Outgoing Champion Steve Burgess gave his all to secure runner-up honours with first and second place podium finishes. A frustrating final race retirement, however, allowed Dominik Jackson to continue his consistent form to take third in the feature race and secure Vice Champion status.
The first Radical Challenge race of the weekend got underway for a reduced 15-minute battle following an opening lap red flag stoppage at the first attempt. Champion elect Barker got the better start second time round, leading from pole sitter Burgess, Kristian Jeffrey and Jackson, who came out on top of a first-lap tussle with Brian Murphy.
The top four soon pulled clear of the 22-car field, running line astern around the 2.96-mile Norfolk circuit. Although Barker initially pulled out a 0.859 second gap by the end of lap two, Burgess refused to allow the Nielsen Racing man any further advantage.
Pushing to catch Barker while keeping ahead of Jeffrey and Jackson, Burgess bided his time before lining up an awesome last lap move. Running nose-to-tail down the Senna Straight before diving down the inside to take the lead at Riches, Burgess charged home to his fourth win of 2017, further aiding his fight for second in the outright standings with two races to go.
But Barker only had eyes for the coveted Radical Challenge title and his 13th season podium was all he needed to provisionally seal the spoils. Jeffrey managed to keep Jackson at bay to earn his first series podium, while Jack Manchester and Richard Baxter completed the top six.
Peter Tyler and Paul Gladdis converted Team Challenge pole into their second class win 14th overall, ahead of championship rivals Adrian and Joe Watt.
2017 Radical Challenge Champion, Oliver Barker: “This feels really good. It's only my second year of racing, after graduating from the SR1 Cup where I finished second last year. So I'm really happy.
“I got a great start on the second attempt and managed to get away from Steve (Burgess). But he managed to chip away at me and, with the championship in mind, I didn't try too hard to defend when he went for the lead on the final lap. I knew it was unlikely I'd be on the podium in the final race with my time penalty so I made sure I sprayed him with the champagne after the second one!”
Barker celebrated his newly-earned 2017 Radical Challenge Champion status with pole to flag victory in race two. Leading from the lights, he headed Burgess into Riches while a lightening start from eighth on the grid saw Manchester overhaul Jeffrey for third. In stark contrast Jackson, battling Burgess for second in the title fight, had a disastrous first lap dropping from sixth to tenth.
With the title pressure lifted, Barker proceeded to pull out a 2.5 second gap while Burgess lost time bedding in new tyres, but it wasn’t long before the duo took turns trading fastest race laps. Although Burgess won that battle, Barker continued to manage the two second gap to the chequered flag.
Manchester remained unchallenged in third to complete the race two podium, with Jeffrey taking Mark Richards for fourth approaching the final five minutes. Baxter picked up points for fifth following Richard’s five second penalty for track limits, who in turn completed the top six.
While Burgess notched up his 10th season podium, championship runner-up rival Jackson worked his way back up to seventh place to keep within 19 points of his RAW Motorsport teammate heading into the final season showdown.
Tony and James Barwell kept their Team Challenge runner-up championship hopes alive with their second class win of the season, 13th overall.
The bumper Radical Challenge field got clean away for the final 40-minute feature race of the year, Burgess leading Barker on the rolling start dash down to Riches with Jeffrey, Manchester, Jérôme de Sadeleer and Jackson in hot pursuit.
Setting an impressive pace and pulling out an early 0.8 second lead, Burgess was on a mission to build-up a big enough advantage to negate his 10 second success penalty carried over from the penultimate Brands Hatch rounds. The outgoing champion’s runner-up title hopes, however, were short lived with suspension failure forcing his lap seven retirement, leaving Barker to build up nearly a nine second advantage over Jeffrey approaching the pitstop window.
With Barker set to serve a 20 second success penalty, it was all change in the pitstops. With no penalty to serve, it was Manchester that managed to exit the pits and win the drag race into Riches to take the lead from Jeffrey, while Jackson got the jump on de Sadeleer to slot into third, and Barker a remarkable fourth.
Just 0.3 seconds separated the leading duo at the end of lap 13 until Jefferies lost out in traffic. It would take the Radical Works driver a further three laps to close within 0.2 seconds once more, in turn allowing Jackson to hone in to make it a three-way fight heading to the flag.
Manchester managed to withstand immense pressure to pull off the closest feature race win of the season 1.2 seconds ahead of Jeffrey, with Jackson just 0.2 seconds behind, sealing second place in the championship in the process.
Tyler and Gladdis took their second Team Challenge win of the weekend, 12th overall, which was enough to take second in class behind established champions, Brian and Tom Harvey.
Jack Manchester: “It's a brilliant feeling, but god that was a hard race! I was just hanging on at the end. I had a problem with the front left damper that wasn't making it easy through the high-speed corners. With the pressure the guys behind were putting me under I was so relieved to bring it home first.”
Kristian Jeffery: “Kudos to my team, they really worked hard this weekend. They gave me a good car and I've felt the most confident I have all year. I've had a really good experience with Radical this season and I'm hoping to come back and have a go for the title next year.”
Dominik Jackson: “It's been a challenging weekend, certainly more than last time we were here! So it's good to finally get on the podium and clinch runner-up in the championship. The consistency has paid dividends all season and I'm really happy.”