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Although Standlake Arena always begins its season earlier than most of the UK's independent oval tracks, and is one of the first venues on our visiting list each year, this year we had to miss the first two Standlake events, one due to a clash with the Motorsport with Attitude show and the second due to the rescheduled first championship round at Waterford Raceway. So the mid-March fixture, the third on Standlake's busy schedule, was our first chance to visit Oxfordshire this year.


The day produced plenty of entertaining racing despite lower than usual early season turnouts in some of the classes, and a mixed bag of weather, ranging from bright sunshine to hailstorms and back to sunshine again in the space of about ten minutes.


Once again this year, Standlake's two top classes, the Hot Rods and Outlaw Formula 2 Stox, are taking it in turns to head the bill at each meeting and, with one round already done for each class, this time it was the HOT RODS' turn for Round 2. The first round had seen a 7-car turnout with a mixture of FWD and RWD cars. This time the entry was up to eight cars, with six FWDs (mainly Stock Rod spec) up against the 2-litre RWD Novas of Josh Campbell-Breakspear and Darren Taylor. The FWD entry was boosted by a few drivers who'd been concentrating last year on Arena Essex, including the Corsas of John and Les Hatch, former front runners in Standlake's Prod As, and Simon Johnson's unique Nova Saloon. They were joined by Pete King's ex-Rob West 1450 Hot Rod Corsa, Liam Hanley's deceptively quick 1600 AX and John Bartlett's Corsa. Les Hatch held off Pete King and Liam Hanley in the first heat until Les developed a misfire and pulled off. Pete took over the lead but Josh Campbell was closing fast and swooped round the outside of all the FWD cars to win from Pete, Liam and Darren Taylor. Second time out it was John Hatch to the fore in the first half of the race, but when Josh Campbell caught him there was an unfortunate tangle, with Les Hatch and John Bartlett also getting caught up, and Darren Taylor was through to win from Pete King and John Bartlett.


The final brought a few drops of rain just as the warm-up laps were completed, turning the track into a skating rink. The grip soon came back and Josh Campbell rocketed through the field, but in the slippery opening laps Les Hatch had pulled out an impressive lead and Josh just failed to catch him as they took the chequered flag side by side. John Hatch held off Darren Taylor, John Bartlett and Pete King with Simon Johnson completing the order, Liam Hanley having dropped out after the first heat.


The best racing of the day came, as so often, from the JUNIORS with the all-Mini class bringing out 21 cars; slightly down from the 30 plus that started last year, although there's always a steady stream of newcomers joining through the year. With the news that Autograss' junior age limit is dropping to ten from 2020, there was an opportunity to observe Standlake's latest crop of ten year old racers, with the novice grade drivers being split into separate races at this stage of the season. Most had actually started during 2018, but there were two complete newcomers, including Ella Fulker with the car that was our star of the NEC show - quite possibly the most immaculate Junior Mini ever seen! On her debut, Ella managed not to put a scratch on it. A last corner pass by Michael Weston meant that Ella didn't quite win her first ever race, but then she very convincingly won her second! Handicapped to the back of the grid for the final, Ella got a bit boxed in by the traffic, while up front Alfie Porter set the pace, chased by Ross Burton and Michael Weston. Their fun was stopped when Riley Bricknell caught a marker tyre and flipped his Mini on its side, with no harm to Riley or his passenger, so the result was declared with Alfie, Ross and Michael in the up three places. Chloe McQuillan took fourth from Alfie Butler, Ella Fulker, Tyler Rayner and the other complete novice, Jai-Dee Boland.


