Radical’s Challenge Championship finally got underway this weekend, Oulton Park forming the first round of a Coronavirus-condensed calendar between now and October. A busy field of Challenge stalwarts and young guns meant close racing – with three different winners across Saturday’s race day, we could be in for a season-long title fight.
A really close first qualifying session of the season, with the top ten covered by just 2.7s – saw 2019 vice-champion Jerome de Sadeleer take pole for Race 1 and 2. Jerome pipped fellow SR1 Cup graduate Mark Richards by just over half a second to complete the front row, just ahead of former LMP3 racer Jason Rishover, and last year’s SR1 Cup champion Shane Stoney. 2019 race-winner Marcus Clutton and 750MC Bikesports regular Chris Preen completed the top six.
From the light, de Sadeleer was able to hold a stable lead over Clutton, up to second over the opening stages of the race. However, the deployment of the Safety Car for Brian Caudwell’s retirement intervened in the run-up to the pit stop window, and was bad timing for Jerome and Marcus, with the rest of the field benefitting by a lap advantage on the pitstops.
After the Safety Car lights had gone out and the pit stop dust had settled, Jac Constable led the race followed by Stoney, Rishover, Preen, De Sadeleer and Clutton. Stoney hit the front when Constable pitted and proceeded to maintain a gap to De Sadeleer and Clutton, but under pressure from Jerome, Stoney ran wide late in the race, enabling De Sadeleer to regain the lead and ultimately the win, with Clutton in close attendance and Stoney a few seconds behind. Preen, Rishover and John Caudwell completed the top six, with Icelandic racer Audunn Gudmundsson (sharing with Works Team instructor Tom Ashton) taking the Team Challenge spoils.
A slow start by both polesitter De Sadeleer, and Stoney on the second row, resulted in the pair languishing down the order at the end of lap 1 of the day’s 20-minute sprint. This enabled Clutton and Richards to produce a racing masterclass, the two of them never separated by more than 0.6 seconds for the entire race whilst building a healthy gap from the rest of the field. Rishover enjoyed a quiet race in third, 4.6s ahead of Constable, Brian Caudwell and de Sadeleer.
All eyes were on the mid-pack battle for seventh between Preen, and father and son Rod and Elliot Goodman, crossing the line just tenths apart. Stoney had patiently made progress back up the order from a distant tenth, gaining the fastest lap in the process, only to be thwarted by a mechanical failure late on.
Three races, three different winners.
With Race 2’s results forming the grid for Race 3, Clutton and Richards would form the front row. This time it was Constable who took the spoils, with Clutton and De Sadeleer only a few seconds behind. After an early Safety Car period, once again it was Clutton and Richards who took up the running, with De Sadeleer, Constable, Elliot Goodman, Ashton and Stoney close behind. The pit stops - and first application of Success Seconds this season - meant that as the race progressed, Constable was desperately fending off Richards.
Their battle enabled Clutton and De Sadeleer to close up so that when the chequered flag finally dropped, the lead three crossed the line separated by tenths. Richards and Stoney held station to the flag in fourth and fifth respectively, with Gudmundsson/Ashton competing a hat-trick of Team Challenge wins in sixth overall.