MX-5 CHAMPIONSHIP SHAPES UP FOR A RECORD-BREAKING 2019 SEASON
By the end of the 2018 season, the number of drivers that had registered and competed throughout the year in the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship had almost ticked over into a three-digit figure, as Donington Park played host to one of the most dramatic final rounds in the Championship’s history. Will Blackwell-Chambers came out on top once again that day to earn back-to-back titles, while teammate Samuel Smith sadly saw his hopes end up beached in the gravel at Coppice corner.
Five months on from the end of last season, a long winter has come and gone and with Spring on the horizon, it can only mean one thing – it’s time to go racing once again. Just as it has been for the past two years, Brands Hatch’s Indy circuit in Kent is the setting for the opening three rounds of the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Championship, and looking at the numbers we could be in store for the biggest, best supported and possibly most competitive year of racing yet. Of course, we say that every year but after you finish reading this season preview you’ll believe it!
In something of a sensational off-season, the championship has been graced with one of its biggest influxes of new drivers ever. In fact, more than 20 new names and faces have signed up for 2019 which is enough for their own grid given the numbers this championship regularly pulls in entries. We’ll detail some of them later, however at the time of writing a staggering 76 drivers have registered and with the usual premise of more across the year, the previous record of 101 in 2017 could be on course to be obliterated.
Naturally, the logical starting point for talking about who are the main runners and riders to watch out for this season would be with the aforementioned double champion Will Blackwell-Chambers. After teasing the idea of potentially moving into the MX-5 SuperCup over the winter, Will has elected to go for the hat-trick in Mk1s instead, mimicking the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Typically, Brands Hatch has been a happy hunting ground for WB-C as the last two visits have seen him collect a clean sweep of all three Group A races on each occasion. Last year he was made to work harder than in 2017, but for this season whether he’ll perform the same feat again is up for debate. Nonetheless, never count him out by any stretch as on his day, Blackwell-Chambers is unstoppable. There was more than one occasion, however, when his rivals were able to take the fight to him and beat him.
One of those rivals won’t Samuel Smith, as he’s elected to sit out this season after coming so close last year but ended up cruelly denied through no fault of his own. Instead, the mantle of Blackwell-Chambers’ main rivals is almost certainly set to be taken up by the ever competitive AB Motorsport squad. Leading their charge will be Brian Trott who finished 3rd in points last year yet still hasn’t managed to capture that elusive first win. Keeping him company will be Oliver Allwood, another driver who knows what it takes to battle for the championship, and Stuart Symonds who briefly flirted with the MX-5 Super Series before electing to return to his familiar Mk1. Ali Bray’s squad has been bolstered significantly over the winter with no less than 12 drivers signed up to compete with him across the season, so don’t be surprised if at least one of them takes a race win this year.
John Langridge has elected not to be part of the AB Motorsport stable for 2019 after two seasons learning his craft in a rear wheel drive car. The former BRSCC Fiesta champion discovered his form once more last year and was able to clinch a couple of Group A race victories along the way whilst giving the Mike Comber Racing drivers the run around at the front for good measure too. For this season he switches to BLiNK Motorsport, the same outfit that runs James Blake-Baldwin in the SuperCup, in a bid to take his title chances to the next level. Having shown promise in testing, John will hope his new team can keep him at the sharp end of the grid and potentially in contention for the title.
Over with Mike Comber Racing, the same outfit that runs Will Blackwell-Chambers, they have made an effort to bolster their squad in the absence of Smith and the decision for Mike Comber to step back from racing to focus on running the team. They have elected to take the promising Steve Foden under their wing, along with 2018 rookie Charles Mugglestone, with the former having taken his first podium at Donington last October while the latter made steady progress getting up to speed. Mike’s expertise coupled with Will’s feedback and tuition will certainly help both drivers get up to speed even quicker. Foden could be on course to take his first win this year, while Mugglestone will hope to build on a solid debut season last year. Also set to be a notable name will be Adam Bessell, who can hang with the quickest driver on any weekend given that the car is in good form.
