A Win For Freddie Fincham. Has James Taylor Choked On The Title? Scully Edges Level…


Steve Gray
Clubman Sprint Championship 2018, Rd.10,

A cold day again at Clay with a stiff wind blowing from the west. But at least the rain held off. As the Championships get to the sharp end of the season the tension is beginning to ratchet up nicely. Clay always produces great racing and Sunday was no exception. The cooler weather played its part too with drivers complaining about a lap of grip, a factor which did help to cause a few incidents as drivers became a little over ambitious at times on the short but quick track. The long right handed Billy’s Blind at the end of the long curving start and finish straight proved yet again that being on the outside isn’t the greatest of places to start. As Billy’s unwinds it leads into the Esses chicane, a quick right left before heading down the back straight into the into Hann’s Hairpin followed by a short run into another hairpin, The Horseshoe. After this a right hander, Buttons, a short straight and then into the right-handed Top Bend which opens out onto the long start and finish straight.

Heat 1

Paul Jennings on pole from Championship leader James Taylor with Jon Watkins and Martin Theodorou on row two. Next up, Stefan Scully and Stuart Osborn with Christopher Powell and David Whitehouse on row four and Darri Simms alongside Frankie Hedges on row five. For Simms, it was his first outing of the year in Sprints, the 2017 Lightweight Champion taking a break from wall building and putting his Endurance race experience to better use. Jennings led the field away but Taylor looked to have lost out round the outside of Billy’s as Watkins made a move up the inside. But Taylor hung on and swept across Watkins bows into the Esses and chasing after the leader. Down the order, Powell, Whitehouse and Hedges all lost out badly falling to the rear of the pack as the field sped down to Hann’s. Jennings began to edge clear at the front as Taylor held off the attentions of Watkins but only by a couple of tenths. Behind these three Osborn had moved ahead of Scully and Theodorou but only for a lap. Behind these Mark Ridout was on a charge moving up from grid twelve and into the top ten. Meanwhile at the front Taylor was now on Jennings bumper with Watkins close at hand. Into Billy’s Taylor went up the inside but ran wide allowing Jennings to keep the lead and Watkins into second. A lap later and Watkins was ahead with Taylor moving into second as Jennings got out of shape at Billy’s. Thereafter Watkins began to edge clear as Taylor and Jennings fought tooth and nail over second swapping places several time over the remaining laps. Watkins took the win over a couple of seconds clear with Jennings finally getting the better of Taylor on the final lap. Scully took fourth, just holding off Theodorou, with Ridout next after a strong run. Fincham was next after an eventful race. Starting from grid eleven he made up a couple of spots over the first lap and by half distance he was up to seventh only to drop back again for a couple of laps and having to do it all over again. Simms took a hard fought eighth with Osborn and Luke Hornsby completing the top ten.

Heat 2

Fincham on pole from Ridout with Darrell Lowe and Hornsby on row two. Andrew Dawson and Keith Evans on three from Wayne Dunham and James Martin whilst the two Jennings brothers shared row five. Fincham got away cleanly but Ridout lost out in the first turns to Lowe but held on to third. Hornsby though got badly held up round the outside of the first turns and would be down to eighth by the end of the lap. His race would get worse too as he was barged out of the way by Hedges who was trying to claw his way forward from the back of the grid. Hornsby dropped to fifteenth whilst Hedges would ultimately finish a lap down and the last classified runner. Whitehouse too took a four place penalty after colliding with Taylor.

At the front Lowe briefly took the lead over the line only to run wide in the first turn alongside Fincham which allowed a following Ridout to jump them both. The three of them then settled down with Dawson just a few lengths back in fourth from Martin and Paul Jennings. Stephen Jennings meanwhile was running seventh but had been given a penalty after a collision with Dunham which brought the latter to a halt. Exclusion was the inevitable outcome. Ridout continued to lead but Fincham was closing in duly taking the spot just after half distance. A lap later and Lowe also demoted Ridout. And that was how it remained to the flag. Dawson took fourth after a spirited battle with Paul Jennings with Watkins next. Stephen Jennings demotion promoted Scully into eighth with Simms and Christopher Powell completing the top ten. Whitehouse set the fastest lap seventh time around.

Heat 3

Pole for Hedges with Stephen Jennings alongside. Simms and martin on row two with Whitehouse and Dunham on three, Powell and Osborn on four and Osborn and Dawson completing the first five rows. Hedges led the pack away but went into the first turn a little too deep and running Jennings wide. Simms got held up too whilst Whitehouse took full advantage to jump into the lead. Powell followed Whitehouse through and was into third by the end of the lap. Hedges recovered to run fourth ahead of a fast starting Scully who made up six places on the first lap. Dunham and Evans both dropped back. With three laps run Simms had taken Whitehouse for the lead with Powell now in second from Whitehouse. Scully was up to fourth but defending from Osborn, Martin and Dawson. As the leaders began to pull clear it as all getting a bit fraught in the fight for fourth. Osborn made a move on Scully which didn’t come off.

