Former World Champ and current Euro champ score big at RHR
Quite a bit has happened over the winter since we were last at RHR for the final round of the 2022 season. We’ve hade an EOS come to the UK at Worksop, we’ve had an MKGP at Milton Keynes, various high profile indoor club rounds, and a few very high profile drivers moving teams – you could have been distracted easily. Yet the top drivers from last year have re-emerged from the winter extremely match fit. Last weekend at Round 1 of the 2023 series, also at RHR, several people commented that it didn’t feel like a national, it felt more like a Euros – heads were down, pressure was on, right from practice 1.
All drivers were given 2 x 3 minute practice sessions first thing on Saturday morning for the 2wd section of the meeting and the track was very wet having being nearly flooded the evening before due to Storm Noa passing through. Ben Smith set the initial pace – his car looking very good in the slippery and wet conditions. Although quite wet, some drivers opted not to use a wet setup car and instead opted for dry cars but with wet tyres – a risky strategy that relies on a quick drying track in time for qualifying round 1.
One of those drivers taking the gamble was Neil Cragg. He commented that he thought he was “in real trouble” when running the dry car in practice, however by round 1 of Qualifying the conditions had improved and he secured TQ. Cragg added another TQ in round 2 before the chasing pack, now having switch over to their dry cars, would get on the pace. Josh Holdsworth was first to challenge Cragg with TQ in round 3 and then Jamie Hall in round 4. Cragg having not been quickest since the second qualifier starts from pole – the finals would be of the high=pressure variety. Leg 1 of the 2wd A Final was intense to say the least. Cragg starting from pole position made a good start with Jamie Hall in tow. The pair broke away from the battling pack behind them and ran at a furious pace before a mistake from Cragg gave Hall the chance to go around the outside and take the lead. Hall then made a break and was about 1.5 seconds ahead of Cragg before the counterattack commenced. Cragg started to draw in Hall over the remaining 4 or 5 laps, but just couldn’t get close enough to set up a move. result – J Hall, Cragg, T Hall.
2023 1/10th Offroad Nationals Round 1
Robin Hood Raceway [UK] – 15-16 APRIL 2023
Leg 2 of the 2wd A Final ran to a similar pace as Leg 1. No car or driver seemed to have any sort of pace advantage over any of the others. A long train of cars led by Cragg circulated for a few laps. Jamie Hall from 2nd place was the first to make a mistake dropping to fourth. Then new second place man Josh Holdsworth faultered, shortly followed by Tommy Hall – this left Jamie back in second but with Cragg several seconds out in front. Jamie Hall with Tommy Hall spent the next 5 or 6 laps making little inroads to Craggs lead but it wasn’t enough – finishing order; Cragg, J. Hall, T. Hall.
So it was going to a Leg 3 decider. The race started with Neil Cragg out front with the remaining cars in order circulating behind him. Cragg started to gap the field by lap 3, just pulling out a second or two over the battle for second between Jamie & Tommy Hall. With a minute and a half done, Cragg made a slight error touching a hose which saw his lead evaporate very quickly. The Hall brothers spent the remaining three minutes drawing up to Cragg’s back bumper, sometime in a frantic manor, but never getting close enough to make a move. You could see then Cragg was giving it everything he could as the car squirmed and moved about through the corners. Even though the Halls put on a last lap charge the final order was Cragg, Jamie Hall, Tommy Hall.
The 4wd portion of the meeting was eagerly anticipated as the 2wd had been so good. This year the 4wd section is fully booked – something we normally only see for 2wd – a total of 120 drivers and unfortunately lots of people on the reserve list.
The RHR team, led by James Helliwell are a tight-knit bunch of dedicated racers who put on a very good race meeting. Once the 2wd meeting was over, the track was fully pulled up and a new layout laid for 4wd. They worked like a finely oiled machine and the track change was done in about 30 minutes – well done to them. By the time 4wd practice started the track was all but dry. We’ve seen plenty of fast cars over the years at indoor carpet meetings, but I don’t think we’ve witnessed anything as quick as Neil Cragg’s car down the straight at RHR – it was like a missile. Another rocket ship was Jamie Hall’s car. Jamie setting the fastest average lap time in practice to prove that his 2wd performance was not an anomaly.
