BUSHY PARK, Barbados -- Reigning Seaboard Marine Caribbean Motor Racing (CMRC) champion Doug Gore is urging island fans to head for Bushy Park Circuit in St Philip on Saturday for what he predicts will be some "serious, serious racing", as the 2014/15 season kicks off with the first of three CMRC races slated for the end of the day's packed programme.
Driving his title-winning Audi TT-RS DTM, the Jamaican was among a number of regional drivers who took to the track for Thursday’s first test sessions in advance of this weekend's Digicel Williams International Race Meet (July 5/6). Testing continued Friday and from 9.00 am Saturday, with qualifying scheduled to follow at 11.00 am and the first of the day's six races at 2.00 pm.
Those in action included Gore's fellow-countrymen Peter Rae (Mazda RX-7), who described the redeveloped circuit as "a mini-Silverstone", referring to the venue for this weekend's British Grand Prix, and leading CMRC Group 2 contenders Kyle Gregg (Honda Civic) and Sebastien Rae (Mitsubishi Mivec).
Team Guyana's CMRC front-runners enjoying their first taste of the new layout included Andrew King (Mazda RX-7), Kristian Jeffrey (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) and Danny Persaud (Mazda Miata), while Trinidad's Ruddy Beekee (Mazda RX-7) and Kristian Boodoosingh (Evo 6.5) also joined in the action. Friday’s inbound flights from Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad were due to bring the remaining competitors and their support crews, as the pit area becomes a hive of activity.
The 16 cars listed for this weekend's CMRC races represent the largest grid in the history of the Championship, and the prospect of some of the closest racing in recent memory. After his first few laps of the circuit, King said: "It is a very good circuit, exciting to drive, with some good overtaking places. The layout will even out the difference between the very powerful four-wheel-drive cars and the rear-wheel-drive cars like my Mazda and Doug's Audi. It takes time to get the right braking points, which is important for those overtaking places, but it is going to be very close."
Asked how much of part qualifying on Saturday afternoon would play in the outcome, King added: "It will be important, but there will still be a chance to fight through. I think anyone in the first four will stand a chance of winning Saturday's race."
Gore was also predicting action: "We're going to have a lot of cars here battling . . . and it will be a very, very interesting first race for sure. Andrew said four, I think anyone in the top six will have a chance of winning the first race. I would urge everyone to get out to Bushy Park on Saturday afternoon, because that first event is going to be serious, serious racing. It will be a very interesting first race, for sure."
The opening round of the Seaboard Marine CMRC Group 2 Championship also boasts the biggest grid since the launch of the series in 2010, with all four previous Champions in the line-up, and all with the advantage of home-town support -- Eddie Corbin, Kenrick Husbands and Mark Thompson won their titles in Toyota Starlets, while reigning champion Kurt Thompson was at the wheel of his Honda CRX.
There is much stronger opposition from around the region this year, however, while minor changes to the regulations are aimed at creating closer racing and a more even playing field; from now on, 2-litre and 1600cc cars will run together, balanced by weight, and a common tyre rule will apply at each round.
Jamaica's Gregg said: "This is a fantastic circuit, we don't have anything like this at home, and it is really nice to drive. Because there hasn't been any competition on it yet, there's no rubber down, so it is a bit slippery, especially on the standard tyre that we're using for CMRC. It doesn't have the same grip levels as the slick tyres that we usually run on, so that is making things interesting, as it doesn't turn in so well."
Asked about the drivers he is looking out for in Group 2, Gregg added: "Well, obviously the Thompson brothers, but also Daryl Clarke. We've seen what that car is capable of during Rally Barbados, so we're looking forward to some real competition."
There were also test sessions for karts and superbikes on Thursday, while the Suzuki-powered Radical SR3 RS sports cars, which will be demonstrated over the weekend, were also being tested during the general car sessions.