Ultra4 europe: King of britain
The most extreme off-road racing series. king of britain. full report
The Maxxis King of Britain, the final round of the 2016 Ultra4 Europe championship, took place on a little island off the coast of France and was the last slim chance Nicolas Montador had of beating this year’s stand out talent Emanual Costa to the title. After France, Italy and Portugal it was 3:0 to the Portuguese driver so the chances were slim, but the Frenchman wasn't going to go down without a fight.
A full field of 39 crews pitched up in a soggy field and the first to make a story was Axel Burmann but, as is quite often the case, for the wrong reasons. Doing better than the third corner of the qualifying lap, as happened in Portugal, wasn't too much to hope for here but a year of rotten luck ended in the King Shocks test zone when his engine died. His new truck should be ready for next season and will be the first IFS racing on the continent, so hopefully he'll be at the other end of the leaderboard.
The qualifying course was 1.9 miles of whoops, deep puddles, jumps and a twisty forest section that saw plenty of action, even if it was all done in the dark. Another driver with a car that seems to need a priest to exorcise it is Philon Parpottas who didn't quite exit the water splash as spectacularly as he entered it. Full marks for effort and originality went to Neville Cianter who did the last 40 meters over the line on just his front wheels. Jim Marsden, despite having to reverse after missing a gate, still managed to be an incredible 14 seconds faster than anyone else. Costa was driving for the championship and took it slightly easier here than his freestyle effort in Portugal and came in 4th… which would have race changing consequences a couple of days later.
Some scoffed when it was revealed that the course on the Bovington tank testing site in deepest Devon was going to be more Baja style and less rock-crawling, but it was a live military training course so if anyone ran to far off away from the markers they risked getting shot. No one was quite sure if event director Richard Crossland was joking about that or not. The sound of nearby gunfire meant that no one was too keen to find out. In true Ultra4 style the 220 miles of constant whoops, trees, water-splashes and jumps caused absolute chaos and carnage and although there were no house-sized rocks to winch over the 9 mile course was littered with broken Ultra4 racers and people in muddy race suits trudging back to the campsite with slumped shoulders. Prize for most spectacular reason for a rebuild went to Norway's Gecko Racing whose brand new car didn't live to see a full lap. Newtonian principles of velocity vs gravity were demonstrated by Reidar Sveen when he misjudged the crest of a steep drop off and landed very heavily.
The fight to watch though was the championship battle between Nicolas Montador and Emanuel Costa but with the points deficit the Frenchman needed to finish a few places ahead. For a couple of laps they were nose to tail but coming into the tight and technical woods section on Lap 3 Montador was on the horn and managed to push past on a tight turn… but 20 metres later he took a bad line over an earth mound and managed to get beached. Costa was ahead again… and stayed there as a couple of laps later Montador got taken ill with a headache that was so bad he had to pull off and call it a day.
That left Marsden out on his own where he stayed for most of the morning, determined not just to finish but to lap everyone on the way... until Lap 10 of 12 when he lost an engine belt. He couldn't fix it on track and struggled to get it repaired in the pits, losing two laps in the process. With such a fast course engines were revved a lot harder and for a lot longer than they are used to so tensioner pulleys struggled to cope and Costa had exactly the same issue. Instead of cruising around with the title in hand he was running back to the pits for spares and tools… which at close of play for the day had allowed the Maltese Tortoise Neville Ciantar to pass all the Ultra4 hares unnoticed and come home first, much to his bemusement. It's cool to see someone lead who will go home and put the result sheet in a frame.
Costa was 10 minutes behind, Marsden recovered to 3rd with Belgium's Walter Phillipo plodding around to a very fine 4th. Just behind was Jaap Betsema, but his Fire Ant's front diff was damaged seemingly beyond repair. He was ready to get the schnapps out instead of the EP 80/90 but some team members managed to pry the alcohol out of his grasp and convinced him to get the car ready to race with just rear wheel drive.
In the Legend's class Belgian brothers Benoit and Anton Reul starred in their first ever Ultra4 race. They are more used to hardcore winching events so it must have been quite a novelty for co-driver Anton not to need to get out and swim with the winch cable every 10 minutes. They led Dan Elias in his Wrex Racing Land Rover who was in an amazing 2nd overall at the end of Lap 1, but a slight lack of 3rd and 4th gears hampered him for the rest of the day and the gap was just too big to make up on Day 2. There's not too many rookies who get onto the podium in Ultra4, let alone win their class!
Montador was the only man with a chance of beating Costa to the 2016 Ultra4 Europe title so when he was still a bit too ill to take the start on a sunny Sunday morning Costa was King… but there was still a race to win. He won absolutely everything else this year and wanted to end with a clean sweep. Unfortunately Jim Marsden in his monstrous new car wasn't about to help with that.
Ciantar knew he wasn't in the fight with the top 2 and needed to look for both Jaap Betsema and Philon Parpottas in his mirrors, even though both were in running in rear wheel drive after suffering from the same incurable front diff problems. Despite his obvious disability Philon somehow managed to get up to physical 3rd until he clipped a tree in the wooded section, stalled and couldn't get the engine started again.
That left Jaap to powerslide his way around throwing up skull-fracturingly large stones with his rear wheels and somehow he managed to do that for the whole day and came in 3rd overall… except everyone seemed to forget that qualifying times are part of the race times. As he'd managed to break his gearbox on the sighting lap he dropped down the order to an overall 5th, one step ahead of the young and impressive Jelle Janssens who fought through a host of problems on Saturday. 4th went to Team Gigglepin's No2 Jerry Hunt who recovered well from repairing an integral part of his transmission while everyone else was taking the start on Saturday.
One of the most popular drivers in the series, who always has a smile and plenty of praise for his team, Neville Ciantar added to his collection of 3rd place trophies. To be best of the rest behind such heavyweights is a big deal for a team that runs on a fraction of their budget, but he still had time to help people who were struggling and was a worthy winner of the spirit of the event award on his way to another podium.
As was expected though the battle for the win was a day-long fight between two of the top names in Ultra4 Europe. Marsden had to make up roughly 15 minutes on Costa but as fast as the Gigglepin man drove Costa had him pegged at a minute or two for lap after lap, even though it seemed he was constantly baulked by back markers. As the day wore on though the gap grew as Marsden's pace was as relentless as it was ruthless. Costa either couldn't match it or was judging his pace with absolute precision as although it was Marsden over the line first in the physical lead when Costa followed him home a few minutes later it looked like he'd done enough to seal an incredible 4th straight win. But they hadn't calculated the demon qualifying lap Marsden put in on Friday night. Those extra seconds won on Friday meant that Marsden was the winner! After 220 miles of racing over three days the gap was just just 6 seconds!
But the undisputed 2016 Ultra4 Europe champion is Emanuel Costa who has been the class of the field since the tricolour fell in a French field six months ago. He dominated in the mud of France, was in a class of his own on the riverbed of Italy, broke all opposition on the rocks of his home race in Portugal and was just a bare handful of seconds off the win in Britain.
The King of Europe is from Portugal.