SMITH AND MÄKINEN BREAK CLEAR AT CONVOY IN THE PARK
The return to domestic shores for the British Truck Racing Championship marked a landmark event at Donington Park last weekend [22-23 July] as the series staged the first-ever 'Convoy in the Park' to a packed crowd of tens of thousands spectators.
The spectacle, presented as a celebration of everything regarding trucks, their drivers and the open road, revolved around the next five action-packed rounds of the BTRC along with a packed bill of support races from the BARC.
The weekend also marked a guest appearance from regular FIA European Truck Racing Championship competitor Anthony Janiec in the MAN, highlighting once again the strength in the BTRC's relationships with it's European counterpart and the other regional championships around Europe.
It was Janiec who surged to pole position on Saturday morning, though with the quintet of Division 1 championship contenders surrounding him on the next three rows, staying at the front would prove a stern test of the Frenchman's racecraft.
Janiec did well to hold his lead into Redgate on the opening lap, whilst Shane Brereton and Mat Summerfield – both on the outside line – found themselves squeezed wide into the gravel as Dave Jenkins capitalised to take second and lead the fight against Janiec.
Ryan Smith would also make strong progress in the early stages, scything his way past Stuart Oliver's Volvo VN13 on the first tour of trhe circuit before passing Jenkins' MAN and setting about catching the leader.
Terry Gibbon's race ended in disappointing fashion in the gravel at McLeans, though contrastingly Brereton's comeback gave him the final spot on the rostrum on the penultimate lap as Janiec led home Smith for the first victory of the weekend.
Rainfall shortly before the start of the second contest made circuit conditions hazardous, as Luke Taylor found out after crashing on the outside of Hollywood and drawing out the red flags. When the action resumed for a shortened four-lap shoot-out, Smith was the MAN to beat, leading home Janiec in a role reversal of race one with Michael Oliver a superb third to score his maiden podium finish in the BTRC.
Simon Reid made the most of his reversed front-row start in the IVECO to take the early advantage in the third encounter, though with Jenkins in second the challenge would be staying there. He resisted the Digraph-backed MAN's advances until the latter stages of the race, when a mistake at Redgate sent him wide and dropped him to third behind Jenkins, who fended off the ever-competitive Smith by just 0.279 seconds at the chequered flag.
Michael Oliver held pole position for race four, though with Janiec and Smith for immediate company staying there proved a hard task. Janiec would take the spoils for a second time, though he was pushed hard by Smith to do so, whilst Oliver held off a combined 15 drivers titles to take third after keeping Jenkins, Summerfield, Brereton and father Stuart Oliver at bay.
Ryan Smith completed a clean sweep of podium finishes and sealed his second victory of the weekend in the final BTRC race, extending an advantage of just over 5 seconds to Oliver's Volvo at the chequered flag. The race was stopped in the early stages after Summerfield's MAN went off at the Craner Curves, and in the treacherous conditions collected Janiec's MAN as the latter passed through the Old Hairpin. Both drivers were unharmed, although unable to take the restart.
Oly Janes' weekend ended on a high with a podium finish in the Buggyra Freightliner, whilst Michael Oliver ended his best weekend to date in the series with sixth to more than double his points tally for the season.
The championship standings, however, make ominous reading for anybody but the defending champion, with Ryan Smith now 31 points clear of his nearest rivals with three meetings – at Snetterton, Pembrey and Brands Hatch – left to run.
In Division Two, Mika Makinen similarly exercised his authority over the class standings and extended his lead to 34 points over Tony Smith, claiming a brace of victories around the 1.9 mile National circuit.
His Sisu SL250 powered to pole position before delivering another resounding trip to the winner's circle for the Finn, with fellow class championship contender Simon Cole second. Steve Powell rounded out the podium spots as he continued his charge up the standings following a similarly strong performance at the Nurburgring.
Tony Smith then made it two victories for the Sisu SL250 as he fended off Powell by just over two seconds to win the second contest, with Luke Garrett's MAN third ahead of Makinen.
Simon Cole survived a late off in the gravel at McLeans to score a victory of his own in the Mercedes with Makinen and Smith both in close attendance, before Garrett scored a popular victory in race four.
Makinen rounded out the weekend by reminding everybody why he is the man to beat, and with three meetings to run his rivals will certainly have their work cut out to deny him a maiden class crown.
So as the championship heads next to Snetterton, the contenders have certainly made themselves known – can their rivals do anything to stop them in Norfolk?