Fletcher Finally Wins in thrilling Okayama meeting for CTCC

A real hit in Season 1 - Okayama was always going to provide some excellent door-to-door racing, with its wider track and forgiving grass run-offs. Ben Palmer's Championship lead had been reduced to 27 points at Barber Motorsports Park, with teammate Pete Harrod having a consistent run there. Evdoka and Stadler weren't too far adrift either, but it was looking increasingly unlikely that anyone was going to stop either of the CQR Club drivers.


Throughout most of Qualifying though, it looked like they weren't really on the ball, with the aforementioned FitzSty pairing holding 1st and 2nd - Stadler over Evdoka. That was, until Dan McAuley went fastest. Pete Harrod would end up 4th just ahead of Jake Robertson, with Championship leader Palmer in 6th. Mark Fletcher, Lewis Bibby, newcomer Billy Fletcher and Craig Evans would round out the Top 10.

McAuley got a good start and kept his lead while Harrod jumped Evdoka through turn 2, to take third place. Behind them, the field was very bunched up, but without a major incident. Bibby would overtake Mark Fletcher in amongst all the madness, leaving the two Fletchers in 7th and 8th. Steve Burke and Simon Field would get up to some top-notch door banging, with the latter coming out on top in 11th at the end of the first lap.


On the second lap, Mark Fletcher would undo Bibby's work and re-take 6th, while Jake Robertson got ahead of Billy. In retaliation into the final corner though, Billy ran deep, and made slight contact with Robertson - as the pair banged wheels, the former was punted sideways by the unsuspecting Craig Evans, who also got rear-ended by Simon Field as the incident slowed him down. Fletcher and Evans would end up in the wall, with Robertson getting away with it.

Palmer would get by Evdoka on the next lap after a mistake by Michael into Turn 1 opened the door for the championship leader. Further around the lap, Steve Burke and Jake Robertson would have a great battle for 8th position - Steve would just about lose out, but defended his position heavily from Ben Gregory, who tried to take advantage and sneak through.


Ben Palmer would do his usual early pitstop, but after only 3 and a half minutes of the race gone, even this seemed very premature for the championship leader. He was joined in pit lane on the next lap though by Fletcher, Burke and Gregory, while Harrod continued to put pressure on Stadler for second. They continued to post very similar lap times throughout, but Pete just couldn't do enough to get by. After a couple of laps of following their battle, Evdoka decided to pit, in the hope of not losing time.

Stadler pitted from 2nd and unleashed Harrod to go chasing his teammate, who still had a comfortable lead, but the Austrian would come out 10th (effectively 5th), behind Palmer, Evdoka and Fletcher. Not one to take battles lying down though, Stadler soon make it back past Fletcher's Radicals Fiesta. Harrod would be next to pit, and would emerge over 2 seconds behind Palmer - the strategy working again!


The same happened with race leader McAuley as well - Palmer ending up ahead on track, and it would stay that way until the end, with Harrod coming home in 3rd for a CQR Club one two three! Evdoka would finish 4th, as Stadler just beat Fletcher over the line. Robertson, Bibby, Burke and Field would complete the Top 10.

Antony Woodward was the lucky driver to be drawn on to pole position in the reverse grid draw, with Craig Evans, Ben Gregory and Billy Fletcher behind. Race 1 winner Palmer would start from 14th with only Niall Crowther and Billy Rose behind him on the grid. Harrod would only start two places ahead, so it was going to be difficult to claw Championship points back now, and with the FitzSty cars ahead, he wasn't in for an easy race.


Craig Evans took the race lead after a couple of corners, but behind it was quite a chaotic start, as Billy Fletcher went into the back of Ben Gregory, but thankfully the latter managed to save it. Robertson made contact with the slow Fletcher, but as he came back on he found himself turned across the nose of Ben Gregory's Fiesta. The two of them made heavy contact with the wall and plummeted down the order. A real highlight of how tough Ben Gregory's season had been after such a great run - and eventual 4th in the Championship - in Season 1.

At the end of the lap, Evdoka, Billy Fletcher and Palmer came together in a traffic jam, which ended up with Billy being put on his roof and launched down the following straight. Evdoka would continue in 13th, with Palmer relatively unaffected. At Turn 1, Ant Woodward went off and dropped down to 6th place, with Steve Burke moving up to 2nd, with Bibby in 3rd.


Shortly after, race-leader Craig Evans had a slow-down penalty from cutting Turn 2, which let Steve take the lead in the Team Lizard Motorsport Fiesta! Billy Rose had gotten off to a demon start, gaining 7 places in the first lap, but contact with Palmer soon put pay to that - the pair of them ending up in the wall and dropping down to 11th and 13th. Shortly after this, Billy was involved in another incident that effectively ended Jake Robertson's race and dropped him down to 14th.

McAuley, Harrod and Stadler were sneaking their way through the order, making it up to 5th, 6th and 7th by Lap 5. At the end of the lap, the pit stops started, with Burke and Bibby going in together, but Bibby didn't slow down in time and pushed Steve over the pit lane speed limit line, at an inevitably increased pace - whether he [Steve] would get a penalty for this, we were unsure... until he sat in his pit box for an extra 40 seconds - heartbreaking stuff!


A sensationally close battle between Palmer, Stadler and Evdoka was developing after their pit stops, with Palmer getting through to 8th place, getting one over on Stadler. Ahead of them though, Harrod emerged from the pits with a slight advantage. Palmer broke away from the others not long after, overtaking the two Northern Lights cars as they pitted.

McAuley started launching his attack on Bibby for third in the meantime, but after getting a slow-down penalty, he lost a spot to his teammate Pete Harrod. A couple of laps later, they would have Palmer to worry about as well, as he joined the back of the snake with three minutes to go. All the while, Mark Fletcher had inherited the lead after a very quick pit stop.


The final lap was drama-filled with multiple contact between the four cars battling for 2nd to 5th - Bibby tapping the back of Harrod causing all three CQR Club Subarus to make contact, followed by McAuley diving down the inside, putting the two of them in the gravel. Despite Palmer then hitting Harrod, he would finish 2nd, with Pete 3rd, McAuley 4th and Bibby 5th.

However, it was Mark Fletcher who took his first win in the Chazlington Touring Car Championship. Simon Field came home in 6th, with Stadler and Evdoka behind, with Ben Gregory and Ant Woodward rounding out the Top 10. Steve Burke would eventually finish 14th after his penalty. This once again means that Ben Palmer extends his lead at the top of the standings further, to 36 points, meaning he could wrap up the Championship at Motegi.


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