Drivers were greeted with a bright and sunny morning for first day of round 2 of the BRCA 1/10th Offroad National Series at Southport on 21/22 May 2022. The all-artificial grass track in Victoria Park close to the town centre has been in situ for over 30 years. The track has layout formed using several concrete islands. Various layouts can be formed by moving short barriers between the islands. For the 2wd portion of the event a tight and technical layout was selected which also used the formidable “back-section” of the track. This section is on the far side to the driver’s stand and has several hidden lumps and bumps in it which are best avoided if you want a quick time.
As always at the BRCA Nationals, there is only two classes. 2wd Modified which runs on Saturday and 4wd Modified which runs on Sunday. Each day comprising of 2 x 3-minute practice sessions, 4 heats of qualifying with the best 2 to count and 1 Final or 3 Finals if you made it to the A Main.
The 2wd section of the event kicked off at 8am on Saturday morning and there were some notable absentees from and additions to the heat listing. Lee Martin was back from sitting out Round 1 – the multiple BRCA Champion getting his championship campaign going a little later than normal this year. Round 1 front runner, Michal Orlowski was missing due to clash with the 1/8th Electric Offroad European Championship at the Hudy Arena in Slovakia. Over the weekend we would learn that the lead Schumacher driver would have a great event and finish 3rd on the Podium.
The event started with practice in, as mentioned, very sunny but cool conditions. The volunteer marshals from the Southport club were kept very busy, especially through the back section where drivers quickly learnt that too much speed was a recipe for disaster. In the earlier heats it seemed that everyone crashed at least a couple of times as they made their way through over the three minutes. With two rounds of the practice done, the qualifying heats began and the volunteer marshals could retire and rest up for a while.
The sun had also retired behind a thickening layer of cloud as round 1 of 2wd qualifying commenced. There was only the slightest threat of rain and at that moment the forecast was for dry weather – however it was unseasonably cool and only the bravest of competitors were in short trousers. “Cautious” is a good word for how many drivers approached the session. In the warm and sunny conditions, practice had been trouble free – but those conditions had now changed for dull and cool. Ben Smith, Paul Crompton, and Neil Cragg were the pace setters in practice based on their fastest individual laps – with Smith putting in the fastest overall time. Now in qualifying mode – the first sign of A Final pace came from heat 10 of 12. Edward Callan and Jamie Hall, the first drivers to get into the 21 second laptime bracket. Callan having a clean run, Hall having a single mistake near the end of the heat. The target time now set at 14/316.29. In heat 11, Lee Martin was the only driver to go faster than Callan, by only 2 seconds. Second in heat Ben Pugh going 4th behind Hall. Lee had a model of consistency type run with his fastest lap and average laptime very close. But he didn’t display the outright pace of Callan. This gave us a hint that the Round 1 TQ was anything but settled. Heat 12 did not disappoint. Initially, Neil Cragg and Paul Crompton were fighting it out for the lead of the heat. Crompton briefly leading at the race midpoint before an error on the back section gave Cragg the lead and breathing room. Luke Holdsworth took up where Crompton faltered, but he was not able to catch Cragg who had now settled in and was putting on a titanic display of pace. He went on to win the race and take TQ in round with a time some 9 seconds quicker than previous heat winner Lee Martin. Holdsworth second, Crompton recovering to third.
2022 BRCA 1/10th Offroad National Championships
Round 2 – Southport – 21/22 May 2022
Round 2 conditions were somewhat more pleasant as the sunshine re-emerged. Lower down the rankings several drivers were impressing given their lack of experience and/or young age. Charlie Saunders and Lewis Hopkins are two young men driving out of their skins. Charlie going 18th and Lewis going 15th in round 1. Other notable performances have come from local ‘boys’ Mark Smith and Chris Evison – both hovering around the top 20 overall. At the front it should have been business as usual for some of the regular winners and podium finishers, but it wasn’t. Neil Cragg in heat 12 had an uncharacteristic mistake in what was potentially a very fast run – losing a handful of seconds which relegating his overall time to fifth in round. In heat 10, Josh Holdsworth laid down a marker with a near perfect run going 14/305.91 – good enough for third in round – only a fraction off Cragg’s Round 1 TQ time – Jamie Hall taking second in race some 4 seconds further down the road. In the proceeding heat, 11, Lee Martin doubled down on his consistency with increased speed to put in a 14/307.40 – fourth in round. It’s worth pointing out that Cragg’s error didn’t occur from the lead of the heat – that accolade went to Luke Holdsworth, and he retained the lead of the heat to the end – the local racer now stretching is legs with a round TQ very closely followed by Paul Crompton who went 2wd in round. Pole position is settled by taking a driver’s best two round scores from four – so with Cragg and Holdsworth taking one each it’s still wide open. Observing the races, it looks like Paul Crompton is the biggest threat for a new round winner. He was unlucky in Round 2 to collect Neil Cragg, costing him a couple of seconds – with a clean run he will be there.
