HERBERT AND SMITH KICK OFF 2020 MX-5 SUPERCUP SEASON AT CADWELL PARK WITH VICTORIES
It had been a long wait to get back out on track, but at long last the new season for the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup was ready to get underway at Cadwell Park, much later than had been first expected due to the suspension of racing in the UK thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. With the SuperCup merging back together again with the MX-5 Super Series to create one grid of Mk3 Mazda MX-5s once again, there was a healthy update of entries as almost 30 cars made the trip to Lincolnshire to contest the first two races of the season.
New for 2020, in order to somewhat take the place of the Super Series, was a new two-class structure for the SuperCup – a Pro class for those who were the fastest drivers in the field and wanted to test themselves against the very best the championship had to offer, while a Club class allowed those transitioning from the Super Series or simply starting afresh in the championship a place to race without the pressure of keeping up with the front runners. Both would score their own individual points, meaning there would be both a Pro and Club champion come the end of the campaign.
Qualifying produced pole position for a rather familiar name, as 2016 champion James Blake-Baldwin set the two fastest times that would put him at the head of the field for both races, while 2nd fastest both times went to Mk1 MX-5 convert Samuel Smith, making his SuperCup debut in a Mk3 car with a fine start to the weekend. James Cossins continued his great form from the end of 2019 with 3rd fastest alongside Patrick Fletcher, followed by Colin Bysouth making a triumphant return with 5th ahead of Jack Sycamore, while two champions made up the fourth row – triple defending champ Luke Herbert making a last-minute comeback was forced to settle for 7th after a suspension issue during the session, while last year’s Mk1 MX-5 champion John Langridge would start his first SuperCup race in 8th. Declan Lee and Simon Baldwin completed the top 10 starters.
Blake-Baldwin held the led from pole at the start while Fletcher got a great start from the second row to beat Herbert into 2nd place with Smith and Bysouth in pursuit. Behind them, however, an issue for Simon Baldwin left him out on the opening lap, while at The Mountain, Martin Plowman’s first SuperCup race ended rather more prematurely than he would have wanted, as an apparent electrical issue forced him to park his car on the sidelines. The two stranded cars meant the safety car made an early appearance, but on the restart, Blake-Baldwin was only able to keep Herbert at bay for a lap as the triple champion made a pass on Lap 5 to take the lead with JB-B remaining on his tail.
As the top two tried to escape once more, Smith managed to deny Fletcher a chance at his first SuperCup podium with a move on Lap 6 to take 3rd place and immediately he set about closing the gap to Blake-Baldwin and Herbert in front. His pace allowed him to reduce the margin from 2.3 seconds to just 0.7 in the final two laps. Despite looking every which way he could to retake the lead, Blake-Baldwin couldn’t depose Herbert as he picked up where he left off from 2019 with the first race win of the season, heading JB-B by just under half a second with Smith on their tail in 3rd. However, fortunes changed after the first race which eventually saw a different top three – after the race, Blake-Baldwin’s car was found to have an old ECU with the wrong serial number (though still with the correct up-to-date engine map), and was subsequently disqualified as a result. Therefore, Smith’s first SuperCup podium on his debut was upgraded from 3rd to 2nd place and in the process, it also promoted Patrick Fletcher who was finally able to take home some silverware for the first time with 3rd. Colin Bysouth’s comeback was rewarded with 4th place ahead of James Cossins in 5th, followed by Jack Sycamore, Adam Bessell, Nick Dunn, John Langridge and Michael Knibbs in the top ten.
The second race on Sunday would line up without Blake-Baldwin, but not because of his Race 1 disqualification. After the first race, the team had discovered a hole in the radiator which had caused the engine to become too hot and with no fix or replacement possible, James sadly had no choice but to cut his weekend short. As a result, while still starting in the P2 grid slot, Samuel Smith was now in defacto “pole position” on his own on the front row, with Sycamore and Fletcher behind him on Row 2, then Bysouth and Herbert on the third row.
Making the most of a clear run on the left-hand side of the track, Fletcher rocketed into the lead from the second row with Smith in tow through the opening corners. But just behind them, fortunes were about to take a dive for Herbert, who ended up getting onto the grass, spinning and almost ending up in the middle of the road once he’d come to a stop. Thankfully, no-one made contact and he was able to continue, albeit it completing the opening lap down in 24th place with a mountain to climb as Fletcher led from Smith, Sycamore and Simon Baldwin.
Smith and Sycamore kept the pressure up on leader Fletcher, with Sycamore even finding a way into 2nd place before getting onto Patrick’s tail and challenging for the lead. But, the pressure seemed to get to Fletcher as a mistake early on Lap 5 left him running wide and spinning in front of the pack, losing him the lead and dropping him down to 6th by the end of the lap. This, in turn, put Sycamore out in front with a fired-up Smith on his tail and while he put up his best defence to try and hold him back, eventually he had to capitulate on Lap 6 and thus Smith took the lead – and not a moment too soon.
A mechanical issue for Duncan Harris had forced him to pull off the road in a position that, while was covered by waved yellows originally, eventually required the safety car to appear once again, hence bringing the race to an effective conclusion. Thus, the car took the chequered flag behind said safety car in the end, giving Smith his first SuperCup in on only his second start in a Mk3 ever, while Sycamore was delighted with a personal best 2nd place ahead of Baldwin in 3rd, who was also top Masters driver. Fletcher incredibly managed to race back up to 4th place before the field was frozen, displacing both Adam Bessell and James Cossins in quick succession to leave them 5th and 6th respectively. Michael Knibbs took a brilliant 7th place ahead of Nick Dunn and John Langridge, with Declan Lee ensuring all three of the Hills Motorsport cars finished in the top 10.
The new Club class featured for the first time at Cadwell Park, producing its first winner in Xavier Brooke in the first race from Liz Walton and Gary Mitchell, while Clive Powles was able to make up for missing the first race due to a mechanical problem by winning the class in Race 2 with Brooke this time in 2nd and Walton in 3rd. Brooke now leads the way from Walton in the respective points standings.
As for the Pro Class, Smith is nine points ahead of Fletcher with Sycamore in 3rd, followed by Cossins, Bessell and Herbert, the latter of which will be rueing the mistake at the beginning of Race 2 which cost him another potential win or podium. Nevertheless, he and everyone else will get a chance to fight back at the next rounds at Donington Park, which takes over from the now cancelled Anglesey race weekend which the MX-5 SuperCup had originally been scheduled to race at. Plus, with the addition of one or two surprise returning drivers, this could have the makings of the best meeting of the season already!