Gold Star & Silver Star Championship Final 13th January by Monty Peters
The popular Long Compton site near Chipping Norton was the venue for the BTRDA Championship final on Saturday 13th January.
The event attracted an entry of 28 for the Gold Star and 19 for the Silver. As is customary, a number of the top Irish drivers were invited, and these comprised Mark Vaughan, Brian Edgar, John Keatley and Mervyn McKinney competing in the Gold Star and Simon Gracey in the Silver. The Irish, for the past three years have won the event and the big question was, could the English reclaim the crown?
The weather, during the week leading up to the event, involved a lot of rain and the low-lying paddock area was extremely wet and sticky. Thus the first part of the competition involved getting into the paddock. All those with 4 x 4's won. The Irish failed, their Ford Transits were just not suited to the conditions and floundered as soon as they left the hard surface. Round one to the English! The second part of the competition involved getting one's car to scrutineering and back. The majority managed this with no problem, however Stuart Beare did manage to find a really boggy piece of terrain to get stuck in. What made it more humiliating was that it was downhill! (The reeds were the clue here Stuart!) His day was to improve. Roger Anderson and Nick Speed were posted as non-starters, due to mechanical gremlins with their cars.
Clerk of the Course, Thomas Bricknell, renowned for laying out a good trial, enlisted support from the likes of Ian Wright, Duncan Stephens and Andy Gowen in setting out ten excellent wide sections utilising most of the site.
After a briefing and a presentation by Mike Stephens of the Mike Harrison Award to Bill Cole (in recognition of his tremendous support at various trials throughout the year), the trial got under way.
It was not long before one could hear the sound of high revving engines echoing across the valley. This was a sure indication that there wasn't much trickling going on! The ground was very wet and it was gratifying to see that no particular advantage was gained by being first or last on a hill. They were just all demanding and were ready to catch those that were not paying full attention. Ian Bell fell into this category on his very first hill by driving out of the eleven markers! His excuse was that he was giving everyone else a chance. Unfortunately, it did not really matter, as he posted the first retirement, with a detached gear lever after just six hills.
Peter Fensom posted the second retirement with a below par engine, due to the cam belt jumping a tooth or two. Meanwhile, the early pace was being set by the Crossle brigade.
Hill one saw only eleven clears, of which seven were the Crossles of Mark Vaughan, Duncan Stephens, John Keatley, Mervyn McKinney, John Fack, Brian Edgar and Rowland Uglow. The interlopers were Ian Wright (Kincraft), Julian Fack (X-Facktor), Steve Courts (Facksimile) and Anthony Lane (Concord).
Hill two was tricky and claimed a good many between the eight & seven marker. Most of those that got through continued for a clear.
Hill three was another that was difficult between the eight and seven marker, and those that cleared this got a three or a two. The exception being Ian Wright who, with son Kiel in the passenger's seat, urged the Suzuki engined Kincraft to a well earned clear.
Hill four had a very muddy sector before the final climb and most were scoring between five and three. Tom Stevenson was the first to go further, his immaculate Kincraft singing beautifully as he reached the two. His glory was short lived, as along came John Keatley & Mervyn Mckinney who blasted their way to clears in their glorious sounding Crossles'. John Fack (Crossle) and brother Julian (X-Facktor) were the only others to get beyond the three.
Hill five had a very slippery start. Dick Gowen who was first car, got no further than the eleven! Bill Rhodes (Cartwright) and Stuart Beare (Sherpa) were next in line and both reached the dizzy heights for a four. Dave Oliver (Facksimile) who was following, thought that he might like to join them but got no further than the ten markers! He was not alone as about a quarter of the entry followed suit. George Watson, whose CAP was sounding glorious, tried a new approach, egged on by ‘yours truly', trying to avoid the mud, failed, and was another to rest at the ten. That's the last time he listens to me!! Ian Wright was the first to reach the two and then along came the Crossles of young Ian Gracey & the not so young Roland Uglow who with much wheel speed and God knows how many RPM, reached the one. Duncan Stephens, who was beginning to look like a man on a mission, then flew up the section to record the first clear. He was joined by Messrs Keatley & McKinney, who were locked in a private battle for top Irish honours. The only non-Crossles to reach anywhere near the top were Tom Stevenson and the misfiring Sherpa of Paul Faulkner. They both scrabbled their way to a one.
