The opening round of the UK&I Skip Barber League’s first season in 2015 landed in Okayama for a 14 lap race of the full circuit, one that has proven to be a thriller in seasons past. Taking the first pole position of 2015 was Simon Povey, but he shared the front row with Sebastian Job. Making things even more difficult for Povey, the second row consisted of the always impressive Graham Carroll and seven-time champion Marc Mercer. Rounding out the top five was another UK&I Skip Barber champion, Wojciech Swirydowicz, in a field of nearly three dozen.
The launch was typical of the league with the top drivers all slotting into the grid positions on the short run down to Turn One. It wasn’t until Hobbs corner that the action really kicked-off, as Jonathan Maycock looked to the inside on last season’s championship hopeful Dominic Brennan. Simultaneously, Clarke Williams was looking to the inside on Maycock, which created a surprise three-wide moment with Maycock in the middle. Contact between Maycock and Williams sent Maycock into the outside barrier at the exit of the corner and forced him to pit for repairs while Williams continued his race, albeit from a much lower position.
One lap later and a bit further up the order, George Streetley was attacking Fahim Antoniades for sixth place but was having a hard time of it. Matthew Daniels in P8 saw an opportunity and grabbed the inside line for Revolver and Streetley went wide at the exit, losing numerous positions. Streetley’s day got a whole lot worse a few corners later when oversteer through Hobbs dropped him even further down the order. As he tried to rejoin the pack there was contact with another car that gave him damage just *after* the pit entrance, and Streetley (understandably) retired on the spot.
Lap Three is when the battle for the lead of the race really began. Povey defended the inside line for the Turn Five hairpin but Job stuck it around the outside and earned himself the inside line for Revolver and Piper, allowing him to take the position.
Shortly after losing the lead, Povey was obviously eager to regain his top position and got a bit too eager entering Williams Corner. The resulting oversteered not only cost him two more positions (to Carroll and Mercer), but left him defending fourth from Swirydowicz, who eventually commandeered the spot later in the lap.
A couple of laps later Swirydowicz’ climb toward the top continued as he grabbed the inside line for the Turn Five hairpin on Mercer, who surprisingly didn’t defend very aggressively into the popular overtaking location.
One lap later, on Lap Seven, Swirydowicz came under attack from Mercer at the same Turn Five. Swirydowicz defended the inside line but, much as Job had earlier, Mercer hung it around the outside and completed the overtake at the inside of Revolver. Swirydowicz’ compromised speed through Revolver then put him under attack from Povey and they initiated a battle that lasted until Williams corner of Lap Eight before Swirydowicz concluded the successful defense of his position.
It was to prove a short-lived triumph. Povey finalized his overtake on Swirydowicz with the inside line for the Turn Five Hairpin on Lap Nine; one of the more basic overtakes of the day, but pure textbook execution to take back fourth place.
Lap 12 saw Carroll finally decide to pounce after sneaking the inside line for the Hairpin. Job defended the inside, but not well enough, and Carroll breezed into the lead.
As Carroll was grabbing the lead with both hands, Povey challenged Mercer for third even as he came under attack from Swirydowicz. The trio went three-wide into Turn Five with Povey emerging on top, and Swirydowicz having to settle for fifth.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Mercer came straight back at Povey on the next lap, taking the outside line for the Hairpin and the inside line for Revolver (a popular combination this season).
While Mercer was reclaiming his podium position at Povey’s expense, Job was striking back at Carroll for the lead. The pair went side-by-side through the Hairpin, Revolver, Piper, Redman and Hobbs before Carroll finally moved back in front of Job. The battling continued as they started with final lap with Job grabbing the inside line for Turn One, the outside line for Williams and — finally — the inside line for Attwood to take the lead once again.
Passing before the long back straight may not have been the best idea Job had all day, as Carroll got a tow on the run to the hairpin, hung around the outside and – once more — moved into the lead at the inside of Revolver with only five corners remaining.
In the end Carroll kept Job at bay through the remaining corners and started his 2015 in the best way possible, winning by less than two tenths of a second. Mercer grabbed the final podium position less than two seconds behind the leaders, followed by Povey and Swirydowicz.