Snetterton hosted its first race weekend on the new 300 layout as the Norfolk circuit hosted the MSVR Season opener on March 19th & 20th. A variety of cars were on display as the Lotus on Track Elise Trophy, Lotus Cup UK, Production BMW Championship, Project 8 Racing Saloons, MSVR F3 Cup, Club MSV Trackday Trophy and the Monoposto Championship all took to the new tarmac to sample racing for the first time on the newly redeveloped 2.99 mile course.
The new infield section designed by Jonathan Palmer and taking inspiration from corners from around the globe was completed ahead of schedule in time for this seasons starting event. Before the first race took place, the track was opened by the first ever BTCC Champion Jack Sears and F2 star Alex Brundle, who after the opening told the media, “The track is much more technical than the old circuit was, and they’ve smoothed the tarmac out a bit which is a big improvement. They’ve kept a lot of the great elements of the old track but I love the new sections and there’s a bit of banking element which will open up the apex a lot and the whole place is a lot more exciting. It’s a bona fide international race track now which is great for the area and great for the circuit.”
This weekend also saw celebrations from MSVR who were celebrating their fifth birthday on the Saturday and the race organisers have been growing rapidly. A number of series are now under the MSVR umbrella which include, many open wheeled, saloon car and bike championships with numerous more keep to join up.
After Saturday morning's practice and qualifying sessions, the first race was to be the Project 8 Racing Saloons. A series for pre 1994 saloon cars which was looking to be a hard fought battle as the drivers knew the winner in this race will also take the kudos of becoming the first ever winner on the Snetterton 300 circuit. Adam Sharpe in his BMW M3 was to start ahead of the pack in front of Colin Tester in his Iconic Ford Sierra Cosworth, the only non BMW on the first three rows. Roger Kneebone starting from fourth took the initiative after a good start to lead the pack after the first lap in his BMW M5. However, Sharpe took back first place on lap two and went on from there to pull away from the field. Tester was to climb up to second on lap three but was unable to catch the flying BMW M3 ahead. Such was Sharpe's pace, he was lapping back markers by lap six before taking the chequered flag a lap later a full 20 seconds ahead of Colin Tester. Behind, a battle was ensuing between Kneebone and Mike Dugdale in an E36 M3 BMW with the latter taking the flag by just a second to clinch the remaining podium spot.
“It feels pretty good to be the first winner.” said Adam Sharpe, “It was going through the back of my mind but it was a case of keeping it consistent. The circuit offers a lot more opportunities for overtaking especially against some of the bigger cars. My car was more nimble than some of the others and I had a real advantage through the new twisty section.”
The top two were to repeat their performance in race 2 later the same afternoon as Sharpe took victory again ahead of Tester, albeit by a smaller margin of 4.2 seconds. But Kneebone was to extract his revenge on Dugdale as after another closely fought battle separated by less than a second on the penultimate lap, backmarkers and a quick lap by Kneebone meant he was able to claim third place by 10 seconds.
The other race to take place on the Saturday was that of the Trackday Trophy. A race series entering its second year, designed for those who want to take the first steps towards a racing career with less than six races under their belts. A plethora of cars were on show from MX5's to BMW's, Fiesta's to Clio's and many more in between, including a 2009 EX championship winning Renault Clio. A full line up of 45 cars took to the grid for the 45 minute race with James Britton in a BMW M3 on pole ahead of two Clio cup cars of John Hamilton sharing with Danny Buxton second and David Thomas in third. It was the Hamilton and Buxton Clio who took the lead off the line, but Britton was to take back the lead on lap two. A position he would hold to the flag with the exception of the mandatory pitstop period. The two Clio's were to trail behind for most of the race until the BMW M3 Evolution of Christian Lynn and Tommy Lee was to surge through the field late on and take second place only one and a half seconds behind the race victor leaving the Hamilton and Buxton car to settle with third.
Sunday was to see a further 10 races which was kicked off with the Production BMW Championships. The sheer number of entrants in this championships meant that the drivers are split into three groups with each group racing in two of the three races taking place. Ex Clio cup champion Ben Winrow was the star of the show as he took race one victory by nearly 12 seconds ahead of Tim Wilson in second place and Mike Tovey in third after the 15 minute sprint race. This was a feat he was to duplicate in his second race with an almost identical winning margin, this time over Rob Smith in second place and Liam Crilley in third. Needless to say, Winrow was to also set the fastest laps in both races. In the other BMW race the winning margin was to be even more substantial as James MacIntyre took the flag 16 seconds ahead of his nearest rival Alan Wileman who successfully fought off the challenge from third placed Liam Crilley.
