Jo Polley started her 2016 Mini challenge season at Donington last weekend. Jo has upgraded to the JCW class this year, a massive step up in power and performance, the Mini challenge will certainly live up to its name for Jo this season.
After running her car at the final round last season, Eurotech are running Jo’s car for this season and her team mates are BTCC star Jeff Smith and his son Brett. With Jo now also working for the Eurotech team at the BTCC, it’s a great partnership which Jo hopes should help her progress up the grid. The team will have assistance from Dale Racing when clashing BTCC commitments occur.
Jo and the whole Eurotech team had a productive Friday testing at the track with Jo finding lots of time as she learns the new car. Jo was hoping she could set a time to get to the midfield of the large 30 car grid at this event.
Qualifying was on Saturday morning and although it was dry and sunny it was very cold. Donington’s smooth surface and the low temperatures make it tough to get heat into the tyres and so the team planned to send Jo out for a few laps to warm the front tyres before swapping the front and rears to warm the second two. Jo could then go at maximum attack to set a time. As there wasn’t enough room to pit all three cars, Jeff and Brett would pit first for the tyre swap with Jo coming in after that. Things initially went to plan with Jo coming in for her tyre swap. But as she headed to do her hot lap, the red flags came out due to an incident on track. Fortunately there was still time in the session once it restarted to do a hot lap. So as the session was green flagged, Jo was straight out warming her tyres. But almost unbelievably out the red flags came again, this time ending the session for good and leaving Jo last on the grid. Her times from testing would have put her in the midfield so it showed what Jo could have done if she had the chance. Brett and Jeff had got to start their hot laps slightly before and they had got third and fifth on the grid.
The first race was later on Saturday and Jo decided to hold back at the start as the first Mini race often has a big pile up on the first lap. Jo was proved to be absolutely correct and Jo successfully missed it all, coming out at the end of the lap in twenty fourth place. Brett and Jeff were both in the top five helped by the early leader throwing his car off by himself but with so much debris on track the red flags came out. The race would be restarted from scratch.
Jo made a good start as the race got underway for a second time and picked her way through the field, avoiding other drivers offs and passing some of the other cars including a ballsy overtake going down Craner curves, she ended up eighteenth, approaching a midfield position. Jeff didn’t have such a good race, some close battling with other cars caused a couple of offs, the last of which caused racing ending damage to his rear wheel and suspension. Brett also had an off while running at the front but fought back to twelfth.
The second race was on Sunday at 11am and this time Jo would be starting 18th, where she finished race 1. She made quite a good start and managed to make up places as she headed down the Craner curves. But at Maclean’s and Coppice there were two huge crashes, both right in front of Jo. She avoided them both and crossed the line in eleventh but the race was then red flagged as a couple of the drivers had been left winded in their cars as well as other cars involved stopped all over the circuit. The stoppage was too long to be able to restart during the morning time slot so the race was abandoned and would be fitted in at the end of the day if there was time.
So it was on to race three, which was in effect a re-run of race two with the same starting positions. Jo again made a good start and initially raced Jeff as he had started towards the back as a result of his Saturday DNF. Jeff managed to find his way past but Jo was holding her own in a midfield position when she was suddenly tipped off sideways by a rival. She kept her foot down and recovered the car without spinning but she was now down towards the rear of the field. She eventually finished in twenty fourth, not where she wanted to be but through no fault of her own. Up ahead Jeff had been battling son Brett fiercely with both of them also passing other rivals. Brett crossed the line in sixth after snatching a final place on the line with Jeff in eighth.
The proposed end of the day race was abandoned due to lack of time which left the weekend with just two completed races. Jo was pleased with the weekend despite the setbacks;
“I’m really pleased with how I’ve done, I’m quite proud of myself as its massive step up from last year, they’ve got so much power they’re mega to drive but they bite very easily. I finished all three races even though one was abandoned. We’ve got all three cars still in one piece. Now I’m looking forward to Brands Hatch for the second meeting. Thanks to Eurotech, our sponsors Empire RV and Smartcom, and Jim Edwards for his coaching over the weekend.”
The next rounds are at Brands Hatch supporting the Blancpain championship on the same weekend as the BTCC. Jo will be hoping to build on her experience gained at Donington Park to move further up the grid. By Marc Waller