A surprise win for an Invitation entry, the Amspeed BMW M3 E36 of Adam Howarth and Chris Boardman won by the best part of a lap over the opposition in the 50 minute race, which featured a bumper grid of extremely competitive entries.

There was little to gauge the Amspeed package at the start of the meeting, an outing in the Endurance category at Oulton Park being an unreliable benchmark, but they served notice of intent by joining Barry McMahon’s Alfa Romeo on the front row of the grid, about a second shy of the usually-dominant Irishman, and it was the Alfa that led the early laps, drawing out a lead of just over two seconds before coming to a halt with a blown engine just five laps into the race. Then it was the Amspeed BMW all the way, losing the lead only during the pit stop window, when Howarth handed the car over to Boardman.

Shortly after McMahon’s early demise, Richard Bernard was forced into retirement with a broken driveshaft on his Boxster, while Rob Smith, in Charlie Campbell’s Peugeot RCZ was attempting to build a buffer over the rest of the field, but had Kester Cook’s Fiesta and Oliver Smith’s BMW in pursuit. Brad Kaylor’s SEAT was also in the mix, ahead of Jon Packer in the constantly-developing Smart 4Four, while Nigel Ainge was holding steady in his Integra, ahead of Ben Colburn in the first of the Clios, and Josh Tomlinson’s MacG Racing Mazda RX8.

First to pit once the window opened was Team BRIT’s Nerys Pearce, the Paralympian bravely taking the rolling start in her first-ever race, though with highly-detailed coaching from Abbie Eaton who took over the #69 BMW 116 for the closing stint. There followed a raft of pitters, Alistair Lindsay looking to get his Saxon stablemates "on the undercut" in his Golf, the MacG team electing to refuel the Mazda before Jonny MacGregor jumped in for his stint, and some of the heavy-hitters like Rob Smith, Brad Kaylor and Jon Packer, leaving it late.

Once the race settled again, Danny Cassar, now in Nigel Ainge’s Integra, was second, and the Kester Fiesta was taking four seconds a lap out of Charlie Campbell’s third-placed Peugeot, while Oliver Smith’s BMW was looking to take them both. Campbell got a stop/go penalty for a pit stop infringement, which put him out of contention, while Jonny MacGregor’s progress from 16th was assisted by a penalty for Brad Kaylor, and Rob Baker placing the Smart 4Four in the gravel, an atypical error after one of his best drives.

So, a win for Adam Howarth, in only his second season of racing, and the more experienced Chris Boardman, in a car that had itself seen little running. Danny Cassar brought Nigel Ainge’s Honda Integra home second, and third-placed Oliver Smith, in the JC Racing BMW M3, was the leading championship-registered finisher, taking the Class 6 win, with Kester Cook, fourth overall, winning Class 5. Richard Higgins had been tailing the lead pack for most of the race, and made the most of the final minutes to bring the blue #15 Porsche 996 home fifth, with the MacG Racing Mazda RX8 of MacGregor/Tomlinson sixth overall.

Kester Cook stormed to a Class 5 win and 4th overall in his striking Fiesta

Losing out through penalties were Brad Kaylor and Charlie Campbell, and Ben Colbourn beat brother James in the Clio battle, with father and son duo Steve and Aron Thompson taking the final podium place in that class, while doubly-penalised Richard Colbourn and Dave Beecroft were fourth, with Darren Geerearts fifth.

Colin Tester and Toby Goodman had a good debut in their Lotus Elise, toping the invitees in Class 6, while fourth place points in that class were taken by the Vinna Sport Ginetta G40 of Charlotte Birch and Adriano Medeiros. The Class 7 win went to the Invitation entry of Steve Griffiths and Jamie Vyne-Meyer, while Alistair Lindsay took the top points in his VW Golf, ahead of Saxon stable-mate Johnathan Barrett’s BMW330, who also took that valuable one point for fastest lap, while Ivor Mairs, another invitation entry in the Paul Sheard Mazda MX5, had a whale of a time.

Interspersed among these were some regular front-runners who didn’t make their usual impression, but nevertheless gained important points towards their championship aspirations; Anthony Hutchins, Peter Spano (who had recent Le Mans protagonist Charlie Hollings as his co-driver), Robert Pugsley, Bill Forbes, and the father and son duo of Steve and Edward Cook all added to their tally, while the internecine Team BRIT BMW 116 prize was taken by the Nerys Pearce/Abbie Eaton car, a lap ahead of the Matty Street/Andy Tucker and Christian Dart/James Birch machines, with the Luke Pound/James Birch car strangely not classified as a finisher. Also not classified was the Chris Clarke/Ben Thompson Mazda MX5, which retired around half distance.

Text: Steve Wood; photos: Paul Cherry