Also certain to be in the mix will be Jason Greatrex, the Welshman heading into the new year having taken an incredible last gap Group A race win at Snetterton by beating Oliver Allwood by just 0.003 seconds at the flag. Always a threat for victory, he will certainly be in around the frontrunners on any given weekend. He is one of a number of notable names that consistently hover around and throughout the top 10 placings on any given weekend, as well as though who will look to build on a solid 2018 season. Last year’s Rookie of the Year Matt Pollard, another AB Motorsport driver, will have received a boost of confidence from his accolade and will hope to emulate the success of SuperCup driver Aidan Hills when he received the same accolade respectively in 2017. Jack Brewer is a young charger with Group B race wins under his belt and will be determined to consistently run in Group A throughout this year, while Sebastian Fisher did well in his first season on BRSCC shores to finish not far outside the top 10 in the points standings.
Martin Tolley will also be one to watch once again, as the stalwart of the Championship is also a two-time defending champion in the Masters’ standings for drivers aged 45 or older. His form can yo-yo somewhat, but while he is usually a top 10 runner in Group A he has always been at the front of the Masters contingent – but that could be about to change this year. Given that Brian Trott was eligible for Masters points from the second meeting onwards last year, he will certainly be a threat as will fellow new Master, Jason Greatrex. The pair will certainly force Tolley to up his game and holding on to the crown for the third year running could prove very tricky.
2015 Mk1 champion Brian Chandler will sport one of the biggest entries in the paddock all season courtesy of his BC Cars Motorsport outfit, with fastest of them all touted to be Lewis Cannon, an impressive rookie from 2018 who looks set to make further progress towards the front of Group A. Other drivers that will line up from the BC garage include Clive Chisnall, Bruce Robinson, Adrian Burge, James Love and the returning Simon Ricketts to name a few, with more set to reach the grid through one of his many hire cars.
Those are the main contenders from the usual suspects to watch out for, but what about the aforementioned influx of new faces, plus a few returnees? In terms of those heading back to the Championship, the strongest of them all has to be Jake Bailey. Having raced an Mk1 for the last time in 2016, Jake has spent two years in the SuperCup and Super Series respectively, the latter of which he was a regular front runner and race winner. Having elected to come back to the MX-5 Championship this year, he will certainly wish to put all he has learned in to practice in a bid to make an instant impact. One driver coming back after an extended break is Christian Dann, who will hope to settle back into the paddock quickly.
So, on to the fresh blood in the entry list. An ideal place to start would be Oliver Sighe, who comes off the back of winning Class M in the Max5 Championship and will hope to use the MX-5 Championship as a chance to up his game. Former Ginetta Junior racer Matt Luff makes his first step up to senior racing with the ambition of becoming an eventual regular frontrunner, while Owen Mills is fresh out of karting and hoping to get up to speed quickly. Someone who definitely isn’t expected to hang around is Joe Wiggin, a former Compact Cup race winner and current Citroen C1 competitor that returns to rear wheel driver in a striking black, pink and yellow MX-5; expect him to jump into Group A straight away. Tom Smith is also an experienced MX-5 racer who made a one-off appearance in the Super Series at the Donington finale last year, before opting to campaign a Mk1 with us for the first time this season.
Other new drivers include Michael Knibbs, Ashley Heath, Joseph Willmott, Chris Molloy and Matthew Fletcher (both driver sharing a car this year), David Waters, Toby Owen, Peter Tyler, Dave Turton, Adam Tyrrell, former Radical racer Richard Baxter and Jon Wood who all appear this weekend at the Brands Hatch opener. More will appear throughout the season but for now a big welcome to all of them!
The entry list stands at 61 cars, which incredibly only just over the number of cars entered in the support races the Championship ran on the Blancpain GT race weekend back in 2015. What makes it more impressive is that back then, they were competing on the GT circuit, whereas this weekend it will be the shorter Indy circuit that will deal with two 30+ car grids!
Whatever happens this weekend, the kick off for a new season of BRSCC Mazda MX-5 racing definitely will not disappoint and you’d be a fool to miss out on what sure to be an explosive and engaging first race weekend of the year!