Frequent heavy showers, tricky track conditions and the introduction of the Joker Lap in the Suzuki Challenge Series Swift Cup all contributed to a day of epic racing for the large crowd at the Williams Industries Digicel International Race Meet at Bushy Park, St Philip yesterday.
Mark Thompson (Team Rock Hard Cement) returned to winners’ row to peg back Team Suzuki driver Ryan Peyrau’s Swift Cup lead from 39 to 21 points. But the big winner of the day was David Summerbell Jr. (Team Simpson Finance), who won the other two races, leaping from sixth to third in the standings, 21 points behind Thompson.
In the SR3 Cup, race three winner Stuart Maloney extended his lead from seven to 22 points, with his brothers swapping places in the standings. Mark, who won the day’s opening race is now second and Sean third, while Guyana’s Mark Vieira enjoyed his best weekend of the season to edge closer to the Maloneys.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Peyrau claimed his third straight pole position, ahead of Kenrick Husbands (Team Williams Industries), Josh Read (Team Massy United Insurance) and Jason Parkinson (Team Infra Rentals), each achieving his best grid position so far. The top eight cars were covered by just over one second, with Thompson eighth on the grid.
The Joker Lap, on which drivers divert over the Rallycross Bridge to rejoin the circuit at the Banks Esses, added real intrigue to the races . . . and a few surprises too. Most drivers opted to take the Joker early, with almost all completed by shortly after half-distance each time, but some did not.
The first two races were fought out on a damp to wet track, not a problem for the Swift Sports, which are fitted with D-Mack T91 tyres, a slick/wet hybrid designed for such conditions. In the opening encounter, Peyrau made the best of the start to lead until half-distance, before dropping behind Jamaica’s Summerbell, who was the last to take the Joker, just one lap from home. It looked as though he had pulled off a remarkable coup, when he rejoined still in the leading group, but a gearbox problem intervened, dropping him to ninth at the finish.
Thompson won for the first time since round one in March, narrowing the gap on Peyrau to just 12 points after the championship leader failed to score for the first time all season. Thompson and fellow podium finishers, Parkinson and Husbands, had been among those to take the Joker early, so that seemed to be the way to go.
In race two, once again in tricky conditions, the combination of the regular reversed grid start and the Joker Lap produced an epic race. Having started at the front of the grid after his problems in race one, Peyrau was soon into the lead, then took the Joker on lap two, rejoining to battle with new leader Summerbell and Barry Gale (Team Gale’s Agro Products). Gale took the Joker on lap four, rejoining behind Peyrau, who was around three seconds behind Summerbell. And then a remarkable thing happened. Summerbell took the Joker on the last lap, rejoined inches ahead of Peyrau and went on to win his second Swift Cup race to loud cheers from the crowd. Gale was third, while Peyrau’s second place extended his lead once again over Thompson, who was sixth.
There was more drama in the final race of the day, the grid based on points scored so far, with Thompson on pole, ahead of Summerbell, Parkinson and Ryan Wood (Team Digicel). Thompson led at the end of lap one from Summerbell and Parkinson, diving off for the Joker on lap two, with Peyrau close on his heels. They rejoined fourth and fifth, battling for position with Gale, until he took the Joker on lap five. Summerbell and Parkinson edged away, with no guessing which driver would blink first and take the Joker . . . but neither did, until the last lap, when another remarkable thing happened. They rocketed over the Bridge in convoy and maintained their current positions. Summerbell won for the third time, chased home by Parkinson, claiming his best result of the campaign, with Thompson and Peyrau third and fourth.
In the SR3 Cup, Sean Maloney established a new qualifying record with the first sub-59 second lap of the 2.01-kilometre circuit –– seven-tenths better than his brother Mark’s previous best –– with Vieira starting on the front row of the grid for the first time. Series leader Stuart Maloney was third, Mark fourth.
In common with the Swift Cup runners, the SR3 Cup ran in tricky conditions for the first two races. Pole man Sean Maloney led for only one lap before he succumbed first to brother Mark, then Stuart. He was also passed by Vieira just after half-distance, but the Guyanese driver slipped back to fourth at the flag.
Conditions for the second race were even worse, even the least-experienced Radical drivers showing great skill. Vieira made a storming start from the reversed grid, getting ahead of David Simpson and Ryan Gonsalves. While Vieira made good his escape for his second SR3 Cup win, Simpson, who has only been racing since March this year, did a commendable job of fending off the far more experienced Sean Maloney. All his work was in vain, however, as he was given a five-second penalty for a jumped start, which dropped him from second to fourth, behind Sean and Mark Maloney.
The final race of the day, with track conditions now normal, produced a thrilling three-way battle between Vieira –– he’d started on pole, based on points scored earlier –– Stuart and Sean Maloney. Although Stuart led throughout, Sean passing Vieira for second place on lap two, they circulated lap after lap separated by mere inches. Vieira finally regained the position on the last lap, with just one second covering the three as they crossed the line. SR3 Cup first-timer Kurt Thompson was fourth and Simpson fifth, while Mark Maloney had gear selection problems throughout, retiring on the last lap.