Hill six had a difficult cross camber section after the initial climb that claimed about half the field, as the surface deteriorated, cars slid towards the fallen tree at the seven marker. It was not too bad for the first half dozen and John Fack took full advantage, eased his way past the seven and stormed up the final climb to clean the section. Nobody else looked like emulating John's score until Duncan arrived. He was now definitely on a mission! He very nearly got caught by the seven marker, and in true Duncan style, threw the car through the gate - bit unexpectedly for Andy Gowen, who was nearly thrown out of the car, giving his knee an almighty thump in the melee. He was obviously in great pain but kept to his task and bounced for England as he helped Duncan to a brilliant clear. Tom Stevenson, following two cars behind, gingerly eased past the seven and used every ounce of Renault power to score another zero. Paul Faulkner drove across the camber as if it wasn't there, but his misfiring engine hindered his progress on the last climb, but he still earned a creditable two. It was this hill that cost both John Keatley and Mervyn McKinney dearly, they both slid down the camber into the seven marker.
Hill seven was another slippery affair, not desperately steep, but with cross cambers ready to catch the unwary. A few stopped at the ten, most got a five, a few reached the four. Yet again, it was only the Crossles that got any further. Mervyn, John Fack and Simon Gracey all managed a one.
Hill eight had a steep bumpy climb to the five and then, after a dog leg, another steep climb to the finish. The five & four marker gates were popular stopping places. Not too many got much further but those that did included George Watson, Neville Collett, Stuart Beare, Stephen Barnes, Julian Fack, and John Fack, who all scored three. Again, it was the Crossles that were victorious. Mark Vaughan and Simon Gracey reached the one and it was left to Messrs Keatley, McKinney, Brian Edgar, Roland Uglow & Duncan Stephens to clear the hill.
Hill nine was fairly uneventful and produced eleven clear rounds and no undue drama.
Hill ten was a boggy morass, virtually the whole field stopping between the eight and the six. Duncan Stephens was the third car to attempt the hill and fought his way through for a clear. John Keatley was the next to go beyond the six for a creditable one. John McKinney, not to be outdone, reached the two. Julian Fack who also reached the two but it was left to brother John to record the only other ‘clear'.
At the end of a very busy first round, the leader board showed that Duncan was leading on 9, followed by John Fack on 13. Mervyn McKinney was on 14 with John Keatley on 15. Ian Wright was the first non-Crossle on 20, followed by Julian on 22. A slightly subdued Mark Vaughan was on 24, with Roland Uglow on 26. Brian Edgar and Steve Courts both shared ninth place on 28. Rounding off the top ten was Tom Stevenson on 33. Just outside the top ten was Anthony Lane, who was enjoying the conditions and was in a very creditable 11th place.
In the Silver Star, young Simon Gracey, driving dad's Crossle was leading on 35, with Neville Collett not far behind on 38. Andy Wilks and Stuart Beare were tying for third on 39. David Webster was fourth on 47. Next up was Jason Daniel, a relative newcomer to the sport, on 53. Dick Gowen and Ian Evitt were sharing seventh place on 55. Dick was having a torrid time with an engine that did not want to behave. Ian Evitt, long time passenger to Geoff Pickup was enjoying himself enormously in his ex-Mark Vaughan Crossle. ‘Battling Bob Dayson' was ninth on 56. Andy Abraham in the ungainly looking ALP rounded off the top ten with 60. To prove my point, the car ‘fell over' later in the day!
A ten-minute break between rounds allowed the hard working Thomas Bricknell to change the sections. Hills two and five were replaced by two completely new hills, and the rest were modified in one-way or another. Whilst everyone else set about round two, John Ward was loading his newly acquired Crossle onto his trailer. He had not driven the car before the event and after a catastrophic first round went home a dispirited man.
Hill one was a muddy old affair, running through a particularly wet gulley. It did not deter the majority who managed to clear the section without too much bother.
Hill two, as mentioned before, was a completely new hill. A cross camber start to the first climb proved difficult and stopped most between the eight & seven gate. Joy Barton only had to give away four ‘smiley face' stickers for those that cleared the hill. Guess who they were? The leading four Crossle of course!
