Providing the stage for the penultimate round of the season for the second time running, Twin Ring Motegi was the next destination for the Chazlington Touring Car Championship, and Ben Palmer was on the brink of clinching the title from teammate Pete Harrod, with 36 points between them. To win, Ben would have to be 51 points (or more) clear of Harrod at the end of the meeting.
Qualifying was a straight-forward affair, with Palmer doing everything he needed to, taking pole position and one valuable championship point. Stadler joined him on the front row, with McAuley and Billy Fletcher on row two - a good improvement on Okayama for Billy. Mark Fletcher would line up 5th, with Harrod all the way down in 8th, with lots of work to do.
Things remained very clean and calm throughout the first lap, with only a couple of position changes in the mid-field. Palmer retained his lead from Stadler and McAuley, with Evdoka making it up to 5th past Mark Fletcher. Ant Woodward and Niall Crowther came together at the final corner, which put them both off track, but they were able to continue.
At the end of Lap 3, Jake Robertson got a slow-down penalty after outbraking himself, dropping him down to 11th position and a couple of seconds behind the pack. Going into Turn 1, McAuley and Evdoka made contact that pitched both cars sideways - Mark Fletcher did well to avoid them both, but they were side-by-side again down the backstraight. A couple of door bangs later, and into the chicane, it was McAuley that got pitched into a spin and off the track.
Palmer proved just a few corners later that nobody is immune to slow-down penalties - a bit too much kerb and he would lose his race lead to Harald Stadler - the two of them now holding a comfortable gap over the pack behind, thanks to Evdoka and McAuley's shenanigans. A couple of laps later, it would be time for the first round of pit stops!
Ben Palmer came in, with Fletcher, Burke and Evans in tow - the track being that short, that Stadler entered the pits at the end of the following lap as Palmer got into Turn 1! He would emerge in 10th, behind the championship leader (again!) though, as Ben's strategy came to fruition for what felt like the thousandth time! Fletcher, Burke and Evans were holding station in 11th, 12th and 13th.
This all left Michael Evdoka to lead the race, with a safe margin over Billy Fletcher. McAuley was the next big name to take to the pit lane with Niall Crowther, emerging in 11th place behind Craig Evans, with Jack McIntyre right behind. It wasn't looking like Dan could really turn his race around, as another coming together with Evans dropped him down.
Billy Fletcher pitted next, and would come out behind Steve Burke in 8th place - a couple of positions off where he was beforehand. Simon Field was staying out as long as possible up front, gradually being caught by the race leaders. Mark Fletcher started a very strong attack on Harald Stadler for what would be the last podium spot - Stadler defended well, until a slow-down penalty determined the outcome.
Right near the end - with literally one lap to go - Steve Burke came back into the pits for a splash and dash after not taking enough fuel in his regular stop, while Ben Palmer took his 5th win of the season, with Evdoka in 2nd. Fletcher ran out of fuel on the final lap and would drop to 5th place, promoting Stadler to 3rd and Harrod - importantly for the championship - to 4th place!
Ant Woodward lined up on pole position, with Steve Burke beside him. Niall Crowther and Simon Field made up the second row of the grid, with Craig Evans and Dan McAuley 5th and 6th. Harrod would be starting in 11th with Palmer in 14th. Harrod would need to finish ahead of Palmer by a few positions to stand a realistic chance of heading to Oulton Park with a chance at the title!
Into Turn 1, Ant seemed to bottle it as he broke late, and went straight on into the gravel. Luckily the Fiesta kept up its momentum and didn't get bogged down, but he still lost all of his positions, after cutting the chicane slightly at the end of the lap. He'd gone from 1st to last (14th) in under a minute. This left Steve Burke to lead the race from Simon Field, with Dan McAuley making it up to 3rd place by the start of Lap 2!
Niall Crowther was in the mix, being overtaken by the likes of Mark Fletcher and Harald Stadler, before Palmer got a move done as well - he'd already got up to 8th position, and importantly, past Pete Harrod who was sat in 11th where he'd started! It didn't get much better for him, as on the following lap he lost control on the brakes into the chicane, as Craig Evans got helped around by Jake Robertson.
Dan McAuley had made his way up to 2nd place, and a near miss with Simon Field luckily didn't harm his advances too much. He soon came under pressure from Jake Robertson, while the pair of them had Fletcher, Stadler and Palmer behind. They had continued to climb their way up through the order, now running in 4th, 5th and 6th, but after just under 4 minutes, Palmer dived into the pits.
McAuley and Stadler came in not longer after, and emerged behind Palmer - something they'd gotten all too used to this season. Evdoka found himself in the middle, and tried to get the best of Dan towards the end of the lap, but it wasn't happening. Just ahead, Steve Burke came out of the pitlane, hoping to retain his lead. He managed to defend it through Turn 1, but a great cutback from Palmer meant that he got the job done into the chicane.
Out front, the two unrelated Fletchers - Mark and Billy - were staying out of the pits as long as possible, to try and hold track position ahead of Pete Harrod. Before long, Evdoka and Stadler made their way past McAuley, the former going in search of 2nd place from Steve Burke. On the fringes of the Top 10, a battle was developing between Crowther, Robertson and Evans - Robertson eventually pulling off a wonderful move into the final corner.
Once Mark and Billy pitted, Harrod was all alone out front, trying to keep in a rhythm and stay at a good pace, hoping to not come out behind Palmer - this was his last grasp on the championship. He would come back out in 3rd, just ahead of the chaos unfolding behind, involving both Fletchers, Stadler, Burke and Evdoka.
An epic battle ensued between McAuley and Stadler, with multiple bits of contact being made, but the pair of them somehow stayed on track, with Dan in front. Billy Fletcher ended up 4th after getting past Stadler, but before long he got hit in the rear after Harald missed his braking point, dropping him down to 8th.
At the front, it was another win, and a maximum points evening for Ben Palmer, doing everything he possibly could to claim the championship - he took the chequered flag as he ran out of fuel - Pete Harrod crossing the line sideways in 2nd, and only missing out by a tenth of a second! Dan McAuley managed to get past Evdoka who had to come in for a splash and dash, to round out a CQR Club one two three. Stadler finished 4th with Mark Fletcher 5th, ahead of Jake Robertson, Steve Burke and Billy Fletcher. Evdoka would eventually be classified in 11th place.
With one more round to go, a weight had been lifted from Ben Palmer's shoulders, as he sat 51 points clear of his teammate - a perfect score, with no chance of Pete equalling his win tally, so he was crowned champion. The championship heads to Oulton Park in a week's time, and now that the gloves are off, it's bound to be a very exciting meeting on the short and twisty Cheshire circuit.
"I couldn't really do much more. It's been great racing with everyone. Obviously we do this for a bit of fun, but it's great that everyone turns up. A big thank you to everyone at CQR Club, Simsports and all our partners, and everyone for making this such a great community.
I haven't got that much pressure any more, so I can have a bit of fun [at Oulton Park], get the elbows out and have a little play. It's been a great season and I look forward to the next one." - Ben Palmer