Stephen Jennings Takes Clubman In Narrow Squeak With Watkins & Whitehouse


Steve Gray
Clubman Sprint Championship 2018, Rd.2,

After the lengthy early season break everyone was looking forward to getting back on track at the great Northamptonshire venue. Full grids too, unlike some series which are apparently struggling for numbers this year. Just goes to show what great value for money Club 100 is and how drivers love big grids and plenty of opportunities to race wheel to wheel. After Saturdays warm weather the expectation was for a warm Sunday but the awful spring weather had returned. Solid grey overcast, cold, and a stiff breeze snapping the flags from the south. Still, at least the morning was dry for the Elites and Clubman’s.

Heat 1

Mike Townley on pole with Mark Ridout alongside and Lee Kemp and Jon Watkins on row two. Row three, Stefan Scully and Chris Lewis-Evans from Sammy Venables and Luke Hornsby, the latter having his first outing of the season. Darrel Lowe and Christopher Powell completed the first five rows. Townley led the field away but it was Ridout who led by the end of the first lap. Kemp slipped to sixth with Scully up to third from Watkins whilst Venables had vaulted up to fifth as Hornsby got caught out after being far too tentative on the run up the hill to Christmas corner and slipped back to thirteenth. Man on the move was Stephen Jennings. Into eighth from grid eleven he was up to fifth by the end of the second lap. Townley continued to fall away dropping to eighth before stabilising his position. Ridout continued to lead but was coming under increasing pressure from Watkins who slipped by into the lead up the hill. Scully remained third from Venables and Jennings with Kemp next having slipped by the fading Townley.

It looked as though the order would settle but suddenly the leader was on the grass at the exit of Inkermans followed by second placed Ridout. Someone down the order had got caught out by a pool of water going into Inkermans and slid wide before regaining the track but not without depositing plenty of mud on the circuit. Suddenly the grip had gone down into Ashby and several Karts found themselves spinning to a halt or being impeded. Jennings though had seen the chaos ensuing in front of him and wisely slowed, tip toeing through the mire and into a lead he would never relinquish. Watkins kept him honest and almost battled back to take the win losing out on the run in to the flag by just 0.093. Venables took third, a couple of seconds adrift with Kemp fourth across the line but penalised four places after gaining a place through contact. Chris Powell was next over the line but he was excluded after an incident with Lewis-Evans which saw the latter spin to a halt. All this promoted Hornsby into fifth after a superb comeback drive. Simon Lloyd was next up after moving up from grid nineteen and avoiding the mayhem. There were some good overtaking moves too so it wasn’t all down to good fortune. Andrew Hall was next, up from grid seventeen with Liam Cochrane classified seventh. The 2017 Lightweight runner-up is contesting just six rounds this season. Whilst he won’t of course win the Championship I think he could still be a serious contender for race wins when he’s on the grid. Lowe and Andrew Dawson completed the top ten whilst the unfortunate Ridout set the fastest lap of the race. Thirteenth was scant reward.

Heat 2

Stuart Osborn on pole for this one with Andrew Dawson alongside and Liam Cochrane alongside Paul Jennings on row two. Andrew Hall and William Topp on three from Simon Lloyd and Mathew Forkes with James Martin and Frankie Hedges rounding out the top ten starters. Osborn judged his start to perfection to lead the field up the hill for the first time but Dawson lost out to the fast starting pair of Cochrane and Hall with Jennings dropping to fifth. Cochrane was in no mood to hang about though and by the end of the second lap he was at the front with Hall right on his bumper as Osborn dropped away from the leaders. With three run he was down to fourth behind a recovering Dawson and fending off the attentions of Lloyd. Half distance and Hall was at the front. Sadly for him the move on Cochrane was not without contact and although he continued to race at the front his number was up on the digiboard.

Despite crossing the line still at the head of the field his penalty dropped him to fifth handing the win to Cochrane with Dawson just a few tenths adrift in second. Lloyd took what turned out to be a lonely third. Having dispensed with Osborn he had enough pace to pull clear of the pack but couldn’t get on terms with the leaders. Martin Theodorou headed the rest of the field over the line but he too had been penalised, for cone abuse, and dropped to sixth behind Hedges and Hall. Osborn was next fending off Jennings over the final lap but the latter had also picked up a penalty for cone abuse dropping him to ninth behind Watkins with Topp completing the top ten. Cochrane set the fastest lap.

Heat 3

David Whitehouse on pole from Theodorou and Stephen Jennings and Hedges on row two. Chris Powell and James Martin next from Darrell Lowe and Matt Forkes. Hornsby and Lloyd rounded out the top ten. A good clean start from the front runners for the final heat and by the end of the first lap it was as you were at the front with Whitehouse holding a good lead from Theodourou, Jennings, Hedges and Powell. Martin had slipped to ninth with Lloyd making the biggest gain, up to sixth from tenth. With two laps run Jennings was into second at the expense of Theodorou but thereafter the front four settled into an almost metronomic rhythm with Whitehouse holding a healthy lead from Jennings and Theodorou. Hedges was just a little off the pace behind with first Lowe and then Forkes chasing him down. Lloyd had slipped back to ninth by the middle of the race and would eventually come home in twelfth just ahead of Watkins who set fastest lap. Whitehouse continued to lead but could he hold on for a memorable result? It certainly looked like it but then he began to look anxiously behind.

