The first round of the season is always an exciting one, the first round back after a long winter break, lots of excited drivers, teams and fans. The atmosphere can only be described as electric.
After a very soggy test day on Friday, we were pleased to see dry weather and even some sunshine during the weekend. The track action began with our 420R class, and with qualifying and one race for each class on Saturday, followed by two races per class on Sunday it was a nice way to ease into a brand new season.
We had a number of new drivers join us for this opening weekend, including 420R pole sitter Stephen Lyall. Although making his 7RS debut at Donington, Stephen is no stranger to Caterham racing. 7RS regular, Mark Stansfield lined up second on the 32 car grid for the first race of the season, ahead of Jonathan Mitchell and reigning 1600 class champion, Gary Smith, on his 420R debut.
After 15 laps of action it was Gary Smith who kick started his season perfectly with victory. An ideal start to his 420R campaign. It was a hard fought victory, with the top four drivers finishing less than one second apart. Smith was followed across the line by Mitchell, Jose Magalhaes and Rob Watts. Sadly, pole sitter Lyall failed to finish.
New for this year is the 420R Sportsman Championship. With healthy numbers once again in the 420R class, entrants this year have been split into two separate championships, the 7 Race Series 420R Championship and the 7 Race Series 420R Sportsman Championship, with an aim to engage all drivers throughout the field as they increase their experience level and get quicker.
It was Ian Cowley who was crowned the inaugural 420R Sportsman race winner. Still in the relatively early stages of his racing career, Cowley also finished an impressive sixth place overall.
After making his 7RS debut last season in a Caterham 310R, Ben Rowsell made his 420R debut at Donington Park. Despite the initial challenge, he finished in a respectable 23rd place, ahead of newcomer Charles Holroyd.
After an incident just before the chequered flag in race one, there were a few drivers missing from the second 420R race of the day, however it did not detract from the fiercely entertaining race that followed, with the usual suspects taking control at the head of the pack. With grid positions for race two formed from the finishing positions of race one, it was a front row start for Smith and Mitchell. After a non-finish in race one, initial pole sitter Lyall was forced to start at the very back of the grid for this second race. With Lyall, Mark Stansfield and another 7RS newcomer Harry Senior all starting from the back of the grid, there was sure to be some extra excitement in this outing.
After 16 laps this time around, it was Mitchell who emerged victorious this time around, just managing to keep Smith at bay by a mere 0.4 seconds. Lyall fought his way through the pack to finish an impressive third place, whilst Stansfield worked his way up to eighth place. Senior narrowly missed out on a 10th place finish, and with it a pole position start for the final race of the day with the reverse top 10 format.
10th place, however, did fall to Gary Tootell. Not only did that mean a pole position start for race three, but he also claimed the 420R Sportsman victory in this second race.
And so, we headed into race three. Tootell and Watts lined up on the front row of the grid. As the field thundered into Redgate on lap one it was Tootell who looked to have the advantage, as he edged away slightly from the chasing pack in the early stages.
As the race unfolded, we looked set to crown our third different 420R winner of the day. 16 laps later and it was Lyall who finally managed to work his way onto the top step of the podium, an astonishing 0.1 seconds ahead of Stansfield. Third placed Anthony Barnes finished millimetres adrift, with the top three separated by just over half a second.
Tootell claimed his second 420R Sportsman victory of the day, also finishing eighth overall, with Matt Drew and Steve Riley joining him on the podium.
Onto our three 1600 class races and it was 7RS regular and Caterham stalwart Don Henshall who claimed pole position and headed up 29 car grid for race one.
Despite cementing the initial advantage in qualifying, as the race unfolded it was clear to see who the main contenders would be for this opening outing, however the order was still anyone’s guess. In true style of Caterham racing, positions swapped and changed multiple times before Ben Winrow settled at the head of the pack, claiming his first victory of the season. A seasoned Caterham racer, Ben and brother Jamie have dabbled in the 7RS on multiple occasions, however both have committed to a full season campaign this year.
7RS debutant, Stephen Clark, had led the way for the majority of the race, however Winrow managed to sneak ahead in the closing stages. One lap after gaining the advantage, race pace was neutralised with the appearance of the safety car. As the remaining time diminished, the race finished behind the safety car, crowning Winrow the winner, with Clark second and David Yates in third place.
With race one finishing positions dictating the grid for race two, Winrow and Clark lined up side by side, ready to go head-to-head once again. The pair are familiar rivals on circuit, having raced against one another elsewhere during the last couple of seasons.
An eventful race followed during the second 1600 encounter of the weekend, with the top four swapping positions lap after lap. This time around Winrow and Clark were joined in battle by fellow newcomer David Baldwin and Yates, as the quartet battled profusely lap after lap.
Clark again gained the advantage from the off, however was dethroned during the race. As the chequered flag came into view it was Winrow who doubled his weekend’s successes, ahead of Baldwin, Clark and Yates. The quartet once again separated by little over a second.
Race three came and brought with it a reverse of the top 10 finishing positions from race two to form the grid. With Winrow lining up in 10th place this time around, all eyes were fixed to see if he could triple his success. Michael O’Reilly started from top spot for this third race of the weekend, alongside yet another newcomer, Max Haynes.
As the race progressed and others battled amongst themselves, Clark managed to steer his way from eighth on the grid into the lead of the race. Before long he had edged out a substantial gap, eventually taking the chequered flag by just over 13 seconds. Yates and Mark Roberts completed the podium, with Caroline Everett fourth, with the trio separated by inches.
Another new addition to the 7RS for 2023 is the Chapman Trophy, which is an award dedicated to the more mature drivers on the grid. Those drivers who were aged 55 or over at the start of the season (15th April), were entered into the Chapman Trophy. The trophy is awarded to the eligible driver who collects the most points during an event. This weekend it was David Yates who became our inaugural Chapman Trophy winner, after a trio of strong results in the 1600 class.
Next stop for us is the infamous Brands Hatch GP circuit during 13th-14th May.