SHORT REACHES FOR THE TOP IN OPENING MX-5 CHAMPIONSHIP SKIRMISH AT BRANDS HATCH
The BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship burst back into life for the 2019 season with an entry list that boasted a sensational 62 cars, all descending on the fast yet compact Brands Hatch Indy circuit in Kent for the first three rounds of the campaign. This number was greater than that achieved at the Blancpain GT supporting rounds on the GP circuit back in 2015, where 60 cars were entered on that weekend.
The entry featured a large number of new drivers, with some competing in the first race weekend of their careers while others made the switch from other championships keen to take on a new challenge. They would have to face to the regular names and faces that populated the paddock, knowing that getting in and amongst the established frontrunners would be no mean feat. Nevertheless, come Saturday morning the two scheduled qualifying sessions produced some interesting initial results.
The pacesetter of the morning turned out to be John Langridge, debuting for his new outfit BLiNK Motorsport after making the switch over the winter. His best time of a 57.135s was good enough to be quickest out of all times combined from both groups. Just behind him in Group 1 came two-time defending champion Will Blackwell-Chambers, who had discovered just before the event that his car was producing 5hp less than the maximum 105hp permitted in the regulations. Despite this, his #1 car was still set up to be quick enough for 2nd fastest, while a big surprise came in the form of 3rd fastest man Joe Wiggin. The former BMW Compact Cup race winner impressed many on his MX-5 debut by placing his Tucker Motorsport prepared car so high in the times, ahead of Mazda stalwart Ben Short in 4th place. David Waters was another quick newcomer with the 5th fastest time, followed by a third new face in ex Ginetta Junior racer Matt Luff in an impressive 6th. Martin Tolley and Jason Greatrex made up 7th and 8th fastest respectively, with the top 10 rounded off by Mk1 returnee Jake Bailey and Sebastian Fisher.
Group 2 would see more familiar names populate the top 10, with Brian Trott continuing his strong pace from 2018 to go fastest in the session. AB Motorsport teammate Oliver Allwood scored 2nd fastest time ahead with Stuart Symonds ensuring Ali Bray’s cars completed a 1-2-3 sweep of the group. Adam Bessell set the 4th fastest time ahead of Steve Foden and Marcus Bailey, with Adam Craig showing much improvement with 7th fastest ahead of Ben Hancy in 8th. Japanese guest driver Yoshihiro Ito made his first appearance for two years and did well to set the 9th quickest time in the session, followed by another newcomer in 10th in the form of Dave Turton.
With the times combined, it left a front row of Langridge and Trott for the opening Group A race of the season on Saturday, ahead of Blackwell-Chambers and Allwood on the second row and Wiggin and Symonds on Row 3. The stage was set for what promised to be a thrilling first race, and it didn’t disappoint.
From the start, Langridge was able to lead from pole position and in the opening laps, a breakaway lead group quickly began to form. Blackwell-Chambers managed to grab 2nd place at the start from Trott, but Brian ensured he retook it on Lap 4 before setting off after Langridge. It wasn’t long before the #83 was on the rear bumper of the leader and into Paddock Hill Bend on Lap 8, Trott made a dive up the inside that would crucially end up determining the race result. During this time, the lead group had grown out to seven cars with Short moving up to 3rd place and Allwood to 4th, while Blackwell-Chambers was rueing his underpowered engine as he lay in 5th fending off both Adam Bessell and the impressive Joe Wiggin.
Trott held firm despite the best efforts of both Langridge and Short to prize the lead out of his hands, but their squabbles only brought the second front-running trio of Blackwell-Chambers (now back up to 4th), Wiggin and Allwood to latch onto the back of the lead battle to make it a 6-car scrap for 1st place. Blackwell-Chambers slipped behind both Wiggin and Allwood in the closing laps with the former attempting to mount a challenge on 3rd placed Short, almost reaching a podium finish on his debut race. As it was back at the front, Trott saw off any last minute advances from Langridge to finally take a long-awaited first Group A win in the Championship, holding on the victory by 0.115 seconds at the flag. Langridge settled for 2nd place ahead of Short in 3rd, although he too had to win a drag race to the line to remain ahead of a superb 4th place from Wiggin in his first MX-5 race. Allwood completed the top 5 ahead of a disappointed Blackwell-Chambers, the reigning two-time champion rueing an engine down on power as he made do with 6th place. Adam Bessell managed 7th ahead of another amazing effort from a rookie driver, with Matt Luff taking 8th place ahead of Symonds and Foden to complete the top 10. Foden has originally finished in 8th, but avoidable contact with Symonds in the final laps saw him demoted to 10th.
The first Group B race of 2019 contained the majority of the new faces to the Championship along with some established names thrown into the mix. Owen Mills and Richard Baxter made it an all-rookie front row ahead of Oliver Sighe and Tom Smith, while Michael Knibbs ensured first-time drivers locked out the first five grid slots.
The drivers could only get as far as the exit of Druids before drama occurred when Philip Barrett tagged the rear of Richard Bartlett’s Mk1, leaving both Simon Ricketts and Bruce Robinson with nowhere to go. The resulting damage to both Bartlett and Ricketts rendered both out of the race on the spot, leaving the officials to throw the safety car before the end of the opening lap. Robinson, a BC Cars Motorsport driver like Ricketts, was able to get away relatively unscathed despite getting caught up in the melee.
After three full laps under the safety car, racing resumed with Tom Smith at the head of the queue on the restart. As it turned out, Smith would turn out to be uncatchable in the end given his previous experience of racing MX-5s elsewhere. This was his first time, however, racing a Mk1 on BRSCC shores and indeed with new team BS Motorsport. While he made his best attempt to escape, the battle for 2nd place raged behind him. Alan Hawkins held on after the restart as long as he could, but he lost out in the shuffle on Lap 6 as he dropped from 2nd to 8th in just one lap. This left Charles Mugglestone and Jack Moody filling up the podium places with the former setting off after leader Smith immediately. Despite closing into as little as 0.3s at one stage, Mugglestone lost ground in the final few laps and settled for P2.
Smith, therefore, began the season with his new team in perfect fashion with a Group B win, while Mugglestone wasn’t displeased with a strong 2nd place either. As for 3rd place, Moody had to form a defensive wall as he held off a charging Richard Baxter and Michael Knibbs on his way to a podium place respectively. Baxter and Knibbs completed the top 5 with Hawkins clawing his way back up to 6th, ahead of Mills, Matthew Fletcher, Clive Chisnall and Bryn Griffiths. All of the top 5 drivers would now move on to the back of the Group A grid the next day.
Sunday morning saw beautiful blue skies and bright sunshine as Group A’s second race lined up for action. With the front row reversed from the first encounter, Trott tried to make pole position count but found himself 3rd by the end of the opening lap as Langridge once again took to the head of the field. Short quickly gave chase in 2nd, eventually followed by a resurgent Blackwell-Chambers who picked off Trott to take 3rd before chasing down the top two using his car’s superior handling to outdrive his down on power engine.
It would take Blackwell-Chambers several laps to finally prise the door open on 2nd placed Short as he finally capitulated on Lap 11, leaving WB-C to chase after leader Langridge. During this time the trio of Trott, Allwood and Wiggin kept in close proximity behind them with Wiggin ending up as the biggest mover out of the three. He passed Allwood on Lap 9 to steal 5th before hounding in his quest for 4th place. Meanwhile, at the front, Blackwell-Chambers was looking ready to pounce and on Lap 12 he tried a dive up the inside into Paddock Hill Bend. While Langridge held the outside line and thought he’d cleared the #1, Blackwell-Chambers caught the right rear of the #5 sending him into the end of the gravel trap at the bottom of the hill and out of the race on the spot.
The safety car was called to move Langridge’s car to safety with driver unharmed, leaving Blackwell-Chambers to lead the race on the restart after two laps. Wasting no time to apply the pressure, Short hassled WB-C over the next couple of laps until eventually he found a way through on Lap 18 and inherited a lead he wouldn’t relinquish until the flag. Short went on to pick up his first win of the season, however 2nd place was up for debate. After studying footage from both drivers, Blackwell-Chambers was initially deemed to have made avoidable contact with Langridge and was demoted to the bottom of the result. However, a successful appeal from Will saw him reinstated into 2nd place and retain the points scored.
As for 3rd place, there was more joy for Joe Wiggin as a move on Trott just after the restart saw him move up to the podium where he would stay to continue his dream weekend with his first piece of silverware. Trott held on for 4th ahead of Allwood, with Bessell and Symonds taking 6th and 7th respectively. Steve Foden was 8th from Adam Craig showing impressive progress in 9th, with Masters champion Martin Tolley rounding out the top 10 finishers, but having to come 2nd best to Trott in that respect.
Thomas Jenkins and Richard Wootten made up the front row for Group B’s second race from Marcus Bailey and David Waters, two drivers that had hit strife in the opening Group A race and were out of place in terms of their true pace based on their qualifying form. Jenkins retained the lead from pole on the opening lap, but a super start from AB Motorsport’s William Hayden saw him manoeuvre his way into the lead by the conclusion of Lap 2. His nearest challengers throughout the races turned out to be both Bailey and Jenkins, although the pair found it tough to keep pace with him in the opening few laps after Hayden took the lead. A mid-race safety car for an incident further down the pack gave them a chance to close back in, and the respite seemed to work as on the restart Hayden wasn’t able to pull away in the same vain he’d done so earlier on.
Nevertheless, Hayden couldn’t be toppled and he went on to claim his first MX-5 Championship win with Bailey a close 2nd less than two tenths behind him at the flag. Even though Jenkins had held on for so long to 3rd place, in the end, he was closed down and passed by a charging David Waters, who was incredibly pleased with a podium finish on his first weekend too. Jenkins would still wind up a decent 4th ahead of Wootten and Chisnall, followed by Joseph Willmott, Alan Hawkins, Owen Mills and Sam Jarvis. Once again, the top 5 would move up to the Group A grid for their final race.
Speaking of which, the final Group A race would see Ben Short looking to start as he meant to go on after winning earlier in the day. Getting away from the pole, Short held his own in the lead ahead of a feisty quartet stacked up behind with containing regular pursuers Trott, Blackwell-Chambers, Wiggin and Allwood. Thankfully this time the race remained free of any safety cars, allowing the top 5 to break away and scrap amongst themselves. Eventually, the five cars were joined by Bessell, Foden and Symonds due to their ongoing squabbles holding each other up, and at one stage the top 11 cars were separated by just over 4 seconds!
The only driver in the top 5 who appeared committed to make any moves up the order was Wiggin, as he continued to relish his Mazda MX-5 debut by first picking off Allwood, before duelling with champion Blackwell-Chambers before eventually relieving him of 3rd place. Despite pushing hard in the second half of the race, the defensive efforts and pace of both leader Short and 2nd placed Trott proved a little too much, and the top three stayed as it was until the flag. Short collected his second win of the weekend from three races with Trott 2nd and Wiggin clinching another superb podium in 3rd place.
Blackwell-Chambers was able to salvage 4th place, knowing that he would have to work hard between now and the next rounds at Pembrey to overcome and resolve his engine’s power issues. Allwood picked up 5thplace ahead of teammate Symonds in 6th, followed by Foden in 7th place ahead of Bessell, Craig and another superb top 10 result for Matt Luff in 10th spot.
All eyes were on John Langridge for the final Group B race of the weekend and despite starting in 5th place, he wasted no time in muscling his way to the front from the start and charging into a lead he would not relinquish. So great was his pace advantage that while he sailed into the distance, it was the battles below him for 2nd place downwards that caught everyone’s attention. At the head of the queue, Nick Le Doyen was duelling with Joseph Willmott, another newcomer to this year’s Championship, with the likes of Mugglestone, Knibbs, Oliver Jenkins and Sam Jarvis keeping them company in the fight for podium places.
The 2nd place battle raged on for several laps, but eventually, it would be circumstances behind them that ultimately decided the fate of the race. A battle involving Ivan Leary amongst the frontrunners eventually saw him losing the back end through Paddock Hill Bend, and despite his best efforts to save it, he unfortunately collected Bryn Griffiths who ended up hitting the inside wall on the run to Druids and instantly retiring on the spot. Leary was just about able to drive away albeit sporting damage, but the state and position of Griffiths’ car were enough for officials to call the race early, throw the red flag and declare a result due to time constraints thanks to other incidents during the day. Both drivers went to the medical centre for precautionary checks, but both are understood to have been fine.
The result declared Langridge the winner from Le Doyen and Willmott, followed by Knibbs in 4th place ahead of Oliver Jenkins and Sam Jarvis. Mugglestone had to make do with 7th ahead of Alan Hawkins in 8th, with the top 10 completed by Clive Chisnall and Owen Mills.
Short’s two race wins and 3rd place finish sees him leave Kent as the championship leader, although the level of his commitment to this year’s calendar remains yet to be confirmed. However, should he decide to contest something of a full season, his pace is evidently more than enough to throw him right into the title fight. In that instance, everyone will head to the next rounds with bated breath as the MX-5 Championship moves to a brand new venue. For the first time in 8 years, the BRSCC makes a trip to South Wales as Pembrey Circuit plays host to Rounds 4, 5 & 6 on April 20/21. Be sure to join us then when we write the next chapter of a 2019 season that looks as though it’s set to be absolutely spellbinding.
You can find the full breakdown of results via TSL Timing HERE – https://www.tsl-timing.com/file/?f=BRSCC/2019/191231xch.pdf