Better than ever18.11.15 A fantastic Mens and Ladies season brings success for Holtby and Dance.
In a class of such all-encompassing popularity, with arguably more memorable seasons, rivalries and performances than any other class over a number of decades, the fact that this year was perhaps one of the best and most intense is a huge accolade.
Last year’s title battle between Andy Holtby and Mark Grice was exciting enough – resolved in favour of the latter – but it was apparent early on this season that the addition of a few more drivers to the mix made this a potential classic. Five different final winners at a time when there is perhaps the greatest depth of talent is an indication of the quality of this season, which had a fitting climax with a sensational race at York won by Jake Roberts.
Unsurprisingly the season started with what was almost a show-stealing performance by Craig Bagley and he continued through the season as one of the main protagonists; sensationally fast, occasionally erratic, always seemingly on the absolute limit of grip and unfailingly entertaining at every event, the new-for-2015 XCworx Mini Pickup was a formidable weapon – as was Rich Lee’s similar machine that he debuted at round three – and he will almost certainly be a future champion once the attacking driving style is tamed a little.
Bagley fell afoul of the flags on more than one occasion: he started the season with a win in the final at Stroud, but was demoted to third with a green flag, handing the win to Alun Jenkins.
He then starred again at round two, not only as the only driver to take three heat wins, but also as the protagonist in what was a scintillating final race with Craig Kampschulte. The pair crossed the line virtually side by side, with Kampschulte ahead by the tiniest of margins, but Bagley was once again penalised for contact with the course markers and demoted from second to fourth.
Neither Grice nor Holtby made as big an impression at the first two rounds, but fully made their mark at rounds three and four respectively where both took maximum scores and set up what looked like being a thrilling showdown for the title at the final round.
Grice’s beautiful Full-On Fabrications Pickup had been for sale for a while prior to round five, and a deal was made with St Neots driver Todd Horwood ahead of York. As a result of a part exchange, Grice raced Horwood’s car in pursuit of a second straight title, but the unfamiliar machine wasn’t quite equal to the enormity of the task and the local driver took just 60 points from the final round, conceding the title to Holtby midway through the event.
For many years we have followed Roberts’ progress since graduating from Junior Specials, often commenting that a final win was overdue such was his apparent ability early on. Not only did the Welshman take the Nationals title this year, but also his first ever BAS win. The scintillating battle between him and Holtby led to a maximum score for Roberts too, and promoted the National champion to second overall in the standings.
Despite Bagley’s incredible pace throughout the season, the only big event win he claimed was at the Border Counties Festival, and he finished in fourth overall – he was the only driver however to make it into all five finals – completing a quartet that finished a little way ahead of the remaining competitors.
Rich Lee was the only driver outside of the top four to have taken a trio of heat wins in qualifying, the new car working perfectly on its debut at round three. A seventh place was the end result in the standings for the Nottingham driver, behind Andy Hornshaw and Mike Mackenzie in sixth and fifth respectively.
The addition of last year’s Class Ten and overall Ladies champion Sue Herdman, and the return of multiple champion Michaela Dance back to the class was great news for the season, and the predictions that they would create the interest and excitement were not misplaced. You’d be forgiven though for having predicted Dance as the favourite for the title, and indeed she claimed a fifth Class Seven BAS title by what was a fairly narrow margin in the end.
Nicola Mackenzie completed a trio of frontrunners, and it was she who was one of the stars in what was the highlight of the Ladies racing this year. She battled with Herdman in a brilliant final at round four and triumphed over the York driver with Dance in third.
Mackenzie then won the final round too, matching Dance’s two-win tally that she earned from rounds one and two, with Pam Blackburn the winner at round three. The Yorkshire Dales driver would undoubtedly have been a regular finalist and higher up the table than ninth had she contested a full season.
Also regular qualifiers were Jodie Faulkner and Jill Grasby in fourth and fifth respectively; the top five being the only drivers out of fourteen registered competitors to compete in all five rounds.
Main: Holtby took both his first BAS final win (remarkable but true) and his first BAS title in 2015. Above: Dance was on typically good form all year.