HOT HATCH QUALIFYING - If ‘Hot Hatch Challenge’ was a hashtag then it certainly would have been trending and going viral last year!
The new series attracted rookies, tempted past racers out of retirement and also saw value hunters participating in other races looking to maximise their smiles per mile.
21 cars took to the track for qualifying for the opening race of the series, which by this point in the day was starting to reveal something of a dry line.
Ex-champion Mark Wyatt has found his trusty Vauxhall Astra somewhat off the pace of the front running saloons in recent seasons, however the ‘Yellow Peril’ proved to be right on point in the Hot Hatch races last year. Wyatt secured more wins than any other driver and started this season off in a similar fashion, securing pole and narrowly beating the Astra’s little brother, the Vauxhall Nova of Craig Tomkinson.
Josh Harvey was consistently at the sharp end last season and drove a lap good enough for P3, lining up against Chris Southcott in his Peugeot 205 GTi.
Matthew Bawtree lined up as first of the class B cars on P5 in his Honda Integra, 14 places clear of his nearest challenger. Adam Prebble, who had a thoroughly miserable 2017, must have been pleased and relieved in equal measure to put his 205GTi on the third row. Best of the class C cars was Alex Bulley in P9, pipping class rival Jon Lannon by just 0.009 of a second! Saloon campaigner Mark Sutton was the best of the class D protagonists back in P16.
HOT HATCH RACE 1 - Despite the combination of a ‘green’ track, slippery conditions and jam-packed grids, the opening meeting of the season thus far had remained relatively incident free. All that was unfortunately about to change with the first race of the Hot Hatch Challenge.
When the red lights were extinguished, the pack initially looked like they’d got away cleanly, with Mark Wyatt leading the charge. As the wheelspin smoke cleared however, Josh Harvey appeared stranded on the grass adjacent to the start/finish straight. As the rear of the grid reached the line, the pack squeezed in at the flanks resulting in Roger Good’s Corsa (that had performed so impressively in the earlier saloon race in the hands of son Mike), spearing off into the concrete pit wall with a heavy impact. Before the leaders had completed half a lap, the red flags were waved as it was clear that Good’s Corsa was in a dangerous position and unable to move under its own steam. The subsequent delay in proceedings also proved too much of a disturbance for three other runners; with Shaun Goverd, Jon Lannon and Matthew Bawtree all heading for early baths. In contrast, the stoppage proved to be something of a birthday gift for Josh Harvey, allowing him to gather his thoughts and retake his place on the second row.
The second instalment got underway cleanly but unfortunately for Mark Wyatt, his second attempt at starting the race was significantly less successful than the first. Wyatt’s tardy start saw him going backwards, slipping down to fifth position.
Josh Harvey made the most of his reprisal and assumed the lead, with Chris Southcott tucking into second. The super quick Nova of Craig Tomkinson assumed third, slipstreamed by Adam Prebble. Sam stride had also made swift progress, slicing through from the seventh row to catch Wyatt.
Before the second lap could be chalked up, Chris Southcott’s Peugeot declared in dramatic fashion with what can only be described as an engine explosion. The resulting smoke cloud and deposited oil instigated the ‘save of the day’ from Adam Prebble, who skilfully gathered up the mother of all tank slappers in his (considerably healthier) 205 GTi. The drama behind allowed Harvey and Tomkinson to pull away while Wyatt and Prebble got back up to race pace after both managing to avoid getting caught up in Southcott’s fallout. Saloon regular Mark Sutton also had his own bottom clenching moment, going sideways on the exit of Camp corner and subsequently being pushed at right angles on the track by his pursuer!
The midpoint of the race saw further attrition with retirements from James Dyer-Bufton, Joe Dorrington and Mark Nicholson. Josh Harvey found himself in the safest place as the leader of the pack, making hay as the sun shone. The Honda strode on to victory; a perfect birthday gift to himself, especially given his apparent non-participation in the earlier abandoned segment of the race.
Despite looking breathtakingly fast, Tomkinson’s Nova was unable to promote him any further up the order and took second nearly twelve seconds behind the winner.
Mark Wyatt secured the final podium place despite Adam Prebble’s best efforts, who nevertheless was delighted to finally make it to the end of a race, after a miserable run of rotten luck last season.
Sam Stride and Michael Bowle completed a class A lockout of the first six cars across the line, with Tony Cooper following on for a class C victory in his Peugeot 106.
Ray Ferguson brought his MG home for the class B trophy, beating Adam Hall, also driving an MG ZR.
The Hot Hatch Challenge picked up right where it left off last year, the competition relentlessly heating up and providing some great drama to kick the season off. Some busy tinkering in the workshop awaits several drivers before the Hot Hatches engage in battle for the second time at the ‘May Day Madness’ bank holiday meeting!Posted on Tuesday 10 April 2018