VTEC Challenge does Donington

Jonathan F

Nov 29, 2010
Donington Park: October 22nd/23rd 2015

(Rounds 13 and 14 of BRSCC Honda VTEC Challenge)

With the season seemingly over in a flash, the final rounds of 2015 were now upon us.

Running on the “National” layout at the Leicestershire based circuit, the drivers would be treated to the fast long straights of “Starkeys” and “Wheatcroft”, the butt clenching downhill section of the “Craner Curves” and the blind double apex of “Coppice” to name but a few of the elements that go towards a lap of the circuit.


10 – Matt Walker – EK9 Civic Type R - Tuner

14 - Daz Smee – DC2 Integra – Production

15 – Tony Markham – EP3 Civic Type R – Production

29 – Neil Wrenn – EK Civic - Tuner

31 – Phil Wright – Accord Type R – Production

45 – Mark Bennett – S2000 – Tuner

46 – Pete Dunmore – EP3 Civic Type R – Production

49 – Jeff Cooper – CRX – Super Tuner

66 – Paula Webb - EP3 Civic Type R – Production

67 – Marc Kemp – EP3 Civic Type R – Super Tuner

68 – Martyn Kemp – EP3 Civic Type R – Super Tuner

73 – Stu King - DC2 Integra – Production

85 – Stewart Hutchinson – DC2 Integra - Tuner

99 – Ryan Focht - DC2 Integra – Production

100 - Will Watkin – EP3 Civic Type R – Tuner

191 – Steve Barden - EP3 Civic Type R – Production

167 – Peter Dixon – CRX – Super Tuner

666 – Paul Donkin – EP3 Civic Type R – Production

It was fantastic to see a bumper turn out for the final two rounds of 2015 season, at the Leicestershire based circuit, with Civic’s, CRX’s, Integra’s, S2000’s and Accord’s represented, it was our most diverse grid to date.

It was great to welcome back to the fold: Daz Smee, Mark Bennett, Jeff Cooper, Paula Webb, Ryan Focht and Peter Dixon who were all out for the final event.

It was also a huge welcome to those drivers who were making their first appearance in the Honda VTEC Challenge, namely Neil Wrenn, Steve Barden and Paul Donkin.

Neil Wrenn was taking part in his first competitive circuit racing event, having just been crowned the 2015 MSA “Time Attack FWD Champion” in his Civic. Whilst competing in TA Neil’s Civic was turbo charged, however for this event he has completely re-engineered his car and reverted back to normally aspirated.

Local racer Steve Barden has recently completed his first season in the CTCRC, but was keen to try his hand at racing in the VTEC Challenge at his home circuit.

Paul Donkin was piloting the “TDi North” prepared “HOT” EP3 for his first foray into Honda racing. Having gained significant experience racing in the “Atom Cup”, “Carrera Cup”, “Clio Cup” and the “Fun Cup” it would be exciting to see how Paul got to grips with the Civic Type R.


Following issues at Mallory, Will Watkin’s EP3 had undergone some remedial work to rectify the wayward handling and the lack of brakes. With big plans for a winter rebuild, finishing both races were high of Will’s list of priorities.

Pete Dunmore had replaced the damaged rear wheel bearing which led to his off track excursion at Mallory, however the gearbox that jumps out of 2nd gear had to remain!

Phil Wrights Honda Accord did well to finish the second race at Mallory as strongly as he did, as it was soon discovered afterwards that the head gasket was not long for this world! After a quick strip down at “Performance Autoworks” nothing else untoward was found, so the engine was put back together with a new head gasket.

Since his last time out at Rockingham, Jeff Coopers CRX has undergone major heart surgery and where once was a potent B18, now lives a tasty K20!

Having tested at his local circuit of Croft and Donington prior to the event, the car was now ready to compete in anger alongside his good friend Peter Dixon in his visually near identical CRX.


With sign on, scrutineering and the drivers briefing out of the way, there was little time left over until the drivers took to the circuit. Second out on track, the drivers would need to exercise caution until the tyres came up to their operating temperature.

Joining from the “Melbourne Loop”, all car’s arrived at the assembly area in anticipation of what lay ahead.

With an early start, both the air temperature and track temperature were still hovering in the single digits. Generating heat in the tyres would be a priority in order to extract the best lap times.

Cold rear tyres got the better of “Production” class entrant Daz Smee, and a spin coming down “Craner Curves” saw the DC2 stricken in the gravel trap and having to sit out the session.

With yellow flags to facilitate Daz’s retrieval from the gravel, there was little chance to set a quick time, but with him safely recovered and the track safe, the drivers could begin to press on.

After a couple of laps to familiarise themselves with the track and to warm their cars up, everyone began to focus on the job in hand.

