With the MINI Festival making its debut up North for the first time in its history on Saturday 12th July 2014, this gave an opportunity for a second modern BMW MINI Championship to join the timetable. In making its annual trip south of the border from its regular venue of Knockhill, the drivers and teams of the Scottish Celtic Speed MINI Cooper Cup took part in rounds ten and eleven around the Oulton Park International circuit. Working in a similar way to its British Cousin, the MINI Challenge, the championship is one of the most competitive in Scotland and has produced some of the finest drivers in the British national scene over the years, like current BTCC driver Aiden Moffat and a few who are now in the MINI Challenge, like Shane Stoney (who was making a guest appearance in the class at the festival) and Hamish Brandon. With 2014 hosting twenty races and all but two at Knockhill, the away trip to Oulton Park could see a change in the championship, with this of course not being their typical venue. Leading the way after nine races and making himself the man to beat in 2014 was the 2013 Champion Kenneth Thirlwall, who had recorded seven wins and led on 215 points. With his closest rival being former Formula 1600 competitor and rival Joe Tanner, the gap of fifty-one points would have been tough to make up. With Joe recording a few wins of his own so far in 2014, one DNF had put him adrift of Thirlwall but he wouldn’t give up without a fight. A gap of forty-eight points over third place man David Sleigh allows Tanner to push at all costs, but with twenty-five points for a win, losing ground on Thirlwall at the half way mark could be a dent in the championship chase. Sitting just outside the top three on 108 points was a name familiar with MINI Challenge followers and fans of GT racing. In 2007 and 2009, Oliver (Oly) Mortimer became the British MINI Cooper S championship champion and then in 2011, took part in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge and races in Asia. 2014 had seen Oly return to a happy hunting ground in terms of the Scottish MINI Cooper Cup, which he won back in 2005, 2006 and 2010 and so far he had recorded four third places and a second. Disaster in rounds eight and nine had unfortunately made Oly lose ground on the top three, but the Scottish driver isn’t short of experience at Oulton Park, which should boost his chances of more podiums or race wins.
Thirlwall Secures Pole Position in Unknown Territory
The early morning qualifying session took place under glorious conditions, with twenty-two cars taking to the car for a crucial fifteen minute session. With Oulton Park being unknown territory for the teams and drivers in the Scottish MINI Cooper Cup, it was very likely that the grid could be shaken up. As MINI Challenge competitor Shane Stoney made a guest appearance, he was being tipped as a favourite to challenge Kenneth Thirlwall and Joe Tanner for a front row spot. The lap times around Oulton Park were coming in at an average of two minutes and seven seconds, meaning each driver could get in around six laps of the International circuit at Oulton Park. The first few laps did see most drivers hit the two minute and seven seconds mark, but it was the second laps from Thirlwall and Stoney that saw the times drop into the Two minute and five seconds bracket. As Thirlwall lapped 0.316 seconds faster than Stoney, four more laps by the two saw things calm and the front row of the grid was settled. The only driver to get near to the two was Thirlwall’s championship rival Joe Tanner, who qualified within 0.677 seconds of Thirlwall and ahead of team mate Lewis Carter. As David Sleigh completed the top five in qualifying, the biggest surprise was the lack in speed for multiple MINI champion, Oly Mortimer. The six laps from Oly would only see him qualify in ninth place, with a time of 2:07.382 and an average speed of 76.08mph, compared to the 2:05.515 and 77.21mph set by pole sitter Kenneth Thirlwall. The only thing mainly to consider after qualifying was, with the grid shaken up around an unfamiliar track layout, the two races on Saturday could be very exciting and full of entertainment.
