Hot wheels hit Foxhall

HOT RODS: SATURDAY and Sunday sees the 36 Ipswich Spede-weekend staged at the Foxhall Stadium, Ipswich which, yet again, promises another feast of top class motor racing from the world's best oval track riders.

SATURDAY and Sunday sees the 36 Ipswich Spede-weekend staged at the Foxhall Stadium, Ipswich which, yet again, promises another feast of top class motor racing from the world's best oval track riders.

Thirty seven races are scheduled over the two days, with around 350 drivers in action, there's seven racing formulas, plus chariot racing and a gigantic firework display, a Banger Caravan race and, in amongst all this, two World Championships to be resolved.

Topping the bill, as it has done every year since 1972, is the National Hot Rods Championship of the World featuring 32 of the top Hot Rod drivers in the their state of the art, very expensive, 230 bhp cars, the field including a wide range of models which, outwardly at least, resemble family hatchbacks.

There is Peugeot 205s and 206s, Ford Fiestas, Vauxhall Corsas, Mitzubishi Colts, Ford Focus, Renault Clios, VW Korrado and an Audio TT.

Underneath though, things are very different, with racing engines, racing tyres, suspension and gear box all pushing the bill up to around £20,000 per car, but you do get the performance you would expect from this sort of price tag.

The English challenge is headed by the Kent veteran John Steward, who has been second twice before, Essex star Andy Steward another who has been runner-up, local boy Carl Boardley from Ipswich and Essex flyer Colin Smith who, with second and third in the last two years, will be hoping for third time lucky this time.

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Scotland's best ever hope, Jock Burgoyne will be starting very near to the front of the grid, while the Northern Ireland challenge is led by the father and son duo of Norman Woolsey who has won the title three times in his long career, and his son Gary who has made a podium finish twice but has yet to win.

Keith Martin, recent winner of the Thunder 500 at Ipswich (which is the traditional warm-up race for the World Final) is also a dangerous opponent, while the Republic of Ireland send four very talented drivers including Tom Casey, another who has been so near, yet so far, with second place a few years ago.

Europe's main challenge is likely to come from German star Volker Timm, the reigning British Long Track Champion, although he faces a race against time to repair his Audio TT after crashing heavily at the press day last week.

Seventy five laps of the Foxhall Raceway – the longest race of the year – is very demanding on both man and machine, particularly in hot weather, so this is not just about going fast but it is as much about driving sensibly and making the car last the distance; tyres are the crucial factor, and are likely to prove even more decisive this year on a track that has been considerably widened in recent months so that it is now probably the fastest circuit in the country.

The 2 Litre Hot Rods also have their World Championship over the weekend. These are similar in appearance to the National Hot Rods but with far fewer modifications allowed, it suits those whose budget can't stretch to the National Class.

Unlike the Nationals where the grid is predetermined on the basis of points scored at the 16 qualifying rounds, the grid for the 2 Litre World Race is determined solely by points scored during the heats on Saturday afternoon, the highest point scorer getting pole position for their big race on Saturday evening.

Obviously, focusing on likely winners then becomes rather more difficult than it is for the Nationals, since one poor result or even a simple thing like a puncture in the heats, has dropped one of the favourites well down the grid, but those who are expected to be somewhere near the front, and involved in the battle for the major placings, include Sussex superstar Dave Longhurst who has won it before, former British champion Mark Paffey from Portsmouth, English champion Malcolm Blackman from Berkshire and former Banger Figure of Eight World Champion from Aldershot, Mark Boulden.

Both Blackman and Paffey face a busy weekend, since they have also qualified for the National Hot Rods World Race as well, while this has never happened before, both are convinced that the Saturday racing will keep them sharp for the bigger prize on Sunday.

Other English drivers expected to put up a good showing include the defending champion Lee Pepper from Sussex who has had a poor year but has shown signs of coming back to form since acquiring a new car a few months ago, and the Norfolk driver Gary Goodswen who almost won last year, but lost the lead to Pepper with five laps to go.

