The Radical Challenge Championship lead twice changed hands over the course of three races around the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit on Saturday. The leading duo, Jack Lang and Oliver Barker took a sprint race win apiece before Barker came out on top of the decimated feature race, ensuring the title fight will go down to the final rounds at Snetterton next month.
Heading into the penultimate rounds four points adrift of Barker, Lang started his mission to regain the top spot by taking his first pole position of the year with just three minutes of qualifying remaining. Jack Manchester clocked in second fastest ahead of Barker and Dominik Jackson while Kristian Jeffrey and Marcello Marateotto completed the top six. Peter Tyler and Paul Gladdis took their second consecutive Team Challenge pole position.
Lang turned his first Radical Challenge pole position into win number four, keeping his cool throughout two safety cars and a single-lap dash to the line to move back to the top of the title table.
Although clean away at the lights, chaos ensued as the field went four-wide into Paddock Hill Bend forcing several cars, including Barker, Burgess, Kristian Jeffrey and Marcello Marateotto, to take avoiding action. This triggered the first full course caution.
As racing proper got underway with 13 minutes remaining, Lang kept Manchester at bay while John Macleod, up from 13th on the grid, held off Jackson. Despite only two racing laps completed before the second safety car, the recovering Barker climbed from 23rd to 16th.
With barely more than a minute remaining as racing resumed, Lang and Manchester held station to the line. But there was time for one last change to the podium finishers as Jackson overhauled Macleod for third. Fifth for Brian Murphy sealed his best season performance ahead of Richard Baxter. John Caudwell and Stuart Moseley took Team Challenge victory, ninth overall.
The Radical Challenge championship pendulum swung in the opposite direction for the second sprint race, as Barker delivered a storming drive to victory from the second row while Lang finished fifth.
A flying start saw the Nielsen Racing driver overhaul pole-sitter Manchester and Lang off the line to lead into Paddock Hill Bend. As the opening lap tussles played out, Barker remained ahead of Manchester and Jackson with Lang lying fifth, until an unsuccessful challenge on Marateotto dropped him to seventh.
A three-way fight for the lead soon unfolded with Barker, Manchester and Jackson running line astern, swapping purple sectors and fastest laps. A run wide from Manchester on lap five, however, saw Jackson move up to second before a brief safety car period to remove the leading Team Challenge Caudwell/Moseley car from Druids on lap seven.
Back to green on lap nine, it was a clear run to the chequered flag. Murphy went one better than his race one form to finish fourth ahead of Lang, Macleod rounding out the top six. Team Challenge honours went to class newcomers Peter and Matt Brookes, 11th overall.
The Radical Challenge field was denied the opportunity of a full-on final feature race as all but four of the 13 laps were completed under the safety car. The rain began to fall as the field began their second formation lap and although clean away at the rolling start, five cars including pole-sitter and then race leader Lang slid off at Clearways, Manchester following him into the gravel. This dictated a full course yellow from the start of lap two.
While Jackson led from Barker and Spencer Bourne, Burgess ran seventh after starting from the back of the 27-car grid, as the remaining field circulated under the safety car.
The field returned to green with six minutes remaining, but that’s all Barker needed to scythe his way through from fourth to first within a single lap of the 2.433-mile circuit. The Nielsen Racing charge pulled out an astonishing 9.7 second lead in the following three laps to take his sixth win of the season.
With second and third on track, Barry Liversidge and Dominik Jackson, both handed respective 30 second penalties following the race, Mark Crader was classified second. Caudwell and Moseley sealed an outstanding weekend with Team Challenge victory and third overall, while Burgess picked up Solo Challenge points for third.
Oliver Barker: “I didn’t expect that, at all! With the success penalty from Snetterton the best we thought we’d get was seventh, eighth position. Conditions played to us but I want to thank the team for turning the car around so quickly at the pit stop, I think it was the team that won that race for us. It was a case of getting back out there and getting used to the conditions. I think I managed to get past four cars on one lap, which was quite cool! We got the win and we’re leading the championship now, so I’m really looking forward to Snetterton.”
Mark Crader: “That was a lucky result from 11th on the grid, but we’ll take them where we can, of course. I’m looking forward to Snetterton as we had some problems with the car last time, so it will be good to end the season well there.”
Steve Burgess: “It’s not been the best of days, so to get a podium in the last race from the back of the grid is quite a surprise! I was helped out with the other guys’ success penalties and the rain, but it wasn’t my day. I think third in the championship is the realistic aim going into Snetterton now.”
For full Brands Hatch race results visit www.tsl-timing.com