Bouncing back from the disappointment of having to terminate its final season at Arena-Essex early (due to some stadium health and safety issues outside the control of the tenants), the Rolling Thunder Show completed 2018 with a popular return to the longest and fastest oval circuit remaining in the UK after Rockingham’s closure; the 600 yard Chessons Oval at Lydden Hill – the first time the oval had been used since Lydden successfully overcame the additional noise restrictions imposed on the venue three years ago. As was always the case at Lydden, the oval races were part of a mixed format meeting including circuit racing, drifting and a firework display that attracted a large crowd to the East Kent venue. With all the regular Rolling Thunder Show and SEGTO classes invited, plus cars from other local tracks, the oval part of the programme ended up with well over 100 entries, filling Lydden’s paddock to an extent that hadn’t been seen for years.


Thanks to an unavoidable clash of dates with the Incarace finals at Birmingham, just five of the ten booked NINJA SPRINTS turned up, expecting to use a circuit linking the Devil’s Elbow and Pits Bend. However, when it was realised that the proposed layout couldn’t be used anticlockwise, because of the unprotected paddock exit, they transferred to the 600 yard oval, with no issues at all, once they’d learned not to follow the pace car off at the start of the race! The most experienced of the five, Jayden Steward, spun out of both heats but led the way in the final until he was passed by Thomas Percox, who went on to complete a hat-trick of wins. Jack Pilgrim, Lewis Riley and Rylee Harvey completed the evenly matched field.


A 15-car grid of JUNIOR HOT RODS set the pattern for the close racing that would follow all day. Alfie Jeakins’ new “frogeye” Micra snatched the win on the last corner of heat one, with Jack Simmonds’ Nova demoting long time leader Reece Peters’ Micra to third. Reece held on to win the second heat, holding off Alfie and Daniel Freeman’s Micra. Alfie came through from fifth on the final grid to take the lead from Daniel Freeman and then neatly reeled off the 12 laps to win, with Daniel hanging on to second ahead of Reece Peters, Jack Simmonds, SEGTO champ Thomas Connors in his K10 Micra and Will Deeley’s ex-Albert Carter Micra. Albert Webster’s C2 was next up with the Peugeots of Lily-May and Grayci-Lou Burbridge split at the end by Zak Brunning’s Nova. Angmering regular Jamie Budd’s K12 Micra and Alfie Jarchow’s Corsa tangled on the last lap, while Austen Hayes’ Corsa had a troubled day after flying into the bank in his first race. Jackson Francis’ Corsa was an early retirement with a sick engine.


The EURO RODS were originally scheduled to share the track with the Stock Rods, but thankfully time was found to split the two well supported classes. The Austen family dominated the results, with Stephen heading home son Murray in the first heat, after a battle with Dean Webster. Second time out this trio again fought out the lead, joined by Tom Talbot, with Murray just crossing the line ahead of Dean, Tom and Stephen. The final saw Elliot Parr leading the early laps until Murray Austin hit the front and stayed there. Dean Webster came from the back of the grid to snatch second from Paul Warren, Stephen Austen, Sophie Constable, Matt Payne, Elliot Parr and Gary Reeve. Mark Payne headed the next bunch from Tracey Burbridge, Tony Crozier, Andrew Armstrong’s Nova (the only non-Corsa among the Euro Rods) and Ted Rowley. Tom Talbot was the only retirement, while Peter Tilley’s SEGTO Prod A Nova fought bravely with the bigger engined Euro Rods.


The STOCK RODS provided spectacular action with James Killick’s Corsa holding off Simon Johnson’s Nova Saloon in the first heat after a strong early challenge from the RWD Starlets of Daniel Melhuish (in the Ian Heffernan car) and Dave Lamb went wrong. Chis and Doug Constable started their Corsas at the back and Chris came through to take the lead on the last lap, the only problem being that he was on the grass alongside Dover Slope at the time. When Chris finally found a bit of tarmac to use, Ricky Lofthouse’s Corsa was already there, so as these two ended in a heap, James and Simon crossed the line still in front. With Dave Lamb unfortunately missing, James Killick led the second race until he locked up and missed the oval link; Trevor Gillman’s Nova then led until Chris Constable came though and this time stayed on the black bit to win from Dan Melhuish with Sam Owen’s Tigra heading the rest of the pack. Chris was again the man to beat in the final, quickly coming through from the back to take the lead from Dan Melhuish. Dan stayed with him, but the Corsa beat the Starlet with James Killick taking third from Doug Constable, Ash Braim, Trevor Gillman, Sam Owen, John Seex and Pete Harris. Ricky Lofthouse retired while Jamie Bevan and Jon Turvey dropped out in the second heat. Four SEGTO 1450 Hot Rods started behind the Stock Rods each time with Nathan Loader’s AX generally holding the advantage from the Novas of Jason and Josie Johnsey and Junior graduate Will Watson in the ex-Colin Campbell Cinquecento.


