SUN SHINES ON COMPACT CUP OPENER

The Nankang Tyre BMW Compact Cup Championship, Race Reports: Silverstone international, 9th April 2017. Photo: Dave Maries of View-Photographic

Although some drivers practice their best rain dances in the days leading up to a race weekend, the majority would choose blue skies and pleasant temperatures, especially for the season opener…and luckily that’s exactly what we got when the BRSCC’s 2017 Nankang Tyre BMW Compact Cup Championship rocked up to Silverstone International. This was where the championship ended the 2016 season in such spectacular fashion, so it seemed fitting to begin our 2017 season where we had left off.

After what seemed like the longest close season break ever, our 32 drivers filled our Silverstone Wing paddock area with gleaming freshly prepared and re-liveried race cars, and as usual created the camaraderie and family feel that we’ve grown accustomed to. As Sunday morning’s Qualifying session approached, the tension and excitement in the paddock was electric, and a good few drivers were fully confident that this could be their year to really shine.

As usual it was a great sight to witness 30+ BMW’s taking to the circuit, and the 2017 season was officially GO! As the quali session progressed it soon became apparent that our 2016 Championship winner James “Jiggy” Gornall had lost none of his hunger or competitiveness as he was the only driver in the field to post a sub 1minute 23 second time on his very first flying lap…certainly laying down the gauntlet to his challengers! In fact, Jiggy posted sub 1:23’s for his first 3 laps, which once again demonstrating his top notch consistency.

Although it took KC Motorsport’s Steven Dailly a bit of time to find a gap in the traffic and some clear air, it took him until his 5th lap to get under a 1:23, however in doing so he proved that he also had lost none of his grit and determination to make sure Jiggy knew he was going to have a fight on his hands again this year. So, with Gornall and Dailly the only 2 drivers to post times inside 1:23, they took pole and second place on the grid (in that order) for both of the day’s races.

Following closely behind these pair Ian Jones also showed that wouldn’t be far away when it came to race pace as he qualified third for both races. Giles Dawson, Sam Yates and James Nutbrown were all squabbling over the next spots on the grid and eventually qualified for Race 1 – Dawson 4th, Yates 5th, Nutbrown 6th, and for race 2, Yates 4th, Dawson 5th, Nutbrown 6th.

Just off the front runner’s pace, but still plenty quick enough to show that they meant business, we saw Tom Griffiths, Gordon Macmillan, Matt Parkes and Ben Huntley make up the top 10 grid positions for both races.

RACE 1

As in every race, but certainly for the first race of a new season, every driver, club member, team member and spectator hopes for a clean start, and that’s exactly what we got. As the red lights went out, most of the grid made clean getaways and headed into Abbey at flat chat. The exit through Farm and entry to Village very often give up overtaking possibilities, but the front three of Gornall, Dailly and Jones had all made decent starts and exited this sequence still in starting order. James Nutbrown had a great first lap however and had managed to pass both Dawson and Yates to take 4th. Sam Yates would have been extremely disappointed at this point as by the end of lap 1 he had dropped from 4th on the grid to 8th.

With such a fast-flowing circuit, unless the driver in front makes an error it’s sometimes difficult to find any overtaking opportunities once the pack starts to spread out a bit, and in race 1 that certainly applied at the front end. Although it was clear that every driver was fully committed and trying everything possible to make up ground, the front six of Gornall, Dailly, Jones, Nutbrown, Dawson and Parkes all stayed in these positions almost for the duration of the race and finished in that order. Directly behind these, Gordon Macmillan and Sam Yates were having a great little tussle and swapped places a couple of times before Gordon finally managed to make it stick to take a well-deserved 7th place.

As always in the Compact Cup, some fantastic wheel to wheel racing can be found further back in the grid, and race 1 of the 2017 season was certainly no exception with Skeats, Hunter, Langford and Griffiths all involved in some great battles to secure a top 10 finish.

