Preview: European Championship 2018

The vexed European Question – should we leave or remain? That is, should we leave the European Championship in the past or should it remain in the calendar?

It’s all change at Northampton. After listening to fans complaining for the last few years that the fourth of the major F1 championships is losing its lustre, the Spedeworth team have come up with what they hope is a radical solution. The tarmac oval has been covered with truckloads of shale, transforming the track from one surface to another in the middle of a season. They have done so in the hope that more UK drivers will support the meeting, more drivers will hop on a ferry to join in the festivities, and more fans will flock through the turnstiles to watch them.

Dust storms struck during the only F1 meeting so far, but teething problems are inevitable. Drivers, fans and the promoters alike will be hoping that all falls into place in the championship weekend. Will two days of the powerful engines in Formula 1 see the later races back on tarmac? Will the weather be kind or cruel?

The championship format is the same one used last year, when a new, overhauled meeting schedule was introduced. The European Championship race is in the meeting final slot on Sunday and there are no automatic qualifiers. Who makes the grid, and their positions on it, will be decided by the racing on Saturday and Sunday – whoever scores the most points takes pole position in the championship race.

However the European Question is answered this year, credit is due to those responsible for trying something new, daring and different – a rare thing in the administration of BriSCA F1.

 

The defending champion:

World and European Champion Nigel Green has been absent from the tracks for most of this year after a public falling out with the authorities over car specifications at the BSCDA AGM. Will his lack of track time have an impact on his ability to defend his title – especially since he’ll be a newbie to Northampton’s shale? Nigel is much more than just a tarmac specialist, but if he does retain the red and yellow checks, chances are he’ll have to work harder than he did at Northampton and Ipswich last year.

 

The challengers:

Stuart Smith Junior was the top points scorer at the only Northampton Shaleway meeting so far, grabbing second in the final and winning the Grand National. That alone would put him among the favourites, never mind the fact that SSJ is on top form with a hatful of race wins and the current National Points and British titles. Stuart’s huge last bender won him the British crown and offered proof – if anybody was ever in any doubt – that he’s a driver who will never settle for second.

The man who so nearly beat Stuart to the British Championship was Mat Newson, who continues his quest for major championship success. Mat has come so close to success on so many occasions that the question must be asked – is he unlucky, or does he crack under the pressure? The only way that Mat can answer that question is by standing on the top step of the podium, and if he does, he’ll be a popular winner.

A lack of attendance is probably the only factor that stops Mark Gilbank wearing the flashing lights of a superstar regularly, and as a shale specialist, his chance of winning the European title has just gone up a few notches. Like Mat Newson, Mark is still searching for that elusive major championship, and he must be aware that he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Is time running out?

 

The dark horses:

James Morris won the final at last month’s Northampton shale meeting, although it will be a big ask to repeat the feat when a championship title is on the line. Nevertheless, James finished fifth in the British Championship, so knows what it is like to be fighting for the top positions at the tail end of a big race.

One place behind James Morris in the British Championship was Frankie Wainman Junior Junior, who is showing clear signs of improvement in his second full season of BriSCA F1. Frankie’s first final win may have come at a swamp-like Belle Vue – conditions very different to midsummer shale racing – but he deserves to be considered as an outside contender for the major titles.

John Dowson Junior will probably enter the weekend with an eye on the National Points Shootout cut off, which takes place after the European Championship. John is currently the twelfth and final qualifier, but with Mark Gilbank, Ashley England and Will Hunter all close behind. If JDJ picks up a decent haul to cement his place in the Shootout, he may also find he’s in a decent grid slot for the European Championship – and possibly end the weekend with a double celebration.

Words: Scott Reeves
Photos: Colin Casserley

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