The Rolling Thunder Show season got under way on Easter Saturday, two weeks later than planned. The first meeting had fallen foul of the Met Office, who issued an “orange” weather warning centred on the Thames Estuary. That implied that “non essential” travel was to be discouraged and the RTS risk management department failed to convince the promotional department that a Saturday night’s racing constituted essential travel for everyone!


A fortnight later, despite wet weather setting in again, Arena Essex was looking like a popular destination, with the queue of racers taking a good 45 minutes to clear the entrance gates. Once inside a total of 121 cars filled the pits, making for a very busy night’s racing, although not always in the classes where we’d like to have seen full grids!


Particularly surprising were the SUPERSTOX with just seven cars present, of which four made it onto the track and three passed the starter’s flag. Those three put up a good show though, with young Jessica Smith continuing to do credit to the legendary 391 number, winning all three races from Harry Sturt and Tim Hall. Steve Rickard didn’t complete a lap while Sarah Rash, Stuart Langridge and Jake Rose were non starters.


The HOT RODS were also thin on the ground, with just one entry for the new “Retro” class and one Outlaw car, both joining the seven FWD cars on track. Trevor Bibby’s unique Saab Turbo-powered Corsa looked promising, but a handful in the cold, wet conditions, while Dean Fuller’s Seat Ibiza ground to a halt to bring out the reds in the first race. Tony Taylor’s immaculate Mk6 Fiesta won both heats but skated into the armco in the final, leaving Lee Fuller’s Seat to battle for the lead with Luke Retchless’ Saxo and Dan Wild’s ex-Charlie Sayers Civic. Luke made it round the outside to take the lead just before Lee spun across Dan’s nose, but all survived with Luke winning from Lee and Dan, while Michael George’s Tigra made a smoky exit from the second heat. Scott Tait’s Renault 5 won the Retro class and Danny Smith’s Tigra represented the Outlaws.


The STOCK RODS turned out in good numbers with a 14 car grid although Michael Benstead, Neil Higgins, Hayley Tait and Andy Richardson didn’t make the final, where first heat winner Trevor Gillman failed to get away from the line. After winning heat two, Luke Cornish’s Corsa pulled out a good lead in the final, while Ash Sheppard lost out in the second place battle, ending up on the infield watching Helen Samways take the place from Pete Harris’ Corsa (long-time Citroen stalwart Pete having “gone over to the dark side” and seemingly improved his luck!). Alex Martin took fourth from Matt Colburn, Mick Seex and Georgie Biggs while Ash Braim joined the retirements.


The biggest entry was for the EURO RODS with a 30 car turnout; when 29 of them lined up for the first heat a last minute decision was made to split them, which probably made all the difference in most of them surviving the night! After Craig Stansfield, George Morris, Josh Hollingsworth and Mark “Panda” Robinson (first time out in his new Corsa) won the four heats, Graham McNicol made every effort to run away with the final in the ex-Gary Thomas Corsa C. The yellow flags wiped out Graham’s lead twice but he still held on to win from Tom Talbot, Brian Stanney, Luke Ashton-Jones, Billy Stickley and Chris Smith. George Morris’ new Corsa C held seventh from Anthony Stickley, Georgina Goodchild, Gary Leeks, Josh Hollingsworh, Dean Webster, Matthew Payne, Alan May, Gary Reeve, John Barrett, Mark Payne, Joe Allen, Ted Rowley and Sophie Constable. Non-finishers in the hectic race were Craig Stansfield, Ashley Colvin, Paul Burgess, Ian Talbot, Aaron Keynes and Mark Robinson, while just three cars didn’t make the final; former Street Stox man Andy Reynolds, Tom Pracy and the rapid looking Michael Hall, who’d hit problems while leading in his first heat.


A great year looks in prospect for the JUNIOR HOT RODS with plenty of newcomers on the grid, some novices and some top drivers moving over to the RTS following Spedeworth’s strange decision to provide only contact classes for Juniors. Austen Hayes’ Corsa held off the Micras of Bradley and Reece Peters to win the first heat. All 18 cars finished and lined up for the second heat in which Lily-May Burbridge led the early laps in her Peugeot, before Danielle Bevan, a former Junior Banger racer, took over to score a good win. Danielle continued her great showing in the final, leading all but the first lap to come home the winner from Lily-May Burbridge, Josh Hilton’s Nova and Austen Hayes. Zac Lammas’ Corsa was best of the ex-Spedeworth cars, coming in fifth from Swaffham Champ Hayden Ballard’s Micra, Perry Cooke’s Corsa, Murray Austen’s Corsa, Reece Peters, Bradley Peters, Katelyn Parrin’s AX, Ninja graduate Billy Sandford’s Corsa, Alfie Jarchow’s Corsa and Grayci-Lou Burbridge’s 106. Other contenders included the Micra of Albert Carter, son of top drag racer Andy Carter, Albert Webster in the C2, newcomer Jack Wilks’ Nova and Ben Spence’s Corsa.


The NINJA SPRINTS had 14 karts on the grid, who all made it to the final despite a race stopping collision at the end of the second heat. Harry Fryett and Kasey Jones were the heat winners. After two restarts in the final, from the red grade Harry shot through to lead within two laps and came home the winner from Kasey, Harry Wickens, Ollie Jones, Lewis Pyne, Finlay Kew, Rhys Perrin, Warren Langridge, Jake Ashby, Poppy Hendy and Ryan Weaver, with Anthony Weaver, Kyle Wells and Charlie Soane eliminated in the two race stoppages.


The STREET STOX have been given a stay of execution based on promises of more cars turning out this year. Eight of them made it this time and had a relatively uneventful night. Mitchell Cummings won the first heat and took a close second to Steven Austen in heat two. Mitchell went on to win the final, chased by Steven, with the field completed by Matthew McMahon, Paul Clark, Tracey Gilbert, Iain Knight, Andy Burbridge and Andrew Armstrong.


Looking like an addition to the regular RTS programme are the THUNDER CARS, the class that started as an unlimited RWD class but now accommodates virtually any standard car over 1400cc. The heats were won by Alex Pyne’s Corsa and Mick Day’s BMW. The seven car field was down to five for the final, with Alex Pyne and John Harris’ Jag missing. Billy Perry’s steaming Peugeot 206 led all the way, ahead of Zippy Mundy’s BMW, Ryan Vincent’s BMW, Mick Day and Pete Day’s Sierra Estate.


Completing the programme were the Stansted Raceway DIRT RODS, invited to race with RTS until the season starts at their home track. 13 of them showed up, with grids of 11, 12 and 8 in the three races. Jack Leeks in a Fiesta won both heats and was in front when the final was flagged early.