Oulton Park Report – 13th April 2024

MJ Tec were the Fun Cup winners. Photo: PS Images

The BRSCC’s North Western Centre staged its first meeting of 2024 at Oulton Park on 13th April. As usual, it was a superb day of racing spiced up by the occasional short, sharp rain shower.

Following some hard work behind the scenes, the Fun Cup has attracted some high quality teams and drivers for this season and their opening 4 hour race of 2024 was included in the programme.

It saw MJ Tec take a comfortable win ahead of last year’s Champions, Team Olympian/GRD. However, after the final round of pit-stops, the final 20 minutes saw an epic battle for third between UVio/Hoffmanns and GCI as they swapped places repeatedly. UVio/Hoffmanns were edged on to the grass at Lodge and then the same thing happened to GCI at Knickerbrook. While all this was going on, they were having to dodge a couple of lapped cars who were fighting for eleventh.

…and then, with 7 minutes to go, the circuit was hit by a heavy shower of rain. It was very wet at Druids where UVio/Hoffmanns slithered onto the grass but continued although, crucially, this put GCI ten lengths ahead.

The precipitation was only just reaching Cascades when they arrived at that sweeping corner on the next lap. It didn’t really look damp yet alone wet but, whatever moisture there was, GCI were the first to hit it and went off sideways – coming to rest in the middle of the gravel. Having seen what happened to their rivals, UVio/Hoffmanns focused on maintaining forward momentum when they inevitably lost grip and kept hard on the throttle to drive right through the gravel trap and regain the tarmac on the Lakeside Straight.

The rain then began to fall heavily all over the circuit, flooding the tarmac. With more cars skidding off, the race was halted a few minutes early.

The MJ Tec car, with Scott Jeffs and Will Abraham at the wheel, had taken the lead on lap 6 and was never headed aside from when they pitted earlier than their rivals during the compulsory pit-stop windows. They had been competing in Fun Cup for 4 years but this was the first time they had tasted the victory champagne.

Jim Hutchinson leads the way in his immaculate Mk1 Escort RSR. Photo: PS Images

An intense April shower also had a big impact on the first of two rounds of the Modified Ford series in Cheshire which featured some amazing examples from the Blue Oval’s back-catalogue.

As many of the cars are some of the most powerful in UK Club Motorsport, the category has rolling starts to protect their drivetrains. As the field rumbled across the grid, Paul Nevill found that he had an excess of “oooomph” for the lower amount of grip that the wet track offered and his Mk2 Escort spun into the barriers opposite the pits.

Meanwhile, Jim Hutchinson’s immaculate Mk1 Escort RSR rounded Old Hall side-by-side with the Mk2 example of pole-sitter Piers Grange. This gave him the inside line for Cascades where he took the lead.

At the end of the lap, with his tyres not up to temperature in the damp conditions, Grange duplicated Nevill’s dramas and experienced wheelspin on the track’s undulations as he passed the pits. His car fish-tailed wildly down the straight before coming to rest embedded in the gravel trap at Old Hall.

Having taken part in a Track Day at Oulton Park the week before, James Allen was putting what he had learnt to good use as he moved his Focus up the order, taking third on the run to Island Bend just before the Safety Car was scrambled to allow the marshals to move Grange’s vehicle out of the way.

Grange’s demise moved Tom Ovenden up to second.  He was behind the wheel of a similar Mk1 Escort RSR to the leader.

When the Safety Car returned to the pit lane, there was only time for a couple of laps of racing. The first 3, Hutchinson, Ovenden and Allen, remained the same although things were frantic behind them as everyone seemed to be changing position.

Later in the day, when the track was dry, Hutchinson took the lead at the start and was never headed. He was followed home once again by Ovenden although there was a new face on the third step of the podium as on the opening lap at Cascades, Allen received a tap on his left rear wing from Josh Payton in his Mk2 Cortina as he looked to make a pass down his inside. Both ended up off the track with the Cortina beached in the gravel bringing out the Safety Car. After his first race mishap, Grange worked his way up from the back of the grid to finish third despite having to pick his way through a wall of tyre smoke at the last corner that had been generated by a spinning backmarker.

