Changeable wintry weather added even more spice than usual to the season-opening Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres race meeting at a snow-hit Oulton Park on Saturday, 17th March, where the opening three races of 2018 delivered as many winners.
Will Gibson (Camberley), Steve Whitelegg (Bury) and Connor Mills (Upminster) shared the spoils during round one of the new season at the Cheshire venue’s International Circuit configuration, a welcome return for the championship to the North West for the first time in three years.
Jack Parker (Wolverhampton) enjoyed a very strong outing and got his title bid off to a superb start with a hat-trick of podiums, two second places and a third, while last year’s Rookie class title winner Miles Rudman (Sutton Coldfield) and reigning champion John Mickel (Horsham) also visited the rostrum.
Superb last corner pass secures third career win for Gibson
Belgium’s Gilles Verleyen set the pace in morning qualifying at the 2.69-mile International Circuit, a couple of tenths of a second ahead of Rudman, Verleyen’s compatriot Sebastien Kluyskens and Matt Pape (Ilkley).
Slippery conditions awaited the competitors ahead of Heat One where Gibson lined-up on pole position with Parker alongside, but the action had to be halted soon after it started following incidents at Old Hall and into Cascades. Officials deployed the Safety Car initially, but red flags duly followed with one Legend having been flipped onto its roof.
When racing resumed, Rudman made the best of the start and soon surged into the lead but Parker moved ahead before the end of the lap. Rudman hit back the next time around as a fantastic battle developed and he remained at the front until midway through the penultimate tour when Mickel, who had climbed through the order impressively, took first place.
As Rudman slipped to third, new second placed runner Gibson – who had shadowed Mickel – prepared to mount his own challenge for the lead and moved through with a terrific last-lap move around the outside at Lodge to secure victory. Just 0.6 seconds covered the top four, with Mickel second, Parker third and Rudman ultimately edged to fourth.
Whitelegg wins Safety Car interrupted race two at Oulton
Rob King (York) led away from pole position in Heat Two before Whitelegg moved through on the opening tour. As a result of several cars off the circuit at Cascades, though, the first of two Safety Car periods was triggered on lap two.
When the action resumed on the fourth tour, Whitelegg backed up the pack smartly and then motored away from his pursuers, headed by King, Paul Simmons (Lingfield), John Paterson, Finnish racer Miikka Riihimaa, Mills, Mickel and Ben Power (Guilsfield, Powys).
Within a lap, Whitelegg had opened an advantage of more than three seconds but the next time around the race fell under Safety Car conditions once more which wiped out his healthy cushion and set up a dramatic conclusion.
At the re-start, with two laps to run, Whitelegg made no mistakes and managed to head home Parker by 0.7 seconds with Rudman taking third – after Mills’ podium challenge ended with engine problems late on – Pape finishing fourth, Mickel fifth and Power sixth.
Mills hits back in style with superb performance in Final
Following the disappointment of retirement with engine woes in race two, Mills was determined to bounce back in the Final and he did so tremendously with a fantastic victory, a mere tenth of a second ahead of the ultra-consistent Parker.
Leading each of the eight laps, where snowfall made a reappearance, Mills initially kept Paterson at bay, then Verleyen, before Parker and Gibson became the chief challengers as the action intensified in the challenging conditions.
Sean Smith (High Wycombe) moved into the podium battle on the penultimate tour, but Gibson managed to return the favour and climbed back into third position before the finish to cap a highly successful trophy-filled weekend.
At the front, Mills took the chequered flag a whisker ahead of Parker while Gibson, Smith and fifth placed Whitelegg were covered by little more than 0.3 seconds at the line. Mickel rounded out the top six ahead of Rudman, Power, Oulton Park local Neil Shenton (Middlewich) and Simmons.
Connor Mills: “We were strong this weekend, although a bit unlucky in the second race with the engine going when I was just about to challenge for second place. Other than that, Oulton Park was very good for us and it looks like we should be one of the strongest for the rest of the year. The snow was a new one, but I actually like the slippery conditions and I’m very happy with my performance as it was the first time I’d been back in the car since November. Hopefully we should be on for more wins at Brands.”
Steve Whitelegg: “Our car was absolutely superb this weekend, we’ve retained the services of Cresta Racing to help us and the car was on rails. The conditions were interesting! At one point, when I was leading Heat Two, as I headed down Lakeside I had snow building up on my visor – never had that before! Starting Heat One 24th and finishing sixth, winning Heat Two and going from 21st to fifth in the Final is good. With over 30 cars on the grid, this year is extremely competitive.”
Will Gibson: “I’m obviously really happy to take a win, on the last lap I got a good run out of Druids and went to the outside of John [Mickel] into the last corner and tried a wall of death, somehow making it stick! It’s only the second time I’ve been to Oulton and I’m really happy with how the weekend went. I have a great group of family and friends that come and help at weekends and we really have a good thing going at the moment. Hopefully we can keep that going into Brands in a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed it won’t be as cold!”
Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent will host the second race meeting of the Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres season a fortnight from now on Easter Sunday, 1st April, and Easter Monday, 2nd April. Running in support of the British Truck Racing Association, the event marks a return to the regular Legends Cars format of six races across the weekend.