The biggest challenge to an English win comes, as usual, from Northern Ireland whose eight entries include 1999 champion Davy McCall, while there are also four drivers from the South African team which was narrowly beaten by the English team in January's 10-match series on Johannesburg.

Although these are the two main events there is a host of big races for the other formulas to contest: staying with the non-contact Rod formulas, 50 of the 1400cc Stock Rods race for the European Challenge Cup which ended in sensational fashion last year with the ultimate winner Lewis Hill from Kings Lynn on his roof after an over enthusiastic challenge from Dave Weaver as they battled for the lead.

Hill is back to defend this year where, once again, the main challenge to an English win is likely to come from another strong Irish entry, headed by Frankie Lynn who won a major championship at Foxhall earlier this year, and Scotland's former World Champion Chris Natka.

English stars who should be in the running include the 1999 winner Andy Sturt from Surrey, English Champion Stewart Smyth from Uxbridge and former World Champion Brian Smith from Hayes, with the main local hopes carried by the Bury St Edmunds' driver Rob Sore along with 21-year-old Lisa Kerry, from Stradbroke, one of the leading lady racers in the country.

The Lightning Rods, the very popular Sierra formula, are also on duty, featuring 50 of the best drivers from England and Ireland, headed by World Champion Darren Ahern from Romford and former champion Richard Boulton and Nick Farrer, Nick being brother of Chas, last year's winner of the Budweiser 500 which is the feature race for the big cars again this time, the winner receiving 500 cans of this very liquid prize.

Leading local drivers in the formula include Southwold's Gavin Murrey, Ipswich DJ Dave Richardson and the Stowmarket/Bacton trio of Terry Gant, Steve Cason and Darren Gaudy.

Although all the formulas are non contact, there is plenty of the traditional of the pushing and shoving classes racing at the weekend too, headed by the open wheel 2 litre specials, the Superstox, currently enjoying their most successful year in a long while.

Forty-five of these are expected to race for the National Championship, the star studded entry being led by the Peterborough-based trio of Tim Cole, Colin Aylward and Gavan Kershaw, while Southern stars include British Champion Geoff Bridges, former Stock Car ace Deane Wood and the defending champion Mark Kelman who is having a terrible year with all sorts of mechanical problems but is hopeful that his new car will at last start to fulfil its undoubted potential this weekend.

Sixteen-year-old Mike Nicholls from Ipswich who had his first win in the formula here last time out, and his equally young compatriots Ryan Eaton and Chris Bradbury are ample proof that this formula, which started it all off back in the late 50s, is still as attractive today as it was then, despite the glamour of the Rod Formulas.

Around the same number of Stock Cars battle it out for their trophy race, where there is a bit more than just pushing and shoving involved – this is a full contact formula. East Anglia has always had the biggest name in the class, and still has with reigning World Champion Mark Smith from Yarmouth, along with former champion Steven Jackson and Colin Goodswen, both from Harlesden, in Norfolk, but the strength in depth isn't what it was, with the Southern challenge likely to be the strongest ever this year.

Their star names include Derry Monk and Pip Williams, along with another Sussex driver, 17-year-old Samantha Holland, from Brighton, a very pretty blue-eyed blonde who is racing proof that Stock Car Racing isn't all about big burly men crashing their cars into each other, although that is not to say that she can't do it with the best of them.

There is plenty of Banger racing too, including the traditional English Championship on Sunday where the locals, headed by Gary Madgwick from Newmarket and Willie Skoyles from Kings Lynn, will be attempting to stop an eighth successive win by the Eastbourne Seasiders drivers, while the Saturday racing is headlined by a Banger caravan race making a reappearance at the speed weekend for the first time since 1992.

Twenty-five cars towing caravans is a guarantee of non-stop action and a mammoth clearing up job for the track staff who have just one hour to collect the thousands of bits that the caravans disintegrate into, before "normal" racing is resumed.

Other attractions include chariot racing, where four legged horsepower takes over from the mechanical sort, and one of the weekend's famous fireworks displays to round off the Saturday proceedings.