The 2014 edition of the Annual NEO Invitational race in the UK was a bittersweet event for the NEMO team, yet thoroughly enjoyable and contested on probably the best track layout they have provided yet.
With the date switching back to the usual Easter weekend, the International entries were once again back to their usual high level meaning the overall level of competition was extremely high.
The usual 3 lap blast was employed for seeding in practice, and my option of the system hasn't changed…its still rubbish and just encourages drivers to drive in a reckless manor to try and get away with a 3 lap stint that will re seed them higher than they would normally be. Still Darren Bloomfield was immediately right on the pace and was fastest of all after 2 rounds, but slipped to 5th in practice after the 3rd and final round had been completed. Some new parts were being used on his Agama A8 for this weekend and they immediately made a big improvement and Darren was comfortable straight away. The NEMO Juniors was all acquitting themselves brilliantly as usual, Jonny Skidmore and Ollie Currie were driving with a confidence and a maturity the belied their years.
The Junior final was held on the first night and used the seeding from the practice times to qualify. NEMO's Ollie Currie was the star, fighting back after a bad start to get into second place and hunt the leader down over the next laps. With a few minutes to go, he took advantage of a mistake by the leader to put himself out front but an unfortunate coming together would see Ollie have to settle for 2nd at the flag. It was a great fight and good drive from Ollie, who had laid down a marker for the weekend…
Qualifying was under way on saturday morning and Darren was in the mood right from the off, he was leading the top heat in round 1 with a minute to go until a fellow competitor crashed in front of him, and then took Darren out while rejoining the track. The incident cost 5 seconds and lost him the TQ for the round, but still he would take 3rd and get the meeting off to a good start despite this.
This trend continued right throughout qualifying, and either with his own small errors or other drivers Darren was unable to quite get a TQ in round that his pace certainly deserved. Only minor changes were made to the set up of his car throughout the meeting, as he found small areas he would like to improve on. Overall Darren would qualify 6th, which was a good result, but equally slightly disappointed as he knew he could be much higher, and even challenge for overall TQ.
The juniors Ollie and Jonny both did a superb job throughout qualifying to line up in the 1/4 finals, no mean feat given the level of competition. Both looked excellent on track and easily capable of good finals, indeed on the difficult corner jump at turn 2, I'd venture to say that Jonny was one of the 5 most consistently fast drivers at the meeting through that section.
In the E-buggy class, Darren was certainly looking good in practice yet as soon as qualifying started electrical gremlins started to creep in and he would lose 2 rounds altogether to problems, and then have another one where the power delivery was so inconsistent that he couldn't drive the track properly resulting in a lowly 19th in round. Fortunately for Darren when running he was one of the 2 quickest cars on track and he recorded a 1st and 2nd in round in his other 2 rounds to qualify 10th overall. Indeed his E-buggy was a bit better than the Nitro with the only major difference between the 2 being thicker diff oil, he decided he would try the same settings on the Nitro car in the semi practice. Jerome Sartel was also going very well with his E-Buggy and would end up with a good result himself.
The over 35's final was run on the Sunday night and NEMO's own Jon Hazlewood was in contention, having had a relatively quiet NEO as his focus was shifted more to the results of others. The over 35 class is getting very competitive, and will get much harder again in the next few years with the likes of Atsushi Hara and Yannick Aigoin set to join the club. Jon got a good start but 1 mistake at a bad time put him the pack, where he drove fast and consistently to finish a creditable 6th overall.
In the E-buggy class, both Darren and Jerome would come through their 1/2 finals to make the main. The start was relatively clean for the main final and at the front it became a bit of 'follow the leader' with the drivers didn't make any errors and were unable to find a way past each other. Darren would finish 6th overall after not being able to get past the guys ahead, despite having a good bit of lap time advantage when in clear air.
Onto the finals and there would be a couple of jokers in the pack as far as the NEMO team were concerned with a few guys that had qualified well out of position due to bad qualifying sessions. Warren Van Der Merve from South Africa was our early bump king and he would progress through 4 finals and into a 5th before he finally fell down, probably through exhaustion! Also well down on his normal personal level was Leon Goode, but as Warren did before him, Leon would progress through 3 finals and into the 1/8th finals before his charge would come to a halt in the same final as team leader Hazlewood. The 1/4 finals saw Ollie Currie and Jonny Skidmore in the same side and easily running quick enough for a place in the 1/2 finals, Jonny unfortunately made a couple of errors that dropped him out of contention, but Ollie was leading the race in a nice comfortable rhythm when he was taken clean out by the 2nd place driver who suffered no penalty. Sadly the marshall had to wait for several cars to pass before being able to help Ollie and his race was to all intents and purposes over from there, such was the closeness in pace of the field. Tony Truman was up in the other 1/2 final, and would unfortunately lose a lap early due to an electrical fault putting him out of contention.
Onto the 1/2 finals and Darren was very confident, and with good reason. He bided his time early on, picking off the drivers ahead as they made errors and got himself into the lead and was pulling away when disaster struck. At around the half way mark Darren got a little out of shape as he came over the jump on the straight and in his efforts to correct the error, he hit the pit lane at high speed, breaking the servo saver. As team, especially team mate Jerome Sartel, we tried hard to fix the car to get it back out and give him a chance to make the Last Chance Qualifier race but to no avail as the last 2 cars in each 1/2 don't make it.
It was a bitterly disappointing end to what promised to be a truly memorable event for the Agama/NEMO team, but we can look back on it with pride as our cars and drivers showed great speed against the worlds very best drivers, and ultimately were in contention to win the event….Roll on NEO 2015!
Last week the NemoRacing team joined the rest of Europe in Eskilstuna, Sweden for the European A Championships.
All of the best and brightest were in attendance and every practice run and heat; you could feel the tension and excitement in the air.