MX-5 CHAMPIONSHIP 2019 SEASON REVIEW - LANGRIDGE TAKES OVER THE CROWN

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It was a season that saw Langridge rise to the top and claim the MX-5 throne from Blackwell-Chambers - Photo: Jon Elsey

Off the back of a record year in 2018, the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship headed into 2019 ready to be bigger, better and more competitive than ever before. Double champion Will Blackwell-Chambers wanted to go for his third title on the bounce but knew that the competition would be stronger than it had been in the past two years. Nevertheless, he was ready for the fight. The season also saw the debut of Avon as a tyre supplier, bringing the Mk1 championship into line with its sibling series, the MX-5 SuperCup and MX-5 Super Series.

The season began with a 60+ car entry that descended on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit back in March, however the drivers that stood on the top step of the podium that weekend didn’t featured the defending champion. In fact, WB-C only appeared on the rostrum once during the entire meeting, proving just how competitive the field had become over the winter. In fact, it would be a first ever Group A win for Brian Trott in Race 1 ahead of renowned MX-5 front runner and team boss Ben Short, with John Langridge taking his first podium for new team BLiNK Motorsport in 3rd. Short was able to rise to the top in Race 2 to take victory, while Blackwell-Chambers briefly found himself in hot water with the stewards after it was initially judged that he made contact with Langridge at Paddock Hill Bend, sending the #5 into the gravel and out of the race. While he was penalised immediately after the race, a successful appeal saw him reinstated into 2nd place ahead of a impressive first podium in 3rd for MX-5 rookie Joe Wiggin, a former race winner in the BMW Compact Cup. Short picked up a second win to head the points table after the opening weekend, with Trott in 2nd place and Wiggin once again in 3rd, and despite having to race down in Group B as a consequence of his retirement, Langridge was still able to take home a winner’s trophy in his third race, albeit losing a chunk of points to his rivals at this early stage.

The championship headed across to South Wales and Pembrey for the BRSCC’s first visit in 8 years. Thankfully, beautiful blue skies and warm Spring sunshine greeted the drivers as they took to the new Clubmans layout featuring a switchback section recently installed in the last couple of years. Langridge made up for the less than ideal end to his Brands Hatch weekend by charging to his first MX-5 win of the season with Blackwell-Chambers right behind him with the fastest lap to match him on points, while Welshman Jason Greatrex took a podium in 3rd at one of his home circuits. Blackwell-Chambers clinched his first win of the season too in Race 2, with Ben Short picking up 2nd place and Langridge in 3rd, and he could have taken a second one in Race 3 had his engine not let go midway through. Langridge therefore took the victory once more with Short taking another P2 while Steve Foden also reached the rostrum for the first time in Group A by taking 3rd.

A long trip north to the twisty and winding Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire would once again prove to be a tough test given its narrow confines and tight corners. Blackwell-Chambers recovered from his Pembrey engine problems to jump straight back to the top step with a win in Race 1 ahead of Trott and Langridge, before doing it again in Race 2 as the 2nd and 3rd placed men swapped places behind him on that occasion. Despite gunning for the hat-trick, ultimately he would be denied by Langridge who was looking to make commanding progress back up the points table and thankfully the victory did that no harm; Trott took 2nd place with Blackwell-Chambers back in 3rd as the drivers headed back to Wales for the next instalment of the 2019 season.

Anglesey on the coast of North Wales would mark the half way point in the campaign as a mixture of conditions greeted the competitors across the two days of competition. It turned out to be a weekend that would see Mike Comber Racing dominate the top step of the podium as Blackwell-Chambers won a race for the third meeting in succession, but he was pushed all the way by teammate Adam Bessell who collected a strong 2nd place with Short in 3rd. Bessell then went one step better as he put up a superb effort defending WB-C in Race 2 to collect the first Group A victory of his MX-5 racing career on BRSCC shores, with Langridge collecting a 3rd place. Blackwell-Chambers then managed to get the better of his teammate once again to round off the weekend with another win, while 3rd place went to a hard fought effort by Jack Brewer as he took his best result to date.

After a lengthy summer break, the drivers returned to action reinvigorated as the Snetterton 300 circuit in Norfolk kicked off the second half of the season. Straight away, it was clear that out of those who had benefitted the most from the break, the man in pole position (figuratively and quite literally) was Joe Wiggin. From the word go, he showed a pace that it seemed no-one could ultimately match and put in a lights-to-flag performance to clinch his first MX-5 race victory, followed by Langridge and Brewer with the latter equalling his best result from Anglesey. He then went one better as he followed home teammate Wiggin to form a Tucker Motorsport 1-2 finish with Langridge in 3rd, before a much tighter battle in the top 3 meant the pressure was on for Joe to complete the hat-trick with Brewer in 2nd again from Langridge after a thrilling battle in the closing laps.

Oulton Park in Cheshire amongst sunny skies would see a continuation of where Wiggin left off from his success in Norfolk, as he made his way from 3rd on the grid in Race 1 to take his fourth win in a row from Langridge and Short. His copybook from the second half of the year would receive a small blemish in Race 2 as he had to settle for 3rd place behind race winner Short and Langridge in 2nd place, but he made sure to put that right in the final Group A race of the day as he once again worked his way from 3rd place to the lead and stayed there to the flag to make it 5 wins in 6 races with Blackwell-Chambers capping a somewhat more subdued weekend in 2nd and Langridge again keeping up his strong podium streak with another 3rd place finish.

As the end of the season came in to view, a thrilling weekend on the Donington Park GP circuit in Derby marked the penultimate weekend of the season. Wiggin once again proved himself to be the man in form, although he had to chase down long time Race 1 leader Steve Foden and pass him in the closing stages to take victory once more. Foden was still very satisfied with 2nd place, while the main title protagonists Langridge and Blackwell-Chambers took the flag in 3rd and 4th respectively. Wiggin made it a second win of the weekend in Race 2 ahead of the two championship contenders with Langridge yet again ahead of Blackwell-Chambers, before one of the races of the season went down in the final Group A race of the weekend. In that race, a resurgent Oliver Allwood found himself scrapping for the lead all throughout with Wiggin and in the closing stages the pair also found Masters front runner Jason Greatrex also on their tail too. The final laps saw Greatrex sail onto the back of the leading pair and on the last lap he even briefly got his nose in front before the chequered flag. However, Wiggin would repeat his Snetterton achievement by taking the hat-trick once more to make it 8 wins from 9 races as Allwood and Greatrex joined him on the podium. Blackwell-Chambers managed to beat Langridge to 4th place, leaving the two drivers locked in for the battle that was to come.

And so it was that Silverstone, the home of British Motorsport, played host to the season finale in the MX-5 Championship with Blackwell-Chambers and Langridge ready to go head-to-head in the final three races of the year. However, despite what the form book may have told you, it was positively ripped to shreds for the most part come the first Group A race as AB Motorsport set about dominating the podium all throughout. Fraser Fenwick put in a breakout performance in Race 1 to clinch his first MX-5 victory, followed home by Matt Luff and team boss Ali Bray (piloting Oliver Allwood’s regular season race car). Luff then took his turn in the winner’s circle as he scored Race 2 for himself ahead of Fenwick and Bray, but behind them the tide was turning in favour of Langridge for the title. Two top 5 finishes ahead of Blackwell-Chambers, who ended up 6th in both races, meant that John effectively had one hand on the title heading into the final race and he made sure that he clinched it in sensational style. He kept with the dominant AB trio throughout the final race and on the last lap made a stunning pass to take the lead and become the 2019 BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Champion in the best possible fashion, with fellow weekend winners Luff and Fenwick joining him on the final podium of the year.

Blackwell-Chambers had to settle for 2nd place in the standings after a valiant fight at the front of the field all year, while Wiggin’s incredible form in the second half of the season saw him end up with more race wins than anyone else in 2019. Whether or not this translates into the kind of form we could potentially see from him in 2020. A championship charge on the cards, perhaps? Only time will tell.

Over in the Masters contest for drivers aged 45 and over, Jason Greatrex was able to charge to the title after having to wait until the second meeting to be eligible to qualify to score points. Despite the best efforts of outgoing double champion Martin Tolley and Marcus Bailey, Greatrex proved on many occasions that he was the class of the Masters field. If he does return for 2020, he’s sure to expect some stiffer competition from those around him in the same class.

Scott Woodwiss

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