Crompton would go on to prove the theory in Round 3 of 2wd qualifying. In heat 12 there was initially a very tight battle between Crompton, Luke Holdsworth and Neil Cragg. Cragg, leading on the clock, was the first to falter, followed by Holdsworth and then Crompton. Crompton having the fastest of champions rolls to lose almost no time. Ben Smith was having a clean and extremely fast run and after the midpoint of the heat was sitting second behind a recovering Crompton. Smith pushed Crompton all the way but couldn’t recover from his slow start to the heat – still enough for third in round. In heat 11, the other driver whose pace is worthy of the front row is Lee Martin. Lee got off to a slow start this morning but has been opened the taps in dramatic style as the qualifying rounds progress. In round 3 he was laying down pinpoint perfect laps before an error left him on his roof – losing 4 or so seconds only. Ben Pugh was able to draw up to the back of Martin, but the latter resettled quickly and resumed banging out seriously quick laps. At the end of the run, Lee claimed second in round, only two seconds behind Crompton. Ben Pugh going fifth. Luke Holdsworth, Neil Cragg, Paul Crompton, Lee Martin, and a few others all have the pace to take round 4 of qualifying. At the moment the first three have a round each with Holdsworth holding the fastest time.
Round 4 of 2wd qualifying proved to be the most exciting yet with several drivers having a stab at grabbing pole position. In heat 10 Josh Holdsworth had two mistakes during his run, but still managed a very quick time of 14/305.80. Earlier in the day that would have been considered good enough for TQ, but in the slightly cooler conditions the track has become faster – so at least a 14/303 will be required we think. Josh going 5th in round and 6th in the overall battle for TQ. In heat 11, all eyes were on Lee Martin. Lee has enough speed to take TQ but has not had too many clean runs so far. Two tiny mistakes on what would have been a very quick run was only enough to yield 14/305.26 and fourth in round. If you’ve been paying attention, you will realise that all three top positions will come from heat 12. An early mistake from Cragg allowed Crompton to lead the heat with Ben Smith in tow. Cragg though managed to summon some incredible pace to set some blistering laptimes to draw up to the back of Crompton – nothing between the two on a very fast pace. On the last lap a mistake from Crompton cost him 4 seconds – but he still managed to go second in round. Cragg taking the Round 4 TQ with a 14/300.10 – some three seconds quicker than anyone else all day. Ben Smith also having a fast run to go third in round. That meant that Neil Cragg claimed pole positions for the A finals with Luke Holdsworth in 2nd and Paul Crompton 3rd.
Grid order for the A Finals – 1 Cragg, 2 L Holdsworth, 3 Crompton, 4 Martin, 5 Smith, 6 J Holdsworth, 7 Pugh, 8 T Hall, 9 J Hall, 10 E Callan.
The first Leg of the 2wd A Final was delayed as a rain shower passed though. The slight time extension allowed drivers to change tyres and, in some cases, change cars for the now reasonably slippy track conditions. At the start of the race, Neil Cragg got off to a smooth and controlled start from pole position followed in a similar manor by Luke Holdsworth. Third place man Paul Crompton seemed to have a considerable performance advantage though and was instantly looking for a way past Holdsworth – making several scrappy attempts which didn’t stick allowing Cragg to pull away by the time ninety seconds had elapsed. Cragg had nearly a 3 second lead by the time Crompton eventually barged through Holdsworth to take second spot and he was able to show his pace by reeling all Cragg’s advantage back over the proceeding two laps. The two ran closely over the next two laps, breaking away from the rest of the field, but Crompton was not close enough for a move on those occasions. Cragg’s car looked well everywhere apart from the landing of the central tabletop. He had several consecutive bobbles there and Crompton must have noticed as this was the point, he started to set his move up. Crompton made a big gain into Cragg’s lead off the tabletop and drag raced him up the hill to the cambered hairpin looking for a gap that wasn’t there. Then a second drag race back down the hill where Cragg remained ahead. Off the single jump at the bottom of the hill, Crompton carried too much speed and tagged Cragg – the two cars becoming entangled. The cars were able to unentangle themselves and after a shortcut across the curbs, they resumed the battle. Over the next two laps, Crompton drew up to the back of Cragg’s car again, but this time it was Crompton’s turn to bobble after the tabletop – forcing the car into a never ending barrel roll – eventually ending up on his wheels allowing him to re-join the circuit still in second place with only 90 seconds to go. Crompton again crushed the 4 second lead Cragg has amassed whilst having his accident over the proceeding lap – visibly much faster through the back section. But Cragg showed his composure, dictated the pace and defending very well till the race end. Final Leg 1 results – Cragg, Crompton, Holdsworth.
