DONINGTON ROCKS TO INCREDIBLE CATERHAM AND MAZDA RACING


The British Racing & Sports Car Club’s recent exciting race weekend at Donington Park was a thrilling affair with plenty of incredible racing, intense wheel-to-wheel battles and dramatic key developments in the fight for the championships on offer over the course of the two days.

The two groups of the Caterham Academy saw both main championship contenders treat their Saturday of racing as business as usual. Alexander Conway had the race under control from pole position in the Green Group, taking the lead from the start and never looking back from there. In somewhat un-Caterham-like fashion, he let his key rivals scrap amongst each other and charged away to secure another dominant win, this time to the tune of more than 8 seconds. James Venning and Dimitris Melas took 2nd and 3rd respectively after being embroiled in a battle of their own, but Conway’s win leaves him 22 points in the lead of the standing with two races to go, plus a first chance to capture the title next time out at Silverstone.

The White Group saw something of a similar situation play out as Tom Wyllys showed his pace advantage over Blair McConachie, as the two drivers entered the weekend dead level on points but ended it with Wyllys just eking out a two-point lead. After an early challenge, Wyllys found his groove and pulled away from McConachie leaving him to deal with attacks from eventual 3rd place man James Fowler. As it was, Wyllys’ winning margin in the end was nearly 6 seconds, and while it’s not as likely that Silverstone could decide the title next time, remember that anything in motorsport is possible!

One championship contender that endured a nightmare weekend to forget was Stuart Bell, whose visit to Donington with the Avon Tyres Caterham Roadsport Championship could have gone so much better. Starting Race 1 from the front row, Bell remained with the lead group until a run-in with Lars Hoffmann at Redgate corner set off a chain reaction that saw he and three other drivers out of the race. Due to this, the race was red-flagged and a result declared leaving Ben Lopez-Appleton to inherit the win from Ben Buckley and Harry Cook. Such was the severity of damage to Bell’s car, he was forced to miss the second race leaving his main championship rivals with a vital chance to gain some crucial ground. In Race 2, a thrilling battle between the top 8 cars raged for the entire race with Lopez-Appleton and Andrew Murgatroyd swapping the lead several times for almost the whole 20 minutes. That is, until the final lap when an over-eager Andy Lees snatched his brakes behind them and a chain reaction saw both Lopez-Appleton as one of the drivers caught up at the final hairpin. It left Buckley to grab the win in their place with Murgatroyd taking 2nd and Maxwell Lynn picking up a surprise 3rd place. Out of all of this, Will Rossetti has claimed the points lead, but more than this the top four are now separated by just 4 points meaning that the Brands Hatch finale will be a thrilling conclusion.

If there was one driver heading into the weekend that could have really done with a race win, it certainly had to be James Murphy in the Motul Caterham Seven 270R Championship. Thankfully for him, it happened not once but twice! The first race would see a great three-way fight for the lead between Murphy, Gregory Monks and Tom Allen as all three drivers took their turns at the head of the field. In the end, Murphy timed a crucial pass to perfection and drove home to collect his first win of the season followed by Monks and Allen. The lead group in Race 2 grew bigger in size this time, as the top 7 ran together in another typically close and exciting Caterham battle. After Murphy, Monks and Sheppard took the lead at various points of the race, Murphy made sure he was once again in the right place at the right time and completed a much-coveted double victory from the weekend. Monks took another 2nd place and Sheppard just behind in 3rd, while the main championship contenders trailed in behind them in the same group. Daniel French picked up a 5th and 6th finishing both times ahead of Justin Heap, allowing him to carry a 7 point lead to Brands Hatch in his efforts to capture a second Caterham title in three seasons.

The Santander Caterham Seven 310R Championship contained another driver long overdue a win, and ironically that man was points leader Jay McCormack who was lacking a victory from 2019 thus far heading into the weekend. With title rival Gordon Sawyer on pole, McCormack couldn’t waste any time and quickly took the lead before the end of the opening lap and wasn’t usurped until Lap 6 when both Sawyer and then Don Henshall both took turns in P1. Jay got back to the lead on Lap 9 and remained in front until a red flag for an incident between Harry Landy and Doug Christie forced the race to be declared early, and on a lap’s count back McCormack was given the race win to his delight and relief. Sawyer and Henshall joined him on the podium, with Race 2 set to be another cracker. Once again, another multi-car group formed with as many as the top 10 altogether at the front in one giant battle, but at the end of the 30 minutes the win fell to Sawyer for the 7th time this season. With both McCormack and Sawyer scoring the same amount of points from the weekend, McCormack’s lead of 22 points remains intact and the Irishman is practically in touching distance now.

