Donington duel sets up Sebring showdown!
Throughout the last three months, the Apex Racing League Touring Car Championship (ARLTC) field convened almost weekly to lock horns across thirty-three races. Arriving at the penultimate round at Donington, only six races remain. ARLTC’s drivers will be weary from a season of countless hours of practice laps and constant tinkering with car set up. It all distils into the next seven days.
For many, Ayrton Senna’s greatest ever win, was the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington Park. Donington Park’s then owner – Tom Wheatcroft – sadly passed away in 2009. However, his bequest to our sport cannot be underplayed. Tom Wheatcroft personally carried a multi-million-pound loss to bring the Formula 1 circus to Donington Park. Senna’s spellbinding performance in the Derbyshire downpour has forever been etched in motor racing folklore.
Arriving at Donington, Ross Balfour enjoyed a fifty-four-point advantage over David Baker. For Balfour, staying out of trouble would be the order of the day. Running the number two plate, Balfour won’t wish to finish second best again.
Super Swede, Rickard Karlsson, currently emulates the 1998 BTCC success of his namesake Rickard Rydell. Karlsson boasts a seventy-two-point gap in the AM class over Mark Woodhouse.
Balfour began this critical race meeting perfectly. Qualifying second alongside teammate, Carl Jansson, Balfour had a key ally at the front. Balfour’s closest challenger in the championship – David Baker – languished in fourteenth.
As the flag dropped to start the seventeen-lap sprint, Balfour bolted off the line and led the forty-two-car field down Craner curves. As predicted, Balfour’s alliance with Carl Jansson proved critical. With his Core Racing stablemate as a rear gunner, Balfour maintained the lead from lights to flag. Any attacks from HM Engineering’s Kieran Harrison or Pure Sims’ Matthew Turnbull, were rebuffed by Jansson on Balfour’s behalf.
AM class championship contender, Mark Woodhouse, finished top of the class and twentieth overall. Furthermore, the Englishman started race two on pole.
Joining Woodhouse on the front row, was Apex Racing Team’s George Simmons. Race one winner, Balfour, started twentieth. This wouldn’t be another cake walk to the flag for the Northern Irishman.
Woodhouse briefly led until a wily George Simmons deployed a cunning manoeuvre around the outside of Redgate to claim the lead. Shortly after, Adam Hadfield slipped past Woodhouse for second place but couldn’t make an impression on Simmons, who was now well into a rhythm. Simmons was in untouchable form and cruised to a dominant victory.
A typically boisterous move from newly crowned BTCC champion Ash Sutton, pushed Woodhouse back to fourth but still streets ahead of his nearest AM class challenger.
Sadly, Woodhouse’s challenge halted abruptly when the Team MAD driver and Jack Sedgwick piled into Goddard’s lunging for the same patch of tarmac. Inevitably, both Woodhouse and Sedgwick tumbled into the gravel. Championship contender David Baker was dragged along for the ride. Controversially, Baker’s tumble was inadvertently induced by the Core Sim Racing Audi of Oscar Mangan.
Running a play straight out of the stock car play book, Ash Sutton bump drafted Adam Hadfield along the pit straight. On the exit of Redgate, contact between the pair sent Hadfield careering into the barrier and out of the race. Sutton finished second but would surely draw the attention of the stewards.
Mark Johnston and Morgan Butler started the final race of the meeting on the front row. In flying formation, Hesketh Racing stablemates Johnston and Davies led the way. By the halfway point, the gap stretched to nearly two seconds, an age in ARLTC context. However, a rampant Jack Sedgwick had a score to settle from race two. IDC’s PRO class star quickly eroded the gap to the Hesketh racing pair and pushed by at McLean’s.
Once into the lead, Sedgwick disappeared to a convincing victory. However, Davies and Johnston still maintained their podium places and a huge chunk of AM class points.
Immediately after the race, several ARLTC protagonists joined the Apex Racing TV commentary crew to discuss their fortunes:
Carl Jansson: “This track isn’t usually the best track for passing so to gain so many positions in both races is good.”
Lee Berridge: “I’m sweating, I really am! A lot of the people behind just have to be aggressive with you and you just drop off. I think the Hesketh boys owe me that position!”
Tune in to the Apex Racing League Touring Car Championship finale from Sebring on the 3rd of December at 8pm GMT.