Gulp Oil Rallycross of Great Britain, Day One (Qualifying Rounds)
The fourth round of the Automation Rallycross League began under typically British skies at Silverstone Circuit, the home of British motorsports. A steady light rain fell on the track the night before the first day of racing, the track conditions tricky but not unmanageably bad for the first day of the event.
Pablo Sanchez made his mark early in day one action, easily winning the incident-filled first heat of Q1. Hsiu-Yinn Lim and Pekka Heikkinen tangled on the first lap, a racing incident that cost Heikkinen dearly, as the #80 Pepperbomb sustained considerable damage in the incident. Lim’s car did not escape unscathed, but the damage to the #1 Armada was light, fortunately, allowing her to place second, well back of Sanchez. Kevin Michaels split Lim and Heikkinen at the line, the #63 Aero Stretto not looking entirely at home on the slippery dirt/clay track.
Marie-Claire Allemand once again demonstrated her considerable wet-weather talent, taking the best time of the second heat, as well as the top time of the session overall, fully sixteen seconds ahead of Jaimz Marshall, who struggled to lap consistently for the entire heat. Matt Sierra made a strong start, but a slide off the track damaged the bodywork of his #36 Merciel, forcing the Brit to back well off his usual pace to avoid further trouble. Eino Vatanen had an awful race, a strong start spoiled by a heavy crash on the first lap, heavily damaging the #11 Delta Motorsports machine.
Charlie LeClair took the top time in the final heat of Q1, well ahead of Haapala’s Aatto Virtanen. Yuki Fujishima found the going to be difficult, making a rather poor start and struggling to find grip at any point on the circuit, finishing well back in third place.
A break in the rain dried the track somewhat in time for Q2, and times tumbled in the first heat, with Pekka Heikkinen setting the high mark in the first session, some thirty seconds ahead of the #96 Kitanishi of Yuki Fujishima, her car damaged after sideswiping a barrier on the first lap. Kevin Michaels struggled to find pace again in the KMC, but managed enough to finish in third place, well ahead of the stricken #4 Leopard of Eino Vatanen.
Aatto Virtanen took the top time of the second heat, five seconds behind the time set by Heikkinen in the first, and some twenty seconds up on Matt Sierra, who finished second in a pitched battle with FMR’s Jaimz Marshall, the strong start and final lap by the Sierra in the Merciel proving to be the margin between him and Marshall. Hsiu-Yinn Lim made contact with the barriers on her joker on the first lap, damaging her Armada considerably and dashing any hopes of a heat win this session, finishing well back in fourth place.
Pablo Sanchez came close - but not quite - to besting Heikkinen’s time from the first heat, falling a mere eight tenths short, to take the top time in the third heat. Charlie LeClair did not look particularly happy with his #33 Kuma PnDa, the car sliding around errantly on the slippery surface all heat long. A suspension failure on the first lap dashed Marie-Claire Allemand’s hopes of a second heat win, relegating the #707 Hwa Vigil to the back of the pack.
Marie-Claire Allemand started strong in the first heat, taking the top time easily in her freshly-repaired Hwa, some ten seconds up on Hsiu-Yinn Lim, the defending champion still fighting the lingering effects of her crash the previous session. Kevin Michaels improved somewhat over his Q2 form, finishing in third after Eino Vatanen retired on the second lap, the radiator that cracked in his Q1 accident finally giving way.
Charlie LeClair was flying in the second heat, looking very much like a force to be reckoned with, taking the top time of both heat and session easily after Matt Sierra faltered on the first lap, putting the #36 Merciel Pixi into the wall and causing a considerable amount of damage. Yuki Fujishima held off a hard-charging Jaimz Marshall on the final lap to hold second place, well off LeClair’s pace overall.
Aatto Virtanen took the top spot in the final heat, well clear of a spectacular battle between Pekka Heikkinen and Pablo Sanchez, the first time those two drivers met after Sanchez controversially called out the Finn’s driving ability after the Spa race. Heikkinen took no prisoners, blowing past Sanchez on the final lap after three very close laps before, taking second place easily over the American driver.
