After missing out on victory at Brands Hatch, Allwood (leading) ensured he hit the target this time - Photo: Jon Elsey

This time three weeks ago, Will Blackwell-Chambers had begun the defence of his BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship in the best possible fashion, with three wins out of three at the season-opening rounds at Brands Hatch and the premise of he and his Mike Comber Racing teammate looking ominously quick. Their nearest rivals, the AB Motorsport pair of Oliver Allwood and Brian Trott, had some work to do to ensure that another runaway season didn’t escape from their grasp. So, when the teams and drivers converged on Snetterton in Norfolk for Rounds 4, 5 & 6 of the 2018 season this past weekend, all of the hard work put in during the three-week break appeared to become evident come Saturday morning.


From the first session, Allwood firmly put his marker down as the driver to beat by setting the fastest time in Group 1, placing himself 0.7 of a second clear from points leader Blackwell-Chambers. This was some achievement for WB-C, having arrived at Snetterton without any testing before the weekend, so the hopes were to maintain the momentum from Brands Hatch and take another victory. His team boss Mike Comber finished Group 1 qualifying as 3rd fastest, ahead of a super effort from Teddy Clark who ended up 4th ahead of Jason Greatrex. Martin Tolley ended up 6th fastest ahead of Adam Bessell and Sebastian Fisher, with Courtney Milnes and Paul Bateman completing the top 10. One notable event post-qualifying was the disqualification of returnee Harry Deane after his car was found to be underweight, meaning he would have to start his first race from the back of the Group B grid with a 10-second delay.

To continue the AB Motorsport feel-good factor, Brian Trott would wind up fastest in the second qualifying group ahead of Samuel Smith, with Stuart Symonds also in the mix with the third-best time. Stephen Foden began the weekend showing excellent pace with 4th fastest from Marcus Bailey, with Charlie Burge and John Langridge taking up 6th and 7th in the session respectively. Simon Orange put in a time good enough for a respectable 8th fastest, with the returning Jack Warry 9th and Clive Powles in 10th.

With the combined grids, Allwood took up pole position for the first Group A race next to Brian Trott on the front row. Blackwell-Chambers and teammate Smith took up residence on row 2 ahead of their team boss Comber on the third row alongside Stuart Symonds. Teddy Clark and Stephen Foden were still marking themselves out as ones to watch on the fourth row, while Jason Greatrex and Marcus Bailey completed the top 10 eager for some good results.

From the start, Allwood maintained the lead from pole position with Trott and Blackwell-Chambers immediately giving chase, however just moments into the opening race of the weekend Smith’s fortunes took a severe nosedive. After only three corners, Smith’s car ground to a halt with power issues, leaving him stranded on the sidelines and facing a run in Group B for Sunday’s first race.

While Trott had initially slotted in behind teammate Allwood by the end of Lap 1, Blackwell-Chambers wasted no time in taking up the challenge and stealing P2 by the completion of Lap 2, as he then proceeded to apply the pressure for the lead. Coming off the back of Brands Hatch, the leading trio plus Smith had all previously made a gentleman’s agreement before each race to only battle with each other in the second half of the race once the collective had worked together to pull away. That they did as the top 3, with Comber doing his best to stay in tow just behind them, managed to escape by more than 6 seconds from the current 5th placed car at the time, Stephen Foden. He was embroiled in a battle with Martin Tolley and Stuart Symonds, one in which Symonds would eventually find himself coming out on top as Foden ended up slipping down the order but still finish a respectable 9th.

Back at the front, there was no change in the order at the head of the field as try as they might, both Blackwell-Chambers and Trott were unable to find any avenues to get past leader Allwood. With the second half of the race in full swing, Blackwell-Chambers hounded Allwood all the way throughout the final couple of laps around the 300 circuit, but to no avail. Allwood managed to put in the charge he had been hoping for back at Brands Hatch and kicked off his weekend with victory ahead of WB-C with Trott 3rd. Comber closed in a little more during the closing stages to cement his 4th place with the aforementioned Symonds picking up the final top 5 spot. Martin Tolley was once again the runaway Masters winner in 6th place, with Charlie Burge 7th and Jason Greatrex in 8th. Foden, as mentioned above, picked up 9th and Marcus Bailey completed the top 10, also taking second place in the Masters running order.

At the tail end of the field, the drivers being relegated to the front of Group B for their second race were Martyn Canning, Clive Powles, Adam Bessell, Lewis Cannon and Samuel Smith, the latter hoping his engine issues would be a thing of the past come Sunday.

