The term “strength to strength” is used far too often and on most occasions the term is implemented as a marketing slogan to pump something that really isn’t very strong at all. This is not the case regarding the opening round of the 2024 BRCA 1/10th Offroad Nationals from Robin Hood Raceway. The standard of driver who enters this level of championship has risen and risen over the last couple of seasons to the point where the event can just about manage to cater for the F1, F2 & F3 drivers whilst most F4 & F5 must sit on the reserve list and hope for cancellations.

The first heat of each round – normally reserved for the ultra-novices – has now become a legitimate qualifying heat with nearly all the drivers lapping at a very respectable pace only a couple of seconds off the drivers aiming for TQ at the head of the field. It is very hard to say for sure what has caused this increase in numbers and skill levels, but the team that organise and run the events must accept that a portion of this is purely due to their dedicated efforts. Of course, Robin Hood Raceway is an excellent venue with a European level pedigree which is a huge attraction also – only one further accolade remains and that would be to host a Worlds.

Robin Hood Raceway set a high bar for preparation and facities

News on rule changes and new developments were conveyed to the drivers at the briefing on Saturday morning. Chairman Martin Owen explained that the long-standing restriction on the addition of glue to front tyre sidewalls had now been removed and you “can dip the whole thing in glue for all I care” if you wanted. It instantaneously become standard practice to paint glue around the leading sidewall of the tyre to promote slip and reduce steering sensitivity.

The organisers trialed a multi-camera live video feed at the meeting. The project lead by Steven Pierce appears to work very well and it’s hoped that this will become a normal feature of the series. It depends on the availability of a reliable internet connection and the team and trying to see what’s possible. There were lots of familiar faces present as well as several new ones, but most notably was the absence of a face – namely Mick Cragg who had sadly passed shortly before the event. Neil’s dad was a fixed feature of the series for perhaps 25+ years and his absence has left a hole in the group.


Racing kicked off on Saturday morning in cool and dull conditions. The track was quite damp, and the wind was strong enough that it was affecting cars as they left the ground whilst traversing the various jumps and bumps the track had to offer. 2wd practice was fittingly taken by Neil Cragg, just ahead of Ben Smith and Luke Holdsworth. Cragg mentioned that he really liked the 2wd track and was looking forward to the day ahead. The track was drying nicely on-line, but it was unseasonably cold for qualifying. After round 1, it was Josh Holdsworth leading the field closely on 12/310.16 followed by Cragg with Tommy Hall, Martin and Smith making up the top five. On track there appeared to be very little between the racers, and we all expected close qualifying. Many of the drivers used the practice sessions and first qualifier to bed in front tyres with most using wither Stagger Ribs or Fusions. In round 2, Tommy Hall improved to take the round 2 on a time of 12/309.68 – again Cragg second with Josh Holdworth in a close third. There was nothing in it! The sun came out for round 3 and it became quite pleasant although there was a weather front approaching slowly. Josh Holdsworth took his second TQ in round 3 on a 12/307.48 with Lee Martin and Tommy Hall close behind. The conditions cooled once more for round 4 of 2wd qualifying and with all eyes on the clock it was Tommy Hall that took it, but not on a fast enough time to take Pole Position. Ben Smith second and Lee Martin third.

A few people from the crowd watching the top heats from the last round noted that both Josh Holdsworth and Neil Cragg had put in poor times, and it was very hard to say who would have the dominant pace for the first A final. Also, Ben Smith who had achieved 2nd place in round 4 could surprise with extra pace when it counted.

·         Top 2wd Qualifier – Josh Holdsworth

From the start of 2wd A Final Leg 1 you could see a quite obvious performance difference between Josh Holdsworth and Tommy Hall’s cars. Holdsworth had excellent forward drive and power and an over-sharpened front end, whilst Hall’s car tracked through the sweeping corners at much higher speed and was generally more easy and accurate. By halfway through the first lap as the drivers came under the drivers stand Hall was already making a move on Holdsworth. The move was a little premature, but a much more valid attempt was made at the start of lap two when Holdsworth left a barn sized door open at the end of the straight. Hall nearly got through but then found himself offline into the next corner having to settle back into second place. All this action helped Neil Cragg draw up onto Hall’s back bumper. Holdsworth then slowed up a fraction to quench the furious pace of the first lap and made this car awfully wide. Hall and Cragg were looking left and right at every opportunity but really there wasn’t any. Then a lap later the inevitable happened. Once again, Holdsworth couldn’t get turned safely into the first corner off the straight at speed, leaving a huge gap up the inside for Hall to easily occupy and secure the move. With three laps down the field was bunched – the order: T Hall, J Holdsworth, Cragg. Tommy Hall then seemed to settle into a pace at the front, banging out perfect almost robotic laps one after the other. In contrast, Holdsworth was clipping hoses and banging off apexes as he worked frantically to keep Cragg behind him. He came very close to giving up the position to Cragg before managing to get the hammer down again and reel in over half his deficit to Tommy Hall in about three quarters of a lap – an incredible pace.