There was a total swing in conditions for Leg 2 of the 2wd A Final – sunny and breezy as a new weather front pushed through. The whole field, led by Cragg, got off to a lightening start in comparison to Leg 1 due to the drying track. However, half a lap into lap 1, Cragg made an unforced error, rolling the car and handing the lead to Holdsworth with Crompton in tow. For several laps Holdsworth ran at a very fast pace with Crompton throwing his car at the gaps to try and create a pass. The battle allowed Lee Martin to draw up to the back of the leading pair with two minutes gone. Another couple of laps down and Crompton set up one of the best passes of the weekend. Holdsworth leading down the straight took the smoothest line though turn 1 – a long right-hand sweeper – but this allowed Crompton up the inside at the entry point and he managed to stay there through the whole corner blocking Holdsworth turn in for the hairpin at the end. It was an extremely high-speed section of the track and Crompton gauged his entry speed absolutely perfectly. Holdsworth kept close to the back of Crompton’s car for another half a lap through the back section before carrying too much speed onto the back tabletop and cartwheeling out of second place and promoting Martin. The order didn’t change for the final ninety seconds of the race. Finish order: Crompton, Martin, Holdsworth with Jamie Hall in a close 4th. Leg 3 would be the deciding race.
Thankfully the weather stayed sunny and pleasant for the final Leg of the 2wd section. From the start of the race Cragg looked very quick indeed. Over the first minute, he consistently gapped the field who were running in qualifying order at high pace also. Holdsworth was the first to falter – crashing in the same place as his leg 2 accident promoting Crompton to second. Cragg continued to build his advantage to 2.5 seconds before a mistake and a champion’s roll saw that advantage evaporate and Crompton was now in a position to challenge for the lead and potentially the win. The two drivers raced in very close proximity till the last lap. Coming out of the back section Crompton managed to get up the inside of Cragg, but there is a bump there and Crompton’s car had left the ground in the braking zone causing a collision which didn’t affect Cragg much, but Crompton had to pause to catch the bad bounce. The battle continued into the last few corners, again with Crompton throwing the car at any possible gap but to no avail – his final challenge resulting in an accident. Leg result: Cragg, Crompton, Holdsworth.
The results is that Neil Cragg now has his second 2wd National victory in a row (and 93rd victory in total) , Paul Crompton 2nd, Lee Martin 3rd.
Lots of weary drivers started to appear at the track from 7am on the Sunday morning for 4wd. There were no reports of anything strange the night before apart from the news that it turns out that James Halliwell and Robin Schumacher are keen 10 pin bowlers – a side talent incase the RC Racing doesn’t work out. That aside, two rounds of practice kicked off at 8am in cool and overcast conditions – rain was forecast, but not sure when it would arrive.
Round 1 of 4wd qualifying kicked off with 19 second laps the order of the day if you wished to get an A Final slot. Andy Woods, Chris Evison, and Mark Smith were the first drivers onto 15 laps, but they would slip down the overall order by the time heat 9 was compete. In the heat, there was a rapid tussle for the win between Ben Smith and Lee Martin. The former getting away early in the heat with Martin slowly reeling him in from the midpoint of the race. Smith took the heat by 0.3s on a 15/304.48. Heat 10 all eyes were on the Associated pairing of Neil Cragg and Jamie Hall. Cragg started hammering fast laps down with Hall and Tyler Liddle in tow. He had a faultless run to go 15/302.52, displacing Ben Smith at the top of the table with one heat to go. The drivers in heat 11 would need to come up with something special to beat Cragg’s time. Heat 11 was led away by Tommy Hall. I am always impressed by how the top drivers can drive away from the line and hit the first corner at full pace – there’s no warming up or going in gently – its full send! Tommy Hall put in a string of mid 19 seconds lap and was showing a predicted TQ, before an error cost him about three seconds. He recovered well, but you can’t give those sorts of concessions at this level. Hall put in a 15/302.67 – only 0.1s off Cragg.
