After the success of the SXS Racing trip to Bastogne 2015 the 2016 trip was one that several of the paddock and staff were planning for all year. With triple the UK entries from the previous year it would require far more planning and coordination than ever before so our very own Claire Avis stepped forwards and took on the role. To say she smashed it is probably an understatement with clear instructions on every aspect of the journey and event being produced in good time and circulated to all involved. So a massive thank you to Claire for all her hard work in making the event possible. I’ve also heard she enjoyed it so much that she’s game for next year 😉 All stupid question fines should be paid in chocolate at Par this weekend.
The reduction in staff workload that Claire delivered allowed the HQ team of Jamie, Ryan and Colin to head over to Bastogne early and take a short break. This was an opportunity to visit the sites and Memorials of the WW2 Battle that made the town of Bastogne a must see for all who enjoy military history. The visit was a fantastic experience for us all as we traced the battle lines of the famous siege and visited every available sight to build the picture of this famous moment in time. The highlights were the American Mardasson Memorial a powerful tribute to the 80000 killed, the Easy Company trenches made famous by the TV Hit Band Of Brothers and last and the best part for me personally the 101stAirborne Museum in the centre of town. This was the last sight we visited and it brought a great trip to fantastic end as the small but very well kept museum tied together every aspect of our visit. It was now time to get back to the present as we had races to win!
By this time the Mrs Avis lead, and planned convoy had the left the UK intact and was on continental shores charging at an impressive 56mph towards the venue. They arrived early evening and the British camp soon took shape as the flags and banners told the rest of the paddock the British SXS Championship had arrived and were not there to make up the numbers. An evening of race admin some last minute maintenance and the standard few beers set up a good night’s sleep ready for day 1.
The morning of day one consisted of signing on and safety briefs in the build up to Qualifying. Everything was fairly straight forward except the multi-language safety brief which consisted of the phrase “Safety Quat” and the occasional round of applause leaving us all fairly clueless, the common sense of our experienced racers would get us through…right? The finish of the event admin stuff set up the famed parade through Bastogne. Drivers and staff (plus a massive Smurf teddy) jumped into the buggies and drove through the town centre behaving themselves the whole time an achievement many thought to be impossible. Jamie…a 144bhp buggy…. a public high street, really not sure what all the worrying was about!
Less about roads. Qualifying time
It was widely agreed across the paddock that in this type of event strong qualifying was critical and everyone’s focus on the job in hand was clear to see. With the buggies staggered across the start line the hounds were released and the timing boards lit up as the event roared to life. The early pace was furious and as the track started to bed in the screw started to turn. Early mechanical issues left Paul Rowland’s stranded at the end of the start straight, a disastrous start to this critical phase of the event. Early pace seemed strong from Jamie Thwaites and his buggy seemed to be the most settled and looked to be well set up for the conditions. Charlie Simpsons qualifying was over on the first lap after a bent A-Arm saw him recovered back to the pits facing the task of starting from the back in race one. Meanwhile at the front of the pack the UK drivers seemed to be struggling to break into the top 5, this surprised onlookers as some of our fastest racers found themselves mid pack.
As the time ticked past it seemed like Paul Rowlands was destined to be last when his team brought his buggy back to life and he screamed across the line with one lap to work his magic, a spectacular lap seen him jump from 28th to 3rd a sight everyone, especially Joe was happy to see. Next across the line for team UK was Jamie Thwaites in 5th position a fantastic achievement given his poor health at the time. Richard Avis followed in 7th marking the 1st of the UK 1000s with the #216 Buggy of Nick Payne closing off the top 10 with a fantastic 10th place. Next up was the Fro Systems buggy of Mark McCann/Jayne Ind, whose 12th place made more sense after inspection of his damaged buggy, damage that would prove to be terminal to the #64 machine. John Thorne in the factory Yamaha 1000 Turbo was next up in 17th place followed in 20th by the second UK Yamaha of Jason Bird both sighting tyre choice as an error on their behalf. James Blakey after only owning his buggy a matter of weeks showed that consistency would be rewarded crossing the line in 21st beating some far more experienced SXS drivers so well done James one to watch for next year perhaps. Claire Avis was disappointed with 24th and behind her Miles Radburn and Alex Hawkins struggled to settle landing 27th and 28th respectively. But let be honest there are no trophies for quali and racing is what we do, onwards and upwards.
Race one came alive straight away with the European racers covering off the charging Paul Rowlands straight from the start. Paul exited the twisty first sector in second place behind the formidable Dutchmen De Rooy pushing hard all the time. De Rooy had a huge off on lap one when he over jumped a table top landing the buggy on its nose resulting in a DNF ending the entire event for the injured driver. Paul took full advantage and charged to a well-paced race one victory.
Richard Avis moved from 8th on grid through to a third place finish proving that racing is what we do, also staying on the lead lap and important part of his event strategy. A perfectly smooth and calculated drive from Richard but again some buggy damage would mean some long maintenance hours between racers for the professor. Next up was Mrs Avis coming from 24th on the grid to pick her way through to an 8th place finish, consistency and caution along with some mongrel racing proving again why she is the Queen of UK SXS.
