A familiar sight all weekend - Blackwell-Chambers (#1) chased by Smith (#36) and Allwood (#63) - Photo: Jon Elsey

After its most prominent and best season ever in 2017, the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship once again headed to Kent and Brands Hatch for the opening three rounds of the 2018 campaign. Many of the familiar faces and names that had graced last year’s grid were back to try and dethrone champion Will Blackwell-Chambers, who came into the season proudly displaying the #1 on his car. That said, there were also some new drivers to throw into the mix as they readied themselves for their first campaign in an MX-5 on BRSCC shores.

The first qualifying group had to tackle slightly damp conditions on Saturday morning as the overnight rain had somewhat saturated the track since the previous day’s testing. Nevertheless, they were eventually forced to reside as the slower of the two groups, with Blackwell-Chambers starting as he meant to go on. He posted the fastest lap of the group, almost 0.6 seconds up on the second-best time by Stuart Symonds. Teddy Clark, now with BC Cars after Blendini Motorsport decided to move away from Mazdas for 2018, notched up an impressive 3rd fastest time just a tenth slower than Symonds, as Marcus Bailey and Martin Tolley rounded off the top 5 as the two fastest masters drivers. Paul Bateman made a welcome return to grab P6, with the rest of the top 10 filled out by Jason Greatrex, a newcomer to the BRSCC in Sebastian Fisher, Oliver Robinson and Courtney Milnes.

Come the second session the track had dried significantly, meaning that this group would be the one battling for overall pole position. That honour fell to Samuel Smith, eager to get his title chase underway in the best possible fashion. His best lap left him a mere 0.066 seconds up on Brian Trott, while AB Motorsport stablemates Oliver Allwood and John Langridge slotted in neatly behind in 3rd and 4th fastest. Charlie Burge completed the top 5 times, with Adam Craig 6th and Smith’s team boss Mike Comber only managing 7th fastest. Stephen Foden took his new car to the 8th best time, ahead of Michael Fisk and Clive Powles, who ended this season as best Masters driver.

The grid line-up for the opening Group A race of the season made pleasant viewing for Mike Comber Racing as Smith took his place on pole alongside Blackwell-Chambers. Trott and Symonds made it an AB Motorsport lockout on row 2, ahead of fellow AB driver Allwood and Teddy Clark. Langridge and Bailey took up residence on the fourth row with the top 10 finished off by Charlie Burge and fastest Masters driver Martin Tolley.

Smith duly led off the line from pole and maintained his position throughout the opening lap, heading a train of four cars also featuring Blackwell-Chambers, Allwood and Trott and pretty soon the quartet began pulling away together, leaving 5th placed Tolley in no-mans-land somewhat a couple of seconds back. Blackwell-Chambers sensed the best opportunity to take the lead on lap 8 and from there he proceeded to put his foot down and increase the lead gap. Initially, Smith did his best to keep up with WB-C and was able to keep the lead gap below 1 second over the next few laps, but eventually his rear guard defence against both Allwood and Trott behind him was causing him to lose time to his teammate in front.

From there, the order remained just about unchanged and Blackwell-Chambers began in almost identical fashion to that of a year ago at the same venue. He took the win by a comfortable 2.1 seconds, but behind things changed in the final laps. Smith looked set to secure second, but Allwood had other ideas and on Lap 18 the opportunity to pounce presented itself. Allwood grabbed it and was just able to keep Smith and Trott at bay for the remainder of the race as they all finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively. Martin Tolley came through by himself somewhat to complete the top 5 and a comfortable Masters victory, but behind him the pack had been all over each other throughout the entire 20 minutes. 6th place was mainly swapped several times between Charlie Burge and John Langridge with each taking turns for a few laps before positions were traded.

By the flag, Burge ended up as the driver in front with Langridge 7th, but as had been the case up front, their battles had brought others into play. Stuart Symonds finished just behind in 8th, with Teddy Clark and Mike Comber completing the top 10, as the field from 6th down to 13th all crossed the line only 3.5 seconds apart. Drivers relegated from Group A were Marcus Bailey thanks to a time penalty, William Hayden, Clive Powles, Bill Taylor and the non-finishing Paul Bateman.

For the first Group B race, made up of the second halves of both qualifying groups, rookie Jack Moody found himself in the pole position grid slot for his very first race! He would line up alongside Simon Woods, with Paul Tucker and Charlie Rawles on the second row behind them. Ivan Leary took up 5th next to another newcomer in Charles Mugglestone, while fellow debutant Matthew Pollard sat in 7th place with Nick Le Doyen sharing the 4th row. The top 10 was rounded off by Clapham North’s George Grant and Adrian Burge.

