HERBERT AND HARDING WIND BACK THE CLOCK WITH WINS AT EPIC MX-5 SUPERCUP DONINGTON WEEKEND


Several weeks ago, the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup had been anticipating heading to the coastal circuit of Anglesey in North Wales this past weekend, but due to the ongoing situation with the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions in place from the Welsh government, that event sadly had to be eventually cancelled. But for the MX-5 SuperCup competitors, their fears of losing their races were thankfully eradicated when it was confirmed that an alternate venue had been found for their next rounds – Donington Park.

A true favourite with many drivers and always a scene of many championship deciders, the paddock headed to Leicestershire to contest three more races with a fantastic bumper grid of more than 30 cars on the entry list. Alongside the usual front runners and familiar names were a few additional drivers that were set to really spice things up, particularly towards the head of the field. The biggest news was the return of 2014 champion Abbie Eaton, who was invited by George Grant of series sponsor Clapham North to drive his car for a one-off guest appearance due to his expected absence. Not due to score points on this weekend, Abbie would simply be in the field to enjoy herself, return to the wheel of a race car and enjoy herself in the process!

Also back on the grid for one time only this year was Jack Harding, a perennial championship contender over the last few seasons and reappearing at Donington Park ahead of a potential return full time in 2021 to the championship, but racing in one of the rental cars his regular team AK Motorsport provides. Adding to the grid was British GT and BTCC Kelvin Fletcher, the actor turned racer joining his British GT teammate and fellow team owner Martin Plowman on the MX-5 grid for the first time, as well as his younger brother Brayden Fletcher. Former OSS, Pickup Truck and short oval racer Martin Heath also elected to give the SuperCup a try and joined the grid for the first time too.

Qualifying produced the first pole position in his fledgeling SuperCup career for Samuel Smith, who set the fastest time to give him the top spot on the grid for Race 1 alongside the returning Harding who proved he’d lost none of his speed, with triple defending champion Luke Herbert and Patrick Fletcher, whom Herbert is driver coaching this season, on the second row together. James Cossins was set to start from 5th, but an issue getting away on the formation lap left him to park his car against the barrier just metres from the grid, leaving Martin Tolley to start on his own from 6th. Eaton started her first race back in 7th alongside John Langridge, with Michael Knibbs and Simon Baldwin completing the top 10 starters.

The front two rows ended up side by side into Redgate for the first time, but not in the order they’d started. A great start for Fletcher put him alongside Smith as they turned in with Harding already door to door with his old sparring partner Herbert for 3rd place. Smith managed to keep his nose in front through the opening corners and by the end of the opening lap led Patrick Fletcher from Herbert, Harding, Eaton, Baldwin and Tolley. The top three began breaking away as Fletcher took the lead from Smith into McLeans with Herbert following him through into 2nd place, but the position swapping only brought Harding and Eaton into play as they both scrapped for 4th. Herbert passed Fletcher for the lead into Old Hairpin on Lap 3 with Smith and Harding quickly following suit, before the two drivers passed Herbert at the final chicane to push the defending champion down to 3rd – so much action in just three laps! 

Harding again went side by side into Old Hairpin with Herbert who successfully repassed and set off after Smith to quickly reclaim the lead in the same lap. Behind them, Eaton made a big dive into Redgate inside Fletcher and Baldwin but could only pass the latter to move into 4th as she set about catching the top 3 cars. By this point, the leading group was ten cars deep with no let-up in the action as cars continued to battle and swap places constantly. In particular, the battles for the lead and 3rd were particularly hard-fought as Smith continued to pressure Herbert, while the trio of Eaton, Harding and Fletcher went three abreast into Old Hairpin to push Abbie down to places before Harding ended up on the grass and dropping down the field to eventually finish 9th.

The remaining few minutes were relatively less eventful as the time ticked down, and despite the best efforts and attention of Smith, nothing would stop Herbert from clinching his second win of the season, while Patrick Fletcher finally took his first on-track podium finish with 3rd, after his Cadwell result was handed to him after the disqualification of another driver. Abbie Eaton was impressive to take 4th on her comeback ahead of Langridge in 5th, followed by Sycamore in 6th ahead of Bessell, Tolley, Harding and Simon Baldwin, who recovered from a mid-race spin exiting the final chicane to take 10th.

The second race had rather different conditions than the first as a dry track was replaced by a wet one thanks to rain showers since the morning’s first race. With the second-fastest times from qualifying to set the grid, Smith and Harding were again on the front row together, while Patrick Fletcher and Herbert swapped places on the second row with Patrick in 3rd, with Eaton 5th alongside James Cossins who did manage to take the start this time, followed by Tolley, Declan Lee, Knibbs and Nick Dunn.

