FLETCHER & COSSINS CLAIM MAIDEN WINS IN MX-5 SUPERCUP CROFT THRILLER
The BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup produced two brand new winners on its first outing of 2021 at Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire, as a near-capacity entry of 39 cars tackled the first three races of the new season with plenty of action up and down the field.
Qualifying on Saturday morning was always going to be a busy affair, but one man who managed to find enough clear space to take pole was rapid independent Patrick Fletcher, who set two laps times that were good enough to give him P1 on the grid for the first two races. Defending champion Samuel Smith would aim to kick off his title defence from 2nd on the grid, followed by an impressive showing from Adam Bessell and Michael Knibbs lining up on the second row. John Langridge and Martin Tolley came next, followed by the much-anticipated return of Jack Harding who only managed 7th fastest after he switched teams overnight to join the new outfit set up by long-standing rival and three-time champion Luke Herbert. James Cossins, Will Blackwell-Chambers and Simon Baldwin filled out the rest of the top 10.
Fletcher made a perfect start to take the lead heading through the opening complex of corners as the huge pack of cars wound its way onto the back straight, with Smith ahead of Bessell with Harding making a demon start to get to 4th place by Tower Bend and Knibbs following in close pursuit. The top 5 immediately formed a breakaway group, but behind several cars were sent scattering onto the grass as Brayden Fletcher was tipped into a spin at the Hairpin by Richard Amos, leaving both Amos and Blackwell-Chambers meandering back onto the circuit but several places back while Fletcher was stuck and out on the spot.
Brayden’s stricken car meant an appearance from the runyourfleet.com Safety Car was warranted to recover it, bunching everyone back together and nullifying any brief advantage Patrick Fletcher had out in front. Thankfully, it was only a single lap before racing got back underway with Fletcher getting a decent jump again on Smith, but it wasn’t long before Harding started to show some of the pace that had made him so formidable in seasons past. He dived past Bessell at Tower for 3rd place and set off after the defending champion, quickly arriving on his tail and pushing him to try and keep with Fletcher in front.
Harding spent a couple of laps staring at Smith’s rear bumper before trying to launch an attack at Tower which Samuel swiftly shut down on the approach to the corner. At the end of the lap, a second attempt at the Hairpin was successful and with the #1 picked off, Harding could now set his sights on catching and passing Fletcher for the lead. Jack steadily chipped away at the lead gap over the next few laps and before long was in Fletcher’s rearview mirror as the race entered its final laps. As the final lap started, Harding was climbing all over Patrick for the lead in a bid to force a late mistake. But despite throwing everything he could at him, it wasn’t enough to deny Patrick Fletcher from finally taking that elusive first Mazda MX-5 SuperCup win after two seasons of coming close multiple times but just missing out.
Harding was still pleased with 2nd on his full-time comeback while Smith was philosophical about his 3rd place but knew there was still more pace to come. Bessell and Knibbs enjoyed a race-long duel for 4th between teammates with fellow Hills Motorsport driver Cossins in 6th also putting in a defensive effort against Langridge to hold P6. Tolley, Tom Smith and Baldwin completed the top 10, while another first-time winner was found in Luke Whitworth as he claimed Club Class victory in his first-ever car race followed by Clive Powles and former National Superstock 1000 bike racer Kevin Silvain taking a 3rd in class on his car racing debut.
The start of Race 2 was almost identical to that of the day before as Fletcher led away again from Smith, Knibbs and another great start from Harding to once again move him up to 4th in the opening corners. The pack mostly remained single file for the rest of the first lap, but while the top five again looked to create a gap, bad luck befell Will Blackwell-Chambers as while embroiled in a battle with Baldwin and Langridge, he was clipped into a spin by Declan Lee at Hawthorns, sending him tumbling deep into the field with the chance of a strong result sadly eradicated. Back with the leaders, Fletcher was not being allowed to run away by Smith and co as the top quintet became a sextet as James Cossins latched on to the back of the group in an effort to keep up.
Knibbs then slid wide exiting the Complex, which gave Harding a ticket to 3rd place with a superb outside pass into Clervaux a couple of corners later. Once again he would have to push hard to catch up to the top two who were now running nose to tail with Fletcher feeling all the pressure from Smith behind without a hint of respite. It wouldn’t take long before Harding was once again hounding the pair himself, the trio now clearly the class of the field with at least a couple of seconds advantage on those 4th backwards. Harding found a way past Smith within a couple of laps, and once again tried to set off and catch Fletcher as he had done the day before. It didn’t take long and with Smith just about keeping with them, a three-way duel for victory was on.