After a sunny a pleasant Round 1 of 4wd Qualifying the weather has started to fluctuate and light rain is forecast towards the end of the round or start of Round 2. We’re all watching the skies making our sportsman’s bets and mystic Meg like predictions. In these situations everyone seems to become an amateur meteorologist and one smart fellow actually said “It’ll start raining, when the rain starts to come down”….. genius! Again, the first driver onto 15 laps was Andy Woods in heat 5. The rain now predicted for from Heat 9 or 10 onwards – this could play into Wood’s hands. By Heat 8, there was still no sign of the rain and Mark Smith, and Mark Anthony Jones were able to displace Woods. Jones going for the model car land speed record down the straight each time. In actuality the rain would not arrive at all during Round 2. We would have to wait until heat 9 till a potential TQ driver took to the track. Ben Smith laid down some incredibly fast laps including a 19.44 to put in a 15/301.18 with Lee Martin the only driver close some 4 seconds behind. In heat 10, Neil Cragg nearly took it to the next level – the allusive 16 lapper – but a mistake requiring a marshal prevented that. There was an audible bustle in the crowd of spectators when Cragg still managed a 15/300.47 even with the error – that’s provisional TQ with one heat to go. In heat 11, the spectator crowds built up around the track as everyone wondered if Cragg’s time would be beaten. Both Tommy Hall and Paul Crompton looked rapid all day – Hall keeping it clean, Crompton keeping it fast. Tommy ran completely clean for the whole heat putting in a rapid time, but not enough to displace Neil Cragg or Ben Smith – going third with a 15/301.23. Crompton is laying down unbelievable individual laptimes but is not converting it into a peak run time due to errors – going 4th with 15/303.35. Paul has the potential to make it to 16 laps – but he will need to be more consistent.
Eventually the predicted rain made landfall and the track got a short and light sprinkling during the early heats in round 3 of 4wd. By heat 4 the track was damp and fast, but far from wet. All of our attention is now on the top heats as TQ could be settled in this round and we are also anticipating somebody making the elusive 16 lap target. In heat 9, Lee Martin set an unreal pace with a string of 19 second laps only diluted by a few fast 20s. He was on for a predicted 16 lap run right till the last lap till he made and error costing him 2 seconds – putting in a 15/301.92. This allowed Ben Smith to take the heat with an equally impressive run – only a fraction shy of target – 15/300.02. The track proving to be just slightly quicker that its now dampened. In heat 10 the crowd swelled again to watch Neil Cragg have his attempt at securing TQ. He led from the start with an example of supreme consistency – an average laptime of 19.89 seconds! At last, we had a driver on 16 laps in 318.16. Jamie Hall was a considerable distance behind but still managed a 15/304.93 – a time faster than this morning’s TQ times! Heat 11 started off in dry conditions but a couple of minutes in the light drizzle returned. Before the rain, Tommy Hall went off like lightening and was showing a predicted time some three seconds faster than Cragg, but that was cut short by the reduced track condition. Commentator Mark Musgrove called lap times as they tumbled – first to slow 19s, then into the 20s and then nearly 21s. Paul Crompton kept it clean and put in 15/303.50 – unbelievable considering the conditions whilst Hall recorded 15/305.41. This TQ secures the pole position for Neil Cragg.
With Pole Position already decided before Round 4 and taken by Neil Cragg, attention now falls to the battle for second place between Ben Smith, Tommy Hall, and Lee Martin. There is nothing between the three on outright pace, so it will be consistency and luck which will settle this. More drizzle had fallen on the track at the start of Round 4, but the general consensus is that the rain is done for the day, and it will be dry for the finals. The drivers battling for top positions have been nicely spread over the last three heats. It builds the suspense and provides atmosphere trackside. In round 3 we’d noticed that Lee Martin’s Yokomo looked especially pacey and as he was passing my table I asked him about his performance so far – his response was “The car is the best it’s been…. watch this one”. And Lee didn’t disappoint. In heat 9, initially Lee Martin and Ben Smith ran very closely, however after the midpoint of the race Martin opened the taps and started to go really, really quickly. He finished the heat as the only driver apart from Neil Cragg on 16 laps with a 16/318.58. Ben Smith having some late problems to only put in a 15/307.15 – one of his slowest times of the day. In heat 10, Neil Cragg led the cars away with nothing to prove. He had already secured TQ, and this was just a chance to nail the point or try out something new. He was running well before a mistake on the last corner before the straight two minutes in. After being marshalled he decided to retire the car – possibly saving his energy for the A Finals. Tyler Liddle took up the lead of the heat and finished it out on a 15/304.84 – fourth in round and securing his first A Final start. It was then up to the drivers in heat 11 to put a halt to Martin’s TQ aspirations. Tommy Hall and Paul Crompton broke away from the pack and looked like a threat. However, mistakes from the two drivers who both looked like they were a little too close to the ragged edge meant that Martin’s time was safe.
