O’Neill does it again
A third straight win for O’Neill but he had to fight for it again.
Round three of the lightweight sprint 60 championship took place at the popular Whilton Mill circuit. The track now boasted a rather fancy new club house, bringing it up to date with all the other top karting venues in the country.
Having remortgaged my house in order to buy a cup of tea, it was time to get cracking with the afternoon races. It was business as usual at the front as Jack O’Neill and Owen Jenman once again monopolised the front row. The young Axel Slijepcevic was third and Greg Barnard fourth. Newcomer Sam Hampshire qualified fifth put a four place penalty for overtaking under yellow flags in practice demoted him to ninth. This promoted Ben Leslie, Darri Simms, Eddie Hall and Yasser Haneef up one position.
Chris Brown and Geoff Saunderson struggled in qualifying and could only manage thirteenth and sixteenth respectively. Daryl Snelling was another notable name off the pace down in twentieth.
O’Neill made best use of his pole position to lead the field round the opening lap. Slijepcevic nipped past Jenman into second. Yasser Haneef made a flying start to slot into fifth behind Greg Barnard but both Ben Leslie and Eddie Hall were beaten up on the opening lap and dropped several places.
Over the next few laps the front four drivers held station and pulled a gap over the rest of the field. Darri Simms and Yasser Haneef were in a tight battle for fifth place with a number of position changes. Archie Elliott and Sam Hampshire were right on the tail of these two and pulling away from another battle between Mitchell Althasen and Eddie Hall. The latter was tagged at the end of lap five and dropped nine places. He then spent the next few laps frustrated behind a wayward Kareem Arafa who was doing a fantastic impression of an owl, swivelling his head 360 degrees. Probably due to not actually looking at the track in front of him, he was eventually excluded for binning it and rejoining the track in an unsafe manner.
Back with the leaders and Jenman had got past Slijepcevic for second. This put him right in the sights of Barnard who duly got past. This quartet had built up a large gap to the next group of karts headed by Sam Hampshire who had got past Haneef and Simms.
There were three distinct groups battling near the sharp end of the field but further back there were also some good battles going on. Geoff Saunderson was trying to make up ground after his lacklustre qualifying and was in a close battle with Ben Leslie, Scott Kelman and Jason Cole. Hall had got past Arafa who was now holding up a train of karts led by Ryan Sandall. Jack New, Thomas Barrett, Chris Brown, Claudio la Rosa and Stephen Westwood were next in the long train of karts before Arafa was handed his penalty.
Jenman took the lead from O’Neill with nine laps to go. These two had slowly broken away from Slijepcevic and Barnard who had, in turn, built a large gap to the rest of the field. It was an epic battle at the front between the two Titan Motorsport team mates but it was Jenman who managed to hold on for victory by just 0.05 from O’Neill. However, Jenman had been given two penalties for exceeding track limits in his battle with O’Neill and dropped to fifth. Slijepcevic came home third, having taken Barnard on the last lap but was promoted to second. This handed third place to Barnard.
Jenman’s demotion handed pole position to Jack O’Neill for race two. However, it was Axel Slijepcevic from second who made the best start and jumped the pole sitter. Too good as it turned out and he was handed a two place penalty for jumping the start. Sam Hampshire lost out to Barnard and Jenman while further back Jason Cole, Eddie Hall, Daryl Snelling and Pat Nichols all made up several places. First lap casualties were Chris Brown, Darri Simms and Kyle Sager.
Slijepcevic and O’Neill ran nose to tail for the opening few laps and built a two second cushion over Jenman. He was busy fending off an attack from the impressive Sam Hampshire and Greg Barnard. Yasser haneef was a few seconds further back in fifth and having another good performance, holding off Geoff Saunderson and Archie Elliott. Hall was behind this group and beginning to struggle with a kart lacking in bottom-end. He would soon come under pressure from Cole and Althasen.
Slijepcevic held the lead before succumbing to O’Neill on lap seven. He managed to shadow the championship leader in what was an impressive display.
The race at the front settled down and the majority of the front runners maintained position. The man on the move was Mitchell Althasen and he got past Hall, Jack New, Ryan Sandall and Yasser Haneef in the second half of the race.
Back at the front and, although it remained close between the top two, Slijepcevic managed to find a way past the O’Neill in the closing stages and take the lead. Jenman was managing to keep the hard charging Barnard behind him. It was quite tight in the mid field as is often the case at Whilton Mill.
At the chequered flag, Slijepcevic took a narrow win over O’Neill. However, the young Ukranian driver was demoted to third after his earlier transgression. This handed second win to O’Neill and promoted Owen Jenman to second.
Helped by penalties for his rivals, it was nevertheless another near perfect day for O’Neill as he swept to his third straight win. Axel Slijepcevic had a great day and did very well to finish second overall ahead of Owen Jenman. Greg Barnard just missed out on the top three and it was an impressive debut outing for Sam Hampshire who came home fifth.