A mixed grid of HOT RODS included three Outlaws, four 2-litres, five Super Rods, two FWDs, a SEGTO Super Saloon and a NASA Class 7! Adding to the mix a few of the Dover (Coombe Valley) cars joined in the first heat but were redirected to their correct class next time out! The Outlaws fought through the field in the first race before being placed at the front of the grid for their other races in which they, not surprisingly, put a lap on all the other classes. Trevor Ward won all three races, just fending off Matt Leadbetter in a photo finish in the final, with Dan Guidotti’s BMW Mini chasing in third. The other classes were all racing for the “group B” trophies and John Wicks’ Super Rod eventually headed them home from Tony Taylor’s FWD Fiesta, Simon Cane’s Pinto-powered Starlet and Gavin Cocks in the second of the Super Rods. Then came Dave Willis’ Mondeo-shelled Super Rod, Darren Nash’s 205-Pinto, Peter Ash and Jim Wicks in their Super Rods and Karl Jordan’s Starlet. Also in the mix had been Dan Wild’s FWD Civic, Scott Tait’s Renault 5-Zetec, Laurence Connors’ twin “growler” 205 and Trevor Martin’s twin Kawasaki powered Cinquecento.


The OPEN WHEEL ALLCOMERS events presented an unusual problem when one Superstox entered, up against one NASA and two SEGTO Specials. So which way round would they go? The problem was solved when a second Superstox turned up and it was agreed they could go out with the CAMSO V8s, the only other class racing anti-clockwise. The Specials could then have a three-abreast standing start with Barry Hathaway returning to the scene of many of his Rallycross successes and winning all three races in his Hayabusa Class 8, while SEGTO veteran Danny Stafford with his crossflow motor battled with Ashley Lock’s Zetec, finally beating him in the final.


The OPEN SALOONS class brought out a real mixture; all the regulars from the RTS “Thunder Car” category were joined by a couple of Lightning Rods and a mixture of cars from Dover’s Coombe Valley Raceway. The Lightning Rods as expected had the advantage, with Chris and Marcus Reeve heading the heats before Marcus turned the tables on Chris in the final. Then came the battling Thunder Rods, with the Civics of Billy Perry and Michael Burke holding off Darryl Mundy’s BMW. Robin Miles’ BMW Mini was quickest of the Dover cars, holding off Jake Clubb’s Fiesta and David Burke’s Thunder Rod Civic. Steve Cross in another BMW Mini beat Ady Barnes’ Sapphire, Jake Moat’s BMW Mini, Peter Day’s BMW, Andy Burbridge’s Sierra, Dan Clubb’s Civic and Jake Clubb’s Fiesta, while Mick Day’s Sierra Estate, Jay Powell’s Fiesta, Jack Miles’ MR2 and Bobby Miles’ Escort.  Craig Luckhurst’s Fiesta only appeared briefly and Paul Clubb’s Fiesta never quite managed to line up in the correct group and raced with various other classes!


Completing the line-up were the CAMSO V8s, the Late Model class based at Warneton in Belgium, who hadn’t raced in the UK since their last Lydden outing four years ago – although in fact six of the eight cars that arrived were UK-based. Hertfordshire’s Paul Sweeney won the first heat but the second heat and final were convincingly won by Artur Lehouck, the French driver who’d headed this year’s CAMSO standings. Wim Moonen, from the Netherlands, took second, holding off Paul Sweeney, Lee Maddox and Andrew Knight, with Deme Cordell and Keith Whalley completing the finishers after Stuart Whalley retired. The two Superstox entries, Steve Rickard and Matt Roberts, battled all day and ended up beating several of the Late Models, which hadn’t been in the script!


As well as the oval racing, there were circuit races for SALOONS (catering mainly for regulars from the Quaife Modified Saloons and Cannons Tin Tops series) and single seaters. By doing away with any official timing, Lydden managed to offer drivers practice, two 10-lap heats and a 15-lap final for £150 – unrivalled value in circuit racing terms. A varied 18-car field of Saloons included our star car of the meeting – Colin Rooney’s Special Saloon Imp, which was believed to have started life as an original Fraser Imp Group 2 Touring Car in the early 1970s, before spending most of its career in Ireland. That gave it a pretty unique record as we think we’d seen the car racing at both Crystal Palace and Phoenix Park! Rod Birley’s Escort Turbo won all three races, chased by Bill Richards’ KAD 16 valve powered Mini, Bill taking third in the first race from the back of the grid before taking two seconds from his rightful position at the front, and David Cowan’s BMW M3, with the production class headed by Glen Rossiter’s BMW Mini from Steve Everson’s Saxo and Ken Angell’s BMW. Other finishers in the final included veteran Fiesta racer Pete Daniels, leading more Fiestas driven by Zac Lucas and John Cooper, Andy Baham’s Clio, Chris Bicknell’s Saxo, Nick Lunn’s Honda Integra and Chris Burley’s XR2 Fiesta. Former RTS Pickup racer (among many other things) Marcus Bicknell blew up his Saxo and other retirements during the day were Mary Grinham’s Maguire Mini, Colin Rooney’s Imp, Mark Cripps’ Golf and Martyn Scott’s BMW E30.


A disappointing SINGLE SEATER entry comprised three classic Formula Ford 2000 cars but proved that you only need two cars to make a race as George Fowler’s Reynard 83SF-Pinto battled with Chris Lord’s 1800 Zetec-powered Van Diemen RF82. Chris eventually won all three races with the trio completed by Lydden veteran Jeff Williams with his RF82-Zetec.


After a great day’s racing, nobody seemed in a hurry to leave Lydden that night, which was just as well as they’d have had to battle against the hordes of local families pouring into the circuit for the firework display. With the promise of more of these mixed format meetings to come at Lydden in future, the loss of Arena is seeming to have some compensations!