Will Blackwell-Chambers drove as if he'd never been away! - Photo: Jon Elsey

The BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship burst into life at a sun-drenched Brands Hatch for the opening rounds of the 2017 season. With an incredible 52 cars entered for the first race weekend including some 20 drivers brand new to the championship, trying to pick a winner was always going to be difficult. As it happened, it was one returning face that rose above them all.

Once the two qualifying groups had completed their sessions, it left a Group A front row of former front runner Will Blackwell-Chambers on pole alongside 2016 title contender Oliver Allwood, ahead of Michael Fisk, new boy Charlie Burge and Stuart Symonds, while last year’s points runner-up Simon Baldwin couldn’t better 14th fastest.

From the get go, Fisk immediately piled the pressure on leader Blackwell-Chambers with the AB Motorsport driver desperate to take his first race win. For the entire 20 minutes, he continued to hound the Mike Comber Racing machine around the Indy Circuit, before the introduction of the Code 60 flag for the first time in the Championship’s history quickly became a red flag.

Once the race got underway again, the duel between Blackwell-Chambers and Fisk resumed, but try as he might Fisk just couldn’t find an avenue in which to snatch the lead. Despite his best efforts, Blackwell-Chambers marked his comeback in the best possible way with victory ahead of Fisk, with Samuel Smith, an experienced MX-5 racer but making his first appearance in the Championship, rewarded with 3rd place. Paul Tucker would finish as top Masters driver with a superb 4th overall, from Simon Baldwin (6th) and Martin Tolley (9th).

For the first Group B race, the runners would be joined in front of them on the grid by the remaining cars from their sister series the MX-5 SuperCup, thanks to the popularity in both championships which forced a split grid situation. Simon Woods started from pole ahead of Michael Close, Nick Le Doyen, Clive Chisnall and 4-wheel racing debutant Max Norfolk. From the start, it was Close who took over at the front and would do so for the most part but constantly hunted down by Le Doyen, while Woods and Russ Lindsay diced over 3rd. On lap 14, Close made the mistake that would cost him his first victory as Le Doyen slipped past and went on to take Group B honours. Close’s 2nd place would still be his best result ever, while Lindsay somehow managed to hold off the advances of Woods for the entirety of the race to pick up a very popular podium finish in 3rd. All four aforementioned drivers and newcomer Alan Hawkins would progress to the Group A grid for Race 2.

Speaking of which, Blackwell-Chambers and Fisk lined up alongside each other for their second encounter of the weekend and once again picked up where they’d left off. The former was only able to push the gap out to just over half a second throughout the first half, but in the second half Fisk was right there on Blackwell-Chambers’ back bumper, hounding him all the way. Despite yet another commendable effort, there was no overhauling the #43 as he powered to the flag to make it two from two. Simon Baldwin was able to come through from 6th on the grid to eventually wind up on the podium with 3rd place, also taking the top Masters honours from Tucker (5th) and Tolley (7th), the latter also snatching two extra points for fastest lap.

All eyes would seemingly be on new boy John Langridge in the second Group B race as he started out of place in 4th after an off at Paddock Hill had forced him out of the first Group A race. Despite a front row of Bryn Griffiths and Oliver Robinson, Langridge was quick to fire himself into the lead, one which he would fail to lose. He dominated proceedings as many expected he would to pick up his first victory in both an MX-5 and a rear-wheel-drive car, in what was only his fourth race in both! As for the duel for 2nd, that eventually went the way of Bruce Carter as he manoeuvred his way from the third row to take home a trophy. Oliver Robinson, father of Caterham champion David, was also a first time rostrum visitor with a well-deserved 3rd place. All 3, plus Griffiths and a charging Nick Riley, would tack onto the back of Group A for the final races on Sunday.

With another front row of Blackwell-Chambers and Fisk, it would be the latter that would fall foul on the first lap as a mishap would see him pushed down the order to 19th place and with work to do to catch back up. Meanwhile as WB-C quickly began to pull out a small lead, the fight for 2nd was left to intensify between Baldwin, Oliver Allwood, Samuel Smith and the surprise package in Patrick Lay, the Blendini man having a fantastic opening weekend after winning a Group B race at Silverstone in October last year. At one point, it looked as though Lay would score that first Group A podium, but in the end would have to settle for 5th.

In the end, Blackwell-Chambers drove away to complete the perfect weekend of 3 poles and 3 wins, whilst after squabbling amongst the group for 2nd place, Allwood eventually broke away and claimed it for his own, the first podium of the season after a tricky set-up all weekend. Baldwin would indeed manage to hold on to 3rd with Smith and Lay coming home behind him.

A popular front row of Matt Pickford and Russ Lindsay made up the final Group B race with the likes of Brian Trott, Richard Collins and Paul Bateman lurking behind them and ready to pounce. Pounce they did from the get-go as all 3 made their way into the podiums places and despite a Code 60 bringing the contest to a very brief hiatus, comfortably took each position for their own by the end of the 20 minutes. Trott picked up a well-deserved win, with Bateman claiming another Group B podium with 2nd place. Richard Collins was able to cap a less then satisfactory weekend by his standards with 3rd, whilst Russ Lindsay and Matt Pickford finished off the top 5.

Overall in the standings Blackwell-Chambers has the perfect score of 300 points, while a 2 point gap separates a developing 3-way battle between Baldwin, Fisk and Tucker in that order. Allwood rounds out the top 5 ahead of Smith and Tolley with Mk1 returnee Jonathan “JJ” Clements, Patrick Lay and Charlie Burge rounding out the top 10.

There’s a month’s gap until the next meeting, which sees the Mk1s make an anticipated return to the magnificent Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire, where the tight twists, turns and elevations changes will test both car and driver to the max. It’s a weekend that’s certainly not to be missed!

The full breakdown of results from Brands Hatch can be found via TSL Timing HERE.

Scott Woodwiss

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