With the retirement of Vatanen, the Q4 heats combined into two, with Pablo Sanchez putting the #52 Shromet on the top of the charts, both in the race and the session, taking the easy victory over Yuki Fujishima. Jaimz Marshall finished in third, punching his ticket to the semi-finals in emphatic fashion. Matt Sierra and Kevin Michaels, both effectively eliminated from day two action already, fought hard for the last few points available, with Sierra putting an incredible move on Michaels with his damaged Merciel, to take fourth place in the heat over the KMC driver.
Aatto Virtanen took the top honours in the second heat, some twenty seconds up on the battered #1 Armada of Hsiu-Yinn Lim. Marie-Claire Allemand took third, while Charlie LeClair and Pekka Heikkinen tangled on the first lap, damaging both cars and sending them to the back of the pack, with Heikkinen edging out the young Frenchman by just under two seconds at the line; a finish of little consequence, as both drivers were guaranteed a spot in the semi-finals merely by finishing the race.
The first heat of Q1 began with a bang - literally - as Mulle Meck collided with Martin Bayer on the first lap, damaging both cars extensively, and taking Bayer, a favourite to place strongly in this round, right at the back of the pack. This cleared the way for Huangdou’s Feihong Luo to take the top place in the heat, some ten seconds ahead of Duncan Duff of Mons Racing. Elin Arbez suffered some sort of minor mechanical failure in her #62 Morton Teo, relegating her to a third place finish, ahead of the #186 Daylily of Saki Mochizuki.
William Cunningham proved once again that he is a master of changeable, slippery conditions, the FWM driver taking the top time in the second heat, some twenty seconds ahead of Rena Hayami, who did not look particularly comfortable in the #76 Wade Monster. Riley Phillips struggled with traction in the Zephorus in third place, but did enough to finish ahead of both Stefan Banach and Elaine Eisenberg, after both drivers collided on the final lap to put Eisenberg in fourth and Banach in fifth respectively. Alison Wondersley had a race to forget, a mechanical failure hampering the speed of the #7 Gnoo Goblin, finishing a distant sixth.
SWISSRA’s Markus Hutter took the top spot of the third heat, as well as the session, with a brilliant drive in the #63 Munot Starkwind. Job Van Uitert followed eight seconds behind in the Autodelta, the Dutchman speaking favourably about the team’s chances this weekend before the racing began. Sabine Weber and Harry Davies had a tight battle for position behind, with Weber recovering from a mediocre start with four excellent, consistent laps to edge out Davies by a second at the line. Kenji Nishida rounded out the field in fifth place, in what proved to be a remarkably trouble-free heat.
Amanda Huuginkis took the top spot in the final heat of Q1 in what proved to be a battle of attrition, after Dominic Andrew-Scott and Gus Block made contact to eliminate themselves from contention, Andrew-Scott finishing fourth and Block in fifth. Reiko Nagase drove a cautious, if a bit sloppy race to finish second in the heat, ahead of Mikah Jameson, who had a number of close calls during their race.
Alison Wondersley drove a brilliant recovery to erase the memory of her Q1 misfortunes, putting the #7 Gnoo Goblin on the top of the timesheets in the first heat, where she would stay, as her time was not bested for the rest of the session. Martin Bayer put the #3 Cisalpina into second place, ahead of a field of heavily battered and battle-scarred cars; Gus Block had a sloppy, inconsistent race in third, a second behind Bayer, while Dominic Andrew-Scott in fourth held off Stefan Banach and Mulle Meck behind.
Riley Phillips rose to the top of the second heat, well clear of Elin Arbez, after the New Zealander struggled overtake Reiko Nagase and Saki Mochizuki for second place and third place respectively, having poorly chosen to take her joker on the first lap. Mikah Jameson finished fifth, well back of the fight ahead, while Elaine Eisenberg’s woes continued, finishing well back in sixth place.
Harry Davies took the top spot in a chaotic third heat, which saw a massive pileup involving every other car in the heat; Sabine Weber in the #55 Motorpop, Kenji Nishida in the #77 Hana Raiden, Rena Hayami in the #76 Wade Monster and the #73 Yinzer of Amanda Huuginkis. Hayami made a poor start, finding herself going three wide into the first corner and pushing hard, but she misjudged her braking point and upset Nishida ahead of her, spinning him around and leaving all four drivers with nowhere to go. All four recovered, but were far back of Davies, with Weber in second, Nishida in third, Hayami in fourth and the hapless Huuginkis bringing up the rear.