The graded Juniors laid on their usual close battles; their second heat was exceptional even by Standlake standards with 11 of the 12 starters battling for the lead at one stage, and five of them still tied together at the finish. Kyle Rayner won that one from Jacob Filer, Kacey Church and Zak Moores. Zak had won the first heat after a good showing by two of last year's novices, Callum Martindale and Aiden Howell. Callum again led the way in the final, but it wasn't long before the battling red grade drivers came through with Jacob Filer fending off Louis and Kyle Rayner, Zak Moores, Luke Holdsworth and Kacey Church. It came down to the closest possible finish as the leaders caught a lapped car on the line; Louis Rayner edged ahead of Jacob, but somehow Zak Moores sneaked past both of them, so Zak got the verdict from Louis, with a crossed flag dropping Jacob to fourth behind Kyle Rayner. Luke Holdsworth, Kacey Church and Josh Cornish came next, with Callum Martindale in eighth, holding off Aiden Howell, Jay Moores and Bobbi Ankerson, and Lucas Oxlade completing the order.


Despite Standlake's PRODUCTION A spec diverging from the main SEGTO class this year, all the runners so far appear to be sticking to the established 1-litre formula. Nine cars turned out with Kyle Williams' Micra beating Kelvin Passey's Corsa in both heats. It took these two, battling all the way with James Strickland's Nova, longer to get through the traffic in the final, by which time Mark Burton had built up a big lead in his eye-catching "Mini Sport" liveried Mini (shared with Ross in the Juniors). Once Kyle Williams broke out of the  pack, he quickly reeled in and passed the Mini in the last couple of laps, but Kyle had picked up a cross flag on the way, so Kelvin Passey ended up winning from Kyle and Mark after a great showing in the Mini. James Strickland was fourth from Melvyn Charles' Micra, Ian Round's Corsa and Shane Steele's Nova, with the Minis of Meghan McQuillan and Caz Aldridge being the other finishers.


The 1600 PRODUCTIONS had the day's biggest grid at 16 cars. The first race was stopped for a coming together between Courtnie Smith's Saxo and Ryan Shelton's Civic. Jake Lee's Focus led up to then, but Scott Tutty's Rover took over after the restart and went on to win from Steve Cooper's AX and the Civics of Dale Hall (in Shannon Chambers' car) and Craig Pullen. The second race was missing Ryan Shelton and David Ives' Civic "Executive". This time Dale Hall made it to the front, chased by Craig Pullen and Dan Powell. The final also saw an early red flag, when Steve Cooper hit the armco. Scott Tutty in the black Rover held on in front until the closing stages, when Dale Hall found a way past to win from Scott, Craig Pullen, Courtnie Smith, Dan Powell and Chris Wood. Ileka Kirk came next ahead of Anthony Ashby's Puma, Simon Gaskell's Fiesta and the matching BMW Minis of Michael Lee and Kieran Chapman, with Ryan Stoodley's MG ZR bringing up the rear on its first appearance.


DRIFT RODS fields seem to fluctuate greatly, with this meeting bringing out one of their smallest fields of ten cars. Chris Deverick's Mazda RX8 convincingly won the first heat, some way ahead of the BMWs of Kev Hardie, Tom Evans and Jason Cuddihy's Sierra, with Liam Puffett's Volvo Estate laying claim to the "best drifter" award. Next time out Chris Deverick won again, while Morgan Gardner's MX5 made it a 1-2 for contrasting Mazdas. After concentrating on drifting in the heats, Liam Puffett started the Volvo up front in the final, and stayed there, holding off Tommy Cox's Sapphire to the finish. Kev Hardie headed a pack of cars in third but picked up a black cross so Chris Deverick took the place from Kev, Garry Green and Tom Evans. Michael Hayes came in next in a Lexus IS200 while Morgan Gardner and Damien Light in another Lexus completed the runners.


The SUPER DRIFT CARS had their first outing of the year with just three assorted BMWs on track. Rick Bartlett took the award for drifting style, ahead of David Oxlade and Julian Peapell.


The rest of the day of course included lots of Banger racing, with 44 cars running to 1800 "Street Banger" rules provided some lively action leading to a 30 car final, won by Aaron Morris, and finishing with the usual Destruction Derby. With no major delays, the full 28-race programme was finished by 5 pm after another typically entertaining and good value day from the Standlake team.