With a Saturday test day lined up, the 'Two Daves' headed across to the circuit on Friday evening and setup whilst it was still dry, before having a brew with 2017 Stars winner (2018 British Superstock 1000 racer and 2009 Darley Moor Formula 125 championship contender) Ben Godfrey.
The first qualifying session was also the first of the day, for the Mini Sound of Thunder class. As usual it was tricky to find a clear lap, but we managed to qualify in pole position in our class, which put us 5th on the combined starting grid.
Next up was the untimed Stars practice session, where we managed to go faster than we've ever been before to reduce our Personal Best lap from 59.73 to 59.44.
After that was the Formula 600 session which had two red flags within the 12-minute session. Fortunately no-one was seriously hurt (the sessions were stopped to move the crashed bikes) but as we had only managed to register a lap of 1'00.33, we would start from 8th position on the grid.
Now it was time for the main event... We were advised that we would need to lap within 110% of the pole sitter's time in order to qualify to race - after some consideration, we expected that a laptime of around 53.5 seconds would be set for pole position based upon last year's times. A 53.5 second pole time meant that we would need to do a 58.85 laptime - over half a second quicker than we'd ever gone before!
We went out and immediately pushed hard to put in a 58.70 (which is a full second quicker than our old Personal Best lap coming into the meeting) but on return to the pit lane we learned that Richard Cooper had set a lap time of 52.97 and was 1.33 seconds quicker than everyone else in the field. This meant that the 110% laptime that was now required was 58.27...
So we headed back out for a final monumental push and set a qualifying laptime of 58.13 (a massive 1.60 seconds quicker than our previous Personal Best!). This qualified us in 17th place on the grid of 21. As it turns out, we were the final entrant to actually qualify within the 110% bracket, but the organisers decided to allow all entrants to race anyway. For those of you interested in seeing our quickest-ever lap around Darley Moor, you can watch it below...
Formula 600 Race
The first race of the day was the Formula 600. We had an OK start and then started slowly moving our way through the field (up to 5th place) until we reached Rich Baker on lap 5. Despite lapping at around the same pace, Rich was quicker in different places than us, so it was very difficult to attempt a pass. We followed Rich for 10 laps (enjoy the footage Rich!) and on the final lap got a decent drive from the hairpin, so attempted a move at the final corner. After starting the move we could see that it would probably cause a close encounter at the apex, so aborted the move and ran wide. After coming back on track, we were nipped at the line by Richard Stubbs by 0.001 of a second and crossed the line in 6th place. Looking at the final point standings, finishing in 5th or 6th place in the race had no impact to our championship position so it was worth having a go! :-)
"Stars" Race 1
It was now time for the first of the big races, which also happened to be John McGuiness's first ever race on the Norton! From the start we were at the rear of the pack and tried to gain a few positions into the chicane - but we were pushed onto the grass which meant that we were not only dead last on the exit but also several seconds from the next rider along!
Over the course of the race we managed to catch the pack and a 3-way battle between Richard Stubbs, Andy Taylor and ourselves emerged, which restricted laptimes to the 59-second range. On our penultimate lap, race leader Richard Cooper caught and passed us all. At the chequered flag we finished 19th, 0.26 of a second behind the rider ahead.
Mini Sound of Thunder Race
Prior to the Mini Sound of Thunder race, our championship opponent Elliot Williams had discovered that he had engine issues. We loaned Elliot some parts and his team managed to get his bike up and running for the race.
When the race started, we moved into the lead at Park corner on the opening lap. During the race we registered 12 laps in a row that were in the 1'01-bracket. At the end of lap 4 Richard Stubbs took the lead and we followed close behind, never more than a second behind. With just two laps to go, we were just 0.22 of a second behind Richard but unsure whether we would be able to make an overtake.
But then Richard managed to get passed backmarker Adam Salt and we didn't, which allowed Richard to take the win by over 5 seconds at the flag.
Some good news was that we managed to secure a new Personal Best of 1'01.08 (previously a 1'01.22) during the race. Elliot Williams finished a further 24 seconds back but secured 3rd place in class which was enough to secure the championship for him - congratulations Elliot on securing the title!
Before our next race there was an accident in the Steel Frame and Pre-Injection 600 race, where Joe Walton had an oil spillage and crash - we hope Joe recovers quickly and has some better luck come his way in 2019! There was a delay in proceedings to clear up the oil spillage and during the delay the temperature took a considerable drop.
"Stars" Race 2
Out for the final time of the day (and the year!) and this time we had a very lonely race. We started from 17th place on the grid and maintained that position, trying to keep hold of the group that was just ahead of us - but they were lapping around a second a lap quicker than us during the first half of the race (and then approx 1.5 seconds a lap quicker in the second half of the race).
Heading onto the Pope straight on the penultimate lap, we thought we had done enough to keep Richard Cooper at bay but then he whizzed passed us with just one corner to go, securing himself the Stars at Darley crown for a fourth time - well done Richard Cooper! At least we got a great view of him mono-wheeling across the finishing line...
Following our race finish we were then officially awarded a 17th position finish in the aggregated results - not earth-shattering but it feels fantastic to have had a 'Stars at Darley' entry accepted, then to meet the official race-start criteria and then to finish both races to be officially classified as a race finisher in the prestigious 'Stars at Darley' event :-)
After the final round, the championship point tables look as follows:
MINI SOUND OF THUNDER CHAMPIONSHIP (TOP 5)
Elliott Williams 101
David Carson 87
Richard Stubbs 48
Ian Robinson 37
Jason Wilkes 12
FORMULA 600 CHAMPIONSHIP (TOP 10)
Lloyd Shelley 81
Rich Baker 54
Jamie Pearson 43
Stephen Parsons 42
Matt Zschiesche 30
Carl Booth 28
Chris Sammons 27
David Carson 20
Richard Stubbs 13
David Shallcross 12
Our 2019 plans are still yet to be decided, but we are very please and proud with what we have accomplished during the 2018 season...
* 2018 Darley Moor "Mini Sound of Thunder" Championship Runner-Up
* A further 0.14 of a second knocked off our Kawasaki Supertwin Darley Moor personal best lap (now a 1'01.08)
* A new Kawasaki Supersport Darley Moor personal best lap of 58.13 achieved
* Accepted into the "Stars at Darley" event and qualified within 110% of the pole time (set by a British Superbike rider on a pukka Superbike)
* Confirmed finisher in the "Stars at Darley" results
And last but not least I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of my supporters (if you're reading this - then that's you!), Dave Carson Snr, Steph Carson, Lorna Carson, Tim Poole of the Poole Performance Centre & I would particularly like to thank Michael Mulvaney from Frankton, Pomerol Partners, Rock Oil and Eazi-Grip for their support.