Competitors from Britain, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland and Sweden made the journey looking to stop Finland’s Juno-Matti Manninen from his second consecutive World Championship title. The Finnish racer had taken an early lead on home water in June with a 2nd and first at the opening two rounds of the championship leaving him in a strong position heading to the British Grand Prix on a course where he’d dominated to secure the European crown in 2016.
Days before the competition Latvia’s Nikita Lijcs who was currently sitting in second place in the competition had failed to enter and looked like he may be a no show until right at the last minute when he announced his travel plans and headed across Europe towards Dover. With a maximum fleet for water approvals the action looked set to be edge of the seat and as qualifying for Race 3 got underway spectators were not disappointed.
There would be three qualifying sessions with the top 15 racers progressing from qualifying 1 to the 2nd session where the fleet would be whittled down to the top 6 boats who would compete in a two lap shoot out to secure pole position.
The first competitor to show his speed was Britain’s very own Ben Morse who currently leads the British Championship setting a fantastic lap time of 0:52.20 on his second lap. Finland’s Tuukka Lehtonen was second fastest with Nikita Lijcs taking third. With the session over Britain’s Ray Read, Leon King, Mike Pillow and Colin Jelf along with Poland’s Marcin Szymczyk failed to make the grade and would have to watch as the other competitors battled their way up the starting grid.
Qualifying session two and Tuukka Lehtonen found some extra speed and on his 8th lap was the only racer of the session to set a sub 52 second lap and firmly secure his place in the top 6 shoot-out. Joining him in the top six were fellow Fin’s Juno-Matti Manninen, and Magnus Sederholm, Britain's Ben Morse, Sweden’s Morgan Jernfast and Latvia’s Lijcs.
The top six shoot-out had teams and spectators on the edge of their seats, as some racers had obviously been holding some speed back and perfecting their lines around the course. Tuukka Lehtonen set a lap time of 0:52.18 and being the only racer to have set a sub 52 second lap in the previous session looked favourite for pole. That was until Brit Ben Morse took to the water for his two laps and having spent several years perfecting his way around the Stewartby course Ben’s lines were clean and swift securing a lap time of 0:51.25 and saw him take the lead. But Championship leader Manninen was obviously playing his cards close to his chest and as he headed out for his hot laps he pulled out the best lap time of the day to secure himself pole position with a 0:50.51 lap and a speed of 62.82mph.
As the full fleet lined up for Race start tensions were high, Ben Morse was the highest place Brit on the grid and sat in second place and ready to race. As the lights went out Manninen got a flying start and led the fleet into the first turn but a collision between Brits Leon King and Mike Pillow on the start of lap two saw King forced to retire from the race. Under yellow flag Manninen lead the procession with Lijcs hot on his wake and Morgan Jernfast bearing down on him and Morse in 4th. With the course clear the whistle sounded to restart the race and Manninen and Lijcs surged forward but disaster 3 laps down into the restart and disaster struck for Ben Morse as he pushed hard to catch Jernfast heading into the right hander he took the corner to tightly and collided with the buoys dislodging them resulting in a disqualification for the Brit and causing another yellow flag whilst the buoys were secured.
The race got back underway and Manninen powered away once more taking Lijcs with him as he led the rest of the race to the chequered flag and another 20 championship points to boost his led in the championship table. Lijcs finished a strong second with Jernfast securing the bronze medal ahead of Finland's Tuukka Lehtonen and Britain’s Ben Jelf putting in a strong performance to finish 5th.
Race Day 4
Sunday 2nd July and blustery conditions looked set to cause challenging conditions for the racers competing at the British Grand Prix. Whilst the wind remained strong the hydroplane O125 & O250’s stood down until the weather improved. So, it was on to Round 4 of the F4 World Championship.
Once again, the fleet would fight to make the top 15 boats during qualifying to see them go through to session 2 before the top six boats fought it out in a two lap shoot out. Having optimised their lines round the course during race day three qualifying was faster and more furious. This time it was Finland’s Tuukka Lehtonen that secured the fastest lap time setting a time of 0:52.36 with Britain’s Ben Morse back to prove himself after dislodging two buoys in race 3, Ben managed to once again reaffirm his place in the top of the fleet taking second ahead of Finland’s Kalle Viippo in third.
Qualifying session 2 once more would see the fleet whittled down to 6 competitors and once more the only Brit to make the grade was Lancashire’s Ben Morse placing himself third on the grid. Securing pole position was Latvian Nikita Lijcs a fifth of a second faster than Tuukka Lehtonen with Manninen slightly off the pace and only managing to secure 4th on the grid.
As the boats lined up for Race 4 Latvia’s Nikita Lijcs took a confident pole position. Lijcs got a fantastic start and led the teams into the first mark with Manninen pushing him every step of the way as the rest of the fleet rounded the turn, Finland's Magnus Sederholm barrel rolled over the top of Ben Jelf forcing Sederholm out of the race and the race restarted. Jelf’s steering took a knock in the collision and the youngster sped back to the pits where his mechanics and quickly managed to sort the problem and get the youngster back to the grid for the restart. Once more Lijcs powered away and again Manninen was bearing down on the Latvian. But heading round the first turn Lithuania’s Virgilijus Gedrimas barrel rolled out of the race and as the leading fleet were heading round turn two Poland’s Adrian Manieswski also barrel rolled out of the race. Under yellow flag both boats and drivers were safely recovered. But meanwhile Tuukka Lehtonen barrel rolled landing the right way up he unfortunately had a hole in his hull forcing him to retire from the race.
With the race back underway Lijcs led the way round the course with Manninen trying as hard as he could to catch him , meanwhile trying to keep Fin Kalle Viippo at bay in third and pushing for second himself disaster struck again for Ben Morse as he once more clipped the right-hand buoys dislodging them and seeing him disqualified for the second time during the weekend. Morgan Jernfast and Ben Jelf were fighting it out hard for 4th and 5th position when on lap 12 further back in the field Denmark’s Sebastian Haugaard hooked right in front of Colin Jelf causing another yellow flag incident and Jelf being taken to hospital for treatment.
Latvia’s Nikita Lijcs held on to his lead to take his first win of the championship, Juno-Matti Manninen took the silver medal and Morgan Jernfast of Sweden completed the podium in the bronze medal position.
Just 5 points now separate Juho-Matti Manninen and Nikita Lijcs as they head to the final round of the championship in Lithuania in August and with 6 points separating 3rd, 4th and 5th places there’s still everything to play for and the action at the next round is sure to be intense.