There was to be another double winner in the two Lotus on track Elise Trophy races with Ken Savage taking the spotlight. Starting from pole after the first race had to be restarted due to a first corner pile up, Savage battled throughout the five lap shortened race with Luigi Valentino Mazza. Despite losing the lead to Mazza briefly, Savage took a race one victory by just 0.130s with third placed Stuart Rowland picking up third behind the battling pair. Despite the top ten finishers in the first race being reversed for the second race, Savage picked his way through the pack and into the lead by lap four. From here he went on to a relatively comfortable victory after nine laps. The other two podium finishers were to be the same as race one's, although in reverse order as Savage was joined on the rostrum by Rowland in second place and Mazza third who had fought closely throughout.
Also the Lotus Cup UK was to take to the track for its one hour race and there were plenty of entrants to keep the crowd entertained. Mark Speller was on pole in the Open class in his 340R and British GT G4 Champion Jamie Stanley had put the Exige Cup car he was sharing with Glen Sherwood alongside him. The remaining cars in the top six were from the 2-Eleven class with the fastest production car in eighth, that of Steve Quick. It was pole man Speller who took the lead but Glen Sherwood starting in second place had dropped down the order to eighth by the end of lap one. Five 2-Elevens were to settle in behind Speller as he set about building a solid lead. By the time the pit lane had opened it was a lead of over 15 seconds to the now second placed David and Rob Fenn Motorsport Elise. Sherwood came in first to hand over to Jamie Stanley who immediately set about cutting the gap to the front runners by putting in some blisteringly quick lap times.
It was shaping up to be a real ding dong battle until an unfortunate set of circumstances arose and threw the cat amongst the pigeons. A retired car out on track forced a safety car period as the pit lane was about to close. The safety car had entered into the middle of the field leaving the cars out front to join onto the back of the train and create a lead of nearly a whole lap on those chasing. This had destroyed Staley's chances of attacking the front runners as he was held up behind the safety car. By the time the safety car period had finished, there was only about 15 minutes remaining leaving Simon Deacon and Pete Storey, both in 2-Elevens, to romp to first and second place respectively. Mark Speller, the leader before the pitstops, finished third nearly 30 seconds behind. However, for some, the events played nicely into their hands. A well timed pitstop for Ken Savage, winner of the two Elise races, and now in the production class for this race, saw himself in fifth place towards the end and pushing Denis van den Saver in the Exige cup car all the way to the flag. This fifth position meant winning the production class to add to a successful day for Savage. The rapid Jamie Stanley had to settle for seventh place overall leaving him to consider what might have been.
Onto the MSVR F3 Cup and it was to be another double winner. Having dominated the qualifying session, it was Aaron Steele who took pole position nearly three seconds ahead of Mark Terry who was to line up alongside him. A coming together between Terry and Alex Craven behind him from the start saw the Dallara of Terry launch into the air and roll over instantly brining out a red flag. Thankfully Mark Terry was extracted from the car unscathed and the race was to restart after the clear up operation was complete. The delay had only postponed the inevitable as Steele raced clear of the pack and drove faultlessly and unchallenged to win by nearly 30 seconds ahead of Chris Needham. It was Needham who probably was wishing he had a quiet race like Steel as he spent the 12 laps battling with Alex Craven who took third just behind him. Race two was much of the same. Steele was off and out of sight soon after ther start and took the chequered flag by a slightly increased margin of over 32 seconds. Again, it was Needham and Craven who were battling hard throughout as Needham replicated his second place from earlier just ahead of Craven at the flag.
Finally, the Monoposto championship filled the race day programme with two races, One for the Classic and 2000 class and one for the 1000, 1400, 1600 and 1800 cars. The 2000 and Classic's were to entertain the crowd first with some close battles through the field, but it was Tristan Cliffe in his Dalarra F398 who took the win after a spin dropped him down the field before picking his way through the pack to take the lead on the final lap. Pole sitter Matt Draper who finished in second place had been disqualified along with Graham Read thanks to rear wing irregularities promoting Richard Purcell in a Dallara F301 to second place, six seconds behind Cliffe and six seconds ahead of third placed Anthony Bishop who made it a Dallara one two three with an F397.
The remaining monoposto race saw five Jedi Mk6's fill the front 5 spaces on the grid, with Dan Clowes in pole position. However it was second on the grid Dax Ward who went on to claim victory after battling hard with Maro Fortune in another Jedi with just a second and a half splitting the pair, whilst Adrian Wright rounded out the podium in his GEM AW2 a further 31 seconds behind.