Suzuki Challenge Series returns this weekend

Suzuki Challenge Series returns this weekend

 Suzuki Challenge Summer Series winners Sean Maloney (SR3 Cup) and Jamaica's David Summerbell Jnr (Swift Cup) head for Bushy Park Barbados this weekend (January 23/24) determined to continue where they left off in October. Radical International 2016 plays host to the first two rounds of the Winter Cup, in which each Champion will face renewed challenges.

  Following the six-round Summer Series, the Winter Cup is a shorter competition, with a third round scheduled for late February, after which the Winter Cup Champions will be declared, along with the overall winners of the inaugural Suzuki Challenge Series. While Summerbell's fellow-racers this weekend are all known quantities, Maloney will face a number of newcomers on an expanded Radical SR3 grid.

  A few minor rules changes will also come into effect. In the Swift Cup, drivers will be able to take the Joker Lap on the first lap of each race, previously not allowed. In the SR3 Cup, the race distance will be 15 laps, while the race two reverse grid will affect only the top 50 per cent of the finishers in race one, in line with Radical UK practice.

  On Saturday, patrons will enjoy special access to the Open-Air Suites in the Automotive Art Pits Complex, a rare opportunity to view racing from the south side of the circuit. The starting grid will be moved back to the Pits Straight for that day only, providing thrilling viewing for spectators, as cars surge downhill from the start, jostling for position into the 'Ws', which becomes the first corner of the lap.

  Competition has been intense in the Swift Cup, as drivers dig deep to focus on their driving skills to find the smallest margins of advantage. The identical Swift Sports, race-prepared in Barbados from standard production cars, more than lived up to the target of providing competitive and evenly-matched racing, as the stats show:

• six drivers won races

  • a further four drivers finished on the podium
  • every regular contender finished in the top six at least once
  • eight drivers set fastest laps
  • in Qualifying for Round 5, the top 10 were covered by less than 1sec

  Despite missing the opening round, multiple Champion Summerbell (Team Simpson Finance) soon settled to the task, claiming his first podium finish, then his first race win, in round three, before four more victories carried him to the title. He is yet to start from pole position - Q2 for round five is his best.

  Daryl Clarke (Team Digicel) had taken a good look at his driving style before the day/night double-header final round in October . . . and with great results. Having finished second three times in earlier rounds, he claimed his first pole position of the year, then finally climbed the top step of the podium, twice in the last three races of the year, finishing the Summer Season just 18 points adrift of Champion Summerbell.

  While those end-of-term reports speak of progress during the season, for Mark Thompson and Trinidad & Tobago's Ryan Peyrau, very much the opposite happened. Thompson (Team Hard Rock Cement) took a commanding early lead, with pole position, two race wins and a third in round one, but it soon started to unravel, as the studious Peyrau (Team Suzuki) turned on the pressure. The other winner in round one, he went on claim a hat-trick of pole positions - that from round two stands as the Qualifying record - and three race wins to enter the final in a strong position. It wasn't strong enough, however, particularly in the face of the invigorated Clarke, and Peyrau dropped to third at year-end, with Thompson fourth, rarely recapturing his early-season form.

  Clarke's team-mate Ryan Wood's season was a roller-coaster, but he showed determination throughout, winning three races, including a memorable Digicel one-two with Clarke in the penultimate race to finish fifth in the Summer Series. With just nine races in three rounds to make their mark in the Winter Cup, Josh Read (Team Massy United Insurance) and Jason Parkinson (Team Infra Rentals) will be keen to break their duck as winners, while Summerbell's daughter Samantha (Team Suzuki) returns to build on her experience of the second half of last season.

  The expanded grid of Suzuki-powered Radical SR3s brings newcomers from the wider Caribbean and further afield to take on the established racers of the Summer Series, led by Champion Maloney and his two brothers Mark and Stuart, who finished second and third in the points. Between them, they won 16 of the 18 races, their most determined challenger being Guyana's Mark Vieira, who won the other two, to finish fourth. David Simpson, in his first season of racing, finished fifth, with a best result of second.

  As these five return to action, the visitors introduce a mix of youth and experience, along with international flavour, drivers having travelled from England, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and the United States. Local driver Suleman Esuf is joining the Suzuki Challenge Series for all of 2016, along with David Coelho (T&T) and Guyana's Calvin Ming, while Jack Manchester from the UK will contest just the Winter Cup.

  Coelho, who won Group N in the Barbados Rally Club Championship last year, returns to racing, in which he has won titles in karts and cars; Esuf is embarking on his first season of circuit racing, having enjoyed success in drag racing and karting; former Guyana Shifter Kart Champion Ming will be combining a Radical race programme with karting in the US and the NACAM Formula 4 Championship in Mexico.

  Standing at 6ft 7ins, teenage newcomer Manchester will become one of the tallest drivers on the Radical circuit, when he starts qualifying on Saturday. The 17-year-old's Bushy Park races will be his very first, although he has been testing since last August. He will race the latest specification SR3 RSX, one of the four cars built for Race Of Champions 2015 in London.

  In addition, England's Brian Caudwell, David Frankland and Bill Henderson will compete in this weekend's Radical International, along with Jim Parr from the USA, who enjoyed his first-ever outing in a race car at Bushy Park last March, in the opening round of the SR3 Cup Summer Series.

  Caudwell has raced a Radical in Britain and Europe for the past two seasons, finishing fourth in the UK Sprint Championship last year, former motorcycle racer Frankland, who is in his 11th season racing Radicals, was the Invitation Class Champion in 2011, while ex-karter Henderson has also raced Radicals since 2006, with a good record of wins and podium finishes, not only in Radical events, but also in other Championships where Radicals are eligible.


Suzuki Challenge Series - Winter Cup, rounds 1 & 2 (January 23/24)

Saturday: Swift Cup - Practice 12.00pm; Qualifying 12.30pm; Races 1.15pm, 2.15pm, 3.15pm; SR3 Cup - Practice 12.15pm; Qualifying (split sessions) 12.45pm, 1.00pm; Races 1.40pm, 2.40pm, 3.40pm

Sunday: Swift Cup - Practice 9.00am; Qualifying 9.30am; Races 10.15am, 11.15am, 12.15am; SR3 Cup - Practice 9.15am; Qualifying (split sessions) 9.45pm, 10.00am; Races 10.40am, 11.40am, 12.40pm


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