Never look back. Jennings instantly sensed that the leader was beginning to tense up and began to close in as the leader dropped his pace. A tenth here, a tenth there and with two to go he was on his bumper and slipping into the lead at the boot. But Whitehouse wasn’t done. He responded and began to close back in. Now it was Jennings turn to feel the hot breath of the pursuer on his helmet. Through the boot for the final turn and it was neck and neck. Down into the final turn and Jennings was defending hard with Whitehouse desperately trying to get down the inside. Side by side through the turn with Jennings on the outside but holding his line whilst Whitehouse had to tighten his turn for the run to the line. And Jennings made it, by just 0.088. Theodorou was a couple of seconds back in third but well clear of Forkes who crossed the line fourth only to be docked four places for his pass on Hedges on the penultimate lap which saw the latter drop from fourth to ninth. Lowe inherited fourth ahead of Martin, Scully and Powell whilst Hornsby completed the top ten.

Final

After all the points from the heats had been totalled Stephen Jennings was on pole from Simon Lloyd with Cochrane and Watkins on row two. Hornsby and Dawson on three from Whitehouse and Theodorou with Venables and Hall completing the top ten. Jennings led the pack away with Lloyd tucking in behind whilst Cochrane lost out to a fast starting Watkins with Hornsby next up from Whitehouse who deposed Dawson at the start the latter falling to eighth behind Venables. With two run Watkins was into third and pressing the leader hard with Lloyd third a couple of lengths up on Cochrane who was in turn a length or two up on Hornsby with Whitehouse next.

Watkins got a good run up the hill with three laps run and made it round the outside of Jennings to take the lead but as they dived into Wilkins Jennings moved left to retake the lead. A couple of laps later Watkins made the same manoeuvre around the outside of Christmas to take the lead. He defended into the Asbhy hairpin and again on the short run to the left handed Wilkins. But Jennings drove round the outside this time to get back in front. Stirring stuff! Lloyd remained third with Cochrane fourth but down into the left hander before the back straight Hornsby got inside and out dragged Cochrane towards the left hander at the start of the Boot complex to take fourth. Whitehouse also took advantage of Cochrane’s compromised line and swept into fifth round the outside of the boot. The leaders continued in tandem but Hornsby’s fourth place would last but a lap as Whitehouse got better traction on to the back straight to claim fourth. Cochrane followed him through and Venables also attempted a pass but failed clouting Hornsby hard amidships and pushing him off the circuit. Venables immediately slowed allowing Dawson and Theodorou through whilst he frantically waved at Hornsby to pass him thus avoiding a penalty. They resumed battle eighth and ninth. Watkins continued to press Jennings at the front but Lloyd was now having to fend off a challenge from the flying Whitehouse who really had the bit between his teeth.

With three to go he got a better drive up the hill and moved into a podium spot at Christmas. He then began to close down the leaders but there was no opportunity to make a move. Jennings took the win just 0.065 ahead of Watkins with Whitehouse a couple of Kart lengths back in third and his first ever Sprint podium. Lloyd took fourth, his best result for some time, followed by Cochrane and Dawson who also set the fastest lap. Theodorou took seventh with Hornsby promoted to eighth at the expense of Venables who took a four place penalty for his second pass on Hornsby. It was a penalty that both drivers felt was harsh. Hall and Hedges completed the top ten.

Championship Standings

Its early days of course but with Rye next up and only two weeks away a quarter of the season will soon have slipped by. Despite not having the greatest of days Sammy Venables takes over at the head of the standings with John Watkins second. Stephen Jennings is third from Andrew Dawson and Andrew Hall.

Reflections

Will the weather ever warm up? Won’t it be great if the next round at Rye is blessed with warm dry conditions? Unless your Mike Bodnar of course. What a stunning performance in the wet. Just ponder for a moment where he might have finished had he not taken out himself and Paul Williams in the early heats. A sure fire winner. But he doesn’t take my very unofficial award for driver of the day largely because of his error. That award goes to Tim Hill. Pole and two Final wins. It doesn’t get any better. And he becomes the oldest ever driver at sixty to stand at the top of a Club 100 podium. We think. I actually think he may have broken his own record here having won at Red Lodge in 2015. Inspirational. In the Elites Steve Brown looked back to his more relaxed self in the seat than in the latter part of last year when he appeared to have slightly altered his driving style. Reigning Champion Joe Holmes didn’t have the greatest of days but he’ll bounce back I’m sure.

Thanks as usual to all the marshals and staff at Whilton Mill and of course the Club 100 staff who work so hard to make everything run smoothly. And our grateful thanks to all the sponsors, Dartford Karting, G3Pro and EssexFlatPack.co.uk.

As I arrived at the circuit on Sunday news broke that Andy Cowell, aka Mutley, had finally decided to call it day after nigh on twenty years of competition citing the amount of time it takes to recover after each event (old age ). He has been suffering with a sore neck after racing for sometime (it does have to support a lot of weight) and consequently his enjoyment and commitment has suffered to the extent that he is no longer enjoying driving. At that’s as good a reason as any to stop. He’s had a good career in Club 100 the highlight probably being a Final win some seasons ago in the Elite class as well as several Endurance wins. There is I don’t believe any truth in the rumour that he has accrued the most penalties of any driver in the history of Club 100 although I well remember him getting away with one at Fulbeck many seasons ago when he eased a ‘’young’’ Rookie driver off the circuit and into a corn field causing severe damage to the Rookie’s Kart. Or the time at Rye when the same Rookie was about to move into the lead after a pile up at the first hairpin only to be rudely T boned. The race was stopped. I believe the words were ‘’just couldn’t let you lead, you might have won’. Such fond memories. His advice to many a young driver and newcomer to the Club though has been invaluable and appreciated by many particularly over the last few years. A far cry from his words to me when I first started. ‘’Keep out of my way or I’ll have you off’’. Despite this though I am proud to call him my friend and his sunny countenance will certainly be missed around the paddock. God bless you Andy!

See you all at Rye!