The 1.2 mile Brands Hatch Indy circuit was the venue for the opening round of the 2016 Pickup Truck Championship on the 28 March. With eighteen beautifully prepared Pickups contesting the 19th season, twenty-six races over six different venues would determine this years’ champion. Defending champion Michael Smith lead the line-up of championship contenders in 2016 in his No.93 Vauxhall powered Pickup however within the entry list Smith would find challengers from plenty of previous race winners. In terms of drivers returning to Pickups after being away in other championships; BTCC team owner and race competitor Lea Wood was out full time in the Morris Lubricants No.43 Ford Pickup, as well as former oval racer Carl Boardley, who had been competing in the Ginetta Supercup on the TOCA package. Paul Poulter was another driver returning to Pickups but his time away had been longer, after racing on the ovals for three seasons in the competitive Brisca F1 Stock Cars.
With it being likely that Boardley, Wood and Poulter could pick up wins on their return to the series, star drivers from 2015 couldn’t be forgotten, especially Ireland’s David O’Regan in the No.8 Ford, who was a regular podium finisher and Essex’s Freddie Lee, who has been a rising star since switching from Ginetta Juniors a few seasons ago. The Brands Hatch finale in 2015 saw Freddie collect his first win in Pickups, so he was expected to go well this year. Others to watch out were Pickup regulars Paul Tompkins and Phil White and the 2013 Champion Anthony Hawkins, who was hoping for better things in his Ford. Whilst Gavin Murray was starting his second season within the series, a few drivers had made the jump from Pro2 to Pro1 being Lee Rogers and Scott Bourne in the No.69 and No.99 Pickups. With such a competitive field of drivers, it was going to be hard to predict who would secure the honours and take maximum points from qualifying and the races.
Boardley Opens the Season with Victory
With qualifying on Sunday showing just how competitive the Pickup Truck Championship would be in 2016 with most of the top ten covered by less than a second in both sessions, the opening race on Monday on a drying track saw the No.74 Pickup of Paul Poulter line up on pole position, after the top six from qualifying 1 was reversed. With the reigning champion Michael Smith alongside, it was going to be an interesting run into Paddock Hill Bend on the rolling start. David O’Regan on row two was going to be a threat on the opening lap, but it was from row three where the fastest two from qualifying sat, with former Stock Car and Ginetta Supercup competitor Carl Boardley lined up alongside hot shot Freddie Lee.
When the lights went green, the eighteen pickups blasted towards Paddock Hill Bend with Paul Poulter keeping Smith behind, before the champion was gobbled up by Carl Boardley, David O’Regan and Freddie Lee by the end of the opening lap. With one lap in the book and Paul Poulter keeping Carl Boardley and David O’Regan at bay, the yellow flags were frantically waved at Paddock Hill Bend, as Christopher Land lost control of the No.77 Pickup and bounced hard into the tyres. Chris climbed free from the wreckage but the front end of his Pickup was heavily damaged, making it impossible to be moved quickly. The decision was taken to leave the yellow flags waving for a couple of laps and no pace truck was required.
In the midst of everything that had happened at Paddock Hill Bend, there had been a complete change at the front, with Carl Boardley grabbing the lead on lap two, before Freddie Lee, Michael Smith and David O’Regan all dropped the pole sitter to fifth by lap six. Further problems hit Poulter in the later stages of the race as he dropped down the order before retiring after eighteen laps. Poulter became the fourth retiree of the race, after Paul Jones and Lea Wood had gone missing on laps three and nine.
Back at the front of field Carl Boardley was controlling the speed of the race, gapping Freddie Lee by way over three seconds, as Lee himself broke away from Michael Smith. As the reigning champion lied third, David O’Regan struggled to close the gap in fourth, but was comfortable in that position with Gavin Murray not closing in fifth. The pace of the whole field rarely saw gaps decreased between positions, with the top five not coming under too much pressure from the chasing pack. One main battle outside the top five in the closing stages was between former champion Anthony Hawkins and Mark Willis for sixth place, with Hawkins closing the gap lap after lap, before taking the flag 0.302 seconds off the rear of Willis, after climbing from sixteenth on the grid.
