BRCA (UK) 1/10th Offroad Nationals 2024 – Round 4 – Bury Metro – Report

The 2024 BRCA 1/10th Offroad National Championship is a very competitive series. You could argue that it always has been, and you would be correct, but for the last decade or so all of that competitiveness has been centred around the top two drivers at the time – namely Messrs Cragg & Martin. These days the high-level competition has extended to a group of 6 or 7 regular drivers and 5 or 6 “wild-card” drivers who go particularly well at certain tracks. The group is growing as we witnessed at Bury Metro with super performances from Thomas Phipps and Jonny Skidmore.

The fourth round of the 2024 Series was hosted by Bury Metro Radio Car Club on the weekend of June 29/30. The club which is headed up by Eddie Holt is a neat & tidy place with unusual old-style hockey type artificial grass which is very mossy in texture and has excellent drying properties. The grip level was medium to high over the weekend as there was mostly overcast skies with rain showers throughout the two days.

The 2wd Championship is working its way toward the pinch point. Going into Round 4 it starting to appear link a three horse race between Tommy Hall, Ben Smith and Neil Cragg with Lee Martin trailing but still a threat if things go well. Neil Cragg was first to show his pace going fastest in 2wd practice. Aaron Nash posting top of the table, but it was deemed an irregularity. There was constant drizzle throughout practice and drivers were shifting from dry to wet cars to try and find the right balance. Jamie and Tommy Hall were 2nd and 3rd respectively with Ben Smith going 4th. Stuart Mahon was the fastest local going 6th just behind Ben Smith.

Attentions turned to the weather as practice concluded. The radar showed prolonged periods of light rain throughout the day being blown in my a south-westerly breeze. The track was performing very well and drying evenly with only one or two areas holding water. The rain paused for an hour several times during the day which meant some heats were going to be more rain affected than others.

2wd Qualifying kicked off and again it was Neil Cragg who was fastest in Round 1 in the wet, but that was Cragg’s only TQ as Ben Smith took up the mantle in Round 2 and dominated the remainder of qualifying taking Pole Position – a continuation of his staggering pace at Round 3 in Stotfold. Cragg did enough to take second on the grid with Tommy Hall putting in very consistent scores to take third. Smith’s USP was that he wasn’t making any mistakes or having any out of shape moments – super smooth.

2wd A Final Leg 1 was run in wet and cool conditions. All spectators were interested to see just how fast this A Final would be considering the level of moisture on track and most were not surprised to see a very slow procession of cars circulating – all struggling for grip and traction. Ben Smith led the field away with all cars tightly packed into a slow-moving train. In the later half of lap 1 it was evident that Hall’s car was lively whilst the others were dull and he had Cragg under pressure who in turn was looking for a way past the leader, Smith. The first major incident happened when Hall’s car broke sideways coming off the straight and Luke Holdsworth was able to go around his outside into third. Hall in an attempt to quickly reclaim the position fired his car at the next bend and hit the back of Holdsworth’s car hard resulting in Hall rolling, setting himself back whilst Luke got away with it. The incident seemed to continue for the proceeding lap when Holdsworth relinquished the place to Hall after a half spin in front of the rostrum. Then there was a further incident at the end of the straight when Holdsworth failed to brake and collected Hall – Luke dropping two places. Back at the front of the race, Ben Smith was still leading with Neil Cragg all over his back bumper looking for a way through. Lee Martin in third a second or two behind. Smith had led for three minutes before a bad bounce coming down the stairs let Cragg through- the commotion allowing Lee Martin to draw right up to Smith making it a three-horse race. With a minute to go, the rain had stopped, and the track was drying rapidly. It was clear that the cars were running at a faster pace then before. The train of Cragg, Smith and Hall were now running extremely closely. With only 30 seconds to go, Cragg got out of shape on the double tabletop in front of the driver’s stand and had a half spin on landing letting Smith and Hall through. And then, only a couple of corners later Smith in the lead ran wide before the staircase and Hall was up the inside and through into the lead. The track now nearly dry, Hall opened the taps and led all the way to the finish, Smith second, Cragg third.

The track continued to dry for the start of 2wd A Final Leg 2. Ben Smith led the field away and after a couple of laps down, he and Neil Cragg had broken away from Tommy Hall in third. Craggs car seemed to have just a little more rotation under power than Smiths and he was vulnerable on the mid speed corners. After a couple of minutes racing the rain started to come down again and the cars started to slide about. The changing conditions appeared to suit Smith more than Cragg as he was able to eek out a slight advantage. Smith maintained his advantage for a few laps before a combo of a fast lap from Cragg and a slow lap from Smith put the two together again. Going onto the last lap Cragg made an all-or-nothing lunge at a gap left open by Smith, but he pushed too hard and his car broke traction. He initially recovered but slide across the track and made contact with a hose and rolled the car. This allowed Smith off the hook and he ran to the line. Smith first, Cragg second, Luke Holdsworth third.

