1st and 2nd July saw 10 competitors from Great Britain, Poland and Estonia head to Stewartby, Bedford for the UIM GT30 European Championships, as well as 20 of the World’s top F4 powerboat racers competing for rounds 3 and 4 of the World F4 Championship.
Report Nikki Drummond – Images Brian Scott Photo above: GT30 European Champion Viktoria Soodla
UIM GT30 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Quickly getting down to business was Britain’s Thomas Mantripp who on his third lap of qualifying set the fastest lap time with a 1min 06second qualifying time seeing him secure pole position in a great start for the British Racer. Securing second on the starting grid was Estonia’s Aivar Kommisaar just ahead of Britain’s Elliot Fleet.
Heading into heat 1 and Thomas was determined to fight his way on to the podium top spot with his best international result to date being Bronze he was determined this year was going to see hi go one better. Thomas and Aivar Kommisaar went head to head into the first turn battling hard and as they rounded the course to head into the first full lap of the race the two lead boats headed towards the right hander in error as the rest of the fleet continued the correct course. Estonia’s Viktoria Soodla spotted her chance and led the fleet towards mark 5 as Aivar and Thomas realised their error and adjusted their course. Aivar managed to round the mark ahead of Viktoria with Thomas following round in third. The ten-lap race continued with Viktoria and Thomas continuing to bear down on Aivar with Britain’s Jonathan Brewer trying to move up from 4th position.
From second place on the starting grid for heat 2 Viktoria Soodla was set on proving to the boys she had the skill and speed to claim the European crown. As the lights went out for the second heat of the weekend she powered away from the start and as they rounded the first turn the female racer had claimed the lead. It was an Estonian 1 and 2 as Aivar pushed hard to catch his fellow Estonian but the lady racer managed to hold him at bay. Whilst Jonathan Brewer fought hard to boost himself in to the third placed spot. Disaster had struck for British hopeful Jack Pickles as an engine problem saw him forced to retire from heat 2 and a long night ahead of his team to replace the engine costing him his heat 1 points in the championship campaign.
Heat 3 and in pole position Viktoria knew that the best line to the turn and clear water could see her well on the way to claiming the crown if who’d just keep fellow her fellow countryman at bay. The lights went out and once more the the lady racer powered forward. Picking her lines around the course she was untouchable from start to finish in sow stealing performance. Meanwhile Aivar suffered engine gremlins forcing him to retire from the heat and leaving him with everything to do to make the podium as Brit Thomas Mantripp took second place in the heat and Elliot Fleet finished in third with the other British hopeful Jonathan Brewer docked a lap for missing a turn buoy.
The fourth and final heat of the weekend and once more on pole position Viktoria Soodla only needed to finish the race to secure herself the GT30 European crown. But not content with just finishing the race she once more took a clean lead heading into the lights and powered away from a chasing Thomas Mantripp and Jonathan Brewer who went head to head in a battle for second. Aivar still suffered get from engine problems was forced to settle for fourth in the race ahead of Jack Pickles shot was fighting hard to make up places following his engine replacement.
As the chequered flag was waved Viktoria Soodla was crowned UIM GT30 European Champion the first Estonian to take the European crown. It was 1st and 2nd to Estonia as Aivar Kommisaar claimed the silver medal spot ahead of Britain’s Thomas Mantripp who claimed Bronze.
WORLD F4 CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUNDS 3 AND 4
Over the same weekend, the main attraction was round 3 and 4 of the UIM World F4 Championship. Twenty of the World’s top powerboat racers travelled to Bedfordshire for an action-packed weekend full of thrills and spills.
Competitors from Britain, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland and Sweden made the journey looking to stop Finland’s Juno-Matti Manninen from his second consecutive World Championship title. The Finnish racer had taken an early lead on home water in June with a 2nd and first at the opening two rounds of the championship leaving him in a strong position heading to the British Grand Prix on a course where he’d dominated to secure the European crown in 2016.
Days before the competition Latvia’s Nikita Lijcs who was currently sitting in second place in the competition had failed to enter and looked like he may be a no show until right at the last minute when he announced his travel plans and headed across Europe towards Dover. With a maximum fleet for water approvals the action looked set to be edge of the seat and as qualifying for Race 3 got underway spectators were not disappointed.
There would be three qualifying sessions with the top 15 racers progressing from qualifying 1 to the 2nd session where the fleet would be whittled down to the top 6 boats who would compete in a two lap shoot out to secure pole position.
The first competitor to show his speed was Britain’s very own Ben Morse who currently leads the British Championship setting a fantastic lap time of 0:52.20 on his second lap. Finland’s Tuukka Lehtonen was second fastest with Nikita Lijcs taking third. With the session over Britain’s Ray Read, Leon King, Mike Pillow and Colin Jelf along with Poland’s Marcin Szymczyk failed to make the grade and would have to watch as the other competitors battled their way up the starting grid.