Barden was quick from the off, using his local knowledge to its full advantage, with Hutchinson and Bennett both lapping with consistently.

Unfortunately, the session didn’t go to plan for a few of the drivers, least of all Marc Kemp. Having put in the fastest lap of the session, upon entering “Redgate” the passenger side front wheel became detached from the hub, resulting in the Civic being unceremoniously dumped in the gravel trap.

Pete Dixon’s CRX lost 5th gear, which signalled an early end to his race efforts. Unable to compete safely without 5th gear, he decided to withdraw from the event and park the CRX back on his trailer.

The Civic of Wrenn started off well, but a loss of VTEC part way through the session meant his lap times were not going to get any quicker and so he pulled back into the paddock in order to look into the problem.

Cooper’s CRX also suffered from qualifying gremlins, blowing off a top hose whilst sat in the assembly area. With a rush to fix it, Jeff managed to get out and qualify, however with limited track time he was unable to fully exploit the cars true potential.

With the rest of the grid completing the session without incident, the drivers returned to the paddock to await the results.

Pole: Marc Kemp

2nd: Stewart Hutchinson

3rd: Mark Bennett

With the Civic of Kemp recovered back into the paddock, the damage could be assessed.

The front hub was heavily damage, along with some of the BTCC body kit and it looked as though the car would be taking no further part in the day’s proceedings.

However, not ones to give up, Martyn headed back to Spalding to get some replacement parts and aimed to be back in time to get him out for the last race of the day.

Race 1:

With Marc’s Civic still being repaired, Martyn offered up his car to allow Marc to get on the grid. Although starting from the back of the field, the pace of the Super Charged EP3 would soon see it battling towards the head of the pack.

As a result, Stew Hutchinson took the pole position with Mark Bennett alongside.

From the paddock, it was just a short drive into the assembly area on the “Melbourne Loop”, where the drivers got into grid formation.

With the all clear given, everyone headed onto the track and straight into the green flag formation lap.

After everyone safely completed their warm up lap, the start line marshals directed everyone to their grid slot.

When everyone was in place, the countdown to race time could commence. With a 5 second board shown from the start line gantry, everyone locked eyes on the lights.

With the lights out the charge down to “Redgate” was on, with Honda’s screaming all the way to the redline before stomping on the brakes in order to scrub off enough speed to take the corner.

Making a monumental start was Bennett, using the rear wheel drive traction of the S2000 to help catapult him into the lead from the off. However Hutchinson was soon on his back bumper and winding up the pressure.


Donkin in the #666 Production class EP3, managed to grab 2nd briefly before having to concede to Hutchinson, slotting into 3rd ahead of Cooper who had made up a place into 4th.

Under constant pressure from Hutchinson, Bennett fought to retain the lead as they dove down “Craner Curves” at over 100mph practically door handle to door handle!

With Kemp climbing through the pack, he was soon up to 9th and about to pass Wright and King for 7th when the Accord and Civic made contact, damaging the Civic’s front suspension and the Accords front wheel. As a result of the damage to Civic, Kemp was unable to avoid King’s Integra but fortunately the damage was cosmetic and was not enough to cause another retirement

Both Kemp and Wright managed to pull clear of the track so as not to impede on the race.

As a result of the impact, King dropped back whilst assessing the car’s handling over the next lap or so, but thankfully there was nothing untoward and he could get back to the job in hand.

Struggling with understeer, meant Cooper was unable to hold off a hard charging Barden who snuck up the inside at McLeans to snatch 4th, opening up Cooper to the attacking Civic of Walker.

With yellow flags out at the chicane for the cars of Kemp and Wright, meant the train of the top 7 cars closed up, allowing Barden to set his sights firmly on Donkin and the pair were soon dicing for 3rd.

Hutchinson continued to put the pressure on Bennett, but the S2000 driver just soaked it up and continued to drive great lines. However running wide on the entry onto the back straight saw the Integra dive down the inside and this time made the move stick, exiting the chicane in the lead, and despite the constant attentions of Bennett, he was to pull out a gap of just of 2 seconds by close of play. Both drivers showed each other the utmost respect and although vastly different in just about every way, the cars were so evenly matched.

Focht and Watkin traded places for 8th, with Dunmore, Webb, Smee and Markham in close contention throughout the race.


Unfortunately for Wrenn, the same issue as seen in qualifying made a repeat appearance, meaning for the bulk of race 1, the Civic was without VTEC.

A slide at “Redgate” saw the Integra of Smee loose position to Tony Markham in the Civic, a situation that despite the best efforts of Smee, was to remain until the flag fell.

Carrying out a repeat performance of the move on Cooper, Barden tucked his Civic up the inside of Donkin at McLeans to take 3rd, with Walker passing Cooper at “Coppice” as the handling on the CRX was beginning to suffer, also allowing King to close the gap and apply the pressure, eventually snatching 6th.