For the first Group B race of the weekend, Brian Chandler would have found it very pleasant viewing at the head of the grid, as Sam Gendy lined up on pole alongside stablemate Adrian Burge to ensure the outfit had a front-row lockout. Anthony Hutchins and Ivan Leary made up the second row from rookies Jack Moody and Oliver Graham, with Clive Chisnall and Jake Styles on Row 4 and the top 10 rounded off by Oliver Robinson and Callum Greatrex.

The story of the race, however, wouldn’t come from those at the front but more specifically from one person driving his way through from the back. After all his times were disqualified for being underweight in his qualifying session, Harry Deane knew he had a mountain to climb starting at the back of the grid with a 10-second delay. Thankfully, didn’t waste any time staying there and by the end of the opening lap had made up that 10-second deficit and moved up three places to 21nd, also benefitting from a non-start from Jake Styles. He moved up to 15th place by the completion of Lap 2 and two laps later had cracked the top 10. It was clear that Deane had the pace to drive to the front.

His cause was helped further by an incident at Murray’s between Jack Moody and Anthony Hutchins, which eventually would see both retire before a call-up to see the clerk of the course. In the lead, both Gendy and Burge were efficiently running a race all of their own until eventually, they had a gap of at least 8 seconds on the rest of the field. But this was as large as the lead margin would get as moving into the second half of the race, Deane had moved his way up to the dizzying heights of 3rd and was rapidly attempting to catch the two cars in front. His cause was only helped when Burge decided to go into combat with Gendy and take the lead on Lap 7, although despite the time they lost, both probably wouldn’t have realised that Deane was closing in that quickly!

As the last lap began, the gap from the lead to 3rd had been slashed to 3.6 seconds which, while on paper may have looked insurmountable, was enough of an incentive for Deane to put his foot down. Incredibly, he would catch the top two in the final moments of the race through Coram and Murray’s, but despite a herculean effort to make up so much, he would ultimately be forced to settle for the final podium spot. In the end, Gendy would reclaim the lead and go on to win from Burge in 2nd, while Deane’s drive to P3 certainly could have earned him the Driver of the Meeting award all on its own.

Nick Le Doyen did all he could to manage a 4th place finish ahead of Oliver Robinson in 5th, as the pair secure the last two promotion spots into Group A for their second race along with the podium visitors ahead. Ivan Leary just missed out on promotion with 6th place from Clive Chisnall and Alan Hawkins, while Charles Mugglestone and William Hayden completed the top 10.

For the second Group A race, Oliver Allwood once again lined up on pole position with the reigning champion Will Blackwell-Chambers on the front row next to him and hoping to pick up his 4th win of the season in an attempt to put an early stop to Allwood’s form. Their respective teammates lined up behind them on the second row in a bid to offer them rear gunner support in the form of Trott and Comber, with Symonds and Tolley taking up Row 3. The fourth row was occupied by Charlie Burge and Jason Greatrex, while the back of the top 10 was filled by Stephen Foden and Marcus Bailey.

As it was in Race 1, Allwood picked up the better start and took the lead initially, but while Blackwell-Chambers slotted into the second on the opening lap, by the end of the next one, he was down to 3rd thanks to Trott making a move to slot in behind his teammate. As the top 3 continued to circle together, both Comber and Greatrex remained nearby waiting for their moments to strike. As the race went on, both tacked on to the back of the leading trio and soon it became a quintet fighting for victory.

Blackwell-Chambers was able to briefly retake 2nd place for all of a lap before Trott stole it back again, but to make things even more dramatic the final result wouldn’t be decided until right at the end of the race. With the top 5 only separated by just over 1.5 seconds, it was clear that any of the drivers in that leading group had the chance to steal the victory. As the last lap came around Allwood looked set to complete a double, but 2nd place almost seemed to be anyone’s guess. Ultimately, it came down to the final sprint to the line.

With Allwood rounding Murray’s for the final time, Trott was holding station in second place and looked set to make it an AB Motorsport 1-2. However, as he went to accelerate onto the Senna Straight for the last time, Trott missed a gear and the mistake subsequently also baulked Blackwell-Chambers, denying him any chance of taking advantage. Speaking of which, upon seeing the pair in front stumble, both Comber and Greatrex put their foot to the floor and powered past on the run to the flag. Allwood did indeed make it two from two victories wise, but Comber stole 2nd place and likewise Greatrex for 3rd, just ahead of the hapless pair of Trott and Blackwell-Chambers. Incredibly all five cars crossed the line together separated by only 1.3 seconds!