Pickup Truck Racing Championship – Race One Top Five Classification:
- Carl Boardley (No.41) = 20 Laps = 18:12.897
- Freddie Lee (No.51) = +4.217s
- Michael Smith (No.93) = +6.243s
- David O’Regan (No.8) = +9.934s
- Gavin Murray (No.95) = +13.110s
Boardley & Lee Resume Race One Fight
For the second race of the weekend under the Kent sunshine, Mel Collins lined up on pole position, with race one winner Carl Boardley alongside, after Carl qualified fifth in qualifying two on Sunday. With race one runner up Freddie Lee lining up on row two alongside former Pro2 competitor Lee Rogers, fans expected that Lee and Boardley could and possible would resume battle from race one. When the lights went out however, everything went wrong at Paddock Hill Bend for drivers mid pack. With Mark Willis losing control of his Pickup exiting the corner, a few other drivers were caught unsighted. One of these was unfortunately Paul Jones, so ended up beached in the gravel trap along with Willis, whilst Michael Smith was forced into taking action and spinning on the grass. As Smith recovered to re-join the field last, the ITS Pace truck had to deployed to allow for safety crews to recover Jones and Willis, with the two re-joining moments later, but a few laps down.
With the race increased by two laps due to the pace truck, Carl Boardley got the race back underway on lap three, with the ITS backed Pickup of Freddie Lee following every line and looking for a way past. On the restart, the battle for third was also hotly contested, with Mel Collins keeping Lee Rogers at bay, with Rogers having to be weary of Lea Wood, who was looking for a stronger result after retiring in race one. As Collins pulled slightly away from Rogers and Wood, the former BTCC driver found a way into fourth on lap nine, with Rogers making a slight mistake exiting Druids.
Over the next few laps, the front two were continuing to run bumper to bumper, pulling clear of the battle for third, with Lee taking control on lap seven as Boardley made a mistake, however pressure on Lee over the next few laps resulted in a great overtake at Druids to regain the lead. Lee was able to regain the lead a lap later but on lap sixteen, Boardley made his move and pulled away enough to secure the Brands Hatch double to start the season on a high. Lee would unfortunately have to settle for second place again, but the youngster had shown he could be a title contender in 2016.
Whilst the two at the top had entertained in style, the battle for third had extremely heated up by the mid-way point of the race, as Lea Wood and Mel Collins had been joined by the Pickup of Paul Tompkins, who had climbed from outside the top ten after avoiding the first corner drama. With Tompkins lapping as quickly as the leaders, this allowed him to climb his way up the order without fault, finally passing Collins on lap sixteen. Setting his sights on Wood, the former BTCC driver defended hard, making the No.43 Pickup as wide as possible on the 1.2 mile circuit. Whilst Tompkins found his way through and onto the podium on lap nineteen, a massive push from Wood set up a frantic last lap. Coming up Hailwoods Hill, Wood found a gap entering Druids and went for it, forcing himself up into third position. However heading down Graham Hill Bend, Tompkins found himself on the right side for the corner and forced back into third. The momentum of the pass pushed Wood wide and allowed Collins to sneak into fourth. As Tompkins pulled slightly clear to take the flag in third, Wood lost out on the run to the flag and couldn’t recover against Collins, settling for a fifth place finish.
Pickup Truck Racing Championship – Race Two Top Five Classification:
- Carl Boardley (No.41) = 22 Laps = 21:52.189
- Freddie Lee (No.51) = +0.293s
- Paul Tompkins (No.12) = +7.831s
- Mel Collins (No.27) = +8.313s
- Lea Wood (No.43) = +8.350s
After taking the maximum of two race victories, it was Carl Boardley who would progress to the first Oval race of the season as the championship leader, but the youngster Freddie Lee was hot on his heels. The 9th and 10th April was the date for rounds three, four and five of the twenty-six round season with Rockingham in Corby hosting the first of twelve rounds on the only circuit oval in the United Kingdom. The Rockingham Oval over the years had produced fantastic Pickup Truck races, replicating the success of what is seen on a regular occurrence in the States with the Nascar Truck championship and it was expected that the championship will become even more intense when the fight for the Oval Championship began on the 9th April.
To keep up to date with the Pickup Truck Racing series and how the championship progresses, please check out http://www.pickuptruckracing.com/
To see plenty more photos of ours from the action at Brands Hatch, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs for Collierhousehold Motorsport.