Formula Ford 1600 races always have a diverse range of chassis. Photo: PS Images

Richard Freye won both Super Classic Pre ’99 Formula Ford 1600 encounters in his Van Diemen RF92 which were also the first 2 rounds of the Champion of Oulton series for the newly inaugurated Ian “Diz” Smith Trophy in memory of that doyen of FF1600.

in the first race, Freye gave himself a scare when he spun exiting Brittens on the last lap. He had a 13 second lead and only lost 7 of those before he got his car pointing in the correct direction en route to taking the chequered flag.

Paul Mason (Swift SC94) took second place having passed Jake Shortland’s Lola T440 at Old Hall on lap 2. Shortland remained in his slip-stream until the start of the final circuit when he slid briefly on to the grass at Old Hall which cost him a few lengths.

For race 2, the tarmac was drying after an earlier downpour which meant there was plenty of guess work when the drivers set up their suspension in the paddock.

Freye once again led from start to finish although this time his rivals were far closer as he drove with caution due to the difficult conditions.

Mason stayed on Freye’s gearbox until he ran a little wide at Cascades and lost ground. Furthermore, by this stage Freye had more confidence to push on as the track began to dry.

Shortland was another to find the conditions challenging… by the time he tackled Old Hall for the second time he had been overtaken by the Van Diemen RF88s of Chris Stones and Peter Daly.

Stones and Daly renewed their battle from race 1 in which Stones pipped the BRSCC Chairman for fourth.

In this instance, their duel was resolved when Daly ran wide exiting Shell and put a couple of wheels off the track. Although he kept his car pointing in the correct direction, he dropped behind Shortland and into the clutches of Oliver Buckton in a venerable Eldon Mk8/10.

With 3 minutes remaining on the clock, Shortland took third from Stones leaving the latter in his wake to fend off Daly and Buckton.

Joe Doble was the man to beat in the BMW Compact Cup. Photo: PS Images

Joe Doble was the fastest in qualifying for the BMW Compact Cup doubleheader. His father, Mike, was third quickest with Connor Grady separating them on the timesheet.

At the beginning of race 1, Joe made a great start to take the lead but Mike’s getaway wasn’t so good and he dropped to sixth. His slow vehicle caused something of a bottleneck. Cars were using the whole width of the track to avoid him to such an extent that one rubbed along the pit-wall.

Taking advantage of the chaos was Gordon MacMillan who moved into third from seventh on the grid behind J. Doble and Grady.

It was a surprise to see reigning champion, Gareth Claydon, qualify only ninth. He gained a few places in the early laps but then couldn’t find a way past Ross Stoner and Matt Flowers. Eventually, he saw a gap on the inside of Flowers approaching Island Bend but the pair made contact and Flowers came to rest stuck in the muddy grass on the outside of the corner.

With only a few minutes left, there was no time to move the car under the cover of a Safety Car so the contest was halted early. J. Doble took a comfortable victory which his brother, Mikey who races in the BTCC, would have been proud of. Grady was second but a 10 second penalty for MacMillan dropped him well down the order and promoted Stoner to third.

Next time out, from the start J. Doble and Grady were side-by-side all the way to Cascades where the race 1-winner took the lead. By the time the field reached Shell, Grady had also been overtaken by Claydon and Stoner was alongside him but he managed to keep the latter at bay to keep third position.

As J. Doble stormed away to another victory, Claydon held off Grady and Stoner until the last lap when Grady left a gap at Island which allowed Stoner to get alongside and he moved up to third on the exit of Shell. Worse was to come for Grady as a 5 secs track limits penalty dropped him to fifth behind Mike Doble.

Our marshals did an outstanding job. Photo: PS Images

The BRSCC North Western Centre would like to thank all officials and marshals for their help in running this meeting so efficiently. We hope they didn’t get too wet during the April showers.

Dave Williams

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