Equally as entertaining was the ongoing battle for 6th position between eventual placeholder Charlie Burge, Stephen Foden and Stuart Symonds, who finished in that order, although at one stage it had also contained Martin Tolley and Teddy Clark. While the latter two did eventually end up falling back to 9th and 12th respectively, Burge was able to hang on for most of the 20 minutes encounter after surging his way past Symonds in the early stages. As mentioned, Clark wound up 9th with Sebastian Fisher picking up his first MX-5 top 10 finish on BRSCC shores with 10th place. The 5 drivers pushed down to Group B for their final race of the weekend were Paul Tucker, Oliver Robinson, Adrian Burge, earlier Group B winner Sam Gendy and John Langridge, who was spun out at Riches on the opening lap before pitting to check the car over led him to spend the rest of the race circulating at the back.

The second Group B encounter would feature a surprise name at the front of the grid as Martyn Canning, making his first appearance for over two years, lined up on pole position in Sam Bailey’s old Mk1 MX-5 to share the front row with Clive Powles. Adam Bessell would be one to watch from the second row with Lewis Cannon next to him, while 5th place would be where Samuel Smith would reside in his bid to race his was back into Group A. Ivan Leary would sit alongside in 6th spot ahead of Clive Chisnall and Alan Hawkins on the fourth row and Charles Mugglestone and William Hayden on the 5th row, completing the top 10 starters.

To no-one’s surprise, both Smith and Bessell quickly tore past the cars in front of them and nestled themselves comfortably at the head of the back by some 2 seconds by the end of the first lap, leaving Canning to head Cannon and Powles in what would turn out to be a race-long tussle for 3rd place. Both Smith and Bessell appeared to be very evenly matched for the entire race, with both never separated by more than half a second. In a similar tactic to those of the leaders in the previous races, the pair worked together to create a substantial gap to the cars behind them to allow them both to battle each other with minimal time loss.

Behind the top two, Canning’s initial hold on 3rd place was loosened by Cannon on Lap 3, who took over in front for a couple of laps before Canning repassed him on lap 5, all in front of an observant Powles who was waiting for his moment to get involved. Meanwhile, Bessell was beginning to get a little impatient stuck behind Smith and finally decided to pull the pin on Lap 6 to make a move for the lead. He would remain ahead across the line, but Smith was wise enough to set Bessell up for a move on the next (penultimate) lap and retake the lead. Bessell ensured Smith wasn’t getting away on the final lap and in an epic sprint to the flag he hounded the MCR driver all the way to the line. Smith’s winning margin was just 0.087 seconds, one of the closest finished of the entire weekend. But as it would turn out in the next race, it wouldn’t be the absolute closest…

Back with the scrap for 3rd, Canning eventually managed to pull out a 2-second gap to Clive Powles, who was able to steal 4th from Cannon after swapping places a couple of times in the closing stages. Still, all three put on an admirable display, and Canning was delighted with a podium on his first weekend back, while Cannon received a 5 second time penalty for track limits but had more than enough time to the next car behind to remain in the top 5. 6th placed William Hayden almost found himself in no man’s land with a comfortable margin to the vehicles in front and behind him to be unchallenged at the finish, and likewise for Clive Chisnall who picked up 7th. In 8th place came Jake Styles, who began his first race of the weekend from the very back of the grid after missing out on Saturday’s activities. He charged through to P8 ahead of Ivan Leary, and Alan Hawkins, who were also 3rd and 4th placed Masters drivers behind category winner Powles and 2nd placed Chisnall.

Allwood was keen to make sure his hat-trick of pole position starts translated into a hat-trick of victories a la Blackwell-Chambers at Brands Hatch (on the win front), although front row partner Mike Comber was keen to try and put a stop to that ambition with a victory of his own. Jason Greatrex and Brian Trott were also looking for better results on the second row, while Blackwell-Chambers himself wouldn’t have been content with 5th on the grid and was fired up to put things right. Charlie Burge completed the 3rd row alongside, with Stephen Foden and Stuart Symonds on the fourth row and the top 10 finished by Teddy Clark and Sebastian Fisher.

