The annual NEO Buggy Invitational was once again a spectacular affair, which as ever drew competitors from across the globe to Shropshire over the Easter weekend.
This years track was a more technical layout, rather than the spectacular big jumps of previous tracks, but still it would provide a different challenge and really saw some vary close times.
As practice was underway it became clear that the track surface this year was different, and the traction levels were really quite low compared to normal, and when you stood on the surface there were certain sections that were almost slimey, which was something new for the drivers to contend with. Still the best drivers were up around the front, but with a few exceptions and it became clear that as qualifying unfolded there were a few drivers who were performing at a very high level compared to normal, and some of them only in certain rounds. These spurious results were meaning that the overall results were a little more jumbled up than normal, and it was also notable that some tyre manufactures were struggling more than others to get their products to work on the strange surface.
The NEMO team were all performing fantastically at their own respective levels, the new Agama A215 proving very much easier to handle and drive than the old car, resulting in the guys putting in cleaner runs and achieving much better results as a consequence. Robert Gustaffson said “If my car was any better I think I would cry!”, which is high praise indeed!, Robert has had a couple of testing years recently at the NEO race but was up around the 1/4 finals this time after being so happy with his car.
The junior drivers in the NEMO team, Ollie Currie, Jonny Skidmore, William Skidmore and new addition Callum Nibblett who was driving the car for the very first time, were all putting in good runs that would have them up towards the sharp end of the meeting and challenging.
Callum was finding the Agama A215 very easy to drive and this showed in that he was immediately able to perform at a very high level despite not having driven the car, save for a few shakedown tanks at all prior to the event. He commented that it was just easy to put where he wanted, and the lap times were coming easily.
They would all end up in at least the 1/8 finals, and all felt they had the potential to go even further, with cars that allowed them to race hard and be safe.
The junior final on the saturday evening showed a great performance from Ollie Currie, who after decent start put in a great drive to take 3rd place and a spot on the podium with a pacy and consistent drive. A few eyebrows were raised at the outright pace of the 2 lads in 1st and 2nd in the junior final, as they were faster lap to lap than the guys who had TQ’d the qualifying round proceeding it, but maybe it was just a really good drive on their behalf.
The main finals day was overshadowed by a huge tyre additive controversy that blew up in the hall. Some of the top drivers were making noises that they felt some other guys were elevating their performance with the use of tyre additives, which most people believed to be illegal at this event. We sought some clarification from the organiser as to the situation, and were informed that they couldn’t police it so go ahead and use them but don’t apply them in the hall. This soon went out the window and people were applying all sorts at their pit tables and the room stunk to high heaven. Of course all of a sudden some people shot forward in performance, and others didn’t look as competitive as they had once been.
Darren was out in the morning with the E-buggy in which he had been one of the quickest cars during the meeting, with top 3 round scores but after the additive situation started Darren was left mid pack. He drove well in the final but with the unknown of who was using what additives he was unable to better 7th, which in isolation is a good result in such a strong field of drivers, but we couldn’t help feel we could have been higher up but for some external factors.
Our junior lads were learning as they went and given our lack of recent experience with additives, most were just having a shot in the dark at it. Both Ollie Currie and Jonny Skidmore easily navigated their 1/8 final to place themselves in the 1/4 finals, and in so doing join Callum along with team mates Edouard Hugon and Robert Gustaffson, which was going to mean an Agama heavy side to the finals.
At the start the young lads all got off to decent starts and were all in contention, Jonny Skidmore was looking excellent and was right on the pack at the front looking for the top 4 bump up positions, until he suffered a most unfortunate incident, after landing hard on the piping after a jump, he was unfortunate enough for the flywheel to stop dead on one of the steel pegs holding the piping and thus end his challenge. Callum was going about his business in a very calm and assured way and was pumping in the quick laps that would see him progress to the 1/2 finals on his Agama debut, an excellent achievement. Ollie Currie was battling hard for the 4th and final spot with former worlds TQ Mike Truhe, and these guys had a great battle over the last few laps which unfortunately saw Ollie make a late mistake on the last lap to end his claim for a semi final place. Still it was a great effort, and confirmation that all these guys are really stepping up and showing what they are capable of….
In the rush to fit new tyres to Callums car for the 1/2 a wheel nut was under tightened and this would mean that he would be unable to challenge.
The main final saw a 1-2-3 from drivers that up until the final day, had not looked anything like being at the sharp end of the meeting and challenging for the win…....