Rounds 7 and 8 of the UK based MINI Challenge at Castle Combe in Wiltshire provided the most entertaining races so far this season. It appeared that Arthur Forster (#1) and Gareth Nixon (#3) both took double-wins in the S-Class and Club-Class respectively however Forster was later disqualified from the result of race two due to a technical infringement.
SaturdayÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Free Practice was dominated by Snetterton double-winner Carl Bradley (#4) who set a blistering time of 1:18.113 in hot conditions at an average speed of 85.26mph. In the club-class Graham Parsons (#20) set the early pace followed by Irishwoman Jenny Ryan (#23). Afternoon Qualifying saw Arthur Forster (#1) take pole position for both races with Swede Fredrik NordstrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶m (#44) occupying the other front row spot for both. Likewise in the Club-class, a Nixon would start both rounds at the front of his class alongside Parsons.
The following day provided similar conditions and Forster continued to drive as though his car was on rails leading from start to finish during the 15-minute morning sprint race. He maintained a 2-second lead throughout whilst many S-Class cars behind him tangled with one another too frequently. NordstrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶m fell from second to fifth by lap 4 with his Advent Motorsport team mate and Brands Hatch winner Allen Jackson (#77) keeping Forster in his sights from second place. However the battle for that place behind reigning champion Forster was hard fought and after Jackson ran wide at Camp corner, the final turn before start/finish straight, he allowed Bradley to pass.
NordstrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶m then passed both Jackson and Bradley to recapture second by lap 8 and went on to fastest lap for the fifth time in seven races and finish second. Behind the gaggle of cars from second to sixth, David Shepherd (#22) looked to have settled for a comfortable seventh place but as Bradley, Jackson, Andrew Bailey (#5) and Martin Depper (#30) continued to squabble and clash in the closing stages, a three car train headed by Shepherd found its way through handing a well earned third place finish to student Shepherd. Finlay Crocker (#8) sporting a fresh salmon-colored Works MINI Cooper S also muscled through the mayhem to land a surprise fourth place finish closely followed by Gavin Bristow (#51) in fifth. Having run in second in the early stages, Jackson and BradleyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s antics meant a ninth and eighth place respectively once the dust had settled.
The club-class saw a great battle for the lead between run-away championship leader Nixon and Jonathan Shepherd (#21) back in his own car after is had been rebuilt since he rolled at Pembrey. Nixon led from the off for 9 laps until Shepherd passed but fought back on the final lap to take his fourth win of the season. Front running Parsons and fastest lap holder Tim Crighton (#99) both retired within a lap of each other allowing Rob Austin (#24) to take the final podium position.
Round 8 was the penultimate race of the day and provided the crowd with intense drama from the moment the red lights went out. Light rain had fallen moments before the action got underway and the clerk of the course declared a wet race, although the 27 car field all started on slick tyres as the track was rapidly drying thanks in part to the previous Radical Enduro Championship Race. ForsterÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s sprint from the line was not so easy this time around and he lost three places on the opening lap, behind NordstrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶m, team-mate Depper and Bradley. On lap 5, Crocker, Bristow and Shepherd all passed the pole-man leaving him in seventh place, but this only made Forster more determined and by lap 9 he had clawed back to fourth place whilst NordstrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶m had extended his lead over the battle for second place between Bradley and Depper to over 4-secs. Forster had other ideas, he picked his way through both in a couple of laps and by lap 20 with just 5 mins remaining, caught and passed NordstrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶m then went on to take the chequered flag, with Bradley keeping Depper behind him in the closing stages to finish third.
As Forster and Club-Class winner Nixon were paraded around the track to the breathless crowd, scruitneers found ForsterÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s car to be below the minimum ride height limit by only a few millimetres and after an appeal by various drivers, he was disqualified from the result, handing a second win of the year to Fredrik NordstrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶m. Meanwhile NixonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s ongoing dominance in the 2006 championship continued although it was a hard fought win against Crighton who had to settle for second.
Irishwoman Jenny Ryan had been running second in the early stages of the race but at the chequered flag took third place ahead of Jonathan Shepherd and the honour of becoming the first female competitor to finish on the podium in the UK based MINI Challenge and previously the John Cooper Challenge series. Well done to her, next step will be that elusive first win which IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m sure is attainable before the end of the year.
With Nixon also setting the fastest club-class lap in Round 8, actually his first fastest lap of the season, he became only the second person to achieve Pole-Win-Fastest Lap and a maximum 22 points from a round this year, previously it was Arthur Forster in Round 4.
In the points standings, Gareth Nixon extends his lead in the Overall standings to 16 points from Fredrik NordstrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶m and in the Club-Class to a massive 50 points from Eric Bailey. NordstrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶m meanwhile extends his lead of the S-Class to 36 points from defending champion Arthur Forster. Nathan Coulter finally scored his first points finish in the S-Class after three fruitless attempts, whilst Gavin Bristow and Edward Lovett (#40) are locked on 64 points each at the top of the Novice Championship.
So after yet another successful weekend of racing, DunlopÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Great & British Series will next appear at Thruxton Racing Circuit, the home of the British Automobile Racing Club and the fastest average lap speed in the UK. One of the main attractions alongside the MINI Challenge and RadicalÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s will be the International Truck Challenge and British Truck Racing series. Expect nothing less than outstanding action all weekend.