Cragg had gone with Holsworth and was setting up an opportunity coming onto the straight when he clipped the apex, rolling the car and himself out of contention – Smith now up to third. The race then settled down for a couple of laps, the relative position of the cars staying the same. With three and half minutes done, Tommy Hall committed an unforced error out front and rolled his car onto its roof. He was as far from a marshal as you could possibly be on the track and by the time he was back on his wheels Holdsworth and Smith were through. With only two laps to go, Holdsworth had about a 1 second lead from Smith with a very motivated Tommy Hall right on this back bumper, Neil Cragg behind him. The finishing tone rang out and the racers had 2/3rd of a lap to go. Coming into the tabletop under the drivers stand, Hall clipped Smith in mid air causing both of them to crash allowing Neil Cragg through. Hall waited for Smith to be marshalled before continuing, but it was little consolation. Top three – J Holdsworth, Cragg, Smith.

·         Lee Martin seemed very much bac on form

There was a lot of weather chatter before 2wd A Final Leg 2. It looked like it would be dry, but there was a possibility of a wet Leg 3. At the start of Leg 2, straight away Holdsworth’s car appeared to be less frantic and handling nicely – maybe a setup change or use of more worn front tyres or maybe the track conditions changed to suit his car. For a little over three minutes Holdworth lead the race in style. The car looked good, he was driving it confidently and neither Tommy Hall, Neil Cragg or Ben Smith had any response to his pace. Then coming onto the straight for his eighth time Holdsworth glanced off a hose and that seemed to unsettle him. Several other mistakes and touches over the proceeding lap put Hall on his back bumper. Then in a move that you do not see too often, Tommy Hall jumped over Holdsworth through the jumps under the drivers stand. An excellent move, executed without mercy. A moment later, Hall in the lead came onto the straight and seemed to lack forward drive or at least was late on the power meaning a hard charging Holdsworth collected him resulting in a wipeout for both of them. And once again it was Neil Cragg correctly placed to collect the positions, Lee Marting following into second. The two multiple national champions then ran at a fast pace to consolidate the positions and take the battle to Leg 3. Leg 2 result – Cragg, Martin, Smith.

·         Ben Smith was part of the leading pack in all three A Finals

By the time Leg 3 of the 2wd A Final was ready to start the temperature had cooled off, the skies had darkened, and the wind had increased – sure signs of rain to come. Nobody gambled on a wet setup, and I expect that all of the racers were hoping to get the race done before the first drops fall. From the start tone, Hall and Cragg had Holdsworth under pressure. Holdsworth handled the pressure well, but at the end of the first lap he made an unforced error coming onto the straight letting Tommy Hall through and only barely containing Neil Cragg. A few corners later, Holdsworth left the door wide open and Cragg nipped through into second. Then as the driver started lap 3 – the inevitable – rain started to spit, and the skies became very dark. After about 6 laps of light spits of rain, eventually the track started to give away some of its grip. The first sign was a squirm from Craggs car as he powered down in front of race control. It progressively got worse and gain Cragg was first to show signs of a problem when he oversteered and caught a hole rolling the car over. Hall now with a substantial lead with Holdsworth and Martin following, Cragg recovering to third. Martin found a way past Holdworth when the latter fishtailed the whole way down the straight as the car refused to bite down under power.  And finally, with a minute to go, the rain fell hard, and all grip completely disappeared. All cars struggled just to drive around at a slow pace. Tommy Hall took the win with a controlled and considerate final minute with Lee Martin second and Neil Cragg third after a disaster for Holdworth over the final lap.

As Tony Evdoka announced that Neil Cragg had taken the win in 2wd there was a loud round of applause from the trackside and pits. And then again when Neil was called forward to accept his prize. Cragg dedicated the win to his recently passed father Mick and told me that he had set out to win 2wd for him.

·         2wd Podium – 1st Neil Cragg, 2nd Lee Martin, 3rd Tommy Hall
Neil Cragg’s car looked impeccable all day

There were other winners over the weekend. The new “Rudebits Star of the day” award was won by Tony Haines and Ruben Russell.

Tony was exceptional with marshaling, driving and showed genuine enjoyment and enthusiasm for being there.  Ruben, well, for putting nails in dad’s RC coffin and out qualifying him by 2 finals simply made our minds up.

Saturday evening closed off with wet and windy conditions and the site cleared pretty quickly as people made their way into camper vans and off site to hotels. Sunday however was very different for the start of 4wd- blue skies, light wind and sunshine!  The Robin Hood Raceway crew laid a completely new track for the 4wd meeting – one which may not have been used before. It was slow and technical throughout – even getting the car on and off the straight was more difficult than normal.

