Ford is gaining a firm grip on the coveted trophy for the Southern Group of Motoring Writers’ annual Karting Grand Prix.
For the second year running, the blue oval team took first place and ‘did the double’ with its ace wheelman Jake Cassetta again taking the fastest driver title, while the GP also yielded another record total for charity: £4,815 donated to the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance Trust (EHAAT) this year and making it nearly £17,000 raised for charities since the inaugural event in 2104.
Despite being the first team to retain the GP trophy, Ford’s victory was not entirely nerveless, as it also collected black flag penalties on the night, yet still managed to see off all comers.
Team member and Press Officer – Corporate Affairs, Maisie Goldney, could barely contain her delight.
“There was a lot of pressure to come back and take the gold again, and I’m delighted that we’ve won it. It was a really, really tough race, but it’s been so much fun.”
There was a familiar look to Ford’s closest challengers though: the Audi team came second to continue a proud record of securing a podium place every time it has entered, while third-placed FIAT, this time partnered with Alfa Romeo, has also notched three podium finishes, including first at the inaugural GP.
Alex Fisk, Audi’s Digital Press Officer, spoke for his team afterward: “Thank you very much to the SGMW for a fantastic evening. Always a really good night and it’s great to see the amount of money that goes to charity.”
SGMW Chairman Ian Robertson said afterward: “Nobody can disagree that the GP just gets better and better: even more cut and thrust action and yet more support from our PR colleagues in the motor industry, which has enabled us to raise another potentially life-saving sum for a favored charity.
“We have donated to air ambulances since we started the event, the brainchild of SGMW members Kevin Haggarthy and Massimo Pini and then brilliantly executed by Chris Rees – my immediate predecessor as SGMW chairman. The GP was only intended as a one-off, but it returned by popular demand and is a firm fixture on our calendar.
“We now have a well-oiled team running it – though there’s no drinking on the night! And we continue to build the event too, adding video to the proceedings as an experiment and extra fun this year, courtesy of Group member Andy Russell.”
Perhaps the best praise of all came from those who weren’t even racing or couldn’t come along at all to the event.
PSA’s press fleet supremo Craig Morrow drove down from Coventry to cheer on the Peugeot and Citroën teams: “I couldn’t drive this year – I’ve done my back in – but why wouldn’t I come anyway? It’s just brilliant.”
Chloe Yemm, Renault Press Officer and team manager on the night for the Renault-Nissan Alliance team, said: “I’m not racing, but I just love it. It has a real buzz and it’s a great chance to catch up with people. Fantastic.”
We were also joined by SGMW retired member Graham Fryer, who said: “I wouldn’t miss it – a great spectacle and chance to meet up with old friends.”
Youngest supporter on the night was toddler Ashleigh Hill-Smith, daughter of Toyota team member Theresa, there to cheer on Mum and then, unexpectedly, Dad Matthew.
Theresa explained: “I was going to race but hurt my back in the practice, so Matt – who is in the Toyota product team – stood in for me.” Little Ashleigh didn’t seem to mind who she supported, especially when she got her hands on the GP trophy – briefly (see our picture).
Having competed in 2016 for the first time, when PR chief Mike Orford lavished praise on the event, VW was unable to follow-up this year due to other commitments. Instead, the team took honors with a ‘good luck’ message plus a handsome donation to the charity pot.
And DS Automobiles’ Head of Communications, Kevin Jones – a stalwart of previous GPs – sent a message: “Heartfelt apologies that I can’t be with you on this occasion. Of course, my colleagues are with you from Peugeot and Citroën, and I hope you have another great night.”
The SGMW doesn’t enter a team itself because the GP is intended as a small ‘thank you’ to industry PR colleagues for the events they stage for group members.
But some members did volunteer for teams who were short of in-house racers: Tyler Heatley and Sean Ward (Honda), Phill Tromans – who filled a hole in the ‘holy’ alliance Renault-Nissan team – Chris Pickering (BMW-MINI) and Tim Pitt (Porsche).
For Tyler it was a very different event to last year when he helped the FIAT team come so close to victory. This year, he and Sean shared Honda’s wooden spoon for gaining the second highest number of black flags (see our video).
So, the 2017 podium places were:
1st Ford: Jake Cassetta, John Palmer, Kristian Gilling, Maisie Goldney and Charlotte Ward – they received the SGMW GP trophy based on a splendid Moto-Lita leather-covered sports steering wheel, to be engraved (again) and held for the next year – can they do the hat trick?
2nd Audi: Alex Fisk, Marios Alexandrou, Nick Mitchell and Paul Grayson
3rd FIAT: Darren James, Chris Clubley, Nate Wright and Omid Dehghan
Fastest Lap winners:
1st: Jake Cassetta (Ford) 49.211 seconds
2nd: Rhys Jones (Honda) 49.544
3rd: Chris Clubley (FIAT-Alfa Romeo) 49.966
There was another prize too: a surprise birthday cake for Citroën Head of Communications John Handcock, who chose to attend and drive for his brand rather than celebrate at home. Apparently, it was a ‘no brainer’ for John: “Why wouldn’t I be here? We all look forward to it and we thank you guys for organizing it.”
As usual though, the biggest winner on the night (Thursday 27 April) was the SGMW’s charity beneficiary: for the second year running, it was the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance Trust (EHAAT), a cause close to the hearts of all attending, with around half the body’s lifesaving calls being to road accidents and missions typically costing £2,700. It receives no Government funding.
Tony Stone, an EHAAT paramedic and a racer on the night, said: “This is just a brilliant event and, for the second year in a row, the Trust would like to thank you so much for a generous donation. We’ve also learned some new overtaking techniques from the Ford team…”
More than 80 drivers competed in a full grid of 20 teams at the all-action three-tier circuit at TeamSport, Crawley, with the event comprising a 150-minute endurance race, plus practice session and safety briefing beforehand.
This year’s grid (in alphabetical order): Audi, BMW/MINI, Citroën, EHAAT, FIAT-Alfa Romeo, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Lexus, MINI, Mitsubishi, Newspress (also including Jade Wells and Darren Newman from the Subaru press office), Peugeot, Porsche, Renault-Nissan, Skoda, Suzuki, Toyota, Vauxhall, and Volvo.