A huge moment as Walker negotiated “Craner Curves” whilst being hounded by Donkin looking to retake 4th, showed great car control for the former rally man, however a flat spot on the power band of the K20 engine in the EK9 saw a drop back to 5th.

1st Stewart Hutchinson

2nd Mark Bennett

3rd Steve Barden

Class wins were awarded to:

(P) – Steve Barden

(T) – Stewart Hutchinson

(ST) – Jeff Cooper

Fastest lap: Mark Bennett 1.19.651 on lap 9 of 11

With Kemp and Wright recovered to the paddock, each car was inspected to assess the damage.

Thankfully the damage to Wrights Accord was limited to a broken wheel, which was quickly replaced, however care was taken by Phil and his team to check everything over on the front end, just to be safe.

The damage to Martyn’s Civic was a little greater, and the front suspension required stripping and some “field” repairs in order to straighten out the bent the front strut.

With a scene like something out of the “A-Team” the crew at “Panic Link Motorsport” rebuilt the Civic and had it ready for race 2, along with the Civic of Marc.

With the Civic of Wrenn also back to full health, the last race of the season was shaping up to be a good one.

Race 2:

With race 2 being the last race on the event calendar, the light was beginning to fade and the temperatures began to drop a degree or two more.

With the grid made up according to race 1 finishing positions, it was Hutchinson on pole, Bennett directly alongside.

Both Marc and Martyn Kemp took up the last row of the grid, from where both would be looking to make amends for race 1.


With all cars safely back from their green flag lap, they took up position on the grid for the final time this season.

With lights out, Hutchinson got a much better start and led the charge into “Redgate” and with a clear track ahead, he was to lead from lights to flag, albeit under intense pressure from Bennett, who drove the wheels off the S2000 and kept Hutchinson on his toes for the entire race distance, producing some of the most exciting racing the series has ever seen.

With less than half a second separating the pair after 15 minutes racing again show’s how different cars (RWD v FWD, 1.8 v 2.2) can be so closely matched.


As a result of the intense pace, Hutchinson went on to set a new class record for "Tuner" and narrowly pipped Bennett's lap time from race 1.

Donkin slotted into 3rd place ahead of Barden, but it was the local driver again who showed the benefit of local experience and was soon into 3rd and taking the final podium spot.

Jeff Coopers pocket rocket CRX was beginning to show its true potential when disaster struck. Coming through the chicane, the traction bar on the CRX snapped clean in two, resulting in no option but to retire and Jeff was left to pull off the circuit.

Taking things easy to start with Marc Kemp began to step things up and was soon making up places. Whilst sat in 3rd place, it was a case of déjà vu for Kemp as the same wheel as previous made a second bid for freedom! Thankfully the quick thinking of Kemp saw him able to keep the wheel in place before limping into the pits, ending his weekend.

Martyn was also making up places without drama and was upto 4th from 15th by close of play.

The Accord of Wright fought through the field, making up places from his starting position at the back of the grid. Pushing hard, Wright had made up 8 places, finishing off racing Watkin in the Civic to the wire.


Wrenn’s Civic showed its potential, now running with a full complement of VTEC and provided great competition for Dunmore, Focht and Smee.

Trouble hit Smee towards the end of the race, with clutch failure meaning his race was cut short.

Webb was pressured for race distance by Markham in the near identical Civic, but was able to hold position until the chequered flag was shown.

1st Stewart Hutchinson

2nd Mark Bennett

3rd Steve Barden

Class wins were awarded to:

(P) – Steve Barden

(T) – Stewart Hutchinson

(ST) – Martyn Kemp

Fastest lap: Marc Kemp 1.18.439 on lap 3 of 12


A fantastic day of racing has provided a truly fitting end to the best season so far.

A huge show of thanks goes out to every single person that has been involved this year, no matter how large or small their involvement has been.

From sponsors and drivers, to crew and spectators alike, each and every one of you have helped make this year a huge success.

In recognition of her dogged “Persistence beats Resistance” attitude and for zero DNF’s during the season, the final “Spirit of VTEC” award went to Paula Webb. Paula has continued to develop as a driver after winning the “Most Improved” driver of 2014.

Thanks again go to the series sponsors: Toyo Tires, Competition Clutch, Ultra Racing, Performance Autoworks, Eurospec, Honda’s On Track, 6TWO1, Honda Nation and MOTORV8 MEDIA for their continued support.

Well the season has now drawn to a close for the Honda VTEC Challenge, but already plans are in place for 2016, so stay tuned for news and updates.

Words: Jonathan Fletcher

Pictures: Lindsey Fletcher & Jonathan Fletcher