Brands Hatch nearly-man, Stuart Nicholls, finally got his reward in rounds three and four of the championship at a bright and sunny Snetterton with two pole positions, two wins and two fastest laps.
The Hertfordshire cameraman arrived as joint championship leader, sharing it with round two winner Ben Rowe, and got straight into the groove as soon as qualifying began. His time in the class C Roadster of 2:22.12 around the 2.99 mile 300 circuit averaged nearly 76mph. Joining him on the front row for race one was another Rogue Motorsport-run Roadster, 2012 class C champion Jim Davies. After a dire Brands Hatch meeting, which was eventually traced to a broken catalytic converter, the Stratford tyre retailer was aiming to get his season back on track. Another frontrunner who’d had a miserable time in Kent, Matt Palmer, lined up third with Hennessy Motorsport-run Rob Wells in fourth. Ben Rowe set the fifth fastest time, the Devonian racing without his father this weekend as David Rowe was sidelined with knee troubles, although he was supporting his son by hobbling around the paddock on crutches. Mark Bithrey was a career-best seventh, sandwiched between John Wilson and Tim Heron with Alex Knight and series-returnee Steve Lumley rounding out the top ten. A special mention should go to Mike Wells in eleventh, newly returned after service in Afghanistan.
Thirty six cars lined up for the start of race one and as the lights went out, Davies made a great start, Nicholls a poor one and Wilson a scintillating one, a legacy, he said, of his auto-testing days. Behind the top half dozen all hell broke loose at Montreal hairpin with Dan Holmes’ green Mk2 being forced onto the grass – still very wet after torrential rain the day before – and climbing over the back of Mick Nicholls’ Roadster which then cannoned into Mike Wells’ Mk2. Also picking up damage were Tony Halls and Mark Warren-Leighton but, fortunately, everyone continued. Nicholls later received more contact and was black-flagged by the officials after his car was deemed too dangerous to continue.
At the front, Davies was stamping his authority and pulled out a gap of around 2s from Wilson. Palmer had been third after lap one but was tagged onto the grass at Agostini on lap two by a recovering Stuart Nicholls. He dropped to seventh but staged a brilliant recovery drive to finish on the podium in third place. Davies lost his lead on the fifth lap as he started to suffer from fuel surge, Wilson and Nicholls both nipping by to demote Jim to third. Nicholls and Davies both overtook Wilson superbly at Agostini on the final lap, arriving three abreast with Stuart turning on his headlights to ‘out psyche the opposition’! Nicholls held on to win by 2s from Wilson, Palmer, an overheating Lumley and Davies, the fuel surge issue dropping him three spots on the final tour. Lee Gambell came sixth, a great result from twelfth on the grid, Heron was seventh, disappointed to spin on the penultimate lap after holding onto the leading group in fourth, Matt Wallis eighth after qualifying a lowly 15th, Knight in ninth after a spin avoiding Heron’s moment and series veteran Clive Morphett in tenth.
After much panel beating between races, thirty four cars lined up for race two, the non-starters being Tony Halls and Andy Frankling. Nicholls was on pole again, this time with Rowe alongside, Ben looking for a better race after finishing the first encounter down in 16th after a spin. Knight and Palmer were on row two with Lumley and Heron, Davies and Bithrey – who’d spun away his good work at Brundle in race one – and Mike Wells and Gambell behind. Nicholls got his start right this time and led away from the pack. Rowe got hung out to dry and completed the first lap in sixth, Palmer coming through in second, albeit already 2s behind Nicholls. Rob Wells had made up four places on the first lap to go from eleventh to seventh but threw it all away with a huge spin at Coram on lap two. He was then a bit over-eager to rejoin and took a glancing blow from Wilson, John continuing unabated whilst Rob was left facing the wrong way on the grass.
Steve Lumley’s overheating issues – a suspected head gasket failure – were becoming apparent by now with his pale blue Mk2 steaming well from the engine bay. He spun whilst in third place and was collected by the following Davies, both cars continuing, Davies’ with a mangled front wing and Lumley’s with rear end damage – the bumper broke free along the Bentley Straight. The race was brought to a premature end, however, on the fourth lap as Martin Fahy’s ex-Paul Hinson Mk2 was stranded on the circuit at Nelson with no drive. As the race had run to more than 75% the result was declared after three laps, Nicholls taking the win by a comfortable 3.5s from Palmer, who set a new class lap record despite his car developing a misfire, Lumley, Davies and Heron. Rowe had to settle for sixth from the impressively-repaired Mk2 of Mike Wells, Wallis in eighth after another aggressive drive from a low grid position, Bithrey in ninth and Wilson in tenth from 15th on the grid.
Clear championship leader Stuart Nicholls will miss the next round at Pembrey, giving the chasing pack an opportunity to potentially catch and pass him in the standings. After four closely contested races so far, it’ll be fascinating to see who is up for the challenge in Wales.