(apologies for the sudden mid-race livery change, this blog was written post season)
The COVID Cup returns to Britain with Bailes leading the championship by a very thin thread of 4 points and as the sun set over Brands, the drivers were ready to hit the track once more!
After an hour of practice and 10 minutes of qualifying, this is how the grid lined up: Cleland would pick up his 3rd pole of the season followed by championship rival Bailes.
Teymourian would be best of the rest in 3rd with Craig Shelton rounding out the second row.
Behind him, Gaffney and Canzobre would round out the third row. Wood and Riddles would finish up the top 8. Truswell would qualify 12th
A new addition to the pack was three speedy females: Alice Powell, Sarah Moore and Abbi Pulling - they would line up 11th, 13th and 22nd respectably.
Drivers Outside 107% Rule (1:45.535)
18th - Francesco Castellacci - 1:58.474
19th - Jm L - 1:58.579
No Time: Ronald Verweij
No Time: Adam Christodoulou
No Time: Abbi Pulling
The lights vanished under the orange sky and the race was on!
It was a good, clean start as the field thundered down Paddock Hill Bend.
Into Druids, Honeyman would miss his braking point whilst trying to get down the inside of Daman - the former would barge into Truswell half way through the corner
both would escape unscathed, Truswell only losing 4 positions....
But on the exit of Graham Hill Bend chaos broke out....
As they went into Graham Hill Bend, Powell (onboard) would just tap Moore's rear, sending Moore into a spin...she was now just a sitting duck in the middle of the track and next behind Powell was Honeyman...he had nowhere to go and drifted into the side of Moore.
Cars desprately veered to the right to avoid the collision - Truswell the only driver to go left...but Christodoulou was in a spot of bother....from being on the inside of the two rows exiting druids, he ideally wanted to go around the outside of the accident...but in pulling to the right, would take out Pulling, pitching her onto her side before landing uncomfortably with broken right rear suspension. Jm L (rear of shot below) would be tagged as Pulling slid after landing but without any (significant) damage to Jm L.
On the inside of the collision there was also contact...Castellacci (19 In picture) would get a better exit than the slowed Herring and would pass Herring (unbeknown to him) on the grass. Herring would pull to the left jut tagging the right-rear wheel of the 19 car. This sent him airbourne.
Herring and Castellacci would make contact again as the 19 would re-enter the track, leaving both cars in an even worse state than before
At the leaders headed onto the GP circuit for the first time, Cleland would lead from Bailes - Teymourian in 3rd in hot pursuit.
Next behind him was Shelton and Wood - Wood making up two places off the line.
Behind him was Gaffney followed by the spread out train of Riddles, Canzobre, Conway and Constanduros rounding out the top 10.
Pulling and Moore would not be able to continue after their accident and would call for a quick tow.
From Surtees to Hawthorn Bend is a very long straight perfect for opening lap passes - Many drivers used this to their advantage and further climbed up the field.
Despite the top 5 remaining the same, further down the field other drivers would gain positions - namely Powell pulling past Bradley for 11th - before losing the back end at Hawthorn Bend over-correcting and being collected into by Verweij behind Bradley...this would cause another multi-car shunt as Verweij spun to the right after the collision, straight into Knox who had got up into 13th after starting last (23rd) on the grid.
Knox would then spin to the right after his left rear suspension was broken, hitting then into the fleeing Daman.
By the end of the first lap, the grid had been massively shaken up - Bradley up to 9th place after after starting in 17th.
The top 2 would come across the line as normal, Teymourian would devastatingly get a wheel on the grass out of Clark Curve, the left rear would lose traction and put him into a slide....he'd over-correct and hit into the barriers.
Taking 3rd place from Teymourian was Wood who passed Shelton after he went wide at Sheene's.
On Shelton's gearbox was Gaffney - having a great exit out of Clark Curve massively benefitted him.
Behind him it was Riddles and Canzobre - Conway was meant to be next but there was not sign of him, until the large TV Screens showed that he had disconnected...this would not be the last time a driver would suffer this fate.
Continuing onwards, Constanduros and Bradley followed next - Bradley with an impeccable start from 17th.
Battling for the last spot in the top 10 were good rivals Truswell and Daman - fans were expecting a good show from both, but Daman would lose the back end coming into Paddock Hill bend. Though he didn't hit anything, he lost a handful of positions.
Following his flying adventure Castellacci was next - and by Paddock Hill Bend Herring behind had caught the Monacoian.
Jm L followed next after a very quiet start.
After his involvement in the pile-up Honeyman was keen to make any positions - and with Christodoulou pitting for repairs - Honeyman was up to 15th.
Verweij was the last of the runners lugging the remains of his Skippy into the pit-lane after a very long and torturous in-lap.
Meanwhile, up front, the battle for the lead was offically on - Bailes got a better run through Paddock Hill bend than Cleland and managed to get past on the entrance to druids.
Cleland would have to sit tight behind Bailes and plan a move laps in advance.
In the meantime, Herring and Castellacci would come together again at druids, this time a much smaller sidepod-to-sidepod touch. Castellaci would only recieve minor damage but was sent into the barriers after getting on the kerb on the exit of the corner. This would be the end of his day.
With Daman spinning out at Paddock, and Castellacci retiring, Jm L down in 14th was able to pick up another two positions - more points for his championship bid - Daman would catch and pass Jm L later in the lap though.
For the next few laps, things looked rather calm - no major overtakes were being made, everyone was keeping their noes clean and the connection stayed strong.
