Rounds 5 and 6 of the Armed Forces Race Challenge took place at the famous Donington Park circuit in Leicestershire. A track known for tricky elevation changes, fast sweeping curves and Ayrton Senna’s monstrous first lap charge in the 1993 European Grand Prix. However, this would be a somewhat different event than that of a Grand Prix for the Car Racing Team, chiefly due to the increasingly more sizable grid the championship hosts as of late.
However, officially the CRT would compete with two less drivers on the grid. Interestingly, since the last AFRC race meeting in Anglesey, the driver of the #20 Mini Cooper, Lewis Pemble, left the Royal Navy, so competed as a Veteran similarly to Mark Inman. This does not affect his championship points or the teams past championship points earned. However, the RNRM team now had one less driver available to earn points for the all-important Team Championship.
After arriving at the circuit on Friday, a race licence issue ruled CPO Steve ‘Hutch’ Hutchings (Devonport) out of contention before a wheel was even turned! Gallingly, this simple admin error meant he would not be racing. With a space left under the gazebos where Hutch’s Peugeot 106 would have sat, and his car back in one of the superb new team trailers, all other drivers were signed on and as prepared as possible for the next day.
Qualifying on Saturday morning is the first opportunity for new drivers to learn their way around the physical track. The session was uneventful for the RNRM even though various rival drivers from the Army Motorsport team went off to explore the track limits and beyond! Predictably, our highest grid position for Race 1 was for team manager Lt Cdr Keith Attwood (652 Sqn AAC, CHF), qualifying in 8th position (3rd in Class C) for Round 5 of the championship. Closely followed by CPO Gareth ‘Stirling’ Moss (Poole) in 12th overall, Mne Adam Dewis (Poole) 15th and Lt Cdr Rich Beaumont (Culdrose) in 27th.
Thankfully for the team, Race 1 was completed without incident, barring a small off for Attwood at the Old Hairpin in the first few laps. Adam Dewis finished a brilliant 7th position overall and 3rd in Class C- beating a Class A car outright in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe. Stirling finished in 11th place overall closely followed by Attwood in 12th. Throughout the race, Rich Beaumont held off attacks from faster cars behind for longer periods of the race than would be expected. The concertina effect forming meant this promoted Lewis Pemble into a position to quickly and successfully pass Beaumont, on a circuit that is notoriously difficult to overtake in any series. The Mini finished in 26th with Rich back in his starting position of 27th in the Ford Fiesta.
Due to the somewhat compact nature of the 750 Motor Club weekend, Round 6 would take place in the early evening as the light began to fade. As is the norm in the championship, Race 2 grid positions are determined by the fastest lap times from Race 1. Keith Attwood began the race in a fantastic 4th position on the grid with Stirling the next RNRM car starting in 9th overall.
After barely 1 lap of the National circuit, Stirling retired the Vauxhall Astra, with a serious loss of oil necessitating the abrupt end to his race. Similarly, Dewis’ car developed a less serious gearbox selector problem on Lap 9, also warranting a retirement, in fear of a more major mechanical issue.
On a more positive note, Keith Attwood finished 2nd in class and 6th overall in Race 2 with the second finisher for the team being Richard Beaumont in 19th overall having gained 6 places on his qualifying position. Notably, the now-Veteran Lewis Pemble was not classified alongside Dewis and Stirling, suffering an issue that subsequently proved to have written off his engine entirely – a season finisher for the Veteran.
The race played host to a phenomenal battle for the lead out front between the Royal Marine veteran Mark Inman in the rocketship Vauxhall VX220 and Robert Taylor of the Army’s BMW E36. A last lap incident involving backmarkers for the BMW handed the victory to Inman, but the battle means that Inman’s utter domination of most races wouldn’t go completely unchallenged after all.
Once again mechanical issues undermined an otherwise decent performance from the RNRM team, however as the season’s end approaches the effect of the Armed Forces championship’s special regulations will kick in. Over the whole season, a driver’s two worst results are discarded from the final standings. This is reminiscent of the historic points system in Formula 1 utilised in most seasons before 1990.
Going into the final round at Snetterton in Norfolk, Keith Attwood remains the highest placed RNRM driver in 5th position and with a good chance of attaining a championship podium place. Rich Beaumont also stands an outside chance of claiming a spot on the Novice drivers’ podium, but will need excellent results to catch the top 3.