Tucker wasted no time as he picked up the best launch off the line from Row 2 and led the field around the opening lap. Woods slotted into 2nd place behind him with Moody doing well to reclaim 3rd from the fast-starting Nick Le Doyen after losing it moments after the start. As the leaders in Group A had done somewhat in their earlier race, both Tucker and Woods managed to pull clear with the former extending an advantage of just over 2 seconds by Lap 9. Moody was impressively holding his own in 3rd place over the first half of the race, but moving into the second part, he began to be caught by Charlie Rawles, who brought the margin down to virtually nothing by the end of Lap 13. It only took a couple more laps for Rawles to overhaul Moody, who then pushed on in is efforts to try and catch Woods.

Rawles’ lap times instantly signalled that he was quicker, and Woods’ cause wasn’t helped while trying to negotiate lapped traffic as well as keep one eye on the mirrors. Rawles would take at least half a second per lap out of Woods’ advantage, but despite a superb effort to bring the #101 almost within his grasp, he just ran out of laps. Tucker, meanwhile, was able to cruise home by only a fraction over 3 seconds to take the Group B win, with Woods able to prevent his 2nd place gap reducing any lower than 0.7 seconds. Moody secured a valiant 4th place on his debut race with Le Doyen completing the top 5, followed by Adrian Burge, Matthew Pollard, Anthony Hutchins, Callum Greatrex and Alan Hawkins. As per the regulations, the top 5 of Tucker, Woods, Rawles, Moody and Le Doyen all earned promotion into Group A for their second race.

Will Blackwell-Chambers lined up on pole for the first time this season for the second Group A race with Allwood perched alongside for company on the front row. Smith and Trott took up the second row, ahead of Tolley and Burge on Row 3. Langridge and Symonds performed a fourth-row lockout for AB Motorsport, ahead of Teddy Clark and Mike Comber who rounded off the top 10 starters.

This time, Blackwell-Chambers was able to take the lead from the get-go and stay there, with Smith, Allwood and Trott once again following suit. Initially, WB-C managed to quickly pull a 1.7-second advantage by the end of the opening lap, but Smith began to take tenths out of it over the next few tours and eventually brought the gap down to virtually nothing, as they circulated nose-to-tail with the AB Motorsport pair of Allwood and Trott keeping them company. Just after Race 1, it was revealed on the podium the top 4 had made a gentleman’s agreement to stick together and pull away as much as possible from the rest of the field for the first half of the, before electing to begin battling over the victory throughout the second half. This appeared to be the situation again, as the quartet managed to push out a gap of more than 5 seconds by half distance, but by this point both MCR cars in the top 2 places had managed to edge themselves away from Allwood and Trott, and the former was getting away from the latter at the same time.

At times, Smith looked as though he was in position to steal the lead and on one occasion had to stand on the anchors while following Blackwell-Chambers into Paddock Hill Bend after the #1 defended a potential attack, just to avoid making contact! But thankfully this never occurred and as before in Race 1, the two teammates ran line astern all the way to the finish with Blackwell-Chambers doing the double from Smith. Allwood moved away from Trott to the tune of some 4.7 seconds by the flag to secure 3rd, while Martin Tolley had a little more company in 5th position by the time the end of the race came around.

While Charlie Burge held 6th in the opening laps, John Langridge made the moves he needed to take it from him and then subsequently keep it while bringing the rest of the group (Burge and Mike Comber) along with him to chase after Tolley.Ultimately Langridge remained 6th ahead of Burge and Comber with Michael Fisk and Stuart Symonds completing the top 10. Relegated from Group A on this occasion were Simon Woods, Charlie Rawles, Nick Le Doyen, Oliver Robinson and Jack Moody.

Marcus Bailey was the driver that found himself on pole for the second Group B race, starting alongside William Hayden and then ahead of Clive Powles and Bill Taylor. Paul Bateman and Adrian Burge made up the third row from Matthew Pollard and Anthony Hutchins, while Callum Greatrex and Alan Hawkins took up residence at the bottom of the top 10 on the grid.

Not being a stranger to MX-5 racing in the slightest, Bailey wasted no time in commanding the lead from pole position as he quickly built up a lead of almost 2 seconds by the end of lap 5. However, the next few laps would see that early advantage begin to evaporate as Powles took just over a second out of the lead over the next 5 laps. Just a couple of tours of the Indy circuit later, Powles was within striking distance of Bailey as he began to apply pressure. It paid off quickly as Bailey capitulated on lap 14, but despite Powles making the move to hit the front, he couldn’t pull away as Bailey had done in the early stages. Bailey had enough pace left to keep with the #18 as they progressed through the second half of the race.

By the chequered flag, the top two positions remained unchanged as Powles took the flag by just 0.2 seconds from Bailey, while in 3rd place Paul Bateman made up somewhat for his opening race retirement by taking a quiet but solid podium finish to make it back into Group A. That said, he did have to fend off attentions from both William Hayden and Alan Hawkins in the first half of the race, before creating a gap as they squabbled amongst themselves behind him. Their own battle was broken up by Matthew Pollard, who proceeded to take P4 while Adrian Burge did well to recover from a slow start to pick up the last top 5 promotion spot for the final race on Sunday. Alan Hawkins survived to take 6th place ahead of Ivan Leary and Anthony Hutchins, with Bryn Griffiths and Bill Taylor completing the top 10. As for Hayden, he finished 9th on the road but was disqualified for driving standards as per the MSA regulations.