As the chequered flag was waved, the final top 10 positions were confirmed as:
Gornall
Dailly
Jones
Nutbrown
Dawson
Parkes
Macmillan
Yates (Sam)
Skeats
Hunter.

Fastest lap was awarded to Jiggy with a 1minute 23.019, however the fact that all 4 drivers behind him managed to get well inside the 24’s gave a big hint that there’s certainly not much difference between the early front runners in terms of outright pace.

RACE 2.

As the field lined up for our second race of the opening day, there was certainly a sense of determination apparent throughout the grid. Some drivers had been delighted with their first race performance and were hell bent on keeping the momentum going, and others who had been disappointed with their early showing, were just as keen on making whatever improvements they could…. Certainly, a formula that promises some great racing!

As the lights went out, it was clear that neither Jiggy or Dailly had made the best of starts, and this allowed a fully committed Ian Jones to take the lead into the first corners. He was closely followed by a slightly surprised (although delighted!) Gordon Macmillan who found himself in 2nd after a great start. Giles Dawson was also right in the mix as well. As the drivers headed through the sequence of Abbey, Farm, Village, Loop and Chapel however, the thoroughly determined pair of Gornall and Dailly had somehow managed to attain for their poor starts and headed through Stowe and Vale in P1 and 2 respectively! The two of them seemed to almost be in a class of their own in race 2, and as the chasing pack slowed each other up with their own battles, Jiggy and Steven broke free from the pack and settled into a game of cat and mouse…. with Steven hoping for just one mistake from the ever consistent 2016 Championship.

Ian Jones once again showed that he can in no way be written off as a serious contender as he trailed the top 2 in position but never far away in terms of pace. As we witnessed last year, different circuits seem to suit different drivers more than others, and no-one would bet against Jones taking a top step in the 2017 season.

Behind what eventually made up the top 3 (Gornall, Dailly, Jones), there had been a mighty race long squabble between Macmillan, Nutbrown, Hunter and Dawson, with Dawson finally being awarded 4th, Nutbrown 5th and Hunter 6th.

Once again however, with around 30 evenly matched cars on track, everywhere you looked there were drivers fighting for every inch of the circuit, and for every position and point available. As we all know, even if we don’t quite have the pace to be at the sharp end, as long as we can pass the guy in front of us…or indeed defend from the guy behind, then that’s what club racing is all about and exactly why we do it!

Although we witnessed some faultless driving at the front of the pack we were also treated to some stellar drives further back, and none more so than that of Rauridh Clark, the 16 year old “stablemate” of KC Motorsport’s Steven Dailly. Due to starting at the back of the field for both races due to a technicality ruling him out of qualifying, the young Scottish driver could have gone out with his head down and already defeated. This certainly wasn’t the case and especially in race 2, demonstrated by how many cars he was able to reel in and pass, he showed everyone watching that he’s one to keep an eye on in future. Ruaridh was eventually chosen as the BMW Race Days driver of the day, and was awarded the inaugural “Dave Hunter Trophy” for his efforts.

In summary, the Silverstone 2017 season opener was all that we could have hoped for, and some markers have been well and truly laid down. At the end of the race day, championship penalty points were accrued by various drivers after an unfortunate set of on track circumstances, and although a very disappointing outcome (especially for those involved), anyone who’s watched or been involved in racing of any kind will know that nothing is won after the first weekend and it’s certainly all still to play for.

The amended final top 10 was:
Gornall
Dailly
Jones
Dawson
Nutbrown
Hunter
Macmillan
Yates (Sam)
Huntley
Towers

Jiggy has most certainly set the bar very high already, but Silverstone showed us that he won’t have it all his own way this season, and like every driver he’s going to be at the top of his game in every race meeting to come if he’s going to fight off the serious challengers lining up to take his crown!

Our next meeting is Oulton Park on 6th May, and who’d wager against this one throwing up a few surprises.