Donington Park, Derbyshire, Saturday September 8: Ryan Harper-Ellam endured the joy and pain of motorsport all in one day at Donington Park, with a heart-breaking retirement in race one dealing damage to his SR1 Cup title ambitions, only for a win in race two to numb the pain.
Harper-Ellam came into the weekend with the momentum, after two wins last time out at Cadwell Park trimmed his deficit to championship leader James Pinkerton to just 26 points.
However, an accidental clash between the two dealt a damaging blow to Harper-Ellam’s title hopes, with the ultra-consistent Pinkerton salvaging two second places to extend his advantage ahead of the final two races at Brands Hatch in November. Patrick Lay was the other star of the weekend, taking a stunning win from his first ever car race, before capping his one-off outing with a race two podium.
Harper-Ellam’s weekend started well, with him securing double pole positions to continue his 100 per cent qualifying record this season.
However, the race would hold worse fortunes. Harper-Ellam lost vital ground in the points with an unfortunate retirement, after the two title rivals accidentally came to blows. The chaos allowed the impressive Lay to bag his first ever car racing victory.
Rain began to lash the circuit just as the field went off for its green flag lap, with Harper- Ellam leading the pack around. However, when the lights went out, Pinkerton managed to slither into the lead ahead of Harper-Ellam and Lay, as the top three soon began to make a break.
Lay’s karting background meant he took to the tricky conditions brilliantly, nosing into the lead on lap three and then not looking back. Things were tougher for Pinkerton and Harper-Ellam, who were both running wet Hankooks but with dry setups. Pinkerton spun out at the start of lap four, and the unfortunate Harper-Ellam just couldn’t avoid him. The front of Pinkerton’s car gouged the radiator on the left-hand side of Harper-Ellam’s, putting him out on the spot.
Things got even trickier as the conditions worsened later in the race, with the outing eventually ending under the safety car as Lay ran out a comfortable winner, well ahead of Pinkerton.
Will Hunt secured another outright podium finish after holding on in a tight tussle with Rookie Class rival Chris Short. Short hounded Hunt for the entire race, until a spin on the final lap cost him dearly.
Mark Williams picked up fourth place ahead of newcomers Shane Stoney and Dean Warriner. David Tagg secured his maiden Fangio Trophy victory after outlasting his rivals to take 11th overall.
Race two was more serene, and played right into Harper-Ellam’s hands. With his car repaired, he got away well on the rolling start and never looked back for the duration of dry outing.
Pinkerton stayed with the leader, trading fastest laps until the end, but a slide at Redgate and a momentary gearbox glitch cost him valuable time and limited him to second.
Lay put in a fine drive to finish third, holding off the charging Stoney, who clung to his gearbox throughout.
After his late race one retirement, Short lifted the Rookie Class win in fifth place, which turned out to be crucial to his class title hopes as Hunt had a shocker. He started on wet tyres, but when the rain didn’t arrive he was limited to ninth.
Tagg again won the Fangio Trophy category, leading Paul Clark and Peter Devlin home.
Harper-Ellam may have proven himself the fastest driver this year, but regardless will trail Pinkerton by 55 points heading to the season finale. “I know I’ve got work to do, so I’ll be full attack at Brands,” he said.
“The win in race one is a bit hard to believe! I haven’t raced anything for two years after leaving the BirelART karting class, so to win this at the first attempt is a dream result. These cars are just so much fun, and I really liked the feeling in the wet – it was just like karting. To have the podium in race two was brilliant too. I had a great fight with Shane [Stoney], who pushed me all the way. I’d love to come back out, but currently it’s a one-off deal.”
“Second in race one was a good result, but this is not the way I wanted to extend a championship lead. I feel so sorry for Ryan, but I just lost the car in the slippery conditions and there was nothing I could do. I won’t lie, I wanted the win in race two and I pushed hard for it, but I got a big slide on at Redgate that cost me and then got a box of neutrals coming out of the final corner, but luckily it cleared itself. I’ll be looking to attack at Brands, as bad things usually happen when you back off.”
“It’s been a really hard weekend, with lots of ups and down. I was gutted after race one, and it’s also cost me dearly in the championship, but I believe James couldn’t do much about it and it’s just bad luck. We’ve shaken hands over it and we’ll move on. Race two went exactly to plan. The title fight is pretty much out of my hands. All I can do is try to win all of the remaining races. But on the plus side the car felt great and the Radical engineers worked wonders to get me out for race two and keep me in the hunt.”