4wd qualifying got off to a very fast start and a familiar name set himself apart from the others straight away. Neil Cragg took TQ in round 1 and it was no surprise as his car was visibly faster and carrying more speed than any other. Jamie Hall was less aggressive than Cragg to go second in Round 1 whilst his brother Tommy also displaying a less aggressive style took TQ in Round 2. The CAT amongst the pigeons – see what I’ve done there? – was Lee Martin in his first National for his new manufacturer. The Newbury driver looked rapid and was second in round 2 and in round 4 to line up third on the grid. Cragg took round 3 TQ also, but it wasn’t enough to hold Tommy Hall back as he secured Round 4 TQ on a faster time. The A final lined up with Tommy Hall on pole, then Cragg, Martin and Jamie Hall – best of the rest was Paul Crompton.
Leg 1 of the 4wd A Final got off to a smooth start. No drivers made significant moves on lap 1. The only change of position was Lee Martin being promoted to second place after a slight error from Neil Cragg where he tagged a hose coming on the straight. But with over four and half minutes remaining, none of the crowd got particularly excited. This gave Tommy Hall an advantage of about a second ahead of the chasing pack lead by Martin.
The chase continued for several laps – Tommy Hall out in front by around a second, Martin pushing hard to catch up, Cragg just behind Martin and Jamie Hall just hanging onto the lead bunch. A sight mistake from Tommy at the midpoint tightened up the lead pack. A couple of mistakes from Cragg in the last minute dropped him back and made it a two horse race between Tommy Hall and Lee Martin. The two drivers ran at very close proximity for 2 laps before the end – but the pace of the cars was just too similar and no overtaking opportunity arose. Final order – T. Hall, Martin, Cragg.
Leg 2 of the 4wd A Final was a great example of how a driver can set the pace at the front. Tommy Hall got away from the grid with a frantic looking Neil Cragg behind chasing hard! The two broke away from Lee Martin in third who was leading the chasing pack and embarked on a massive battle. Tommy was able to set his pace and remain unrattled. Cragg looked at every gap and bump as an opportunity and tried to go around Hall several times without success. With a minute to go, Cragg out dragged Hall down the straight took the inside line and the lead into turn 1 but was carrying too much speed and Hall was able to switch back and retake the position. Hall was not phase by the attack and controlled his pace perfectly. Unfortunately, a lap from the end, Cragg made a couple of errors ruling out his chance of taking the battle to leg 3. Final result – T. Hall, Cragg, Martin. Tommy Hall takes the 4wd overall win – podium positions would be decided in Leg 3.
Tommy Hall decided to participate in Leg 3 of the 4wd A Final. With the win stitched up he could afford to open the taps and see how quickly he could push on with no risk. Initially he was rapid and started building a lead over Neil Cragg in second straight from the word go. Cragg did counter attack, however some bobbles and bounces from both Cragg and Martin, let Hall build a 2.5 second lap by the midpoint. The main battle on track was for fourth between Josh Holdsworth, Ben Smith and Jamie Hall. Back at the front, a mistake from Cragg coming onto the table top in front of the rostrum gave Tommy Hall a large and comfortable lead as Martin came through into second. Cragg dropping to fourth behind Ben Smith. The race continued for the last minute with no changes to the order. Final result T. Hall, Martin, Smith.
The BRCA 1/10th Offroad Series seems to be going from strength to strength. The Robin Hood Raceway is a huge asset to racing in the UK and is an example to other clubs. Tommy Hall and Neil Cragg both achieved double podiums, but that feat will be more difficult as the series continues. Drivers such as Jamie Hall, Josh & Luke Holdsworth, Ben Smith, Tyler Liddle and Charlie Saunders are all maturing and developing rapidly and its going to be harder to achieve a podium finish in the future.
The next round of the series is in Mendip, Somerset on the weekend of May 20/21. The track is new to the national series but appear to have all the ingredients needed for another great weekend of racing. Join us then.