In 4wd practice, it was once again Neil Cragg who was fastest. Neil mentioned that he really wanted to win 2wd and dedicate the win to the memory of his dad. This was now done, and he wasn’t too fussed about how 4wd would go – pretty fast pace for a guy who doesn’t care! Ben Smith was second fastest with Jamie Hall going third. Smith looked absolutely rapid on track so second in practice was not surprising.

The day continued with 4wd qualifying and there were four or five drivers with the pace to win rounds for sure and maybe another four or five who could do it with a bit of luck. Lee Martin in heat 11 was the first to take a TQ in round 1, followed by Neil Cragg two seconds behind. 2wd TQ man Josh Holdsworth went third and Jamie Hall was fourth with Ben Smith rounding out the top five. Four seconds separating the top five in total. Round 2 gave us a new challenger, Tommy Hall taking TQ but on a slower time than Martin’s Round 1 TQ. Lee Martin fought back in Round 3 setting a new fastest time – again 2 seconds behind were the chasing pack led by Tommy Hall with Lewis Hopkins going very well in third. In round 4, Tommy Hall put his head down and put in the fastest qualifying run of the day to take TQ and Pole Positions for the A Finals on a 13/301.32. Lee Martin gave it everything to go second on a 13/301.62 – missing out by 0.3 seconds. Ben Smith continued his consistent and pacey weekend going third. Jamie Hall took his pace up a notch in Round 4 going fourth and definitely one to watch in the A Final and 1/8th Nitro front runner Johnny Skidmore secured his first 1/10th A Final going fifth.

Overall 4wd Qualifying Positions:

4wd A Final Leg 1 started in overcast conditions which seem to be when the track is fastest. The top four qualifiers instantly made a break and had the hammer down. Very little happened over the first four or five laps when Tommy Hall and Lee Martin started to pull away from the lead group. Hall looking very comfortable in the lead with Martin looking dangerous in a close second. Then a further two laps on, Martin drew right up to the back of Hall and the intensity rose – the two cars only separated by a couple of one hundredths of a second. Ben Smith led the chasing pack with Skidmore and Cragg close behind. With a minute to go the game of cat and mouse continued. With very little opportunity to overtake it was going to take a mistake from Hall for the order to change. Tony Evdoka on the microphone called the last lap and the intensity of the race increased further. Martin looked left, looked right – but no door was left open. Coming down to the chicane before the start/finish straight Martin took the apex too tight with a wheel on the hose and tapped Hall’s rear wheel resulting in oversteer and an excursion off line. Momentarily, Martin was through to take the win, but he paused allowing Hall back though into the lead and through for the Leg win. It is quite something to see these drivers being ultra-competitive all weekend and yet yield when an accident such as this happens – well done!.

·         Tommy Hall didn’t flinch under massive pressure from Lee Martin.

Leg 2 of the 4wd A Final was a chance for Tommy Hall to seal it or for someone else to take the Leg and push the decider out to Leg 3. The race started with Hall initially making a break and he was running about a second ahead of Lee Martin and Neil Cragg, however during lap four, Martin dissolved Hall’s advantage and was right on his back bumper. The one second gap now shifted to the margin between Martin in second and Cragg in third.  We were now in a carbon copy scenario of Leg 1, Hall in a controlled lead and Martin doing his best to upset him – very fast, very intense. With 30 seconds left on the clock, the pressure on Hall was reduced to nil as Lee Martin clipped the hose before the bomb hole and rolled his car over allowing Neil Cragg through. Tommy Hall then went unchallenged to the finish line and secure the 4wd overall win.

Tommy Hall decided to run in 4wd A Final Leg 3 – an unusual decision – but we get that the lure of total domination is a strong one. The race started and straight away we could see that Hall has injected a bit of showboating style to his run this time – the car running a bit more frantically than what we had seen so far and plenty of angles whilst it was in the air. On lap two, Hall’s luck ran out when he collected a cone on the bomb hole which was placed to prevent corner cutting. This allowed Lee Martin take up the lead with Cragg in second and Smith in third. The remainder of the race was like a blast from the past. Lee and Neil chasing each other around for the win. This time it was Lee Martin taking the Leg win and second overall.

Overall 4wd results;

A great start for Tommy Hall who has his eye on the 4wd Championship for sure. Lee Martin put in the type of performance we’ve seen from him regularly a few years ago but not so much recently – looks like he’s back. Neil Cragg put in a fast performance over what must have been an emotional weekend. Ben Smith is getting closer and closer to being the man to catch – great start to the season. Well done to Johnny Skidmore for putting in a solid performance in his first championship event. And finally, we must mention Ed Callan who consistently makes A finals and is continually getting faster.

4wd Podium – 1st Tommy Hall, 2nd Lee Martin, 3rd Neil Cragg.

Congratulations to Neil Cragg and Tommy Hall on their wins at the first round of this year’s series. It will be an exciting one this year.

The next round of the series goes to Herts RC near Ware on May 18/19. It’s a very different track to Robin Hood and it will be exciting to see who’s setting the pace.

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