Qualifying session two and Tuukka Lehtonen found some extra speed and on his 8th lap was the only racer of the session to set a sub 52 second lap and firmly secure his place in the top 6 shoot-out. Joining him in the top six were fellow Fin’s Juno-Matti Manninen, and Magnus Sederholm, Britain’s Ben Morse, Sweden’s Morgan Jernfast and Latvia’s Lijcs.
The top six shoot-out had teams and spectators on the edge of their seats, as some racers had obviously been holding some speed back and perfecting their lines around the course. Tuukka Lehtonen set a lap time of 0:52.18 and being the only racer to have set a sub 52 second lap in the previous session looked favourite for pole. That was until Brit Ben Morse took to the water for his two laps and having spent several years perfecting his way around the Stewartby course Ben’s lines were clean and swift securing a lap time of 0:51.25 and saw him take the lead. But Championship leader Manninen was obviously playing his cards close to his chest and as he headed out for his hot laps he pulled out the best lap time of the day to secure himself pole position with a 0:50.51 lap and a speed of 62.82mph.
As the full fleet lined up for Race start tensions were high, Ben Morse was the highest place Brit on the grid and sat in second place and ready to race. As the lights went out Manninen got a flying start and led the fleet into the first turn but a collision between Brits Leon King and Mike Pillow on the start of lap two saw King forced to retire from the race. Under yellow flag Manninen lead the procession with Lijcs hot on his wake and Morgan Jernfast bearing down on him and Morse in 4th. With the course clear the whistle sounded to restart the race and Manninen and Lijcs surged forward but disaster 3 laps down into the restart and disaster struck for Ben Morse as he pushed hard to catch Jernfast heading into the right hander he took the corner to tightly and collided with the buoys dislodging them resulting in a disqualification for the Brit and causing another yellow flag whilst the buoys were secured.
The race got back underway and Manninen powered away once more taking Lijcs with him as he led the rest of the race to the chequered flag and another 20 championship points to boost his led in the championship table. Lijcs finished a strong second with Jernfast securing the bronze medal ahead of Finland’s Tuukka Lehtonen and Britain’s Ben Jelf putting in a strong performance to finish 5th.
Race Day 4
Sunday 2nd July and blustery conditions looked set to cause challenging conditions for the racers competing at the British Grand Prix. Whilst the wind remained strong the hydroplane O125 & O250’s stood down until the weather improved. So, it was on to Round 4 of the F4 World Championship.
Once again, the fleet would fight to make the top 15 boats during qualifying to see them go through to session 2 before the top six boats fought it out in a two lap shoot out. Having optimised their lines round the course during race day three qualifying was faster and more furious. This time it was Finland’s Tuukka Lehtonen that secured the fastest lap time setting a time of 0:52.36 with Britain’s Ben Morse back to prove himself after dislodging two buoys in race 3, Ben managed to once again reaffirm his place in the top of the fleet taking second ahead of Finland’s Kalle Viippo in third.
Qualifying session 2 once more would see the fleet whittled down to 6 competitors and once more the only Brit to make the grade was Lancashire’s Ben Morse placing himself third on the grid. Securing pole position was Latvian Nikita Lijcs a fifth of a second faster than Tuukka Lehtonen with Manninen slightly off the pace and only managing to secure 4th on the grid.
As the boats lined up for Race 4 Latvia’s Nikita Lijcs took a confident pole position. Lijcs got a fantastic start and led the teams into the first mark with Manninen pushing him every step of the way as the rest of the fleet rounded the turn, Finland’s Magnus Sederholm barrel rolled over the top of Ben Jelf forcing Sederholm out of the race and the race restarted. Jelf’s steering took a knock in the collision and the youngster sped back to the pits where his mechanics and quickly managed to sort the problem and get the youngster back to the grid for the restart. Once more Lijcs powered away and again Manninen was bearing down on the Latvian. But heading round the first turn Lithuania’s Virgilijus Gedrimas barrel rolled out of the race and as the leading fleet were heading round turn two Poland’s Adrian Manieswski also barrel rolled out of the race. Under yellow flag both boats and drivers were safely recovered. But meanwhile Tuukka Lehtonen barrel rolled landing the right way up he unfortunately had a hole in his hull forcing him to retire from the race.
With the race back underway Lijcs led the way round the course with Manninen trying as hard as he could to catch him meanwhile trying to keep fellow Fin Kalle Viippo at bay in third. Again, disaster for Ben Morse as he once more clipped the right-hand buoys dislodging them and seeing him disqualified for the second time during the weekend. Morgan Jernfast and Ben Jelf were fighting it out hard for 4th and 5th position when on lap 12 further back in the field Denmark’s Sebastian Haugaard hooked right in front of Colin Jelf causing another yellow flag incident and Jelf being taken to hospital for treatment.
Latvia’s Nikita Lijcs held on to his lead to take his first win of the championship, Juno-Matti Manninen took the silver medal and Morgan Jernfast of Sweden completed the podium in the bronze medal position.
Just 5 points now separate Juho-Matti Manninen and Nikita Lijcs as they head to the final round of the championship in Lithuania in August and with 6 points separating 3rd, 4th and 5th places there’s still everything to play for and the action at the next round is sure to be intense.