Unusually, race day at Clay Pigeon is on Saturday but most drivers were able to make the Friday practise session. One notable exception was Megan Williams, who was in for a baptism of fire on race day, having never driven the circuit before. The best thing about Friday practise though is the abundance of track time. With an open pit lane all day, those engine hour meters were spinning faster than a kart being passed by Rob Cox (more on that later).
The final round of NKC 2017 was finally upon us, after a 2 month break to allow for Oli to not race at the TKM Festival. The cobwebs were quickly blown off but a strong headwind on the main straight on Friday made it tricky to judge drivers’ pace. It was clear though that those new to the circuit were getting up to speed quickly and by the afternoon were already posting competitive lap times.
As race day dawned, we were greeted to a very wet circuit. Though with fine weather predicted, this was only ever going to be a dry race day. The championship was delicately poised, with any one of 3 drivers likely to take the main prize. Chris Cox started the day with a tiny 2 point margin over Jake Horan and a slightly larger gap to Oli Nitch-Smith, largely thanks to good fortune outweighing the bad over the preceding 4 rounds. Was Oli going to suffer the ultimate punishment for failing to secure that chain guard at Llandow? Beyond the top 3 there was strong competition for 4th but everyone had something to fight for as the 10 seeded numbers for 2018 were within reach of all drivers present.
The drivers lined up for Heat 1 with Oli in 9th, Chris 8th and Jake 2nd, with Jim King on pole. Jake took an early lead but thanks to some early moves coupled with driver errors, Chris and Oli were able to get to 2nd and 3rd respectively by lap 4. This was pretty much worst case scenario for Jake as the 2 local drivers were afforded just enough time to ease up to the back of him and make their way past towards the end of the heat. The race for the win was on though as Oli made his move on Chris on the penultimate lap. However, defending heavily into the hairpin on the last lap, Oli ran wide and Chris was able to capitalise and take victory, with Oli 2nd and Jake 3rd.
Right on the back of them was a slightly surprisingly quick Rob Cox. Right on race winning pace, was he going to be the joker in the pack and have an impact on the title race? The most impressive drive though had to be that of Megan Williams. Having spun out of 1 of the morning practise sessions, she had 1 dry session to learn the track and yet was only 3 tenths off front running pace.
That result put Chris firmly in the driving seat, with a nice gap to Oli and seemingly with enough pace to hold off Jake’s challenge. So off we went to Heat 2, this time Oli starting 2nd, Chris 3rd and Jake down in 7th. The ever quick Andy Wagstaff was starting on pole and Rob Cox was 4th, keeping it all very interesting.
Andy held the lead through the first corner but Oli was able to get past on lap 4 and build a gap as Chris and Rob looked for a way through. Chris seized an opportunity into the hairpin on lap 10, 2nd place being plenty good enough at this stage. However, he hadn’t accounted for brother Rob following him past Andy. As Chris took a defensive line through the next corner, Rob gave him enough of a tap to spin him out of the race. And so the championship was wide open once again. A battle ensued between Rob, Andy and Jake for 2nd, with Andy coming out on top but Jake managing a very useful 3rd place.
So out came the calculators and confused faces as everyone attempted to work out the various permutations. As Chris was able to drop the heat from his overall score, the impact on the table wasn’t too great and he was still top by 3 points. However, he was going to need a very strong result in heat 3 to have any kind of starting position in the final.
Oli, Chris and Jake lined up 7,8,9 for heat 3, with Rob in 4th and Megan on pole. Oli and Chris were able to move through the pack a bit quicker than Jake, who ended up getting stuck behind Rob and Megan, unable to improve on 5th place. Oli and Chris though, were able to get to the front, with Oli taking the win.
So what did this all mean going in to the final? Thanks to the wonders of Microsoft Excel, we worked out that Oli pretty much had to win and hope other results went his way. Jake was champ if he won or finished 2nd behind Oli. Chris needed to beat Jake and do no worse than 3rd if Oli won.
The line-up on the grid was Oli, Jake, Rob, Chris. Rob fulfilling his promise of playing a major role in the championship battle. Oli held the lead at the start and with his pace it was going to take something extraordinary to stop him from winning. Did he tighten up his chain guard though?
Rob moved into 2nd early, leaving Chris to stalk Jake. At this early stage in the race, Jake appeared to be struggling for pace and Chris made his move on lap 3, knowing this result would make him champion. Jake wasn’t finished though and was able to hang on to Chris’s rear bumper, waiting for an opportunity, setting an impressive fastest lap of the race. An opportunity arose as they came round to lap a back marker, Jake momentarily getting his nose up the inside of the horseshoe. However, it didn’t stick and when Jake made a big mistake on the next lap the title was all but decided. Oli won the race comfortably, Rob finishing an untroubled 2nd but Chris was able to cruise home in 3rd and take the championship by just 2 points.
With the points being so close at the end we can look back at all the small moments that made the difference. 2 points is a single overtake or a minor mistake. In truth, any one of the top 3 could have taken this title and been well deserving of it. Jake was very consistent and had the biggest overall points haul before dropped scores. Oli will rue chainguardgate and his altercation with a certain Luke Gee in the Lydd final. Chris nearly lost a brother when Rob took him out here at Clay, but was ultimately unpunished for failing to start 2 heats at Lydd.
Outside the top 3, Rob would surely have been in the mix were it not for some earlier round exuberance and Megan too, had she not broken her wrist at the worst time possible, hampering her performance at Hooton and Llandow and causing her to miss Fulbeck completely. Andy Wagstaff seems to have a knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, often losing points through no fault of his own.
It was great that everyone had a top 10 position to fight for on this final fantastic day of NKC 2017. Much credit should be paid to the less experienced drivers who battled amongst each other, whilst developing their own skills and moving closer to the front runners. And so, the seeded numbers for NKC 2018 go to:
- Chris Cox
- Oli Nitch-Smith
- Jake Horan
- Rob Cox
- Andy Wagstaff
- Megan Williams
- Darren Smith
- Jim King
- Nick Manning
- Caroline Jennings
The NKC Southern Cup was all but decided prior to this event, with Jake holding a commanding lead following results at Llandow and Lydd. Sure enough, Jake’s performance at Clay was more than enough to see him claim victory, congratulations Jake Horan!
Well done everyone and thanks once again for joining us and supporting the championship. We’ve really had a great time doing this and we hope you all have too. Please join us for NKC 2018 and look out for the 2017 season review.