Everyone enjoys going to Oulton; it remains one of the most pleasant circuits in the land, with swoopy corners, level changes, and remarkably clean paddock facilities (MSV). The barriers are a bit close to the track, though, and any indiscretion inevitably ends with a clang against some barrier or the other, and it’s a circuit best treated with respect, especially in the wet.
And, as luck would have it, the forecast was terrible.
Early morning practice, however, managed to stay dry but there was copious oil on the track which brought most of the runners back into the pits after just a handful of laps. At first the fingers were pointed at Wayne Marrs (in a Reeder 328) but he’d dropped just some coolant, so the oil bandit remained unknown....
An excellent entry of 24 Ferraris had turned up, but again we were denied a race with all the front runners there because this time it was Nicky Paul-Barron who was missing, whereas Gary Culver and Chris Butler were back in the fray. Not unexpectedly it was Culver who put his 328 on pole by nearly a second from Chris Goddard in his fierce and cammy 308. Ben Cartwright and Chris Butler (both 328s) were on the second row, their times barely separable, and just a smidgeon ahead of Dave Tomlin (328) and an excellent effort from the Club’s newly-crowned 2009 hillclimb champion Nick Taylor in his Mondial, not a tipo usually fancied around Oulton.
Next up on the very tight grid were more 328s, led by James Cartwright from Nigel Jenkins , with John Day surprising a few with 9th spot just ahead of Nick Cartwright, keeping an eye on his two boys ahead of him. The grid times were all close and we were going to be in for a good race.
There was then a long wait for the 2.30 start and, despite heavy grey clouds scudding by, it remained dry. But as luck would have it, as the cars went from the collection area onto the circuit, the cold wind erupted and with it came horizontal rain. It whipped through the Oulton trees, blowing leaves onto the track, but it was too late for anyone to change their tyres. Although treaded tyres are obligatory for this series some of the drivers have tyres that are a little less worn and more suitable for the wet....
The field was allowed two exploratory laps of the now teeming wet track and already there were a number of slithers and slides. Chris Goddard found his powerful 308 a real handful and had a spin, and fingers were kept crossed for a clean start as they formed up on the grid.
But it was not to be. Opinions differ, but it seems that front-row man Goddard could not get off the line, Butler behind him jinked to one side and he, Culver and Tomlin all touched although everyone continued. Indeed, at the end of the first lap it was Culver who was in the lead, from Ben Cartwright, Butler, Taylor, Jenkins and Tomlin. It looked very hairy and the driving rain continued.
Culver eked out a small lead over the next couple of laps from Ben Cartwright, but behind there was a tight group now led by Jenkins (already up from eighth on the grid), with Taylor, Tomlin and Butler right behind. James Cartwright was moving up as well and was at the tail end of this bunch with Chris Rea (308GT4) right behind, having a great race. Goddard was dropping way back, finding his sharp 308 engine a right handful on the slippery road.
After three or four laps the rain began to ease and those on the 16” Pirelli PZeroC tyres began to get some heat into them, but conversely the ones on 17” PZero Corsas began to struggle – and this included Culver and Butler. The latter had already dropped down to 8th behind Rea, and Culver was being caught for the lead by the chasing pack still headed by Jenkins with Taylor just behind who now had J.Cartwright on his tail. Tomlin was still right there, as was B.Cartwright, but Rea spun out of his excellent seventh place and retired. Day was hanging on strongly, despite having a coming together with James Cartwright when the latter passed him, and then came a great battle between Nick Cartwright, Richard Allen, Richard Squire and Goddard who was beginning to get the hang of his difficult car. William Moorwood was going excellently in his nimble 308GT4 ahead of another tight bunch led by Fred Honnor (308), John Swift (308), John Watts (308) and William Jenkins, whose 308 was not sounding well.
At the front Culver finally lost his lead to Nigel Jenkins on the penultimate lap, and in an instant Taylor and James Cartwright were through as well. Jenkins pulled slightly away but the other two were nose to tail on an epic last lap, with Taylor just hanging on as they flashed across the finish line less than a tenth of a second apart! Culver finished fourth, several seconds behind, and he just managed to hang on from the fast-closing Tomlin. Those five had been in a class of their own and it was 21 seconds later that Ben Cartwright crossed the line to finish 6th with the struggling Butler in seventh and Day in eighth, his best race yet.
Nigel Jenkins was ecstatic at his first ever race win, as was second place Taylor who had driven the unlikely Mondial with much bravery in the difficult conditions. Indeed, we spectators took our hats off to them all for having survived that horrible weather, and then having to put their cars back on the trailers in the cold and wet. As the spectating Nicky P-B said: “C’mon, let’s get home!”
Click here for a slideshow of pics by Simon Cooke, Jonathan Tremlett & CM Digicams.
Click here for the results.
Next meeting: Silverstone, October 18th.