Heathcote claims debut victory at MSA British Rallycross Championship season opener
Nathan Heathcote (Ashford) won the opening round of the Toyo Tires MSA British Rallycross Championship at Croft Circuit [March 19] on his debut event in the top-level Supercar category.
The 20-year old Citroen C4 driver qualified third on the grid for the final and made a brave move around the outside of the first corner to seize a lead he wouldn’t relinquish through the six-lap encounter, to claim the British RX Championship lead.
Kevin Procter (Northallerton) joined Heathcote on the front row of the grid for the final having been fastest in two of the three qualifying races, but made a poor getaway, leaving the first corner battle for supremacy to be fought out by LD Motorsports team mates Heathcote and former British Touring Car Championship driver Warren Scott (Buntingford), who claimed pole positon by virtue of fastest time in Q3, following second time to Procter in the opening two qualifying races of the year.
Scott hassled Heathcote for the lead in the opening laps but ran wide crossing the finish line mid-race and was demoted to fourth, as Procter and Julian Godfrey took up the fight for second. Procter claimed the position a lap later when Godfrey lost time with transmission problems, while O’Donovan passed Scott for the final podium place on lap five, Scott spinning as a result of contact, before retiring.
Procter pushed Heathcote as hard as he could on the final tour but the reigning Swift Sport Rallycross Champion hung on to claim victory, with Procter second and O’Donovan third. “I’m so, so happy to come away with the win. I was buzzing when I crossed the finish line,” said Heathcote. “I saw Warren (Scott) had braked a bit early for the first corner and thought I’d go for it, and I managed to get round the outside. I couldn’t see anything in my mirrors all race, every lap I went round I could see more track markers in the road so I didn’t really know what was going on behind me. The next race is at my home track, Lydden Hill. I’ve already tested there and I was pretty quick, so I cannot wait to get back out.”
Procter was pleased to have fought back to second, to begin his bid to challenge for the British RX title that has so far eluded him. “We made some really good starts in the first two qualifying races but the third one was terrible,” he said. “We turned the engines revs up, but I think we maybe didn’t turn the them up enough to account for the rubber on the circuit. The start was disappointing but I’m quite happy with the result and credit to Nathan for winning. If I’d had another lap in the final, I think I could have caught him but this is a solid start to the year and I hope we’ve put our issues from last year behind us now.”
Running a new engine setup in his Ford Focus, O’Donovan picked up his pace through the day and was pleased to finish on the podium having qualified sixth for the final. “We were lucky in the end today,” said the Irishman. “We were on the back-foot through the day, we had a brand new engine in the car, with no testing. We spent the day developing and each time we went on track we were getting quicker and quicker. I got a puncture in Q3 which put us on the back row for the final. The final was a long slog for me but a couple of the boys ahead of us made a few mistakes and I picked up the pieces. A podium is a good start to the year.”
Oliver Bennett (Bristol) finished fourth on his rallycross debut in an ex-OlsbergsMSE Ford Fiesta, with Godfrey fifth. The start of Jake Harris’ (Canewdon) first season in Supercar was blighted by niggling technical problems through the day with his Citroen DS3, but things improved throughout and he finished sixth in the final. Mad Mark qualified eighth but retired on the fourth lap.
Bellerby claims home Supernational victory
Lotus Exige racer Paige Bellerby (Northallerton) won the first round of the MSA Supernational Championship, leading from start-to-finish while double-champion Ash Simpson (York) recovered from a spin in Q1 to run second for much of the final in a similar car. Allan Tapscott (Umberleigh) also overcame early problems in the qualifying races to make it into the final where he made a good start to tuck into third behind Bellerby and Simpson at the first corner, maintaining the position to the finish. Gary Simpson (York) was fourth despite losing a wheel in his semi-final while Vincent Bristow (Hastings) was fifth. Two-time Swift Sport Champion Tristan Ovenden (Canterbury) made a slow start and fought his way back to sixth.
“The aim for this year is absolutely to challenge for the championship,” said Bellerby. “We’ve had a lot of success at Croft in the past and it’s great to keep that going, especially at my home track. It was a really tough fight in the final. I knew when Ash (Simpson) entered that it would be a really tough challenge, I honestly didn’t think I’d be walking away with first place, so I’m really chuffed.”
Llewellin begins Junior RX title assault with victory
Welshman Tom Llewellin (Haverfordwest) picked up where he left off from selected outings in the MSA Junior Rallycross Championship in 2016, with victory, to remain unbeaten in the sport in five appearances. Llewellin led the Junior RX final from the second corner, having passed 2016 title-protagonist Tom Constantine (Richmond) after the leader made a mistake at turn one. The pair raced nose-to-tail throughout the final. There was an equally exciting battled for third, as Norwegian debutant Ole Henry Steinsholt (Norway) fended off the attentions of Tom Middleton (Maldon) to claim the final podium spot. Morgan Wroot (Doncaster) was fifth ahead of newcomers James Constantine (Dalton-on-Tees) and Ethan Rees (Llanelli).
“This is a brilliant result. Tom Constantine was pushing me hard all the way through the final, it was a really close race and hopefully we can have more of the same at Lydden Hill,” said Llewellin. “I’m looking forward to fighting for the Junior Rallycross Championship this season.”
Wollett opens 2017 Swift Sport account with victory
Chris Woollett (Herstmonceux) started on pole position for the Swift Sport Rallycross Championship final, claimed the lead at the first corner and won, while Croft local Rob Shield (Cleasby) pushed Woollett hard for the race lead on only his second Swift Sport appearance. Simon Ovenden (Canterbury) ran third for the opening half of the race before contact with Shield dropped him down the order, Shield holding onto second as one of three Norwegians competing in the class, Christoffer Lia (Norway) moved into a podium position, where he stayed to the finish. Ovenden was fourth, while Rob Maynard (Deal) got his 2017 campaign underway with fifth and Morgan Bailey (Lincoln) was sixth.
Reigning champion Chrissy Palmer (Chichester) won the opening round of the RX150 Championship ahead of a close fight for second position between John Ward (Dublin) and Kirk Langley (Liverpool), while Jake Taylor (Retford) finished fourth on his RX150 buggy debut. Paul Coney (Dartford) came out on top of a close-fought race with fellow Super1600 Rallycross Championship driver Craig Lomax (Knottingley) for victory in the amalgamated Super1600 / BMW Mini / Hot Hatch category, racing a Vauxhall Corsa and Citroen C2 respectively. Phil Chicken (Barnsley) completed the podium in his Super1600 C2, while Martin Hawkes (Stockton on Tees) finished fourth and claimed top honors of the BMW Mini runners ahead of Bradley Durdin (Nazing) who was fifth.
In the Retro Rallycross Championship final, Mark Flaherty (Wokingham) won on track but with a five-second penalty applied for being the only four-wheel drive car, reigning Champion Ray Morgan (Hastings) claimed the win ahead of Flaherty with Stewart Bowes (Middlesbrough) completing the overall Retro podium.
Full results can be found on the MSA British Rallycross Championship website here.
Highlights of the MSA British Rallycross Championship will be broadcast on BT Sport, Motorsport.TV and online in 2017.
The next round of the MSA British Rallycross Championship takes place at Lydden Hill in Kent on Easter Bank Holiday Monday [April 17].