Duncan Duff took the top spot in the final heat, driving a nearly flawless race to finish nearly thirty seconds ahead of Feihong Luo, who was held up behind William Cunningham until the final lap, at which point the Huangdou driver unleased the #26 car to finish some one and a quarter seconds ahead of the #423 FWM. Job Van Uitert collided with Markus Hutter on the first lap, damaging both cars and taking them out of contention to win the heat, Van Uitert finishing fourth, with Hutter a distant fifth place.
Q3 was again filled with incidents, the field finding the conditions very difficult indeed as the rain began again just before the start of the session. Rena Hayami put up the best time of the first heat, the #76 car back in fine health once again after a couple of difficult sessions to start their weekend. Far behind the remaining field of damaged cars put on a surprisingly exciting race, with Amanda Huuginkis taking second place after a big mistake by Markus Hutter saw the Swiss driver spin on his joker lap. Elaine Eisenberg nursed her #598 EFI Soma home just ahead of Sabine Weber, who put on a late charge to gain some breathing room ahead of Kenji Nishida to round out the field.
Mikah Jameson took the top time in the second heat, one of only four drivers to run a nearly flawless race this session, finishing some thirty seconds ahead of Job Van Uitert, who in spite of the gap to Jameson, still managed P5 overall. Behind Van Uitert’s damaged Autodelta, a series of contacts between the remaining drivers in the heat - Mulle Meck, William Cunningam, Stefan Banach and Dominic Andrew-Scott - hampered their progress. This made for very exciting racing, underscoring the building drama within the series as the race for the championship, as well as the fight for a coveted promotion to the Premier League for next season.
Heat three saw Feihong Luo take the top time easily, driving a flawless race to post the best time up until that point of the session. Martin Bayer was frustrated by a costly spin on the first lap, and then being held up by the battle between Daylily’s Saki Mochizuki and Ace Racing’s Reiko Nagase, the German only getting past them on the final lap. Mochizuki won the battle with Nagase, finishing third behind Bayer, while Gus Block had a forgettable race, spinning on the first lap as he attempted to avoid a stationary Martin Bayer, Block damaging his car and ending up in fifth place.
Elin Arbez shook off the difficulties of the first two sessions, posting the top time overall enroute to winning the final heat of Q3, some thirty seconds up on Riley Phillips. Phillips found himself behind Gnoo Dadspeed’s Alison Wondersley after a difficult first lap, and found the conditions to be not favourable to making an overtake. In fact it was only after Wondersley took her joker on the final lap that Phillips was able to fully unleash the #94 Zephorus, clocking a stellar lap to take second place. Duncan Duff made a costly error on his joker lap, sideswiping a barrier and damaging his car to an unknown extent, but still managing to finish fourth, while Harry Davies damaged his suspension on the first lap, the #34 Knightwick not handling properly thereafter.
Harry Davies put his #34 Knightwick, resplendent with a fully-rebuilt front suspension, on the top of the charts in the first heat, after Sabine Weber and Gus Block ran into trouble with each other right off the start. Weber managed to just pull it out in the end, finishing half a second up on the #5 GAA Volche. Elaine Eisenberg’s woes continued, finishing a distant fourth, her EFI Soma Super just not looking accustomed to the slick, wet track here at Silverstone. Markus Hutter and Kenji Nishida brought home the rear, finishing fifth and sixth respectively, in a campaign both drivers will likely want to forget.
Martin Bayer unleashed the #3 Cisalpina, monstering the course and dominating the rest of the field in the second heat, the German driver looking like a favourite for victory as he stood clear of everyone else. Amanda Huuginkis took second, some ways back of Bayer, her damaged Yinzer just fast enough to hold off Duncan Duff’s #404 Mons, one second back of Huuginkis in third place. Saki Mochizuki languished behind Reiko Nagase, struggling to find overtaking opportunities until the last lap, when Nagase spun and damaged her #10 Zenith. This allowed Mochizuki through to catch up dramatically to the slow-moving cars ahead, finishing only a second behind Duff for fourth place. Dominic Andrew-Scott’s run of bad luck continued, the Southark Racing driver crashing heavily on the start, then retiring half a lap later with a broken driveshaft.
