Round 4


10-11 July 2021

1st R1: James Little (355/Ch) / R2: James Little (355/Ch)/ R3: James Little (355/Ch)
2nd R1: Tris Simpson (355/Ch) / R2: Tris Simpson (355/Ch)/ R3: Wayne Marrs (355/Ch)
3rd R1: Chris Goddard (355/Ch) / R2: Wayne Marrs (355/Ch)/ R3: Nicky Paul-Barron (355/Ch)
report by Darren Mills
photography by FNE photographers, William Moorwood

Storm Clouds were circling Friday night and the weather stations were forecasting another damp weekend, much like the one that defined last year’s Snetterton weekend.

Saturday morning however started brighter and was beginning to look quite promising. A smaller grid than usual was on display, a couple of cars out following the previous racing at Croft and a possible clash with attendance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

The track was damp at the start of practice but a dry line soon appeared.  James Little wasted no time in taking over a second out of last year’s best qualifying time.  Darren Mills who is clearly getting more and more familiar with his 355 with every race posted the second fastest time of the session.  Wayne Marrs struggled in the session and retired with a gearbox issue, leaving his team with a major task ahead of them if he was to compete at all.

As soon as practice finished the rain came, fortunately the four hour gap between practice and qualifying gave it plenty of time to pass over, which thankfully it did minutes before the start of the session.

As is always the case with a freshly watered track the session started tentatively but times began to tumble towards the end, with most people commenting that 10 more minutes would have seen times for most of the field dropping significantly towards normal dry times. It wasn’t to be though and times were a little more spread out in this qualifying session than we are used to seeing.  Little took pole followed by Simpson then Mills with what was his best qualifying finish so far, with Chris Compton-Goddard completing the second row.

RACE 1 : was last on the ticket and quite late in the day, giving Marrs’ team chance to replace his gearbox and get him to the grid on time albeit at the back and looking forward to carving his way through the field.  Little got a fantastic start with Simpson tucking in behind going into the first corner, but there was disruption further behind, first with a spin from Marrs who had made up several places before the first corner, then from contact between Colin Sowter and Myles Poulton, ultimately sending Poulton into the barrier.

The safety car was deployed but cars were slipping in several corners and it quickly became apparent that there was oil on the track, forcing a red flag while the situation was resolved.  A torn seal on the newly replaced gearbox of the number 60 car was the culprit, leaving Marrs to watch the remainder of the race from the side-lines.

10 cars made it back to the grid, and Simpson got the better start into the first corner but lost out to Little in short order. Compton-Goddard got a much better start this time round and beat Mills off the line, holding on to the third spot for the rest of the race.  Jim Cartwright was mixing it up with the 355s as always and took advantage of a spin by Mills to move up the order. Everyone was working hard to avoid the cement dust that had been put down on most corners of the track and lap times were slower as a result. A further retirement came on lap 5 by Peter Moseley who had been having a great battle with William Moorwood.  An eventful first race of the weekend with group wins for Little, Cartwright and Jago Keen.

RACE 2 : Sunday morning came with a decreased threat of rain and a hope of dry racing. Marrs was back for a second attempt at coming through the field, but unfortunately Myles Poulton had called it a day after the first race and retired from the remainder of the weekend.

Little was away with a perfect start, taking a lead into the first corner which he held for the whole race. Mills had a better start this time and held on to third until Marrs took the spot after predictably storming through the pack. A retirement from Compton-Goddard meant the battle for 4th was between Paul-Barron and Mills, who was kept honest by constant pressure throughout the race from Paul-Barron, but ultimately defended well to hold the position.

Cartwright kept ahead of Sowter to take 6th place with both finishing well ahead of the rest of the field who had been spread out by the sheer length of the lap at Snetterton. Keen again took a decisive win in Group 2 over Moorwood and Moseley, and Little destroyed the lap record by over a second from the time set by Peter Fisk last year in his 550.  Simpson took second place and Marrs was back up at the sharp end of the grid in third for a better chance of battling for the lead in the final race.

RACE 3:  The final race of the weekend saw Little struggle off the start line and lose out immediately to Simpson and Marrs who swapped places on the first lap to see Marrs come out on top to start the second lap. Cartwright again was in amongst the 355s was doing well against Paul-Barron and after a while both were catching Simpson at quite a pace.

Mills was gaining on Simpson and Paul-Barron after passing Cartwright when he was ejected sideways into the barrier whilst braking into the final corner, by what was later discovered to be a rear damper issue.  Simpson struggled to hold position and on the last couple of laps was eventually passed, first by Paul-Barron, then by Cartwright after putting up a solid fight despite suffering with a misfire and a continually worsening power loss.

Three convincing wins for James Little then, with a second place for Marrs and a welcome third for Paul-Barron. Cartwright followed up in 4th to take his third Class 3 win of the weekend with Keen finishing the set with three wins under his belt in Class 2 along with a very much deserved driver of the weekend award. Best prepared car was won by the number 60 car of Wayne Marrs to round out the awards.

Next up is the Festival Italia, always a popular event and hopefully plenty of time to see Poulton, Mills and Compton-Goddard make a smart return to the grid.

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