John Cockburn-Evans (#77) was a worthy first time winner at Croft - Photo: Jon Elsey

Brian Chandler threw himself right back into contention for this year’s Mazda MX-5 Championship with a dominant display throughout the triple-header at Croft this past weekend, which also produced two first-time winners. That said, it wasn’t a completely flawless performance for Brian as you’ll soon find out!

Wet weather and adverse conditions greeted the 44 competitors on Saturday morning as the two qualifying groups took to the track. Chandler tamed the rain to grab pole by 0.461s for Group A with Simon Goddard 2nd fastest ahead of Euan Milne, who used the track time gained abroad the previous weekend to good effect to line up 3rd. Martin Tolley, Simon Baldwin, Darron Lewis and Sam Smith all followed immediately behind the front 3 with Ben Tuck forced to start the first race back in 12th.

The start of Race 1 for Group A couldn’t be described as anything other than frenetic. Into Clervaux for the first time 5 drivers came unstuck and found themselves in the gravel trap, which prompted the safety car to make an early appearance. Paul Bishop, Matthew Tasker, Michael Fisk, newcomer Yoshihiro Ito and Kevin Brent were the casualties, although Ito and Brent did free themselves to rejoin the race, albeit ending up as non-classified finishers.

Once the Turn 1 melee had been cleared, Chandler kept his nerve in the lead to hold on to victory from Goddard by 0.359s, while Milne put in a sterling wet weather performance to keep championship contender Sam Smith at bay and claim his first podium of the season. Simon Baldwin came into the weekend as the points leader, but could only settle for 5th place ahead of a weekend that was only going to get tougher for the man from Reigate.

Group B’s first race produced a first time winner in Andrew Caird, who took his first success in the Mk1s alongside double duty in the SuperCup that weekend. He took the win by 3.270 seconds from Roger Chesneau with Christian Young, Patrick Collins and John Cockburn-Evans rounding out the top 5 which would progress to Group A for the second race.

Moving into Sunday, clear weather and sunshine provided conditions infinitely better than the day before. Chandler once again started on pole and drove away from the front to make it two from two, but not without a lurid tail slide exiting the final corner before the run to the flag. This was performed just ahead of a bemused Sam Smith, who drove a fine race to 2nd place with Darron Lewis completing the podium. This came after a titanic battle with Ben Tuck, Martin Tolley, Simon Goddard and Euan Milne, with the 5 cars dicing endlessly to provide spectacular racing for the fans.

It was Michael Fisk who recovered from his misfortunes in Race 1 to claim the victory, but he only just held out from a charging Paul Bishop by the mere margin of 0.184s. Richard Collins claimed 3rd with Adam Craig and Harry Deane securing the final transfer spots to Group A.

Chandler saved his most dominant drive until last, with a performance in Race 3 that had to be seen to be believed. At one point he was leading by more than 12 seconds from Sam Smith once again, however this wasn’t the most spectacular part of his race. As in Race 2, the real talking point came at the final corner – exiting the hairpin, Chandler was a little too heavy with his right foot and spun on the exit. Incredibly, thanks to the lead he’d built up beforehand he was still able to quickly recover and reach the flag first by 4.535s! Smith snatched another 2nd place ahead of Martin Tolley, Simon Goddard and Ben Tuck.

This third race for Group A also saw misfortunes for two of the key title contenders. Simon Baldwin had struggled throughout the weekend, which seemed to lose pace throughout the weekend. Unfortunately, he could do no better than 18th, while contact resulting in a left rear puncture ensured Darron Lewis ended his weekend with zero points from Race 3.

There was another first time winner in Group B’s third race and one which proved to be popular up and down the paddock. After numerous attempts, John Cockburn-Evans put in a gutsy display to reach the chequered flag first with Tim Penton and Michael Close also providing worthy performances to reach the podium, ahead of Russ Lindsay and Courtney Milnes. John mentioned afterwards that he knew that he had to push himself in order to gain the result he wanted and he certainly did that. Well done John!

After all of that, it makes for incredibly interesting reading at the head of the championship. We head to Donington Park with, unbelievably, a tie for the points lead! Darron Lewis and Sam Smith both sit on exactly 1244 points each after drop scores, with Lewis on top due to scoring 2 victories this season to Smith’s single top step visit at Castle Combe. The almost perfect score from the weekend by Brian Chandler catapults him right back into the hunt, now moving back up into 3rd place just 8 points back. Ben Tuck and Simon Baldwin are still in with a shout, however Baldwin suffered the most from the weekend as he slipped to 5th with a 26 point deficit.

It’s fair to say that whatever happens at the season finale in October and whichever way the title swings, everything looks set to be an absolute nail-biter, right down to the final corner of the final race of the season. All we have left to say is – bring on Donington and let battle commence!

A full breakdown of the results from the weekend can found via the TSL Timing website via CROFT RESULTS.

Scott Woodwiss

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