As the rest of the UK basked under cloudless skies, Trac Môn Anglesey offered the competitors in the Student Motorsport Challenge a mix of conditions for rounds 7, 8 and 9 of the 2023 season.
The PBS Brakes Supported Anglesey weekend saw the SMo Challenge grid boosted to a record ten teams as Boston College Racing and Menai Motorsports made their debut in the series. Boston College Racing’s #91 Citroen C1 was driven by 2021 and 2022 series regular Liam Browning while the Menai Motorsports #58 Peugeot 107 had the managing director of Star Autocare, Hywel Rosenthal, behind the wheel.
2022 SMo Challenge champion Richard Jepp, driving the orange #65 Team Northbrook Racing Peugeot, had dominated the season to date, taking class victories in all six contests along with fastest lap, to take a lead of nearly 50 points over the #11 Barracksport entry driven by Duncan Horlor. Family commitments over the Anglesey weekend meant that the Acorn Printing Services owner handed over driving duties in the #11 car to Matty Prance, the Oxford-based team’s reserve driver.
George Jones, usually behind the wheel of the #9 Coleg Gwent Newport Citroen, was out with an injury, his seat being taken by Ben Shaw while West Suffolk College welcomed a new driver after ex-Team Principal and driver Leon Wilde moved on to a new career challenge. Haydn Payne, the Myerscough College motorsport student, took over the driving duties while Alan Barrett assumed the team manager’s responsibilities.
Race one saw the SMo Challenge victory go to TNR’s #65 Peugeot driven by Richard Jepp as East Surrey’s Jack Wheeler drove to a confident second place and his third podium finish in class in 2023. However, it was Boston College Racing and Liam Browning who showed that the team’s commitment, hard work and testing to get on the grid had paid off as Browning drove the #91 car to a third-place finish in class on the team’s debut.
Race Two saw some unfortunate incidents which resulted in heavy contact between James Smith in the #49 Barracksport GSR Citroen and Jason Deane in the #42 Bitcoin Racing entry. Smith had been tipped into spin at Turn One, resulting in the tech entrepreneur coming to a stop on the circuit where he was unfortunately collected by the #42 car. Although shaken, neither driver was injured but the damage to the #49 car meant it played no further part in the weekend.
After the damaged cars were recovered, the race resumed over a reduced 12-minute duration and finished with a class win for the #65 car with Jack Wheeler in the #57 East Surrey College entry taking a further second-place finish. Barracksport’s Matty Prance, making his driving debut in the SMo Challenge, completed the podium finishers in class, delighting his crew and vindicating the faith placed in him by team manager weekend Ben Latham who stood in for Harry O’Donoghue at Anglesey.
Nine SMo Challenge cars made it to the grid for the weekend’s final race, James Smith’s #49 Citroen being irreparable. This time luck did not go Richard Jepp’s way and the Harwin-backed driver suffered contact on lap three resulting in a spin. The car suffered minor damage and the TNR pilot was able to bring the #65 entry home in seventh place. Jepp’s issues opened the door for another winner in the Challenge class and it was Jack Wheeler who brought the #57 East Surrey College Citroen home to take his, and the team’s, first victory of the season and their first since Cadwell Park in August 2022.
Team Northbrook Racing’s brace of victories means that the South Coast-based team now heads the SMo Challenge standings on 179 points, a 61-point advantage over Barracksport who themselves are only two points clear of East Surrey College.
Outside of race results, the main achievement for the Challenge at Anglesey was welcoming two new teams. For Boston College Racing’s Team Principal Lee Crisp, the team’s debut race weekend vindicated all the hard work and perseverance it took to get the car on the grid.
“I can sum up the weekend in one word – eventful!” said Lee Crisp. “It exceeded our expectations and it was really good. The learners thoroughly enjoyed it and I think as far as everything we expected to achieve, we achieved that and beyond. The relationship between the team and Liam Browning developed really quickly but I think for us the test day was most important because that allowed us to see if our initial settings were to Liam’s liking and suited the way he drives.
“The Friday test session was crucial because it gave us a starting point for how to set the car up to allow Liam to qualify in a reasonable position for the first race which produced some silverware. Did we expect that! No, we didn’t! All we wanted was to get the car to Liam’s liking and come away with some good learning points.”
With the SMo Challenge focused on providing the next generation of motorsport professionals with real-life learning experiences, did Anglesey live up to Boston College Racing’s team members expectation?
“It exceeded them,” said Lee Crisp. “The learners didn’t know what to expect because they had never had the opportunity to be involved with a team in a real race environment. They soon realised that all the learning that had taken place previously came into play quickly and straight away they started to use the skills they’d already learned.”
For Menai Motorsport’s Arron Peel, the team’s first race weekend offered many learning points but was a great debut for the Welsh team.
“Our first weekend was fantastic,” said Arron Peel. “It was better than we thought it was going to be. For us, I think the word was ‘immense’!
“We thought we were well prepared but in comparison with our competitors, there were still some gaps in our pre-race weekend planning but, with some borrowing, we were fine and very happy with our set-up.
“Our driver Hywell Rosenthal is a local garage owner who has apprentices from our department working with him. Hywell is a mechanic first and a racer second and he knows how to speak to learners. After races Hywell was in his shorts and T shirt helping our learners work on his car. We were delighted at the interaction between Hywell and our learners so I think we’ve got the right driver for the team.
“We are very keen to get to Snetterton for the next round and are currently looking for sponsorship to sponsor the car through to the end of the season.”