William Cunningham put the #423 FWM to the top of the timesheets in the third heat, with Alison Wondersley and Riley Phillips struggling to match the pace set by the American behind. The challenges to overtaking continued for the field, with Stefan Banach having a frustrating race behind Mulle Meck’s Shinrin, only getting past on the final lap to finish fourth.
Feihong Luo continued to show how strong the #26 Huangdou Sprite is, taking the top time of the final heat and finishing just behind Bayer’s time for the second-best of the session. Elin Arbez made contact with Job Van Uitert on the first lap, damaging both cars substantially, though Van Uitert got away with a lot less than Arbez, the Dutchman managing to hold off Mikah Jameson for second place, while Arbez ended up in fourth place, with Rena Hayami rounding out the field after a big crash on her final lap.
Tsubasa Arima took the top time in the first heat, and indeed the session, some nine seconds ahead of Carina Flannagan, after the New Zealander struggled with a loss of tire pressure in one wheel. Bruce Mooseview struggled to get his eye in on the course, finishing third, while Charlie Martin damaged his suspension on the first lap, finishing well back in fourth.
Kenneth Visser continued his hot streak from Spa, finishing top of the chart in the second heat, after a thrilling race with Chizuru Mizuhara. The Dutchman put together two flawless laps to end the race, slowly walking away from Mizuhara behind, who made a minor mistake on her joker lap, thereby sealing Visser’s second-place finish, and putting her right on the front bumper of Riku Jokinen. Karina Meister had a race to forget, spinning on the first lap and damaging her #3 Evgenis Valkyrie, putting her well out of contention.
Bruce Mooseview recovered from an awful start in the first heat, driving a nearly flawless race to take the top time in the first heat, as well as the session, blowing past Carina Flannagan while on his joker on Lap 3, and holding out on the final lap to cement his finish. Charlie Martin started strong, but struggled to find grip in his #84 Kadett, finishing third, while Karina Meister rounded out the field, still dealing with the effects of her Q1 crash.
Kenneth Visser made it two for two in the second heat, overtaking Tsubasa Arima on the final lap and just holding on to take the top time by a third of a second. Chizuru Mizuhara finished third, closing in rather rapidly on Arima at the line, with the MHIR driver wishing desperately for one more lap to take the place. Riku Jokinen had a disastrous race, crashing on their first-lap joker and damaging the #74 Evgenis considerably, finishing a distant fourth place.
Hard work and perseverance paid off in the first heat, as Karina Meister took the top time in the heat, narrowly beating Riku Jokinen in their freshly-repaired Evgenises. Charlie Martin tried valiantly to catch up to Meister and Jokinen, but in the end the gap caused by his poor start was just too much to overcome, the Brit settling for a very competitive third place. Chizuru Mizuhara crashed on the first lap after a rotten start, damaging the #599 Kadett and putting it a distant fourth.
Bruce Mooseview made it two in a row with a strong finish in the second heat, three seconds clear of a raging battle between Kenneth Visser and Carina Flannagan. Flannagan got the better start of the two, but Visser overtook her on the joker to take second. The two drivers swapped places on each subsequent lap, with Flannagan just having the edge on Visser, finishing four hundredths of a second ahead at the line. Tsubasa Arima suffered a puncture on the first lap, taking the #47 Kadett out of contention early.
Carina Flannagan built on her momentum from Q3, topping the charts in the first heat easily over Tsubasa Arima and Ken Visser. Arima and Visser had mirror races to each other, starting rather poorly, then struggling to find traction subsequently, and bumping one another on their final laps, both opting for the joker on the same lap. In the end, Arima had the edge on Visser, pulling out enough of an advantage on the third lap so as to minimise the impact of her mistake on the final lap. Chizuru Mizuhara suffered an engine issue in the final heat, the #599 Kadett well out of contention at the finish.
Karina Meister took the top honours in the second heat, beating Riku Jokinen by four seconds for the top time of the session as well. Jokinen drove a solid race, overtaking Charlie Martin on Lap 3 to take second, and held it in spite of a minor mistake on the final lap sending the #74 Ralliheart driver wide on the final corner. Bruce Mooseview suffered a suspension failure in the #32 FABEL, finishing well back in fourth place.