Conditions remained dry for the start of 2wd A Final Leg 3. As before, Ben Smith led the field away closely followed by Neil Cragg and Tommy Hall. Towards the end of the first lap there was about a two-inch gap between Smith’s back bumper and Cragg front one. In the earlier finals, Smith had run wide at the top left corner before dropping down the staircase, however this time the car was tracking beautifully and he kept the door firmly closed. This gave Cragg no breathing room at the top corner and he had to check-up, which gave Tommy Hall the opportunity to get around the outside of him. Cragg slammed the door closed at the last moment and the order remained unchanged for now. A fully recovered Cragg was now aggressively pursuing Smith and looking for a way through. With a minute and a half down, Smith led a four-car train of Cragg, Hall and Luke Holdsworth. A battle was developing between Cragg and Hall for second. Coming over the line, Hall got up the inside of Cragg, but he held on, and Hall had to yield to avoid an accident. The trio continued at pace for another minute before Cragg had a go at Smith. Coming onto the straight, Cragg got great drive and looked to have a chance of out-dragging Smith into the first corner, but Smith defended well and Cragg entered the corner off line, carrying too much speed. The result was a broad slide up the banked corner allowing Hall through into second. Hall wasted no time attacking Smith. He was able to jump on a better line though the moguls and drew along side of Smith.

The two ran in parallel through the following corners until Smith found himself well offline on the outside of Hall who was now through. Tommy Hall’s lead was short lived. Coming over the double tabletops, Smith now had the better line, and he positioned his car right at the following apex to displace Hall to second once again. The battle was tight and intense. Hall had another go at Smith, making contact and momentarily slowing both parties. Cragg took the opportunity to nip into second as Hall got going again and the battle resumed – the order with a minute to go; Smith, Cragg, Hall with Luke Holdsworth a couple of seconds behind. Smith led the three-piece down the straight. Neil Cragg had more speed and he drew right up onto Smiths back bumper. The two entered the first corner together, Smith slightly wider than Cragg. This let Cragg almost through, but at the pinch point on the lead up to the loop, Smith had nowhere to go and there was contact. A half spin for Cragg and a slowed exit for Smith. This was a very messy battle at this stage. Hall went to snatch the lead before overshooting the corner. Then Cragg had his go, before oversteering and having to back out which resulted in a tank-slap and half spin. In the meantime, Hall had got back on line and had taken the lead – THE DRAMA! And we’re only halfway!

There was no relief to the battle for the win in the second half of the race. Tommy Hall now leading was very closely followed by Ben Smith and Neil Cragg. The threesome passed over the start line and weaved their way through the first couple of corners. At the first hairpin, Smith took it too tightly and put two wheels up on the hose – Cragg through to second. Rain then started to fall quiet heavily – the cars slipping and sliding around under power. Hall passed over the loop just as the finish tone rang out and he was treated to a lap of honour. The leg result: Hall, Cragg, Smith.

2wd Podium: 1st Tommy Hall, 2nd Ben Smith, 3rd Neil Cragg

The win for Tommy Hall positions him leading the championship points table in a close battle with Ben Smith and Neil Cragg. There is only 3 points separating the three drivers. Cragg needs at least one TQ and win at either of the two remaining rounds to keep himself in with a chance if it goes to a tie. Smith has come a very long way in the last year and is at the coal face. He needs a strong finish ahead of Tommy Hall at TORCH to take the title battle to the last round, on neutral territory, at Boughton. It’s too close to call.

The drivers gathered for the 4wd section of the meeting on the Sunday morning. The weather was dry, but some light showers were forecast over the day. The hosts at Bury Metro Radio Car Club had put down a new

track layout which was fast. The Bury Metro’s track surface has performed very well in the changeable conditions – it doesn’t become greasy, it just reduces its grip available gradually – not a single complaint all weekend.

 

After the driver’s briefing the meeting kicked off with 4wd Practice. Watching the drivers circulate, one in particular appeared to hit the ground running and that was Jamie Hall. None of the competitors in his heat looking even close on pace. It was absolutely no surprise when he topped the time sheet – what was a surprise is that Thomas Phipps went second fastest building on his cracking result from Stotfold and Herts. Ben Smith, Luke Holdsworth and Lee Martin all with half a second off the leading pace.

