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By BSCDA, Apr 18 2018 03:16PM

The beginning of the 2018 BriSCA F1 season has been notable for a string of firsts.

Of the eight meetings so far, four been won by first-time final winners, and two of those, Kyle Gray and Ashley England, are having their first full seasons in the sport.

Other drivers are reaching star grade for the first time, notably Nigel Harrhy. Harrhy is a stalwart of the sport and his new roof colour has been well-earned, with heat wins at Belle Vue and consistent points results.

The season opener at Belle Vue last month was affected by heavy snow and it was John Dowson who claimed the first final of the year. He very nearly repeated the feat the following week at King’s Lynn, but for a do-or-die lunge at Frankie Wainman Jnr on the last bend that came unstuck, allowing Mark Sargent to storm through to score his first BriSCA F1 final victory of his career.

“I would have had a go on the last bend, but John beat me to it,” said Sargent. “John and Frank tangled and I slipped through on the inside, and squealed like a five-year-old as I crossed the line!

“It was just dream land for me.”

It was a fitting result for Sargent. One of the sport’s most popular drivers, renowned for his Facebook video posts and a general sense of fun, Sargent celebrates his 25th season as a BriSCA driver, having spent much of his career in BriSCA F2 before his first BriSCA F1 outing in May 2013 at Coventry.

Sargent joined his son Finn at Good Friday’s Skegness meeting, where heavy rain made racing difficult with on-track spray affecting vision.

But the one driver who had little difficulty adapting to the conditions was Kyle Gray.

The 16-year-old had an outing at Birmingham’s Gala meeting last November, before his first competitive meeting in BriSCA F1 at Skegness.

After an impressive drive, Gray romped away with the final in his former European Championship-winning Tom Harris car.

Gray moved up to BriSCA F1 after racing in Ministox from the age of 12. What made the victory all the more remarkable was that is was his first final win in any formula.

“I lost my confidence in Ministox, after a big knock at Birmingham, and it took a couple of years to overcome it,” Gray said. “But I had a good last year in the Minis when I got to superstar.”

At Skegness Gray revelled in the precipitous conditions. “I hated the wet in the Mini but in the F1 I loved it,” Gray said. “During the final I passed Paul Harrison and was a bit confused, because I was expecting him to hit me back, but then I realised he was a lap down.”

Gray kept his composure to win, ahead of Ashley England and Paul Hines.

The following day at Stoke, Stuart Smith Jnr celebrated his first outing of the season as National Points champion with victory in the final, and followed up with his first Grand National win of his career from the one-lap handicap.

“It was one of those meetings when you get everything right,” said Smith Jnr. “My dad’s old car was there. It was nice to win with that being the pace car.”

The Belle Vue Easter Monday meeting two days later was run in extraordinary conditions. Rain of biblical proportions never eased throughout the day and so by the time the final was run, the track was a mud bath.

Through it all it was Frankie Wainman Jnr Jr who would survive the conditions best of all, moving ahead of his father Frankie Wainman Jnr in the closing stages, who then retired with engine issues. Wainman Jnr Jr lapped every car still running to take the flag and his first final victory, ahead of Will Hunter and his sister Phoebe Wainman.

Five days later the BriSCA F1 travelling circus arrived at Mildenhall for the first meeting at the small Suffolk track for 14 years. It proved to be a great success, particularly for Smith Jnr, who scored his second final win of the season, surviving a last-bend assault from Mat Newson.

The following weekend was all about one man, Ashley England. Another young driver in his first full season of BriSCA F1 competition, England has a racing pedigree.

He was a top-line karting star before trying out BriSCA F2 in 2013. England won the final at his first meeting and went on to finish fourth in the F2 World Cup at Venray and fifth in his first World Final at Cowdenbeath in 2015.

Now in BriSCA F1 England bought Wainman Jnr’s current Tarmac car during the winter and has not looked back since.

After following home Gray in the final at Skegness, he won heat and final at Birmingham Wheels last weekend.

“Birmingham was my first race in the dry in the F1,” said England. “So it was first time I could see how the car went. It went really well.”

The final victory was, admittedly, fortuitous after long-time leader Sargent had the race sewn up, only to lose drive within yards of the flag, allowing England to dive past.

There was nothing lucky, however, about England’s victory the following afternoon at Hednesford. On a wet track the 21-year-old scored his second final win of the weekend, having enough in hand to beat Luke Davidson to the flag, with a resurgent Sargent in third place.

And so as the season and the weather hots up, what can we expect to see as we head to Sheffield this Sunday?

There is only one way to find out – the World Championship qualifying round meeting at the fast shale oval at Owlerton starts at 12.30pm this Sunday. Don’t miss it.