Hills three & four provided few problems for the front runners. Stephen Barnes was a bit miffed after attempting the hill. He was the first car to attempt the section, reached the eight, had his score card marked, at which point the marshals decided, for all the right reasons to change the section. As sods law would have it, on his second attempt covering the same piece of ground he scored ten!
Hill five was a new hill and produced a wide range of scores and only a handful of drivers got beyond the seven. Tom Stevenson, Stuart Beare, Anthony Lane & Roland Uglow all had good climbs and reached the two. Mark Vaughan, Julian Fack, John Fack, Steve Courts and Ian Wright all did well to reach the one. However, their efforts were bettered by Duncan, John Keatley and Mervyn McKinney who all scored zero.
Hill six was changed and produced no dramas for the leaders. It was on hill seven that John Keatley lost ground to the leading pair of Duncan S & John Fack, when he stopped at the nine.
Hill eight was still causing problems for many on the steep climb to the four markers. Most of the top ten scored a one, but John Keatley, still smarting after his error on the previous hill, was the only person to ‘clean' the hill. It was on this hill that Duncan Stephens had a scare, a constant velocity joint ‘let go' as he departed the section. He had a spare, but he and Andy Gowen were unable to remove it from the driveshaft. It looked as though their tremendous morning performance was going to end in retirement. As luck would have it, Mark Vaughan had a complete assembly in his van and he very sportingly loaned it to Duncan.
Hill nine was not dissimilar to the first round and was ‘cleaned' by most. Neville Collett had a ‘Monty Moment' and drove out at the two!
Hill ten was changed and had a deceptively tricky cross camber at the eight gate, which claimed amongst many others, Mervyn McKinney. This rather spoilt his excellent round and put him one mark behind his sparring partner, John Keatley.
The lunchtime scores showed that Duncan was still holding a tenuous lead on 16, with a four-point advantage over John Fack who was on 20. John Keatley was now third, on 26, just one mark ahead of Mervyn McKinney. Ian Wright maintained fifth place on 33 with Julian F. next up on 36. Brian Edgar had a better round and had moved up the leader board to seventh and was on 39. Mark Vaughan was eighth on 45, Roland Uglow ninth on 47 and Steve Courts tenth on 49. Anthony Lane maintained his first round form and was still holding on to eleventh place.
In the Silver Star, Stuart Beare, had a ‘cracking' round and took the lead on 59. Simon Gracey, the leader at the end of the first round, slipped back to second, tying with Andy Wilks on 68. Simon lost ground when he clobbered the ten marker on hill two. Neville Collett was fourth on 79 with David Webster now in fifth place on 80. Dick Gowen was a slightly dispirited sixth on 92, his engine still misbehaving. Jason Daniel, despite his relative lack of experience, was still driving well and was seventh on 94. Ian Evitt was eighth on 95, with Bob Dayson ninth on 98, Andy Abraham rounding off the top ten with 106.
The big questions during lunch were could Duncan maintain his cool? Would John Fack beat him? And how much is a new Crossle?
As the final round unfolded, it became apparent that Duncan was not going to be denied. He was in a world of his own. Both he and passenger Andy Gowen worked extremely hard and threw the Crossle at the hills cleaning eight out of the ten. On the other two they scored one a piece. John Fack pressured them all the way but could not quite match their pace. John Keatley continued his good drive, but last year's winner had to concede to the two Englishmen. Mervyn McKinney held on to fourth and Julian overhauled Ian to take fifth. The rest of the top ten remained virtually unchanged. The trial suited the high revving, big engined cars, and so it was good to see Steve Courts get the imp engined Facksimile into ninth place. Previous winner Mark Vaughan rounded off the top ten. By his own admission, the conditions did not suit his driving style.
In the Silver Star, Stuart Beare took a convincing win and finished eleventh overall. Andy Wilks had a good consistent drive to finish second, just one mark ahead of Simon Gracey in third.
Duncan was a popular winner, bringing the trophy back to England after its three years in Ireland! He also created a little bit of history by becoming the youngest ever Gold Star champion.
A really good trial, hugely enjoyed by everyone. A big thanks to all those involved, who worked so hard to make it a success.