Jamie Hall built on his practice pace to go fastest in 4wd Qualifying Round 1. Again, his car looking sorted from the word go. I expect that Jamie and Tommy Hall continually consult each other on setup direction so it was no surprise when Tommy went second fastest. Going into round 2 of 4wd qualifying there was rain on the horizon and the radar showing a shower due sometime during the top heats. Tommy Hall just went top of the table in Round 2 Heat 10 when the rain started to fall with one heat to go. This ruined any chance of a racer in the top heat – Heat 11 – going fastest and race winner Jamie Hall could only manage 51st. Jonny Skidmore all the way down in Heat 2 benefitting nicely with a third place in round behind Thomas Phipps. Round 3 was a similar story with a shower just before Heat 9. All the top drivers from Heat 9 to 11 falling down the time sheets and again Skidmore benefiting nicely with a TQ and Richard Barton going second from Heat 8. At the end of Round 3 the top 20 listing looked very strange with many of the drivers from the early heats occupying prominent spots even into the top 10. There were more showers in Round 4, this time after Heat 4. All eyes were on the drying track during the round as it got faster and faster. The top 10 overall was completely rewritten in Round 4. Thomas Phipps took the round and not only popped up into the top 20 but went top of the overall table securing Pole Position – his first. Lee Martin and Jamie Hall also entered the top 20 for the first time going fourth and fifth respectively. And Luke Holdsworth also made into the A Final – ninth on the grid – after going fifth in Round 4.

4wd A Final Leg 1 got underway on a drying track but with a shower threatening to upset the proceedings. Thomas Phipps led the field away with Tommy Hall and Jonny Skidmore in close pursuit. Skidmore appeared to be upsetting the applecart in third, being super aggressive from the word go. Tommy Hall’s response was to be super neat at the apexes which made for entertaining viewing as Skidmore slid towards the back of Halls car on most corners with a slight overshoot and Tommy getting out of the way just at the last moment. Whilst all this was going on, Phipps was building a lead, driving just over and just under the limit in these tricky conditions. Halfway through the first lap, Tommy Hall ran wide before the staircase and Skidmore nipped up the inside and passed for second place. But Skidmore’s over aggression cost him just before passing over the loop for the second time when he tagged an apex and rolled letting a couple of cars through. The upset caused mistakes in the chasing pack and after a scrappy couple of corners Lee Martin emerged in second place about 3 seconds behind Phipps – Cragg in third, Tommy Hall now in fourth. By now the expected rain shower had arrived and the cars were loose. This seemed to really suit Lee Martin. He left Cragg in his wake and was catching Phipps at an impressive rate. As we watched Martin catch Phipps by about 0.8 seconds a lap the handling difference was obvious. Martin’s car was very efficient under power, accelerating straight with little drop in traction and visibly smoother. Phipps and all of the other cars were tweaking under power and looked way edgier.

Over the next lap Martin drew up onto Phipps’ back bumper and started applying pressure. The battle as on and Phipps was making his car as wide as possible. Then Martin executed the move of the weekend, coming off the straight as Phipps tried to carry extra speed by using the berm, Martin ran a tight line, up the inside of Phipps and blocked his decent off the berm taking the lead. Martin then started to gently pull away over the next lap and as he crossed the loop with two minutes to go, disaster stuck! Lee Martin’s car slowed to a crawl. He made it over the double tabletop and then his car completely stopped – Phipps snatching the opportunity to retake the lead. Had Martin’s massive performance advantage been due to a battery charged to a lower voltage which had now resulted in a dump? If so, it was very nearly a master stroke, but more milliamp hours are required for the five minute run. Lee Martin still has tons of pace and can’t be discounted for future Championship titles, but his bad luck seems to be endless over the last 18 months.

Thomas Phipps now had a five second lead over the chasing pack of Cragg, Luke Holdsworth and Richard Barton. Barton who made the A Final with a bit of help from the rain showers during qualifying showing he deserved the place and was not short of pace – second fastest lap in the A Final behind Lee Martin. The battle for third was intense. Barton was taking every opportunity to get by Holdsworth. The two made contact several times and Holdsworth looked rattled with plenty of understeer moments and broad-slides. Holdsworth attempted to push Barton wide coming off the straight, but the Veteran racer has decades of experience, and he was able to switch-back through the moguls. Holdsworth jammed in an attempt to close the door, but it

was too late, Barton put a wheel on the hose at the apex and seemed to hop over Holdsworth into third. In an ugly attempt to regain third, Holdsworth fired his car at the tabletop before the loop and after briefly tapping Barton rolled his car onto its roof requiring the marshal.

With thirty seconds to go, Phipps’ lead had diminished but was still healthy at three seconds from Cragg. Barton a further second behind and under pressure from Ben Pugh.  Over the final lap, Barton drew up to the back on Cragg and was hassling him. Cragg ran smooth so that there was no opportunity for the pass. The frustration getting to Barton who oversteered as the second to last corner and letting Cragg away – very lucky not to concede the position to Pugh. Final order: Phipps, Cragg, Barton.

