125’s haven’t raced at the Snetterton Circuit since the redevelopment for the start of the 2011 season, so Friday’s practice sessions were the first glimpse of the three mile 300 circuit for the competitors in preparation for the 7th and 8th round of the British Championship and the MSA British Superkart Grand Prix weekend. 30 drivers took to the Norfolk circuit; a mixture of the Superkart 125 Open class, the short circuit Formula KZ2 class and the ‘classic’ 210 Challenge karts. Leading the 125 Open championship entering the 4th event of the season is reigning champion Ben Willshire, but former champions Dan Edwards and Danny Butler are in close attendance, and recently crowned UK Cup winner Matt Isherwood is looking to add the GP plate to his 0 plate.
In qualifying, Isherwood suffered a tyre failure into turn one, leaving him sidelined before setting a time, joining Duncan Marshall, Manxman Jason Kitchin and reigning GP champion Danny Butler at the back of the grid. Dan Edwards was unable to match his practice time, so Ben Willshire would line up for the first race on pole with Edwards alongside. Louise Colin had a difficult start to the season with problems at Croft and illness at Oulton, but was pleased with third fastest in qualifying ahead of Ian Reid, with Damian Sleep and Lee Smith on row three. Lee Plain was gradually picking up the pace and would line up seventh with Phil Garrett alongside, with Finland’s Paula Salonen and John Hutton on row five. Off the back of the 125 Open’s were the KZ2 class karts, headed by Richard Palmer (with a time that would’ve put him fifth overall) and Mark Brookman (P9), with Sven van de Wardt and Ian Larder behind, whilst the 210’s were headed by Charles Morris (P23) and Tony Bury with Don Thompson and Peter Masson behind.
As the karts came into view at the end of lap one Edwards led the field round from Isherwood, who had recovered from 22nd on the grid to cross the line in front of Ben Willshire! A lap later and Isherwood had passed Edwards for the lead, and gradually eased away to take a comfortable win, four seconds clear of Dan Edwards. Behind them, Willshire was looking comfortable in third place until when lapping a 210 he locked up and spun, dropping down to thirteenth. Reid inherited third place, and despite coming under late pressure from Colin but resisted to take a great result in his first race of 2012, albeit nearly thirty seconds behind the winner. Jason Kitchin had Isherwood’s team-mate Gareth Sheridan tucked up behind him at the flag after swapping places halfway through the race, with Garrett holding off KZ2 winner Brookman for seventh overall, after Palmer’s fast start was halted by a snapped chain on lap three. Second placed KZ2 Sven van de Wardt held off a recovering Willshire for ninth place, while Charles Morris finished 19thoverall and first 210, twenty-eight seconds clear of Don Thompson and Tony Bury.
At the start of race two Isherwood slotted in behind the fast starting Edwards and quickly dropped back to nearly three seconds behind, with Ben Willshire recovering up to third by the end of lap two. But on lap two his race was done, an engine failure the cause. Ian Reid again slotted into third ahead of Louise Colin and Lee Plain, but Reid started going backwards on lap four, and on lap seven he joined Isherwood, Sheridan and Sleep on the sidelines, leaving Colin to try and fend off a late assault from Plain, Garrett and Richard Palmer’s KZ. At the front it was plain sailing for Edwards, cruising to finish eight seconds clear of Willshire, with Lee Plain scoring his first 125 Open podium finish ahead of Garrett and Palmer, with Colin dropping off on the final lap nearly into the clutches of seventh placed Duncan Marshall. Paula Salonen would finish a solid eighth place, with Mark Brookman ninth and Sven van de Wardt in a lonely tenth. Charles Morris would finish nearly two minutes down on the overall winner in 16thas the first 210, with Don Thompson a lap down as the only other finisher in class.
So onto the Grand Prix race, and the first start saw Isherwood charging up to second behind Edwards at the end of the first lap as he did in race one, only for the race to be red flagged for a nasty looking accident involving Duncan Marshall. Marshall had gone backwards off the start and at the end of the Bentley Straight suffered a tyre failure pitching him into the Armco barrier hard. He was taken to the medical centre and released later, battered and bruised but otherwise ok. With the race re-scheduled for six laps, Isherwood had it all to do again, but he didn’t cross the line at the end of the first lap, a fuel pump problem the cause of his retirements. Edwards once again launched into the lead from Willshire, who kept him honest but never really had the pace to challenge the charging Pallet Force supported driver, crossing the line to secure his fourth GP title, with Willshire finishing second for the second year in a row. Behind them, Phil Garrett edged out Lee Plain to finish on the podium on his GP debut, with Richard Palmer securing the KZ2 GP title in fifth overall. Ian Reid just held off Gareth Sheridan and Mark Brookman, with Louis Colin and Sven van de Wardt keeping a watching brief in the final top ten places. Kevin Gray would finish a solid eleventh overall and eighth in class ahead of the last KZ2 finisher Ian Larder, with Lee Smith and John Hutton rounding out the top ten in 125 Open. Charles Morris secured a clean sweep at Snetterton, winning the 210 class in 19th overall, finishing nearly 45 seconds clear of Tony Bury 2ndin class, with Don Thompson beating Peter Masson for the final podium in the class.
Ominously for the rest of the 125 Open class, in 2009 Edwards won the GP and went on to take the title, and was only pipped by Danny Butler in 2010 on dropped scores. However, WIllshire won’t let the title go that easily, and Isherwood is confident the cause of his gremlins has been found, and his form this year would suggest he’ll be the man to beat at Mallory Park. Danny Butler had a shocking Snetterton and will be looking for a return to the front at Mallory, and a whole host of competitive newcomers, headed by Gareth Sheridan who lies fourth in the championship will be looking for podiums and wins in the four remaining races of this year. The 125 revival is well underway, and with Division 1 and MSA 250 championship looking like done deals already, maybe a visit to Mallory or Cadwell will provide a fantastic show.