After some great racing action at Wakefield Park last month, Super Sports headed to Sydney Motorsport Park for Round 2 of the NSW championship. Series regulars Greg Smith and Kim Burke were missing from the action due to a broken shoulder and Targa Tasmania commitments respectively, But Greg still came in to be a part of the event from the sidelines. Making up for their loss there were 2 new drivers in Peter Clare and Simon Meade plus series rookie Greg Kenny with only one race under his belt, all 3 driving Radical SR3’s for their foray into the series. We also had Nick Kelly (Radical SR8), Darren Barlow (Stohr), Oliver Smith (SR3) and Chris Sutton (SR3) and for the first time, this weekend PRB’s were sharing the track in an effort to make sure both series had a strong grid numbers.
Friday practice started with a couple of interrupted sessions but it was still a good chance for the new racers to settle in and also gave the others that could attend a chance to get familiar with SMSP in its extended Brabham circuit layout. The seldom used extra loop with its twists, turns and undulations taking the lap length out to 4.5km and providing a new challenge to competitors at a familiar venue.
Saturday dawned as a the sort of beautiful Sydney day you see on postcards, and qualifying got under way just after 9am. The 20 minute session proved quite exciting and while Darren Barlow took pole with some margin, behind him the grid placings were hotly contested with the order shuffling every lap. In the end Oliver Smith who’d missed practice came out on top to claim a slot on the front row, while Chris Sutton, tweaks to his car proving effective, managed to take 3rd ahead of Nick Kelly, who was clearly still getting re-acquainted with his SR8 after driving a few other cars recently. Of the newcomers, Peter Clare gave an indication of his form, edging out his friend and therefore arch rival Greg Kenny by just 14 hundredths of a second, with Simon Meade just 9 tenths of a second behind the battle.
Some consternation about the standing start for Race 1 on the downhill grid at SMSP led to handbrakes being fitted to a few cars on Friday night, and Meade used this to assist him with an amazing getaway, launching himself ahead of both Kenny and Clare on the row ahead. Up front eyes were on Kelly who also made a blinding start and leveraged the power of his SR8 to go from 4th on the grid to lead the charge down to Turn 1.
A close race ensued with Barlow chasing down Kelly, and while Barlow set the fastest lap, he never managed to get on terms with Kelly who led the field home by just half a second. Sutton came home third followed by Smith on the road, but Smith had incurred the wrath of the stewards and a 30 second time penalty for ‘exceeding track limits’ at Turn 5 on consecutive laps. This dropped Smith down to 5th ahead of Kenny with Clare suffering a broken driveshaft just 6 laps from the flag.
Meade ‘s finishing position of 4th in Race 1 meant that he’d be starting from Pole in his second ever race (and first rolling start) due to the new for this year reverse grid format for the top half of the field. However, his lead was to be short lived as the second row of Kelly and Barlow surged forward with Sutton and Smith in chase. There was some fantastically close racing and a few battles, especially as the field caught up with the PRB’s late in the race.
Clare got past Meade and put on a good chase for the cars ahead before the gap grew several laps in. Meade set a faster lap in the chase but wasn’t able to get back with Clare, but it was enough to stay ahead of Kenny. Kelly had a moment while lapping a PRB at the Turn 15 hairpin, getting out on the marbles but controlling the slide while completing the overtake. Just behind Smith tried to take advantage of the traffic with a move on Sutton for the last step on the podium, but came off worst as Sutton defended pitching Smith into a spin and out of the race with just 2 laps to go. At the flag Barlow had set the fastest lap to edge a 3 second lead on Kelly, followed home by Sutton, Clare, Meade and Kenny.
For Race 3 we were back to the original qualifying order but again Kelly got the jump from second place and he lead away with Barlow and Sutton in tow. Smith had elected not to race after the altercation in Race 2, so Sutton was free to focus on staying with the leaders which he did really well, his SR3 showing some surprising straight line speed to stick with SR8 and Stohr. Just behind the first of the rookies Peter Clare had really hit his stride and was doing some of his best laps of the weekend. He managed to stay in touch with the leading group for a while and by the time he dropped off the group he had a significant lead over Kenny and Clare. Not bad for a guy that got his race licence the day before!
Up front Kelly seemed to have the race under control setting fastest lap after fastest lap and pulling away from Barlow, until a spin and stall on lap 8 cost him over 20 seconds and the lead of the race, eventually re-joining in 3rd. From there it was a 3 lap run for Barlow to the flag, trailed in by Sutton and Kelly, with Clare, Kenny and Meade completing the runners in the 25 minute final.
What a great day of racing! It was close and competitive up and down the field and cliché or not, the new racers really did themselves proud, dealing with rolling starts, standing starts, and a challenging circuit amazingly well. The class wins were taken out by Nick Kelly in Class 3, Darren Barlow in Class 2 and the Class 1 podium was also the outright podium led by Chris Sutton with a clean sweep in all 3 races garnering 45 points ahead of first time racer Simon Meade with 39 points and Greg Kenny with 37 points.
Well done to everyone who was part of the day and special congratulations to the new guys for their great performances. Getting on the podium in your fist race (or two) is quite an achievement and the efforts on track and attitude off of all the newcomers bodes well for the future of this great category.
There is a little gap now until Round 3 of the championship on July 30th, again at Sydney Motorsport Park, so there’s plenty of time for everyone to get their cars ready and join in the action. Make sure you’re part of it!