After two weeks off, and at the halfway point of the season, the Chazlington Touring Car Championship headed to Barber Motorsports Park, for the final meeting of its American Tour. Barber had been a great venue in Season 1, where it saw Rounds 5 and 6 on the Calendar. Ben Palmer came into the meeting with a 37 point lead in the Championship - bear in mind that it's 25 points for a race win. Safe to say he had a comfortable margin.
Qualifying would see Pete Harrod become the first driver this season to secure two pole positions. He was just half a tenth faster than the always-fast Mark Fletcher, with Harald Stadler and Ben Palmer on row two - this was the third time the latter had qualified 4th in five meetings. Gafencu, Bibby, Evdoka, McIntyre, Burke and Lundgren rounded out the Top 10.
What was a pretty tame start lasted all of two corners - contact between Gafencu and Stadler put the Austrian sideways, and before they knew it, Bibby, McIntyre and Evdoka were caught up in the madness. Lundgren smacked into McIntyre as he came back across the track, and in the madness, John Roberts clouted into Ant Woodward and hit the barrier hard as a result.
At the front, the Top 3 had managed to break away - Harrod, leading Fletcher and Palmer. Steve Burke had made it up to 4th ahead of Evdoka, and behind was a train of cars, consisting of Gafencu, Evans, Crowther, Lundgren and Woodward. Before the end of the lap, Lundgren's BoosTED Motorsport Subaru ploughed into Crowther's DC Racing Fiesta, and the former dived into the pits.
Some battles opened up in the mid-pack, as Stadler started to rise back through the order, while McIntyre made his way past Craig Evans' Northern Lights Racing Subaru, with two slight bits of contact for his troubles. The pair stayed on track though and had a really close battle over half a lap.
Harald Stadler tried Palmer's early pit stop tactic after the first lap shenanigans put him down the order. He would come back out in 11th place, with a lot of work to do. Niall Crowther joined him in the pits, while Steve Burke dived in at the end of the next lap, making sure that he didn't lose too much time defending from Michael Evdoka. Ben Palmer would eventually come in just before the 10-minute mark, hoping to get clear air.
It definitely worked, as he ended up in front of Mark Fletcher after the Radicals driver made his stop, and Harrod would come out side-by-side with Palmer - the two championship leaders going head-to-head. Harrod would prevail, despite a mistake half-way around the lap. Stadler's race went from bad to worse behind, after contact with Burke undid a lot of his progress.
Harrod would hold on until the end to take his second win of the season, with Palmer and Fletcher immediately behind. Gafencu would cross the line 4th, ahead of Evdoka, McIntyre, Burke and Craig MacLeod Evans, getting a solid 8th place finish. At the top of the standings, this would only be a couple of points clawed back from Pete's perspective, so he'd have to do more in Race 2 to close the gap.
A reverse grid draw of 13 would see Robert Lundgren drawn on to pole position, with his BoosTED Motorsport teammate John Roberts alongside. Antony Woodward and Niall Crowther would make up row 2, but Harald Stadler looked like a sure winner from 5th position.
Rob immediately threw away any advantage he had by jumping the start - letting the clutch out early, the car rolled forward before all the lights had even come on. Behind him, it was a relatively calm first few corners, but contact between Burke, McIntyre and Crowther would see them drop down to 10th, 12th and 13th respectively. John Roberts would lead by the end of the lap as his teammate came in to serve a penalty for jumping the start.
Stadler soon took the lead, while Gafencu, Palmer and Fletcher tried to worm their way through the midfield without contact. There were many bunched-up moments but somehow everyone stayed (pretty much) single file... until Ben pitched Woodward into a slide. He'd get his just desserts a couple of corners later though - Harrod slid wide into Evdoka, who then made contact with Ben and pushed him off the track into the wall.
Fletcher soon got past Craig Evans on the next lap, and he would now come under pressure from the likes of Evdoka, Harrod and Burke. As Gafencu went to overtake Roberts, the pair made contact through the last corner. The latter held his position for another few corners, until Gafencu made the move stick.
Stadler continued to build his lead, and was soon over 5 seconds out in front. Evdoka and Evans made their move on John Roberts' Fiesta for 4th and 5th, while Ben Palmer went for his usual strategy and pitted early to take advantage of the clear track around him, and put in some blistering times in his Subaru. Towards the end of the lap, Harrod also got by Roberts, before he and Evans jumped into the pits.
Mark Fletcher soon started putting the pressure on Gafencu for 2nd place - just what Stadler would've wanted up front, to help him build his lead further. Fletcher decided to pit earlier than his rival, hoping to leapfrom him in the pit stops. Once Harrod and Evans had finished their stops and come back out on track, it was soon clear how much time Palmer had gained back on them - only being a couple of seconds back.
Gafencu emerged from the pits in front of Fletcher, with Jack McIntyre surprising a lot of people by sitting in 3rd place, between them. Due to an incident early on, Jack had pitted and kept his nose clean from then on, and climbed up the order, under the radar. Fletcher pulled a graet to move to get past however, and soon Pete Harrod did the same - it then became apparent that McIntyre didn't have enough fuel to make it to the end, as the car spluttered to a stop with two laps to go.
After taking it easy on the last few laps, Stadler came across the line to win, ahead of Gafencu, Fletcher, Harrod and Evdoka, in a very close Top 5, with Ben Palmer only a couple of seconds back in 6th! It was only Stadler's second win of the season - his first in 8 races, after winning early on in the championship at Brands Hatch Indy. Burke, Roberts, Evans and Crowther would round out the Top 10.
Pete Harrod had clawed back a good number of points in the Championship from Palmer, but it still wasn't looking like enough to mount a charge as the clock counted down to the final meeting. Evdoka and Stadler stayed in the chase for FitzSty Motorsport, and Mark Fletcher continued a very impressive run of podium finishes.
The series now heads to Japan for a two-week tour, starting at Okayama, before flying over to Motegi, which saw the Championship wrapped up in Season - will we get the same this time? Only one way to find out...