Lotus Elise Trophy Championship
The grid for Elise Trophy at Oulton was one of the best of the season at this ever popular drivers circuit and it held three new faces added into the mix alongside the regular runners.
Adam Croft, Steve Summers and ex-Ginetta Junior driver William Stacey were all new additions to the championship, with aims of competing in other races this season before a possible full campaign in 2017.
Lotus Cup Production class winner Ratcliff took pole for the opening race of the day as Elise Trophy kicked off the program bright and early at 8.30am in tricky conditions.
A 2m10.638s for Ratcliff put him just a tenth ahead of Walpole, who showed very strongly with a season best second – Seth in a 2006 Lotus Elise 111R is always a threat in damp and tricky conditions. Alex Ball was third ahead of Baker and debutant William Stacey aboard the EMH Motorsport S3 Elise.
Simon Oakley, Freddie Hetherington and Axel van Nederveen completed the top eight ahead of Jason McInulty and the Hangar 111 Run Elise S1 of Mark Richardson.
David Alexander, Paul Baker (Cakes By Appointment S1 Elise) and season debutant but experienced historic F1 racer and longtime Lotus racer Chris Perkins were next, just ahead of brother Mike Perkins in the Yabe Trading Co S2 Elise – this was a new SO Motorsport built Elise 111R for this round with Mike electing to move away from the lighter k series car into the more durable Toyota 2ZZ powered variant.
Neil Livesy lined up 15th ahead of championship newcomer and ex Porsche Boxster racer Adam Croft in his Fine Drinks Co-operative sponsorsed Elise 111R - Adam perhaps didn't fare as well as he should have following gearbox issues in testing and a failed replacement gearbox was compromising his efforts. Peter Mansfield followed who rejoined the championship last time out at Spa in his S2 Elise. Steve Summers' Exige S2 run by Datum Motorsport, Jackie Perkins (CT Classic GP Elise S1) and Mission Motorsport's 111R Elise in the hands of Danny Holland rounded out the grid.
Challenging conditions ahead of the first 20-minute Elise Trophy encounter of the day led to one of the most chaotic races of the season, with only 12 of the 20 starters making it to the finish in a proper race of attrition.
From pole Ratcliff got away and into an early lead, whilst a fast-starting Stacey rose from fifth to second by the end of the opening tour and stayed there until an off on lap three led to his retirement. Further shuffles down the order as drivers scrabbled for grip and made mistakes was entertaining viewing, but led to more incidents and the introduction of the safety car later on in the race.
After nine laps it was Ratcliff who took the flag first, just 1.2s ahead of a resurgent Ball, a strong drive back up the order having been spun round earlier in the race at the Shell Oils hairpin following contact with Seth Walpole. Jason Baker was a few tenths behind and rounded out the podium finishers.
McInulty, Livesy and Holland completed the top six ahead of Richardson, Baker, Mansfield and Alexander. Championship newcomer Summers was 11th in his first race ahead of the only other finisher, Mike Perkins.
Hetherington, Walpole, Oakley and Chris Perkins all had moments and Stacey, van Nederveen, Jackie Perkins and Croft joined them in retirement some with more damage than others.
Axel van Nederveen's moment was the biggest of them all, and extensive damage to the rear clam was impressively fixed with cable ties, gaffer tape and no small amount of hope by Matthew Bentley Racing to get the car back out for the Lotus Cup race just a couple of hours later.
More rain fell ahead, and during, the second race of the day later in the afternoon. With a top-10 reversal of the grid, it was Alexander on pole ahead of Mansfield, Baker, Richardson and Holland rounding out the top five.
Thankfully for all involved, there was far less chaos in the final encounter of the day as all of the cars that took the start made the finish, the three non-starters being polesitter Alexander, Walpole and Livesy.
As a result of Alexander's non-start it was Mansfield who took up pole position, but come the start the order shuffled very quickly as the pack headed through Old Hall for the first time. McInulty was leading at the end of lap one ahead of Baker, Ball, Ratcliff and Richardson. Having spun exiting Cascades, Paul Baker dropped from third on the grid to the rear of the pack fairly rapidly.
Race one winner Ratcliff was soon right behind the leader, getting up to second by the conclusion of lap two and from there on began whittling down McInulty’s 2.7s lead.
At the end of lap four they were tied by just 0.019s before Ratcliff finally slipped past and began to pull away initially, before a charging Jason Baker found his feet and closed in on the lead once again.
After a closely-fought nine laps, it all came down to the final tour as leader Ratcliff missed a gear rising Clay Hill for the last time, this being the crucial mistake which allowed Jason Baker through to take victory and prevent a Ratcliff clean sweep of the Oulton weekend. This was déjà vu for Baker who took a similar win last year following a gear change issue late in the race by Craig Denman.
They eventually crossed the line 1.2s apart, with McInulty a further 13 seconds behind in third, who in turn was 12 seconds clear of Ball, who himself had another 12 seconds on Hetherington in a very spread out top five.
It was closer further down the order; Freddie Hetherington was only 1.8s ahead of Stacey at the flag. Chris Perkins, Oakley, Holland and van Nederveen all had strong runs to finish inside the top ten.
Richardson dropped down to 11th by the flag, finishing a few seconds up the road from Mike Perkins. Mansfield and debutants Summers and Croft rounded out the top 15 whilst the spinning Baker (Paul) and Jackie Perkins were the two other finishers.
After a dramatic weekend up at Oulton Park, Lotus Cup & Elise Trophy returns down south in mid-August for the biggest event of the year, the annual Lotus Festival on the legendary Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. Even more track time than usual for the Lotus Cup & Elise Trophy competitors, and an ever increasing entry, means it's set to be another exciting weekend.