The first event in the Motorsport UK British Kart Championships for Mansell Raceway near Honiton in Devon gave the Rotax classes a spectacular show on a beautifully sunny June weekend, as each of the four categories competing over the weekend saw some epic contests that will set up a truly thrilling second half to the season.
Under the watchful gaze of Motorsport UK’s CEO Hugh Chambers, chairman David Richards and the 1992 FIA Formula One world champion Nigel Mansell and his son Leo, the Minimax, Junior and Senior Rotax, and Rotax 177 categories provided the Devon crowds with countless overtaking moves, thrilling battles and intriguing twists on a circuit that combines a modern fresh vibe with a challenging tight spectacle. Drivers aplenty were eager to compliment the technical and fast nature of the circuit with its corners designed to replicate some of the challenging corners in Formula One.
The weekend began brilliantly for Callum Voisin as he struck gold on Saturday in terrific fashion, clinching the fastest lap in timed qualifying and then masterfully controlling the pace in each of the two heats to grab victory. Jez Williams and Sam Gornall followed him home in the first one as they pulled clear of championship leader Archie Kitching, with Tristan Rennie and local hero Olly Stevens completing the top six. Voisin then completely blitzed the opposition after a red flag incident interrupted the second heat, three seconds clear of Gornall and Alex Hughes following a front fairing penalty for the unfortunate Jez Williams which demoted him to 7th behind Kitching, Stevens and Harley Haughton.
In the first of the two finals, the battle would become a five-way scrap with an incredibly tough squabble around the Mansell Raceway circuit. Despite the ongoing threat from those around him, Archie Kitching would grab a convincing victory just seven hundredths of a second ahead of Jez Williams. Callum Voisin would remain on the podium in third just a whisker ahead of Haughton and Stevens with the top five covered by just 0.67 seconds, with Sam Gornall completing the top six.
For the second final, there was action aplenty with many strong overtakes and terrific encounters. Sadly it would be Callum Voisin’s undoing after clashing with his team-mate Harley Haughton and ending up having to retire with a faulty exhaust. Two men made a massive impression in the early stages as the Project One Racing team-mates Tristan Rennie and Ryan Willis stormed through to the top five, but sadly the latter of the two would end up slipping back. Nobody could halt the march of Olly Stevens however, who saved his best for last and swept all before him to take a sensational win as the top rookie of the weekend with Kitching and Rennie joining him on the rostrum, as Haughton and Gornall were chased home by the impressive Juan Mwaniki who put on a terrific drive in the last race of the day.
With 24 drivers covered by half a second in timed qualifying, nobody was in any doubt that the weekend would be very closely fought. Tom Adams began his weekend from pole position by just 0.01, but he would have to settle for second position in the first heat behind the sensational William Elswood who came of age in the British Championships over the weekend with a win in both his heats. Ryan Taylor-Trueman would finish a strong third in the first heat, with Matthew Higgins and Archie Brown running well and Daniel Guinchard finishing a competitive sixth.
With Elswood clinching a second race win in the next heat, Kai Hunter and Tom Adams would chase him home with Harry Newman-Oakley in a solid fourth place as Brodie Trayhorn and Will Egby fought their way into contention as they climbed to the top six. Hunter wasn’t done yet however as he stormed to victory in the third and final heat of the weekend to put himself back at the front of the field. Will Jenkins was finally able to deliver on his potential with a brilliant second place ahead of Daniel Guinchard who was then unfortunate to receive a front fairing penalty, dropping him outside the top ten but making his intentions for the weekend crystal clear. Chris Simpson inherited third position having also found the chance to shine, whilst Matthew Higgins and Ben Caisley were able to run strong and finish just ahead of Newman-Oakley.
Hunter vs Elswood continued into the first final as the championship leader fought valiantly to keep Elswood at bay. Eventually they were separated by a mere half a second at the flag and were over two seconds clear of Tom Adams in third. Matthew Higgins and Brodie Trayhorn were the beneficiaries of a fantastic battle in the mid-pack whilst Harrison Collings rounded out the top six. For the second final, it would be deja vu as Hunter and Elswood disappeared up the road leaving the rest to fight for scraps with Kai Hunter leading Elswood home to complete a phenomenal clean sweep of finals at the halfway stage of 2019. Third behind them was the comeback kid Daniel Guinchard who had charged through from 10th on the grid to pick off his opponents one-by-one in authoritative fashion. Collings and Adams did their best to stay with him to the flag whilst Matthew Higgins would be frustrated by a loose front fairing to hand sixth place to Ryan Taylor-Trueman. Behind him was the impressive Taylan Babbs who had emerged from his victory in the repechage to come from 29th on the original first final grid to make up 22 places by the final lap of the weekend, to demonstrate his true fighting spirit.