For the second time this weekend, Will Blackwell-Chambers started from pole position with teammate Smith again taking up residence on the front row alongside him. Allwood and Trott knew their objectives starting on the second row, while Tolley and Langridge looked set for a battle from Row 3. Charlie Burge and Mike Comber were raring to go from the fourth row, with Michael Fisk and Stuart Symonds completing the top 10 line-up.

Smith did as he had done in Race 1 from pole and leaped into the lead by Paddock Hill Bend, holding on for the opening lap and then proceeding to drag the usual trio of pursuers round behind him, although this time the AB Motorsport cars had swapped round with Trott running 3rd ahead of Allwood. In a similar situation to that of Race 1, and following the agreement all of the top 4 drivers had between each other, the quartet remained circulating together, although this time in the early laps they had John Langridge for company as he was able to keep pace with the leading group.

Again, Smith was able to remain in front of Blackwell-Chambers for the first few laps before the #1 decided the time was right to attack on Lap 8. Eventually, it didn’t take long for the two MCR cars at the head of the order to begin to work together more efficiently and they slowly began to draw away from Trott and Allwood. Langridge also had to watch his mirrors as Tolley was taking a few tenths out of him each lap and was able to close him down. Lap 13 would see the moment of truth as Tolley found a way past Langridge into what was now starting to become his customary 5th place, while still firmly remaining the dominant Masters driver by quite a margin.

From there, the order didn’t change and Blackwell-Chambers celebrated another superb hat-trick of victories with teammate Smith only a tenth behind in something of a formation finish. Trott was able to gap Allwood by the flag to the tune of a couple of second to secure his first podium finish for a while, as Allwood was left to contemplate his fortunes at the next round in 4th. Tolley held and took 5th place as expected with Langridge collecting an impressive P6 for his troubles. Mike Comber gave his team more cause for celebration with a respectable 7th spot ahead of Michael Fisk, Teddy Clark and Stuart Symonds.

The final Mk1 race of the weekend would see Simon Woods back on the front row, only this time taking up the pole spot, with fellow Race 1 podium finisher Charlie Rawles for company alongside. Nick Le Doyen and Oliver Robinson made up Row 2 ahead of Jack Moody and Alan Hawkins, while Ivan Leary and Anthony Hutchins took the fourth row from Bryn Griffiths and Bill Taylor.

Incredibly it would be this race that would see the one and only safety car for the Mk1’s entire meeting, as it also turned out to be the most attrition filled. Initially, Le Doyen pounced off the line to take the lead for the opening lap, but sadly couldn’t stay there as the next time by he was off the road and out of the race. Woods took over as race leader, however his charge was halted by the aforementioned safety car which made its sole appearance at the end of Lap 4. Thankfully it only lasted two laps and racing was swiftly back underway with Woods leading from Robinson, Rawles, Hutchins and Hawkins.

As Woods did his best to create a gap, the fight for second began to intensify a little. Robinson was able to hold on for several laps with the three aforementioned drivers behind him giving chase. However, this all came to a head on lap 3 when a duel between Robinson and Hutchins came to a head. Contact between the pair saw Hawkins with nowhere to go and the three cars briefly stacked into each other, giving Rawles a free pass to 2nd while the incident-affected trio picked themselves up and got going again. Hutchins unfortunately had to retire shortly afterwards as Hawkins dropped down to 6th behind Jack Moody, but Robinson came out of the tussle relatively unscathed and was immediately chasing down and passing Rawles merely a lap later.

Incredibly, this wasn’t even the end of the story – Woods had been held up while this had been going on, and was now under threat from both Robinson and Rawles as the second half of the race progressed. Lap 17 was the moment of truth as Woods had the lead snatched away by Rawles and a lap later, he was pushed down to 4th as both Robinson and Moody also swept through to take up the podium places.

The running order stayed the same to the finish, as Jack Rawles took a hard-earned and long awaited first race victory, having taken advice from BTCC racer Jake Hill the day before. Robinson picked up 2nd with Jack Moody celebrating a podium on his debut race weekend in 3rd. Woods would have undoubtedly been frustrated with 4th place after leading most of the way, with William Hayden completing the top 5 ahead of Jake Styles. Bill Taylor finished 7th from fellow rookies Richard Wootten and Graham Rumsey, while Bryn Griffiths was forced to be content with completing the top 10.

With an exciting opening weekend complete, the teams and drivers now pack up and travel north from Kent and across to Norfolk, as the Snetterton 300 circuit plays host to Rounds 4, 5 & 6  of the 2018 season. More names are set to make their first appearance of the season, both familiar and new, so be sure to join us for what’s set to be another half dozen races of unbridled entertainment!

To see the full TSL results breakdown, click HERE.

Scott Woodwiss

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