An off for Alex Miller at the Complex left yellow flags waving and a potential passing spot removed, forcing Harding to be a little more patient, but a couple of laps later Harding decided to attempt a move at the Hairpin which he immediately pulled back from, locking up in the process but remaining close. He tried again at Tower to no avail with Smith now all over the tail of the two cars in front of him, before Fletcher locked up himself into the Hairpin which showed he was feeling the pressure too. Over the final lap, Harding once again searched for a potential avenue to take the lead, but there was nothing feasible and Fletcher held on once more to take his second win of the meeting, with Harding and Smith crossing the line just behind him to see the top three covered by less than a second. The Hills Motorsport trio of Knibbs, Bessell and Cossins again took up 4th to 6th positions, with Langridge also taking another 7th place ahead of Tolley, Baldwin and Smith. Club Class honours this time went to Whitworth again, joined again on the podium by Silvain in 2nd and Amos fighting through to 3rd.
The damp weather conditions and a partially reversed grid with the top 7 finishers from Race 2 inverted meant the final race was always going to be an intense affair. John Langridge found himself on pole alongside James Cossins with Bessell and Knibbs right behind them, while double winner Fletcher had to start from 7th. Cossins got a flyer of the start to take the lead, while Knibbs skipped over the gravel at Clervaux and Langridge held a tank slapper of a moment on corner exit which pushed him outside of the top 10. Through all of this, Cossins led with Knibbs incredibly still 2nd ahead of Bessell, Harding, Smith and Fletcher as the field completed the opening lap.
Fletcher was determined to make up places from his 7th place starting spot, but he had a grandstand view of Smith’s attempt at overhauling Harding at Sunny In/Out. However, Patrick’s race took a nosedive when he ran wide exiting the Esses while chasing Smith and the time spent on the grass dropped him back to 7th place behind Tolley. Back at the front, Hills Motorsport were enjoying a 1-2-3 but this didn’t last long when Harding’s dive at the Hairpin gave him 3rd at Bessell’s expense with Knibbs his next target, who in turn was setting the new fastest lap in his efforts to catch teammate Cossins.
A mid-race safety car was thrown into the mix when James Wharrier’s car came to a stop on the pit straight while Martin Tolley had found the Clervaux gravel trap but unlike some of his contemporaries throughout the weekend, he hadn’t been so lucky and beached himself against the tyres, ending his activities for the meeting early. The swift live snatch of Tolley’s car allowed racing to get underway just a couple of laps later with Cossins unable to shake off Knibbs and Harding as the pace picked up again. While they tried to run away once more, battles were beginning to rage for 4th place downwards, with Smith leading Bessell, Fletcher, Langridge, Dunn, Tom Smith and Baldwin in the top 10. Harding managed to pull off a superb move around the outside of Knibbs but contact as it finished created a small chain reaction that eventually put Smith into 2nd, leaving Harding still in 3rd and Knibbs eventually losing out to Fletcher to drop to 5th.
Smith and Harding did their best to try and catch Cossins, but ended up being too caught up with battling between themselves. Harding again tried a last lap attack as a heavy rain shower began to try and throw extra anarchy into the mix, but yet again his attempts bore no fruit and forced him to settle for the final podium spot behind Smith. But just ahead of them, James Cossins made sure Croft produced two new MX-5 SuperCup winners in one weekend with a fantastic victory, managing to gap 2nd and 3rd in fine style. Fletcher, Knibbs and Bessell took up 4th to 6th positions ahead of Langridge and Nick Dunn, while Tom Smith and Brayden Fletcher completed the top 10 with the latter ending his weekend on a brighter note after his Race 1 retirement. Kevin Silvain managed to leave Croft as a class winner as he topped the Club contingent on this occasion, beating Amos and Powles to victory in just his first weekend of car racing.
Next up for the MX-5 SuperCup is a visit to Silverstone’s National circuit on June 19th, a place that features long straights and many sweeping corners which require plenty of momentum and speed. Croft has already shown that the 2021 season has all the makings of being an absolute classic and it makes us wonder if any more first-time winners will be on the way when we go racing again in a month’s time. Join us to find out!