QE Motorsports enjoyed a solid weekend for only their second appearance in the Student Motorsport Challenge. Texas-raised but London-based driver Arthur Simondet qualified third in class and 11th overall and finished the weekend with his second Challenge podium of the season with a second place in race three, complimented by a fourth and a fifth-place finish in the first two contests. The team had clearly taken on board all the experience that they had acquired in their first outing at Croft and had settled into their roles confidently. To encourage as many learners as possible to participate, in addition to regular participants, the team is rotating students through the various positions within the squad.
Simondet’s results from Anglesey move the York-based school, the only team with school-age students in its squad, to fifth place in the class standings. The quiet determination of the team, combined with Simondet’s racecraft, means that this team should be regular visitors to the class podium as the season progresses.
Driver Emilia Vincent and the Wiltshire College and University Centre crew enjoyed a trouble-free weekend and survived some of the mid-pack drama that befell their competitors. Vincent qualified the #174 Toyota 8th in class and went to record her best SMo Challenge finish this season with a 5th in race three. The young Wiltshire College graduate is clearly revelling in the opportunity to race in a national championship and was delighted with her 5th place finish to bring the car back to the paddock unscathed.
Wiltshire College and University Centre now lies 6th in the Challenge standings on 69 points, 20 points behind Simondet in 5th on 89 points.
Barracksport saw both ends of the motorsport spectrum at Anglesey with two podium finishes for Matty Prance, subbing for Duncan Horlor, in the #11 Citroen contrasted with a huge accident for James Smith in the sister #49 car. For the weekend’s Team Principal, Ben Latham, the Anglesey rounds were a test of the team’s resolve and determination.
“James’ accident was a tense moment,” said Ben Latham. “He wasn’t out the car for quite a while and it was a huge relief to see him eventually clamber out smiling and in good spirits. After the race weekend, James made quick progress on sourcing a donor car and we will push as hard as we can to help him get the car ready for the next round at Snetterton.
“Matty was a revelation,” continued Latham. “All of us knew he had considerable talent and we couldn’t have been more impressed with him. I expected Matty to be on the podium maybe once over the weekend, probably in the final race but he was driving in a way that quite a few drivers take four or five races to emulate. We were all thoroughly impressed!”
“Matty is scheduled to sub for James Smith at Brands Hatch later in the season but we are keen to see if we can find sponsorship for Matty to get him in a car in future.”
West Suffolk College had both a new Team Principal and driver for Anglesey with Leon Wilde, the previous incumbent in both positions, having moved on to new challenges. Alan Barrett assumed team management responsibilities starting at Anglesey while Haydn Payne took over the driving duties for the teams #72 Toyota. Payne qualified 8th in class and took three 6th place finishes in class to put the team 4th in the SMo Challenge standings, just seven points behind the #11 Barracksport car in second and five points behind East Surrey College in third. Team Northbrook College may have extended a considerable advantage at the front of the field but the battle for second to fifth will be hotly contested in 2023.
WSC had a very positive weekend and certainly have the potential to be challenging for podium finishes as the season progresses.
East Surrey College enjoyed its best race weekend since Snetterton in July 2022 with Jack Wheeler taking a brace of second place finishes while crowning the Anglesey rounds with a class win in race three. George Keith’s Redhill-based team has now recovered the momentum it may temporarily have lost following its disappointment at the final round of the 2022 season at Silverstone and we will certainly be seeing Jack Wheeler on the class podium regularly in 2023. The team could be challenging Team Northbrook Racing for class wins in the new future.
East Surrey College now lies third in the SMo Challenge standings, two points behind Barracksport.
Ben Shaw, taking over the driving duties from the injured George Jones, in the #9 Coleg Gwent Newport Citroen, endured a frustrating weekend. Shaw was involved in the incident in race two which resulted in a DNF and two further 9th place finishes means that the #9 car now lies 7th in the class standings.
George Jones’ team are looking to make a big push later in the year to get their SMo Challenge programme fully embedded into their learning activities.
For series organiser John Paul ‘JP’ Latham, the Student Motorsport Challenge continues to deliver what it is intended to do and provide real-life motorsport learning experiences for the next generation of the sport’s professionals.
“We were delighted to welcome Boston College Racing and Menai Motorsport to the Student Motorsport Challenge at Anglesey and look forward to seeing their programmes continue to benefit from the Challenge as the season develops.” said JP Latham. “It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm and positivity in the way that the SMo Challenge opportunities were grasped by their learners and we look forward to them enjoying great success as their programmes develop.
“I would like to say a huge thank you to Liam Wilde, West Suffolk College’s previous team principal and driver, for joining us in the paddock over the weekend and helping guide the students and pupils. I was thrilled to learn that Liam wanted to come along and support the Challenge for the weekend. Working directly with our students and educators really is in our DNA and why the Challenge works so well. West Suffolk College was the first college to sign up for the Challenge and it was great to welcome him back so that others can learn from his experiences.
“Also, I must extend a special thank you to the guys over at Garage 23 who have been supporting the Challenge this season with our logistics and trackside hospitality.
Our weekend’s sponsors were Performance Brake Solutions who have extended their support of the CityCar Cup to the Challenge for our visit to Anglesey. All of our partners support helps us to make the race weekends that little bit more special for our race winners and was much appreciated. Thank you.
“The weekend was not without its challenges, especially in terms of damage, but that is part of motor racing and look forward to seeing teams work closely with drivers to reduce future incidents. We’re sure that the learners will find the good and bad experiences presented during a race weekend as a valuable way to prepare themselves for a career in the motorsport industry.”
Teams can still join 2023 at a discounted rate and lease or buy race-ready cars from our partners Garage 23.
The Student Motorsport Challenge returns on July the 22nd and 23rd at Snetterton as the 2023 season reaches its midway point.