Jon Watkins For The Win, Fincham Podiums On Debut. Champ Leader Taylor’s Rut Continues, Scully Benefits


Steve Gray
Clubman Sprint Championship 2018, Rd.9,

A glorious morning greeted the competitors for the second visit of the season to Rye House for the ninth round of this season’s absorbing Championships. After the open spaces of Lydd the tight and twisty Rye circuit offers a different type of challenge. A bit like Monaco without the glamour. A circuit where it’s so important to be tidy particularly through the first two hairpins where it’s easy to out brake yourself and not only lose time but places too.

Heat 1

Pole for Andrew Dawson with David Whitehouse alongside. Simon Lloyd and Stuart Osborn occupied row two from James Martin and Freddie Fincham, the latter having decided to move to Clubman’s from the Lights. Paul Jennings and Stefan Scully had drawn row four with Frankie Hedges and Christopher Powell completing the first five rows. Dawson led the pack away with Whitehouse moving right to stay alongside and mitigate the disadvantage of being on the outside round Stadium. But Dawson ran a little wide creating space for rapidly starting Martin to make up ground. Dawson held the lead out of the corner but Martin emerged second as Whitehouse did very well to hang onto third ahead of the squabbling pack. Lloyd dropped to sixth as Osborn spun down the order. Fincham and Jennings moved into fourth and fifth with Scully and Hedges next from Championship leader James Taylor who had started from grid eleven and was desperate to move forwards. Martin was in no mood to hang about at the front and quickly deposed Dawson for the lead with Whitehouse still third but coming under pressure from Fincham, Jennings, Scully and a recovering Lloyd.

Martin continued to edge away at the front with Dawson second and pulling clear of Whitehouse who was getting more and more defensive ahead of the chasing pack. It took Fincham a couple of laps to get by but immediately he did he began to pull clear and chase down the leaders. Whitehouse was hanging onto fourth and withstanding serious pressure from the chasing pack now led by Lloyd from Scully whilst Jennings and Jon Watkins were engaged in the mother and father of battles over seventh. Taylor remained ninth having failed to progress and was coming under pressure from Powell. Taylor had seen his number come up on the ‘’digi board’’ at the start and finish gantry indicating a penalty. Martin continued to pull clear at the front but Fincham was up to second whilst Whitehouse was looking increasingly safe in fourth aided by the fight for fifth. Martin took the win followed across the line by Fincham who was then demoted to third behind Dawson after a cone penalty. Whitehouse took fourth with Lloyd taking a hard earned fifth after his early race drama. Scully was next with Watkins right on his bumper at the flag having set the fastest lap of the race. Jennings was next from Powell with Darrell Lowe inheriting tenth as Taylor lost four positions after penalties. Not a great start to the day for the Championship leader.

Heat 2

Pole for Frankie Hedges from Powell with Taylor and Watkins behind on row two. Luke Hornsby and Martin Theodorou shared row three with Stephen Jennings and Darrell Lowe on four. Dawson and Whitehouse completed the top ten. Hedges made a clean getaway with Powell and Taylor tucking in behind and Watkins fourth. Hornsby though was gone from the fray spinning to a halt at the first hairpin. Theodorou too was out. Hedges continued to lead but it was a fraught battle for second. Taylor moved into the place with Watkins behind from Powell and Jennings. With three laps run Taylor was beginning to feel the pressure and defended into the first hairpin. He held on but was pushed to the outside on the run for the second hairpin. Three abreast with Jennings behind they entered the corner. This time all three ran wide on the exit And Jennings nipped by into second. As they accelerated down the back straight Taylor attempted a move on Jennings. From my vantage point close to the pit exit I thought the move was on but it would need some co-operation from Jennings.

Jennings gave him room but Taylor was just too aggressive and hit Jennings spinning him into the tyre wall. Taylor felt later that he had nowhere to go but I thought Jennings gave him enough room and Taylor does have a left foot to brake with. No matter, the damage was done for both drivers. Jennings resumed a lap down with Taylor still running. He would fight his way back to second only to suffer the inevitable exclusion. Hedges took the win with Taylor second across the line but excluded gifting the place to Watkins with Powell third from Lloyd who put in a great drive up from grid eleven. Dawson was next up from Paul Jennings. A useful drive this too from grid fifteen. Scully took seventh. He too put in a shift working his way up from grid sixteen. Whitehouse took eighth with Osborn and Fincham ninth and tenth both benefitting from Taylor’s exclusion and a penalty applied to Martin. Fincham set the quickest time on the penultimate lap.