Smith, Harding and Herbert ended up three abreast on the approach into Redgate, but Herbert held the lead with Harding and Fletcher moving into 2nd and 3rd, while Smith had dropped to 5th exiting the first corner. Fletcher ended up wide at Old Hairpin on the grass to drop him down the field. All of this helped promote Eaton into 3rd before the end of the opening lap and she would go on the attack for 2nd on Harding at Redgate, making the move stick as Herbert already began to run away with the lead. Eaton began her pursuit of the lead by setting the fastest lap, but despite this, the weather conditions appeared to be favouring Herbert who continued to dominate the field as the race headed towards half distance.

Behind the top three, championship leader Smith was coming under threat from a recovering James Cossins, making up ground after he failed to start the first race and putting Samuel under pressure as the pair attempted to keep pace with the fight for 2nd between Eaton and Harding, the latter pinching the fastest lap as the weather appeared to begin to ease a little despite the tricky track conditions. His pace proved to be enough to attack into the chicane and 2nd was his at Eaton’s expense. Throughout the final five minutes, Harding pushed as hard as he dared to close in on leader Herbert, but the pace of the champion appeared to be just a little too much for Jack to do anything about. While the top two places looked to be settled, the fight for third in the closing laps was anything but, as Eaton began to come under fire from both Smith and Cossins. Heading to the chicane, Cossins attempted to pass Smith on the outside but in the process ended up tapping the rear of Eaton’s car, forcing him to run deep onto the escape road while Abbie had to take to the kerbs and allowing Smith to repass them both to claim 3rd for a moment. Smith got sideways on the throttle on corner exit allowing Eaton to get back into a podium place, but one lap later at the same place, Smith finally made a move inside to take 3rd once and for all.

Out in front, Herbert was simply dominant and scored his second win of the weekend and his third of the season, with Harding and Smith joining him on the rostrum. Eaton settled for a hard-fought 4th place followed by Cossins in 5th, then Lee, Baldwin, Bessell, a recovering Patrick Fletcher in 9th and Tolley in the top 10.

The final race of the weekend would the top seven cars from Race 2 reversed on the grid, giving Baldwin the pole alongside Declan Lee, followed by Cossins and Eaton on the second row, then Smith, Harding and double winner Herbert back in 7th. Baldwin held the lead from pole and headed the pack to Redgate, with Eaton slotting into 2nd from Lee and Cossins. Quickly, the top 8 cars began to try and pull away with Patrick Fletcher trying to go with them, as Eaton began attacking for the lead with Lee, Cossins and Harding lurking behind them. While Eaton looked on the outside of Redgate to try and pass Baldwin on Lap 2, the drama would come at Old Hairpin when the pair tangled mid-corner, forcing both onto the grass and taking an innocent Declan Lee with them. Eaton and Lee carried on while Baldwin had to restart, but through all of this, it left Cossins in the lead with Harding chasing him down ahead of Herbert, who had played it cool to move into 3rd but was coming under big pressure from Smith and Fletcher.

Harding ensured Cossins couldn’t get a moment’s rest in the lead as he hounded the rear of his car, whilst behind them, Fletcher picked off Smith for 4th into Redgate to slot in behind his driver coach Herbert. The pair swapped places again twice throughout the lap, but the second time allowed both Bessell and Sycamore to get involved and pass Smith too, albeit briefly. The leading pair traded fastest laps as they continued running in formation, but Herbert was making the most of the clean air at his disposal to close them down in an effort to make it a three-car fight for victory. Eventually, Cossins couldn’t resist the pressure any longer and ran wide at McLeans, putting Herbert into 2nd and allowing both Fletcher and Smith a sniff at another podium finish.

Fletcher tried to steal 3rd from Cossins into Redgate but couldn’t complete the move, setting fastest laps as he continued to press. The trio managed to get on to Herbert’s tail and it quickly became a quartet now fighting over 2nd with Cossins determined to repass the champion for the place. He managed to try and create one possible opportunity into Redgate to no avail, and from here Herbert remained unchallenged as he continued to try and close down leader Harding. As it turned out, Jack just had a little too much pace and despite Luke getting close on the last lap, an opportunity to pass never arose. Therefore, Jack Harding took the flag to claim a win on his brief SuperCup comeback with Herbert on his tail in 2nd place, while Cossins brilliantly resisted a three-wide finish to take 3rd ahead of Smith and Fletcher, while Sycamore claimed 6th place ahead of Langridge. Despite the incident with Baldwin, Abbie Eaton managed to claw her way back to 8th place ahead of Tolley in 9th, with Michael Knibbs rounding off a tricky weekend with a top 10 finish.

There’s only a few weeks’ break now before the MX-5 SuperCup moves on to Silverstone on September 12/13, where Samuel Smith will look to try and maintain his lead in the championship standings, provided that Luke Herbert doesn’t continue his winning form and overhaul him!

Scott Woodwiss