Nick Payne followed in with a 9th place after a belt issue saw him fall from 4th with only minutes to go. A shame but clear statement of Nicks pace for all to see. Next up was the smooth and consistent James Blakey settling nicely into his new 1000 a fantastic race one for the quiet but very capable James. Charlie Simpson/James Wells pushed hard from the back starting 29th to finish an impressive 12th. Alex Hawkins finished 13th from a 28thplace start another impressive feat although I’m not sure his co-pilot Danielle enjoyed the experience quite so much. A neck brace and a new helmet would sort that out for later races. Next up for the UK was Miles Radburn finishing in 18th place another good result for Miles. I’m convinced he had more in the tank but seemed to just be enjoying himself, what a fantastic outlook on racing. Miles was the last of the finishers with John Thorne in the Yamaha suffering damage on lap 5 forcing his withdrawal. Jason Bird in the second Yamaha also suffered damage on lap 1 rendering the buggy unable to finish or make it to the pits a real shame.
The tragedy of the race was the fate of Mark McCann, after race one Jamie Thwaites health took a turn for the worse allowing mark use of Jamie’s buggy after the terminal damage to his own. A fantastic act of sportsmanship showing what our paddock is all about. However Mark pushed his way to the front from 12the when the 2ndplace buggy in front of him spun out leaving Mark nowhere to go, the resulting collision finished Marks race. I guess this is racing but it’s never easy to see when someone is doing so well. Chin up and on to the next one.
The excitement for the night race was clear to see, some of the British vehicle would probably need to tow generators to power their massive light bars but they did prove very effective.
Paul Rowlands burst away from pole and seemed to have total control when a mechanical failure put him out the race and sent him crashing down the leader board. Paul’s exit opened the door for Richard Avis who ran in first place for several laps but was unable to hold off a charging Frenchman and finished 2nd place. Richard probably could have held off the Frenchman longer but the professor in him knew that buggy damage was not a risk worth taking. Next up was Nick Payne with a strong 6th in a great race that he really seemed to enjoy putting his mechanical issues firmly in the past.
Jason Birds Yamaha crossed the line next in 8th for the Brits after a solid drive from the new driver. Next in was Claire Avis 10th in her Pink 900 covered in pink and yellow strip lights another great result for the consistent Claire.
John Thorne was next in 11th place gaining 10 places from the day race but unable to pass Claire as the flag dropped. Charlie Simpson even after a massive light failure managed to bag 12th place after some nervous moments in the darkness. Miles Radburn finished in a comfortable 14th place keeping himself out of trouble in the midnight dust. Miles marked the end of the buggies on the lead lap with Mark McCann suffering belt trouble in the later stages forcing him out. James Blakey was the last finisher struggling to get used to the midnight driving style and opting for cautious and sensible approach. A great race enjoyed by all, shame it could never happen in the UK.
Race 3 was all about one man, could Richard Avis finish the event with a gap big enough to win the overall? The answer was a massive yes! By finishing 4th in the race and managing the gap Richard secured the overall win for Team UK. Fantastic performance by Richard who managed the three-race format to a tee.
Nick Payne again nailed it finishing in 5thplace adding to his already great weekend with another solid drive. The next Brit was down in 11th place as the Yamaha of Jason Bird crossed the line on the same lap as the leaders a great finish for Jason in only his 2nd event.
Claire Avis crossed the line in 13th place holding off several more powerful machines the story of her weekend. Next home was the consistent Miles Radburn in 14th place with James Blakey close behind setting up an interesting rookie season next year. Alex Hawkins/Danielle Heath were next up for the UK in 17th place with the remainder of the UK vehicles suffering mechanical problems forcing them out of the race. Some cautious final drives rewarded while some flat out drives suffered ill fate.
As I was writing this report I found myself smiling at some of the moments and the people who made it such a special event. It’s was about sportsmanship and about making friends across Europe as much as it was racing. So a massive thanks to all the people who made it special. Jamie Thwaites, get well Soon and thank you for making everything that SXS does possible and for allowing your buggy to be used to keep a team mate on track. Claire Avis for the event organisation, Dave, Ryan, Paul Severn and the Lloyds who worked hard the whole weekend to keep everyone on track. Also and probably more importantly to our fantastic hosts who made us feel beyond welcome, Giel van der Heiden, Gui Taens and Marije van Ettekoven. I look forward to returning your first class hospitality when you come to race in the UK in 2017. But before that we are back to you to defend OUR title at Bastogne 2017, we will aim for 20 buggies next year 😉
Overalls. UK Only
1st Richard Avis (1st)
2nd Nick Payne (4th)
3rd Claire Avis (6th)
4th Charlie Simpson/James Wells (9th)
5th James Blakey (12th)
6th Miles Radburn (15th)
7th Alex Hawkins/Danielle Heath (16th)
8th Jason Bird (19th)
9th Paul Rowlands (20th)
10th Mark McCann (21st)
11th John Thorne (22nd)