After two days of hard-fought competition Ben Jelf successfully fended off the challenge of both the 2021 Formula Grand Prix Champion Sam Whittle and the 2021 CPA Sprint Champion Mette Bjerknæs to claim his first Formula GP win at the opening round of the 2022 British Championship.
Taking place at the tight confines of the Carr Mill circuit where overtaking can be a as tricky as passing an opponent around a Monegasque circuit Jelf secured a second and third place from Saturday’s heats.
Sunday saw a further two heats but this time on a handicapped system. These were calculated from the qualifying times and faster race times to work out each competitors delayed start time. With just eight seconds covering the entire class Jelf would start first and Whittle last and with the advantage of clear water ahead of him Jelf made it pay going on to secure his first heat win, which was quickly followed up with a second one giving him a total point score of 1160, one hundred points ahead of Whittle who had taken two heat wins the previous day.
For the past few months Jelf has been using the new Mercury APX200 engine fitted to a Molgaard hull as Jelf Racing carry out development work before running the engine in the 2023 UIM F2 World Championship.
When he spoke to PRW he admitted that they had arrived at the circuit with no real expectation of standing on the top step of the podium.
We were just looking to see how the engine performed after making a few changes here and there. We still have a lot of work to do but are progressing well and getting some really good data. Seeing which of the range of propellers works best with the motor has surprised us because we found one that the team used some twenty years ago works really well with it.
A few of the drivers did question whether the handicap system was still relevant, but Jelf was quick to answer that, when he said that the current champion had won his title in the same circumstances last season.
Collecting second place was the current champion Whittle, who had started the weekend extremely well. He was another driver who spoke of a sense of surprise when he spoke to PRW about swapping from a BaBa hull to the Moore.
The speed at which I’ve adapted to the Moore has shocked some people but I’m not complaining. The way it gets off the start pontoon, it’s just ballistic and we have even been able to use some of my best props that we thought would only suit to BaBa, that’s proved extremely useful.
Whittle confirmed that this season he’s concentrating solely on the British Championship with a view to joining up with the UIM F2 World Championships in 2023.
Less than twenty points separated Whittle from third place Bjerknæs, who was running her stock Optimax this weekend, having destroyed her race engine in testing at Stewartby.
It certainly was a frustrating start for her as during qualifying the lift pump packed up. Her mechanics then set about making a spacer to hold the engine up, but it would mean she would start the first heat almost at the back of the grid. Then to make matters worse the engine developed some electrical issues which meant the power kept going on and off.
When she spoke to PRW she was in a philosophical mood.
Any time I spend on the water now is precious not only for me but also for the team I have around me who have reacted brilliantly to the issues we have encountered here. They have done an excellent job in problem solving so it been an enormously valuable weekend for them before we head off to the opening round of the UIM F2 World Championship.
Last place on the start grid for the first heat was scant reward for Jonny Brewer. A last-minute decision saw him enter his first ever Formula Grand Prix race and only his third proper drive in the class.
My main focus this season is Formula GP Light, but we decided to get some valuable seat time in the F2 boat and try out a couple of different propellers in qualifying.
It obviously paid off because he managed to set the fastest time with just a few minutes remaining in the session. Due to his lack of experience in the class though Brewer would have to relinquish the pole position to Whittle though.
Disaster struck him in the opening heat as towards the end his gearbox seized following a real seal failure. Thanks to Ian Blacker from the Jelf Racing Team who loaned him one of his spare gearboxes, Brewer was back on the water come Sunday morning to gain some more seat time.
Blacker meanwhile had overcome the recent mechanical gremlins and finished a credible fourth place.
The British Championship now moves to Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft in June before the final event of the season at Stewartby, Bedfordshire in September.
All images: Chris Davies/PRW