As the leaders entered their 3rd lap - Powell and Knox would be released back on track to try and make as many positions as possible...however it wouldn't start well...
Upon exiting the pits, Powell saw the group of Gaffney, Riddles and Canzobre approaching in her rear view mirror - in trying to let them pass before entering the live circuit, she'd brake - but harder than Knox would expect - he'd run into the back of her, knocking is brand spanking new nose-cone off.
Pulling was also released from the pits at the same time - and thus managed to get a free position before even reaching the first corner after leaving the pits. Her next target was Powell - and going into Graham Hill Bend she caught up with her competitor and the duo would duel.
They would both have to be aware though - Constanduros and Bradley on lap 3 (a lap ahead) were coming at high speeds up behind them.
Powell would go wide to cleanly let the two lappers by, but in doing so got onto the grass slightly - losing speed and traction and letting Pulling by.
Knox would pass Powell too before Sheene's, dropping her to 20th.
Just up ahead there was more action - and a change of podium position - Wood would run deep into Westfield Bend, skirting the gravel with his left wheels.
As if by coincidence, Shelton would have an excellent run out of the corner, pulling the move before they'd arrive at Sheene's.
But Lady Luck wasn't done with Wood quiet yet....
Wood would just put a wheel over the white line at Sheene's - the lack of traction on the grass threw him into a half-spin. Wood was fortunate enough to not to hit the wall - but the damage had been done. Gaffney, Riddles and Canzobre had escaped off into the sunset and now he was under serious pressure from Constanduros and Bradley.
Lap 4. Bailes kept the lead by a thread, but Cleland would have a better run through Paddock - pulling alongside Bailes. They'd go side-by-side through Druids when Cleland would temporarily inch ahead on entry to Graham Hill Bend before Cleland would try a cut-back...down the Cooper Straight, Cleland would have the momentum and slipstream, and would slip down the inside of Bailes at Surtees.
Though Bailes would have some Slipstream, it wouldn't be enough and Bailes would have to wait another lap before attempting another move...or so he thought.
Bailes would manage to pull alongside Cleland for the final corner and from then it was a drag race...
Bailes' weetabix that morning paid off - he was later on the brakes than Cleland, taking the lead of the race on lap 5.
The fight for forth was also massively heating up Riddles managing to get down the inside of Gaffney at Druids, before Canzobre would take a peek at the battling pair. As they went towards Hawthorn Bend, Riddles remained ahead.
Down in seventh, the battle between Wood, Constanduros and Bradley was well ignited, Bradley managing to find an un-occupied piece of track at Druids to get up the inside of Constanduros.
But just as Wood was getting to the pinnacle of his race...disaster strikes. He disconnects. Everything he'd been fighting for had just become pointless.
Undetirred by what jut happend, Constanduros would use the better line he had out of Surtees to pass Bradley for what was now 7th place.
But fighting a professional like Bradley - Constanduros knew that this wasn't over...just neither expected it to turn out the way it did....
Bradley would get a better run through Westfield than Constanduros would - allowing Bradley to get a run on his competitor.
Bradley would cut Sheene's more than he anticipated, so lifted off...Constanduros who kept to the tarmac was going flat out through the corner...Constanduros would rear end Bradley...Pulling would (desperately) stream past. Constanduros got away almost scott free whilst Bradley lost his rear wing before Powell (a lap behind) almost ended up in the same fate that Teymourian did, but managed to save it.
Returning to the lead - Lap 5 - and Cleland managed to get the cutback on Bailes after braking slightly earlier. As they went into Druids, they'd be side by side, Cleland taking the shorter inside route whilst Bailes returned to second.
Bailes would then try to slip up the inside for Surtees, but after clobbering the kerb on the inside, Cleland would have the better run and return to the lead.
Other than a sneak peek, Bailes had no other choice but wait for the next opportunity.
Returning to the battle for forth, Gaffney would have the slip-stream on Riddles to pull alongside for turn one. Not only having the slip-stream but being better on the brakes, Gaffney pulled ahead. Riddles would momentarily pull ahead of Gaffney on the outside of the run down to Paddock Hill Bend, but nothing could be done.
Down in 7th, things would go from bad to worse for Constanduros. As he exited Graham Hill Bend, he'd have a little bit of Traffic ahead of him - Pulling, a lap down - and ahead of her Moore, 2 laps down...but with two cars behind her on two different laps the last thing any of them expected was Moore to weave left and right...
Pulling would Pull alongside Moore, however Moore would stay at racing speed - putting Constanduros in a difficult position of not being able to get past either car.
The dyo would go side by side for Hawthorn Bend and the Derek Minter straight before Pulling lifted off early for Westfield letting Moore past - upon exit Constanduros would gratefully pass Pullingand on approach to Sheene's would pull alongside Moore...
Constanduros would get past at Sheene's - being later on the brakes. As he slid through Sheene's, he was losing much more rapidly than Moore could. Moore tapped the back of Constanduros.
Moore would escape by having a little off-track excursion before re-joining at Stirling's...Constanduros wouldn't be so lucky, after being pitched into a half-spin he'd be T-boned not only by Pulling but then too would have a head-on crash with Powell too.
Whilst Constanduros was sent to the infield medical centre as his car was being repaired Powell would manage to keep her car going.
Bradley would quickly lap Moore before the next lap.
Lap 6. The lead once again changes. Bailes would get the slip-stream on Cleland once more and the'd go through Paddock Hill Bend absolutely side-by-side, but Bailes would be braver on the brakes for Druids and nip down the inside.