Grid for the 4wd A Finals: 1 Cragg, 2 Martin, 3 Smith, 4 T Hall, 5 Crompton, 6 J Hall, 7 Liddle, 8 Jemison, 9 L Holdsworth, 10 Pugh
4wd A Final Leg 1 got away in very familiar style with Cragg and Martin at the head of the pack. For the full five minutes the two drivers tip-toed around in greasy conditions doing their best not to unsettle the cars. Cragg took the win having had Martin no further behind him than 0.5 seconds for the whole run. The only pass of note was further back the field when Tommy Hall got passed Ben Smith for third at the hairpin at the end of the straight and sweeper. All-in-all it was an uneventful race as the drivers prioritised battling the conditions rather than each other.
Conditions has improved quiet a lot by the time Leg 2 of the 4wd A Final commenced. We were hoping for some close racing in this final now that some grip was available. The final got underway and it was obvious that the grip was back up. Cragg led Martin, Smith and Hall away in a breakaway group till the 90 second mark when he grip rolled at the banked hairpin at the end of the straight and sweeper. Back on his wheels but facing the wrong way – he recovered to second, Martin now taking the lead. Two minutes in, Ben Smith cartwheeled off the track coming onto the straight promoting Tommy Hall and Paul Crompton to third and fourth respectively. The order now Martin, Cragg, T Hall, Crompton. Looking back to the leaders, just before the race mid-point, Lee Martin had a bad bounce whilst negotiating the difficult back section, gently rolling onto his roof and requiring the marshal. This let Cragg resume the lead, Hall promoted to second, Crompton to third with Martin re-joining in fourth. The second half of the race was considerably less eventful. Cragg led with Tommy Hall making small gains into him on each lap. Crompton in third was initially under pressure from Lee Martin, but that challenge diluted of the final lap or two. Finishing order; Cragg, T Hall, Crompton with Lee Martin in close fourth. The second A Final win secured the double win for Neil Cragg in Southport. Cragg’s temperament and composure is extraordinary – even after securing the win he was completely unexcited and a model of valour when some people would be tempted to put on some sort of victory display.
The final race of the weekend was 4wd A Final Leg 3. Neil Cragg led the field away in qualifying order and started to build a lead over the first two minutes. When the lead over Martin had been extended to over three seconds, Cragg had a bad bounce and roll needing the marshal – which was a rapid service on this occasion. He retained the lead, but the gap to Martin was gone. A couple of laps later, Cragg again grip rolled on the banked hairpin at the end of the straight – this time letting Martin through. Lee Martin’s lead was short lived however when he crashed through the back section restoring Cragg to the lead with Crompton in pursuit. Over the proceeding half lap, Crompton reduced Craggs lead to nothing, so when Cragg cut the corner on the cobbled hairpin, resulting in a roll, Crompton was perfectly placed to take the lead, but it was also short lived. Landing off the tabletop, Crompton hit the single jump too quickly and rolled out of contention allowing Martin back into the lead closely followed by Cragg. Order at the four-minute mark – Martin, Cragg, Crompton. The three drivers ran in that order for the final minute till the race end.
As the dust settled after two days of frantic racing and the highs of the watching the A Finals reduced, we learned of some sad news. Two-time European Champion, multiple BRCA National Champion and stalwart of National racing since the early 1990’s, Ellis Stafford has made the tough decision to retire from full National Championship campaigns. Famous for his periods with Kyosho, Losi and X-Factory, we hope to see him at the odd national now and again in the future.
Another, less surprising retirement but one which became a reality for the first time for many was noted with Paul Worsley’s absence from racing on Sunday. The former long term section chairman taking a step back for the 4wd portion of the meeting. It felt a bit like taking your dad’s car out for a drive without him in the passenger seat. But I can report that Paul has left the series in good hands and Sunday went without any major problems.
On a separate note, it must be acknowledged that the teams of organisers at both Southport and Kidderminster for round 1 have done an exceptional job. The BRCA events are proving to have retained their quality even after the pandemic issues for the last couple of years. It is shaping up to be a classic year of racing.
Overall 2wd Championship Standings:
Overall 4wd Championship Standings: