Shaun Traynor was the dominant force last Sunday as the Millers Oils Toyota MR2 Championship kicked off its 2015 season in style at a wet and windy Donington Park.
The 2014 top rookie claimed before a very wet qualifying session that he wasn’t a fan of the rain; a huge 1.18s gap to rest of the field suggested otherwise. Taking his time to get used to the conditions, his last three laps of the session would all have bagged him his maiden pole position in the Martini-lookalike Mk2.
Traynor’s nearest challenger was Stuart Nicholls, the Ware-based cameraman an ever present force in his Rogue Motorsport prepared class C Roadster. Another relative newcomer took third on the grid, Miles Hodgson had only raced in two rounds last season in the exPaul Hutson Mk2. Alongside Hodgson was the second Roadster in the hands of William Powell, another of last season’s rookies who showed promising pace in his limited outings towards the end of the year. Kristian White and Darren Aldworth occupied row three in their Mk2s whilst Mark Barber and Tim Heron sat on the row behind. The top ten was completed by Alex Knight and Lewis Ward, the impressive youngster in his first race in the ex- Matt Wallis Mk2. Dave Hemingway was the best of the class A Mk1s in 18th place.
The rain had eased but the track was still wet as the 35 cars lined up for the first race of the season.
Simon Quinn, lights blazing, in the westyphotography.com sponsored #67
As the red lights went out it was Traynor who made the best start from Nicholls, Hodgson, Powell and the rest. The man on the move was White, charging through on the first lap to grab second from Nicholls at the chicane. Nicholls got the place back a lap later but White’s race came to a premature end on lap four, sliding off the circuit and into the gravel at Coppice. “Pathetic really, it wasn’t even a heroic spin”, the Maidenhead racer confessed later.
By now, Traynor had eked out a comfortable 4s lead over Nicholls whilst Powell confirmed his intentions for the season by gamely hanging on to his class C rival in third. Unfortunately, a spin whilst negotiating a backmarker exiting the Old Hairpin stymied his run on lap seven, losing a couple of spots to Hodgson and Barber. These two six foot-plus drivers both had good races, Hodgson recovering from a poor first lap to capitalise on both White and Powell’s errors and Barber working his way through from seventh place on the grid after a dice with Knight early on and then Aldworth. Aldworth himself had a superb start and found himself in fourth at the end of lap one but dropped back to seventh at the flag.
Nicholls really got his head down in the last few laps and started to close the gap to Traynor but ultimately his challenge for victory came up just 0.38s short. Lapping backmarkers proved decisive with Traynor managing to pass four in one go at the chicane whilst Nicholls had to wait his turn. Hodgson was almost 7s back in third, Barber a further 6s behind him. Behind Powell came Heron, the blue Mk2 always at the front or thereabouts. Aldworth, driving the newly re-liveried ex-George Robinson Mk2, finished a very creditable seventh with eighth going to the black Mk2 of Phil Hutchins. Knight and Ward completed the top ten, Lewis going well to finish his first race in the position in which he started. In the classes, Hemingway took the class A win in 18th overall from Merill Readett, class B read Traynor, Hodgson and Barber whilst class C was Nicholls, Powell and Stuart’s father Mick Nicholls (11th overall).
New for 2015 is the way the second race grid positions are determined; each driver’s fastest lap from race one decides their grid slot for race two. Stuart Nicholls had set the fastest lap in 1:37.40, some 0.45s faster than Traynor in second. Powell and Hodgson were next up with Heron and Barber on row three. Aldworth and Mick Nicholls were seventh and eighth whilst a surprised Graham Malings joined Phil Hutchins on row five.
Traynor once again made a superb start, this time on a much drier track, and led Nicholls into Redgate with Powell, Hodgson and Heron following them through. Nicholls was able to pressure Traynor more and made his move to take the lead on lap three. It didn’t last long however as Traynor’s car got a bit loose under braking for Coppice on lap four as he was challenging Nicholls for the lead. Enough contact was made for Nicholls to take a trip through the gravel, re-emerging in seventh spot.
Traynor continued and, despite a late race ‘scare’ as Hodgson closed him down, took the chequered flag to score his second race win, cheered on by his very vocal fan club of family and friends. Hodgson had worked his way through, passing Powell for third on lap two and then second as Nicholls went off two laps later. His closest challenger had been Barber but the Northampton man’s Mk2 lost its water on lap seven, putting paid to a certain podium finish. Hodgson also grabbed the extra point for fastest lap.
Storming through from thirteenth on the grid was White, clearly a man on a mission after his race one faux pas. Quickly up to a remarkable fifth place by lap three, he took fourth courtesy of Nicholls’ moment on lap four and found himself on the podium once Barber’s engine had cooked.
Nicholls had regained his composure and worked his way back up to fourth by the end, duelling initially with Knight and Heron and then passing father Mick on the penultimate lap at Redgate. Knight followed Nicholls Snr home in sixth, fending off challenges from Aldworth and his team-mate Wayne Lewis. Heron came ninth after a lairy moment exiting Redgate dropped him a couple of spots whilst Hutchins completed one of his best days in the championship with another top ten finish. Just outside the top ten, Powell was eleventh – and third in class C behind the Nicholls duo – after a spin at Redgate dropped him out of the top half dozen. Also worthy of mention were Shane Mansbridge in twelfth and Simon Wallis in thirteenth, the pair having a terrific race and moving up from grid positions 23rd and 24th respectively. Readett took the class A honours for Mk1 models this time as Hemingway failed to finish.
A much better round for Simon Quinn in the www.westyphotography.com sponsored number 67. Two solid finishes, pushing up through the field, which bodes well for the team’s next outing at Croft.