th with Claire Avis behind in 7th. Robert and Sam Lloyd in their first run out in their new machine grabbed 8th as they also try to adjust to the new race discipline. Charlie Simpson and Ann Almond finished 9th after some long hours and late nights getting their machine ready. Jamie Thwaites was 10th but after the race the reason for this became apparent, an upside steering quickener gave his machine the turning circle of an aircraft carrier and meant he had arms like Arni by race end. Last of the finishers were Jason Rowlands and Paul Severn who’s races were hampered by mechanical issues.
With a huge group of 26 rookies just getting them to the track on time was a challenge. Many of the new racers had no experience in any form of racing so were stepping into the darkness as they took to the track.
It was clear that many of them had little experience in the Enduro discipline, as they appeared to be flat out from corner one. The expert onlookers watched predicting many broken machines, as the pace was electric early on. Although it did appear that machine damage was going to be the headline there was some real talent starting to shine through, Jed Wiegold managed to set the fastest lap of the session as he rung the neck of his 900, Jordan Edmunds also showed some real pace with the experienced Andy Dare lapping on the same second.
After about 5 laps one buggy pulled into the pits and it appeared that most followed on, some unfortunately would not make it as far as the race with buggy damage from the intense pace effecting several machines. Track cleared and the shake out done it was time to race.
The rookie race was more of the same with some real fast pace on display but probably a lack of experience in the discipline of Enduro being the headline.
The first hour was insane with Jed Wiegold in the Welsh Dragon 900 showing near expert pace and some serious bravery with huge drop offs and the insane straight lining the whoop section. This would later cost him as his 900 struggled to deal with the punishment handed out by the fast Welshman. A DNF the result but definitely one to watch in short circuit racing. Josh Hope set the fastest lap of the race and again showed lots of potential for future events another one to watch.
It was clear that the experienced rookies were going to be victors as their lap times steadily improved. As others dropped like fly’s the wise climbed the leader board understanding there machines and managing there pace to ensure they would see the chequered flag. Andy Dare proved this and rose to the top in the second hour proving that this was anything but a sprint race, however his lap times in the later stages meant he was one of the fastest on track also. A great disciplined performance and a well deserved win. Jason Bird/Paul Blackford used the same principle and brewed nicely into a 2nd place finish harnessing the experience of last year and applying it perfectly.
Andrew Langdell seemed to heed the pre race advice and knew that the key to this race format was being there at the flag. A solid mature performance seen him take the 3rd spot on the podium, a great result for a new racer so well done Andrew. Paul Melia and Dan Hazel were next across the line with near identical lap times scoring some solid points towards the rookie title. Josh Hope did manage to finish in 6th but a prolonged repair saw him tumble down the leader board however he remains one to watch as he adjusts to UTV racing from his MX background.
Richard Burke/Scott Caunce crossed the line 7th a great result for race one and I cant help but think there is a bit more in there now that they have their first race firmly under their belts. James Blakey was next across the line and would probably agree that a bit of over caution seen him lower on the result sheet than many predicted. Once again getting the first race out the way will definitely see James push on in later events.
The happy tale of the day was that of Mark and Carolyn Rushton. Moving over from superlites Mark was always the driver and Carolyn on the sidelines but with two seats that’s changed. The plan was Mark would drive the Short Circuit events and Carolyn the Enduros and that’s exactly what happened. The early laps saw Carolyn way off the pace but as the race progressed slowly but surely the pace was increasing and the field was shrinking. This resulted in Carolyn finishing in 9th place and winning the Open Class something that many would never have thought possible. It just goes to prove that being there at the final flag is the key to this format. For the remainder it was a learning day, some learning expensive lessons by going beyond the limits of their machines but I guess that how we learn.
For current standings, including the Team Championship see HERE.
Huge thank you to all the staff and racers for making it a great days racing, and thank you to Catherine Simpson, as always, for supplying the amazing images. See you all at Short Circuit Rd1.