Northampton, 24th June 2018 – Meeting Report and Photos

British Touring Car Championship commentator, Tim Harvey, remarked in a recent broadcast that motorsport is ninety per cent disappointment. He was probably speaking from a competitor’s view point but it is a sentiment that could have applied to many people at Northampton and none more so than promoter Deane Wood.

This was the first real test of the new clay racing surface and on a baking hot Sunday afternoon a large crowd had gathered to witness F1s on the loose stuff for the first time since the late fifties. Unfortunately the glorious weather served only to frustrate track staff, drivers and spectators as serious dust problems occurred almost from the off.

A little dust began to rise during the opening National Ministox race which was not a good sign. The second event, for V8 Stock Cars, proved to be an ordeal for all concerned as thick dust clouds rose at each end of the track. After a delay for track grading and watering, 25 cars gridded for heat one of this, the last 2018 world qualifier, led away by Tim Warwick (307) and Aaron Cozens before the 76 car retired to the infield.

Two rolling laps to firm up the surface were announced but the cars went after just one, led by Darren Clark (83). The slippery outside edge of the track caught several drivers out and the plating took a bit of a beating but Clark forged ahead, with Tristan Jackson (101) some way behind. Mark Woodhull (335) took second with Dan Johnson (4) battling with Will Yarrow (22) for third but by the time Woodhull had hit the front the dust was horrendous, with just a portion of the home straight visible from the back stretch banking. Mat Newson (16) tangled with Kelvin Hassell (13) when well placed while Woodhull resisted attacks from Johnson until the 4 car hit the front, just as the caution flags flew for Hassell who had given the fence a good thrashing  after bouncing off Newson.

Johnson led the remaining laps untroubled but Dave Goddard’s comment that the number 4 car was in the clear was perhaps a little ambitious, given that the track was now completely obscured by dust. Dan took the win and then loaded up. Things did not look good as drivers came onto the track to inspect the surface and talk to race officials.

Heat 1 went the way of Dan Johnson

Heat two finally got under way at 3:30pm after much track work, discussions and deliberations. Refunds had been offered to those spectators who had had enough after the first heat and it was a somewhat reduced crowd who stayed on to watch the 18 cars struggle for grip on the now greasy track. Rob Jacklin (136) and Robert Plant (364) both went straight for the fence, as did Dowson Junior, Newson and Hines, but a nasty crunch on turn three involving several cars left Jacklin on top of Thompson (312) while Hassell, Harrison (197) and Wainman (515) joined in as well. The major concern was for Geoff Nicholls (215) who had been slammed hard into the fence and needed attention.

After Geoff had been helped from his car, racing resumed with Scrivens (11 and 12), Gilbank (21), Booth (446), Cull (524), FWJ, Hines, Newson, Warwick and Plant the top ten on track. Although the dust problem was much improved the track was pretty bumpy on the bends and FWJ in particular seemed to be having trouble finding the quick way around. No such problems for Gilbank who took the lead from number 11 while Wainman began to find the right line, taking second spot but with Newson close behind.

As the lap boards came out and the dust began to rise again, Newson punted the 515 car into the plating to go second and chased after Gilbank but the Rotherham Rocket stayed just out of reach of the 16 front bumper.

Gilbank picked up Heat 2

Down to 17 cars for heat three with some drivers deciding to load up while one or two never ventured onto the track at all. Sadly, despite more track grading and watering the dust returned with a vengeance almost as soon as the green flag dropped, obscuring most of the race. Plant led for many a lap before Danny Wainman (212) shrugged off the attentions of Smith Junior and sent the 364 car into a spin on turn three to take the lead and record a rare win.

Through the dust I did see Ryan Harrison attempt to plant our Nige (45) not once, but twice going into turn three but his second effort ended with the 197 car up against the plating. Smith finished second with FWJ third after trying a variety of ways to enter the corners at speed.

Danny Wainman went on to win Heat 3

The final for the Roger Squire (note, no “s” on the end of Squire, Dave) Memorial trophy was an all-in affair with 23 taking up the challenge. Deane Wood had given the track a liberal coating of what looked like brick dust, presumably to help bind the surface but not a lot of water was applied. Warwick and Makim (93) led the field away. Makim hit the front, Warwick hit the fence and Smith hit one of the infield spoil heaps leaving Neil Scriven to take over as the 93 car spun. Frankie Wainman (515) seemed to have the measure of the track now and was going much better until delayed by Booth (446). Smith walloped FWJ into a back marker, popping a tyre on the 515 machine.

James Morris (463) took over at the front as the union flag flew for halfway but following the race was difficult due to all the comings and goings. Smith was hitting every car that got in his way as the lap boards were shown but the one car he couldn’t catch was 463, James making a little bit of history as the first BriSCA F1 final winner at the Northampton Shaleway. Mark Woodhull took a well-earned third place behind Smith on a track that, whilst bumpy in places was beginning to improve.

James Morris becomes the first BriSCA F1 final winner at the Northampton Shaleway

The green flag dropped on the 13 car grand national around 6:20pm, close to curfew time after more brick dust/sand had been applied to the track. Entering and leaving the bends was a bit of a roller coaster ride for all but Makim stuck at it in the lead while behind him Booth landed a big one on 515, sending him hard into the back of Phoebe W (211). Billy Johnson (169) and Dowsy fought over the lead until the last few laps when Smith put them both in on the pit bend to take the win and cement his position at the head of the world championship qualifying chart. A little bit of argy bargy between Booth and Wainman after the flag saw the 515 beached on a spoil heap on turn four!

Stuart Smith Junior taking the last chequered flag of the afternoon

Promoter Wood publicly apologized during the meeting for all the problems with the track and there is no doubt he worked damned hard all day to improve it. Dust has been a problem at many established shale tracks over the years so given the fact that the racing surface was laid fairly recently and with the unseasonably warm weather (yes, I know it should be this warm in June but it rarely is) perhaps the result was not surprizing. Those spectators who left with a refund after heat one may be sorry they missed the rest of the meeting. As for those who apparently took the refund and then returned to watch the remaining races – well, what can I say?

Next F1 action on the shaleway is the European Championship. I have an idea some of the Netherlands dirt drivers will feel quite at home, if they can be persuaded to cross the Channel! Get the frites and mayo ready and fill the cool box with Jupiler and Bavaria – just don’t try and take it into the stadium!

Words: Mick Jenkins
Photos: Colin Casserley

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