The rain held off for 4wd A Final Leg 2 and the cars started on a nearly dry track. Phipps got off to a shaky start glancing off the track marker hose a couple of times as the field made their way towards the loop for the first time. Tommy Hall was now running very close to the back of Phipps’ car as they passed over the double tabletop – the pressure was on. Coming down off the staircase, Phipps’ car wheelied on landing and although he recovered very well, Hall snatched the opportunity and sent his car up the inside and Phipps’ and made the pass. The lead pack of Tommy Hall, Phipps, Skidmore, Jamie Hall and Lee Martin were all running in very close proximity as the chasing pack led by Neil Cragg started to merge into one. Over the proceeding few laps the lead three started to break away. Hall initially made a break and Phipps’ with Skidmore responded and closed it again. Then a mistake from Phipps after a slow roll at one of the tight corners let Skidmore through to second and Hall away unthreatened. All of this action with only two minutes done.

 A couple of laps later, a mistake from Cragg let Jamie Hall through to third and he seemed to open the taps setting some very fast laps in pursuit of Skidmore. It took Jamie Hall a lap to claw in the 1 second deficit and the battle was on. But Skidmore showed his experience and Jamie had no opportunities presented to him all the way to the finish. Leg 2 top three: Tommy Hall, Skidmore, Jamie Hall.

Time for the decider: 4wd A Final Leg 3. Before this race Thomas Phipps finds himself as not just the top qualifier but also having won a Leg of the A Final. Nobody can argue that he hadn’t done enough at that point. A Leg 3 win would be amazing, but not taking the overall victory will not diminish his achievement by any margin. The final race of the weekend got off to a drama free start as the cars made their way down past the driver’s stand. Phipps’ car looked a little loose whilst Tommy Hall’s looked planted, so the gap was dropped to nil. By the end of the first laps there was now a seven-car queue behind a slightly struggling Phipps’ – some of the cars bumping off one another as the procession compressed. As they made their way past the drivers stand and back over the double tabletop for the second time, Phipps got the landing wrong, hitting the subsequent corner marker and rolling the car onto its roof – 8 of the remaining 9 cars getting past him and now making a miracle required to get him that maiden overall win.

Tommy Hall remained in the lead and was creeping away from the pack of Skidmore, Jamie Hall and Martin. Coming up onto the elevated section of the track before the staircase, Skidmore put his car right up onto two wheels and spent the next two or three seconds trying to recover and settle the car as he fired it raggedly through the proceeding couple of corners. Jamie Hall didn’t need an invite and he aggressively snatched the second position from Skidmore – this led to a drag race down the straight and Skidmore had significantly more ponies. He drew up on the back of Jamie Hall and then fired his car into the berm on a tighter line to reclaim the position. All this action had slowed the pair letting Tommy Hall further up the road ahead and allowing Lee Martin draw up creating a three-way battle with three minutes to go. Later, on the same lap as the trio were coming over the ninety degree tabletop in the middle of the circuit, Skidmore ran wide and had to cut back to hold off Jamie Hall. Hall tried to go around the outside of Skidmore, but he didn’t yield and there was contact. Skidmore momentarily slowed, Jamie Hall rolled onto his roof and Martin promoted to third. There was now a five-car race for second. The pressure was reduced for Skidmore at the lead of the pack when Martin got a freak bad bounce and his car rolled at the slowest pace possible onto its roof promoting Luke Holdsworth to third. Once Martin had dropped back, Skidmore seemed to slow by quite a margin. It took no time for Holdsworth to close the gap as Skidmore’s corner speed evaporated. Coming down off the banked corner after the staircase Skidmore’s car had such reduced speed that he was collected by Holdsworth who was clearly not expecting the difference in pace. There was a messy pile up of various cars and once things had resolved themselves it was Thomas Phipps who made it out of the melee in second – 4.5 seconds behind Tommy Hall.

In the remaining minute of the race, Phipps was eating chunks of Tommy Hall’s lead. Regularly setting times 0.6 seconds a lap faster, Phipps quickly reduced the 4.5 second lead to 2.6 and then again 0.9 seconds by the start of the last lap aided by a brief error by the leader. There just wasn’t enough time to explore the possibility of a pass on the last lap – Hall was just too fast. The final results for this leg: Tommy Hall, Phipps, Skidmore.

A superb win for Tommy Hall, who takes the double win at Bury Metro and the overall 4wd BRCA National Title – well done to him. Phipps has come up the rankings rapidly and showed maturity in his first few A finals. Sometimes we see a slight correction when drivers have a meteoric rise like this. There have been drivers in the past who come from regular B and C finals and go straight to the front of A Finals for a short period and then seem to settle at the back end of regular A Finals rather than at the front.  Its impossible to say if this will be the case with Phipps – but based on his performance this weekend I suspect not. Well done to him.

Overall 2wd Series Points:

 

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