Scottish MINI Cooper Cup – Oulton Park – Qualifying Top Five:
1. Kenneth Thirlwall (1 – Edinburgh College) = 2:05.515
2. Shane Stoney (89 – CSK Motorsport) = +0.316s
3. Joe Tanner (2 – Tim Sleigh Racing) = +0.677s
4. Lewis Carter (9 – Tim Sleigh Racing) = +0.740s
5. David Sleigh (3 – David Sleigh Racing) = +1.275s
Stoney’s Challenge Doesn’t Faze Championship Leader
With Thirlwall alongside Stoney on the front row and Joe Tanner just behind, there was a massive question of who would make it into turn one first and come out with the race lead. As the No.1 MINI of Thirlwall got away well, the whole field made it into Old Hall Corner clean, before the first bit of drama unfolded. On the run down to Cascades,the bright yellow MINI of Ian Munro was thrown out of a top ten start and into the safety barrier. The impact with barrier luckily didn’t damage the car too much and Ian re-joined way down and the field avoided the release of the safety car early on. As Thirlwall led Stoney and Lewis Carter, the next bit of drama happened at the Hislops chicane, as an ambitious dive by Joe Tanner on David Sleigh, resulted in plenty of rubbing. As the two continued to rub around the first part of the chicane, a grassy moment at Knickerbrooksaw Sleigh head for the gravel trap and retirement from the race. Tanner was able to re-join from the incident, but lied in eighth as his championship rival led Shane Stoney by 0.411 seconds at the end of lap one.
As things started to calm down, it was very obvious that the power of these MINI Coopers were catching a few out on the exit of the Hislops Chicane and into Knickerbrook, with the first casualty being Shane Stoney. As a dusty moment on the exit of the chicane affected Stoney, this unfortunately meant that gap to Thirlwall started to increase. The pace of the leading two allowed them to break clear of Lewis Carter, who benefitted from the earlier incident between Tanner and Sleigh by having a good advantage over newcomer competitor, Jock Borthwick. The same incident that slowed Stoney happened moments later, as Des Wheatley got caught out whilst in eleventh.
With the race likely to only reach seven or eight laps, gaps were starting to form on lap three between the podium places, whilst the bigger mover further back started to be Joe Tanner. Recovering from the dramas on lap one, Tanner had moved up the order to fifth by the end of lap three and was right on the tail of Jock Borthwick, after dispatching Chris Reid. It wouldn’t take Tanner long to move within sight of his team mate, Lewis Carter and set up a good battle for the final podium spot.
As queues formed further back within the top ten, one driver struggling to match the speed of others was former champion, Oly Mortimer. After qualifying in ninth, Mortimer struggled to move up the order early on and was fighting over tenth place on lap two. It wasn’t long before a train formed behind the No.70 MINI and he was fighting hard to remain within the top ten. A scrap over eighth and ninth between Malcolm McNab and Alan Waugh helped Mortimer to keep in toe with them, as McNab passed Waugh up Clay Hill to take the position.
As the race reached its conclusion, the front two were separated by a good two seconds, as Carter found Tanner attached to his rear bumper. It was lap six that Tanner made the move on his team mate for third and the positions remained the same at the flag. As Thirlwall secured his eighth win of the season by over two seconds, he hadn’t been fazed by the addition of Stoney to the grid, who himself secured another podium for the MINI Festival after success in the MINI Challenge Cooper Class. As Tanner completed the podium, the incident on lap one with David Sleigh had surely dented his chances of challenging Thirlwall for the race win.
Scottish MINI Cooper Cup – Oulton Park – Race One Top Ten:
1. Kenneth Thirlwall (1 – Edinburgh College) = 8 Laps = 17:00.551
2. Shane Stoney (89 – CSK Motorsport) = +2.662s
3. Joe Tanner (2 – Tim Sleigh Racing) = +12.075s
4. Lewis Carter (9 – Tim Sleigh Racing) = +13.163s
5. Jock Borthwick (37) = +14.139s
6. Kyle Reid (20 – SCK Motorsport) = +17.513s
7. Chris Reid (29 – SCK Motorsport) = +18.842s
8. Malcolm McNab (4 – McMurdo Motorsport) = +25.148s
9. Alan Waugh (14 – MINI Max Motorsport) = +24.506s
10. Oliver Mortimer (70) = +25.148s
Thirlwall Defends Off Rival Tanner for the Southern Double
For the second and final Scottish MINI Cooper Cup race at Oulton Park, the clouds unfortunately darken and the heavens slightly opened, dropping a few spots of rain over the Cheshire circuit. With a slightly greasy track, this could have slowed proceedings, but with a reverse grid seeing Kenneth Thirlwall on row three in sixth, the reigning champion would try everything in his path to beat Stoney and for sure stop Joe Tanner from securing a win.