Heat 3

Scully on pole from Lowe with Paul Jennings and Stephen Jennings On row two. (For clarity they will be Paul J and Stephen J in the report). Fincham and Theodorou occupied row three from Martin and Hornsby on four and Osborn and Watkins on five. Scully led the field away but Lowe got hung out to dry round the outside of Stadium and was down to sixth by the end of the lap. Fincham was up to second and flying with Paul J third from a fast starting Martin whilst Stephen J dropped to fifth. Theodorou and Hornsby both lost ground as Osborn moved forward. Scully continued to lead with Fincham half a second adrift. Paul J continued to run third but was dropping back as he defended from Martin, Lowe and Stephen J. He was taking a particularly tight line into the first hairpin and it proved to be his undoing as he missed the apex and ran wide dropping to sixth. Scully continued to lead but Fincham was edging ever closer. Lowe had made the most of Paul J running wide at the first hairpin to emerge third from Martin and Stephen J.

The front five remained static for a few laps but Paul J in sixth was coming under pressure from Theodorou, Hornsby and Watkins. Again he defended into the first hairpin and again he ran wide dropping to ninth. By the end of the race making the same error would see him finish down in fourteenth. Scully and Fincham continued to run clear at the front but only by a few lengths. Lowe was defending hard from Martin and Stephen J but had to give best just beyond half distance dropping to fifth and coming under pressure from Watkins. He held him off for a lap before succumbing. Fincham finally got onto Scully’s bumper and took over at the front with three to go. He would be a second clear by the flag as Scully defended his place from Martin and Watkins the three of them crossing the line separated by a half second with Lowe fifth. Hornsby took sixth ahead of Theodorou with Stephen J next from Lloyd and Whitehouse. Powell set the fastest lap finishing in twelfth.

Final

Pole for Watkins with Fincham alongside. Martin and Scully on row two with Lloyd and Dawson on three and Whitehouse and Powell on four. Paul J and Lowe completed the first five rows. Watkins led the field away with Fincham keeping tight to him as they rounded Stadium. Good driving this as they emerged one and two down into the first hairpin with Martin third. Down the order Taylor and Stephen J both made up places from the back row, Taylor to tenth and Stephen J to twelfth. Watkins and Fincham continued to circulate at the front half a second apart and pulling clear of third placed Martin who was defending hard from Scully. Behind these was a mighty fight for fifth headed by Whitehouse from Dawson and Lloyd with Paul J next a few tenths back and defending the place from Taylor who just could not get by. Half distance and Watkins and Fincham were some six seconds clear of the fight for third. Martin still held the place a tenth clear of Scully with Dawson now fifth from Lloyd as Whitehouse slipped to sixth. Taylor finally got by Paul J into eighth but a lap later he tried a move on Lloyd for seventh only to lose momentum as the move failed and immediately he was passed by Paul J and Lowe who in the space of three laps managed to climb from eleventh to sixth. Meanwhile Scully finally found a way by Martin for third and promptly began to pull clear. Taylor quickly recovered his composure and was back into eighth at the expense of Lloyd and Whitehouse.

For a lap they settled down but three from home Dawson, Lowe and Paul J almost took each other off at Pylon. A following Taylor saw the gap open up and dived through into fifth whilst Lowe and Paul J both fell down the order. To compound his misfortune Lowe tangled with Hornsby putting the latter out. He would be excluded at the end of the race. Not a good day at the office. Watkins took the win a couple of tenths up on Fincham. Watkins also took fastest lap. Scully was next almost nine seconds back but over four seconds clear of Martin in fifth who did well to hold off the challenge of a resurgent Taylor. Not a great day for the Championship leader but he showed he’s up for a fight. Dawson was sixth just a tenth behind Taylor the latter having dropped his pace over the final lap. Lloyd took seventh with Whitehouse next from Stephen J with Powell rounding out the top ten.

Round up

In the Clubman class James Taylor remains at the top of the standings. After looking as though he was going to run away with the Championship he’s had a couple of less than outstanding rounds which has allowed Stefan Scully to reduce the gap. Stefan is yet to take a win but he keeps racking up solid points. And last year the Heavyweight Champion took the title without ever standing on the top step of the podium. Jon Watkins’ fine win sees him third with James Martin fourth from Martin Theodorou who had a rather subdued round at Rye.

Reflections

Some great racing at Rye but there were so many penalties. No doubt the tight and twisty nature of the circuit contributes to this but still. And many of these were for cone abuse. Cone abuse is not a penalty anyone can argue against. If you hit one you get penalised. If you don’t then you don’t. Most of the time drivers aren’t even aware they’ve hit a cone but the observers don’t give a penalty for nothing. Again at Rye there were some drivers failing to acknowledge yellow and blue flags. One driver had his race ruined by a back marker. Time to brush up on flag signals?
See you all at Clay and don’t forget the O Plate at Bayford. I understand there are still a few places left so don’t delay.

Words: Steve Gray

Library Photography: Jack Mitchell, JAM Motorsport Photography

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