Tom Edmunds would begin the weekend in brilliant style with a win in the opening heat following his pole position run from qualifying. He would lead home DHR team-mates Rhys Hunter and Bradley Barrett, as Kieran Gifford managed to salvage fourth position in front of Lewis Halliday and the exceptionally fast Jemima Hepworth who was looking particularly fired up. From that point onwards, Guy Cunnington took command of the weekend as he began by beating Edmunds to the flag ahead of Lewis Gilbert, who like Junior driver Dan Guinchard was making a first appearance in Rotax for the Persistence Motorsport squad. James Lowther and Oakley Pryer finished in the top six, just ahead of Bradley Barrett.
Once Cunnington had taken the lead in the third and final heat, the race would be up for the remaining positions as he sailed ahead of the pack. Despite Hunter’s constant onslaught, he just couldn’t overhaul Cunnington whilst Kieran Gifford and Teddy Clinton chased them down. Pryer would hang on to fifth ahead of Morgan Rose and his team-mate James Lowther as Hepworth again bagged another strong finish. Anqi Stenning saved his weekend with a fortuitous win in the repechage after Harvey Edmundson and George Holbrook collided whilst battling for the victory. Edmundson would be out on the spot and out of the weekend too, whilst Holbrook was fortunate to recover to fifth and just qualify for the finals.
In the first, Cunnington had to break a sweat to keep his lead after constant and intense pressure from Rhys Hunter and James Lowther, but had the race run a few laps longer Jemima Hepworth might have snatched a spot on the podium or maybe even the victory. A post race non-compliance destroyed her chances with an exclusion which would then see her in the wars in the second race, retiring soon after. But for many she had put on a sensational show and had proved her point in a tough field of drivers. Pryer, Barrett and Gifford would steal the spoils and prepare for a second final starting from the second row of the grid.
It would be a perfect opportunity for Oakley Pryer to cut the deficit to his main opponent for the championship Kieran Gifford, and he took it gladly. But try as he might he couldn’t quite defeat Guy Cunnington who clinched a clean sweep of wins from the weekend. Pryer’s second closed him to within eight points of title leader Gifford who managed to grab a sixth placed finish. This was only after Lewis Malin lost his fourth place finish behind Rhys Hunter after a front fairing penalty, allowing Barrett, Lowther and Gifford to complete the top six places.
In qualifying the top six drivers were covered by less than a tenth of a second, so the weekend was already set to be sensational. Chris Thomas converted his pole position into a victory in the opening heat after a terrific duel with Nathan Chafer and Alexander Luck. Jamie Dzyra and championship leader Michael Cheek remained strong at the sharp end, and completing the top six would be Chris Wright. Luck would take up the reigns in the second heat as he would demonstrate his determination to grab a brilliant win in front of Thomas and Chafer. Cheek would get ahead of his team-mate Dzyra for the second heat whilst James Beacroft struggled to sixth place, knowing that he would ultimately be losing points to his chief rival Cheek.
In the first final, Nathan Chafer and Michael Cheek would end up in an incredible fight for second behind Chris Thomas and would end up tagging each other into the first corner. After a spectacular looking slide off the track, Chafer would incredibly rejoin with little damage leaving only his tyre marks behind as a souvenir for the fans. He would fight back to second behind Thomas who would clinch a commanding win, with Cole Edwards missing out on a chance to take victory in the final lap having grabbed the lead momentarily. Cheek would recover to seventh place behind Dzyra, Luck and Wright.
But the second final would see the tables turn completely after several nail biting fights. Edwards’ race ended before it began after mechanical failure robbed him of a chance to fight for the win, whilst Chris Thomas would be the next man to cross swords with Nathan Chafer. The pair tangled allowing Luck through to the lead in front of Dzyra, but then the latter made a bold move into the third hairpin pitching both men off the road. When the dust had settled, it was Chris Wright who avoided all the melee and secured a terrific victory whilst Chafer would lose his second place after his contact with Thomas warranted a front fairing penalty. Ironically it would be Thomas who would inherit the position ahead of Michael Cheek, whilst Beacroft would benefit from an exclusion for reigning champion Louis Large to salvage a fourth position finish in front of James Moorcroft and Matteo Zanetti.
Fans are eagerly awaiting a return to Mansell Raceway in 2020, but as we enter the second half of the season the battles for the championship crowns are set to truly intensify. The next weekend for the British Kart Championships will see the IAME classes arrive at Rowrah on the second weekend of July, whilst Rotax heads to Glan-y-Gors in three weeks time and the TKM, Honda and KZ2 categories will race at Shenington just a week later.