When the lights went out to start race two, it was Joe Tanner from row two who got the better start, but Kenneth Thirlwall moved from sixth to be right on the bumper of his main rival. As Kyle Reid settled into third from pole position, Shane Stoney kept Reid on his toes straight away. As Thirlwall snatched the lead from his rival, the opening lap would see the front four cross the line nearly as one, bumper to bumper and close to swapping paint work. As Thirlwall tried to pull away from Joe Tanner, a gap was created between him and Shane Stoney. As Stoney challenged Kyle Reid over third, the leading two were able to break out a lead of over a second, but once Stoney got past, his chances of catching Tanner was very difficult in a short space of time.
Just behind the front four, another group were battling over fifth place, with Lewis Carter leading the pack. Keeping Carter under pressure for much of the early part was Jock Borthwick, whilst David Sleigh battled Oly Mortimer and swapped places regularly. As the two fought over seventh position, the two moved closer to Jock Borthwick and David dropped him to seventh. The first five laps saw great racing between the top ten, but as the clouds darken, the rain started to fall.
With the time ticking down and the lap times increasing, Thirlwall remained out front by the tightest margins of just under a second, but held firm to secure the Southern double at the MINI Festival. As Stoney lied in third by a comfortable margin, there was a spicy battle over fourth place, as Carter upped the pressure on Kyle Reid. As the two ran out of Druids, Carter lined up a move at Lodge and tried to pass around the outside. As they ran down Dear Leap, Reid held onto fourth and then started to drop Carter by the flag and move him closer to David Sleigh. With Borthwick ahead of Mortimer in seventh and eighth, the challenge of Malcolm McNab in the closing stages kept Mortimer on his toes, but McNab had to keep an eye on Reid in tenth. This allowed Mortimer to hold position, whilst McNab and Reid completed the top ten covered by less than a second.
Scottish MINI Cooper Cup – Oulton Park – Race Two Top Ten:
1. Kenneth Thirlwall (1 – Edinburgh College) = 7 Laps = 14:52.162
2. Joe Tanner (2 – Tim Sleigh Racing) = +0.667s
3. Shane Stoney (89 – CSK Motorsport) = +3.757s
4. Kyle Reid (20 – SCK Motorsport) = +9.907s
5. Lewis Carter (9 – Tim Sleigh Racing) = +10.689s
6. David Sleigh (3 – David Sleigh Racing) = +10.837s
7. Jock Borthwick (37) = +12.463s
8. Oliver Mortimer (70) = +15.011s
9. Malcolm McNab (4 – McMurdo Motorsport) = +15.244s
10. Chris Reid (29 – SCK Motorsport) = +15.353s
As Kenneth Thirlwall wrapped up wins eight and nine of the 2014 Scottish MINI Cooper Cup, the lead of fifty-one points had been further extended, as championship rival Joe Tanner was unable to stop the run of victories on home soil. With the series now returning to its home venue of Knockhill, nine more races over three weekends will decide the fate of the championship in the 2014 Celtic Speed MINI Cooper Cup. With the championship featuring a competitive field of youth and experience, anything could still happen, but Kenneth Thirlwall has surely moved himself closer to regaining the title. With Tanner losing ground on Thirlwall, the retirement of David Sleigh in race one means he is still comfortably in second, but it is the fight for third which has become a lot closer.
To see the up to date Standings of the Scottish MINI Cooper Cup Championship when they are released, please click hereto visit their website.
If anyone would like to follow the action of the Scottish Celtic Speed MINI Cooper Cup and can’t make it to Knockhill on either of the following dates, highlights of each meeting is regularly shown on Motors TV (Sky Channel 447) as well as interviews with the drivers before and after the races. To read about the action and other rounds of the championship, please click here.
For more of our photos from the Celtic Speed Scottish MINI Cooper, these can be located here on Flickr page, alongside various other championships that competed at the Oulton Park MINI Festival.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.