A following Martin seized the opportunity to take them both but in so doing made contact with Osborn allowing Dawson to also make it through. Scully dropped seventh. Martin was penalised but was still running fourth and clear of fifth placed Dawson with Osborn and Scully next. Lowe and Taylor were just a few Kart lengths back but so engrossed in their own battle that they weren’t closing the gap. The order at the front remained static over the closing laps with Simms taking the win from Powell and Whitehouse. Martin crossed the line fourth some three seconds back from the leaders but was penalised down to seventh promoting Dawson into fourth from Osborn. Taylor took sixth. Scully had the spot but lost out badly as Lowe made a move on him on the final lap. Sadly not without contact. Scully dropped back, Lowe crossed the line sixth but was demoted to tenth promoting Taylor who also benefitted from Martins penalty. Fincham placed eighth and took fastest lap with Scully next from Lowe. But then we had some post race drama as Martin successfully appealed his penalty and was reinstated back into fourth pushing everyone else back down a place!

Finals

Fincham on pole from Simms with Ridout and Paul Jennings on row two. Scully and Dawson shared row three with Powell and Martin on four and Taylor and Lowe on five. Fincham led the field into Billy’s with Simms alongside. Inevitably Simms got forced wide allowing Ridout into second with Jennings third from a fast starting Martin. Theodorou was next after avoiding the first lap skirmishes whilst Scully ran seventh ahead of Dawson, Lowe, Powell and Taylor. Fincham continued to lead and was pulling a few lengths clear of the battle still headed by Ridout from Simms and Jennings. Then a change for third as Jennings took Simms. But his place lasted just a lap as Martin swept by for third taking Jennings and Simms in one move. Scully was up to sixth with Dawson next from Taylor who badly needed to make up ground. Having dropped out of the top ten at the start he’d fought back but was carrying a penalty after barging Lowe early in the race. Fincham continued to lead and was holding the gap steady at around a second from Ridout with Martin leading the battle for third but some three seconds adrift of the leaders. Jennings however was closing back in chased by Scully and Dawson.

Down into Billy’s he went up the inside but was just a touch too far adrift and not fully alongside. He struck Martin forcing the latter wide but not spinning him out. Scully and Dawson also went through leaving Martin a disgruntled sixth. But Jennings was penalised. Two laps later it mattered not. Down into Billy’s with three to run Scully dived up the inside. From my position on the balcony he looked to be too far back and just clipped Jennings back wheel spinning him into the barriers. Scully continued from Dawson and Martin. And that was how they finished. Fincham took a lights to flag victory much to the unbridled delight of his family watching from the club house balcony. Well deserved after a brilliantly controlled drive. Ridout came home second just two tenths adrift. Another fine drive and a much needed confidence boost. He’s running into form as the season winds down. Scully took the final place on the podium. Sometimes you need a bit of good fortune to win Championships and he was certainly, I felt, lucky to escape censure after his move on Jennings. Jennings was classified last but was philosophical after the race feeling that he had got his comeuppance after his move on Martin. It was a pity James didn’t feel the same way. Despite Paul’s profuse apologies James wasn’t in the mood to forgive. Enough said. Theodorou took sixth after an entertaining run whilst Taylor would have been next but having picked up one penalty he then picked up another after a bump and pass on Simms which dropped him down to fifteenth. Not a great day for the Championship leader. With Simms out and Taylor penalised Whitehouse took seventh from Hornsby with Watkins ninth. Watkins also set fastest lap. Powell completed the top ten.

Round Up

In the Clubman’s James Taylor and Stefan Scully are now level on points. I reckon both drivers can count themselves fortunate not to be excluded at Clay after incidents. And I mean no disrespect to our observers who do a fantastic job. But with so much happening they needed twelve pairs of eyes and a swivel head so inevitably they were going to miss one or two incidents. Scully appears to have the momentum at the moment picking up points whilst Taylor is struggling to find his early season form. Jon Watkins is third with James Martin fourth from Mark Ridout.

Reflections

There was some very hard racing at Clay and the Observers had much to occupy them. It’s a tough job but as always they handled the pressure superbly well. I was a little taken aback though by the attitude of some spectators who think it’s acceptable to abuse and gesticulate at officials if they think a decision hasn’t gone the way they think it should. It’s infantile and pointless.
Three out of the four Championship leaders had bad days at Clay which has left the Championships finely poised as we head for the final two rounds of the season. Hang on to your hats because it’s going to be a very exciting run in.
See you at Whilton!

Words: Steve Gray

Library Photography: Jack Mitchell, JAM Motorsport Photography