On the road, John Byrne should have won both of the Avon Tyres Caterham Seven 420R Championship races over the weekend, although the results sheets will show that he only came away with one victory for his troubles. During Race 1, he and David Henderson (who had missed out on making the Superpole shootout) ran away with the lead at the front, but Byrne’s over-enthusiasm with the track limits ended up handing him a combined 45 seconds worth of time penalties, pushing him down the order to an eventual 15th in the result. Henderson ended up taking the win as a result head of Luke Stevens and William Smith in 2nd and 3rd respectively. The second race featured yet another superb skirmish at the front with the first 8 cars battling with each other for most of the race, however Byrne managed to pull off another great escape to come from 15th on the grid to incredibly win the race from Aaron Head and Henderson. This was the third race meeting in a row that Byrne had recovered from a poor first part of the weekend to win the second race, but the results have incredibly made the championship even closer heading to Brands Hatch. Unbelievably, the first four drivers are separated by just two points with Byrne and Henry Heaton level going into the final meeting. All this means that the season finale in Kent could be one of the most nail-biting and enthralling in recent history!

Away from the Caterham Motorsport paddock, the BRSCC Mazda paddock was bursting with drivers with the Mazda MX-5 Championship featuring just over 60 alone. After both morning qualifying sessions, a number of drivers were disqualified due to excessive track limits use, leaving a handful of regular Group A racers to battle their way through from Group B. At the head of the field, Joe Wiggin enjoyed a continuation of his incredible form as he went on to win all three races once again, just as he had done at Snetterton. However, this time he was really made to work for them starting in Race 1A when he had to overhaul early race leader Steve Foden to come out on top, with Foden finishing just behind in 2nd place and points leader John Langridge in 3rd. Wiggin had a slightly easier time in the second Group A race as he won by almost 3 seconds with Langridge and Will Blackwell-Chambers joining them on the rostrum with the former taking a few more points away from his main championship rival. The final Group A race turned out to be one of the races of the season, with Wiggin and Oliver Allwood scrapping amongst each other for the lead for almost the entire race, with Jason Greatrex joining them in the latter stages. After an intense final lap, Wiggin finally came out on top as he just held off Allwood and Greatrex to complete the hat-trick, giving him eight wins from the last nine races. As for the championship, it leaves Langridge 8 points ahead of Blackwell-Chambers with Wiggin closing in fast in 3rd and only Silverstone in October left to run. This should be another intense finale!

For the second time this season, the Mazda MX-5 SuperCup and Mazda MX-5 Super Series shared a grid with both series running the same identical Mk3 model MX-5. First blood in the SuperCup on Saturday went to Aidan Hills as he held back the tide of attacks from key championship rivals Jack Harding and Luke Herbert to take victory, with the first three only covered by just over half a second at the flag! Sunday’s first race allowed Herbert and Harding to continue their epic struggle for the title as the pair battled back and forth for the entire race before the double defending champion Herbert came out on top from Harding, with Hills over a second behind in 3rd place. For the reverse grid third race, both Hills and Harding made light work of the cars in front of them and ran away from the field in the top two positions for most of the race, while Herbert chased them down in 3rd place. While he did catch them on the final lap, Herbert couldn’t overhaul the top two as Hills took his second win of the weekend with Harding taking his third 2nd place of the meeting too. Herbert now only has a six-point lead over Harding on dropped scores at this stage and Hills hot on their heels as the end of the season closes in.

Over in the Super Series contenders, two more new names were added to the list of winners for the season, as Matt Pickford commanded the first two races of the weekend to take his first two outright race wins of his Super Series career, to his and BC Cars Motorsport’s delight. Simon Fleet, Simon Hutchings and Alex Miller shared podiums in those races, before Hutchings rounded off an incredible first outing in the series with victory in Race 3 from Fleet and double winner Pickford. Now the question is – will the final rounds at Silverstone produce even more new victors before the year is out?

On Sunday, the Teekay Couplings Production GTi Championship put on two great races as they neared the end of what had been an entertaining 2019 season to date. Long time championship dominator Simon Hill ensured there was no change in the form book by winning both races, however on both occasions, he was made to work hard for every single lap by defending champion James Colbourne, while Hill’s old sparring partner and good friend Martyn Walsh bagged a pair of third places. All of this means that Hill now has one hand on the Mk5 title going into the final rounds at Brands Hatch next month. Over in the Mk2 class, Chris Webb rediscovered his title-winning form with a pair of brilliantly executed victories, followed home by Pete Milne and Luke Haberman in Race 1, while points leader Tim Hartland recovered from a trip into the gravel in the first race to take 2nd in Race 2, followed by Milne in 3rd.

Scott Woodwiss