Once again, Allwood quickly jumped into the lead from pole, while a super start from Trott helped him to slip past Greatrex and Comber to join his teammate in the lead. Comber remained 3rd for the opening two laps from Greatrex and Blackwell-Chambers, but the reigning champion quickly decided he was fed up with sitting in 5th and quickly overhauled the two cars in front of him to take 3rd by the end of lap 3. Now, his next two targets were the AB Motorsport drivers in front, and he wasn’t prepared to hang around.

As the top 5 continued to circulate together, more cars began to form up behind them and expand the train. Soon enough both Steve Foden and Charlie Burge decided to join the party, and this quickly produced a seven-car scrap for the podium, thoroughly entertaining the spectators on the viewing banks and grandstands around the circuit. By the end of lap 5, the septet was only separated by a mere 1.5 seconds between all of them. But as the race went deep into the final laps, that was about to change.

On Lap 7, the penultimate tour of the 300 circuit, the leaders emerged from Palmer as a 6-pack, as contact between Trott and Blackwell-Chambers had put Greatrex up to 2nd place, Trott only down to 3rd and Blackwell-Chambers recovering but now outside the top 10 in 11th place. Wasting no time and sensing his chance at a possible win, Greatrex pressed hard across the remaining lap and a half to put the pressure on Allwood. On the final lap of the race, Greatrex looked as though he was ready to pounce at any moment and as it turned out, he chose the “traditional” run to the chequered flag down the Senna Straight to attempt it. Moving out from behind Allwood’s slipstream, Greatrex quickly drew alongside as the pair sprinted to the timing line. They crossed it practically in a dead heat, but initially, the timing screen showed Greatrex had just stolen it – or had he?

The timing screens ended up changing twice more with the first alteration reducing the winning gap even further than they had initially, but it was the final change that settled things. As it turned out, and going by the timing line photo produced as a result, Allwood had in fact JUST kept his nose in front. The margin of victory? 0.003 seconds. Unfathomably close and a thrilling end to a superb race. Trott was able to hang on to the final podium spot in 3rd with Comber 4th, Charlie Burge 5th and Foden an excellent 6th, one of his best results to date and also stealing the fastest lap of the race in the process. Symonds picked up 7th while an incredible charge through the field from Adam Bessell saw him end up 8th for his efforts. Sebastien Fisher took his second top 10 finish of the weekend with 9th, and Martin Tolley was again an unchallenged Masters winner as he came home in 10th.

The final race of the weekend would see Paul Tucker on pole with Oliver Robinson joining him on the front row. Adrian Burge and Sam Gendy once again lined up alongside each other after their entertaining lead battle in the first Group B encounter, and both hoped for more of the same this time. John Langridge would start 5th after his spinout at the first corner in the second Group A race had forced him into the pits and to the back of the field, but he was attempting to end his meeting on a high note. William Hayden sat in P6, with Clive Chisnall and Jake Styles on the fourth row of the grid, with the top 10 finished by Ivan Leary and Alan Hawkins.

Tucker was the better of the two cars away from the front row as he managed to end the opening lap in the lead, but the one to watch unquestionably was Langridge who swiftly dispatched of Robinson, Gendy and Burge to move into 2nd place with Tucker firmly in his sights. Running past him by the end of Lap 2, Langridge elected to waste no time in creating a lead which in the end he would not relinquish. Tucker also set about cementing his newfound 2nd place quickly as well, leaving the fight for the final podium place to provide the most entertainment.

That battle comprised of Burge, Gendy and Hayden with the middle of the three initially holding off the other two. Burge then took over for a couple of laps before Hayden very briefly put himself at the head of the trio by half distance. Gendy then swept through before a mistake pushed Hayden back a few seconds and stuck In 5th place until the finish. The BC Cars pair of Gendy and Burge would then swap positions one more time with Burge getting into 3rd and staying there.

There was no stopping Langridge in the lead, however as he was never headed all race and continued to extend his lead gap by around just over a second each time past the timing line. In the end, he had increased his winning margin to 9.3 seconds, undoubtedly showing pace that cements him further as a Group A runner. Tucker did well to hold his own and distance himself in 2nd place, with Burge winning the prior detailed fight for 3rd in the end from Gendy and Hayden. Another close battle also took place in the contest for 6th as Jack Moody was only just able to beat both Bill Taylor and Jake Styles respectively in the run to the flag, while Alan Hawkins and Anthony Hutchins finished off the final top 10 placings of the weekend.

With a hat-trick of Group A victories each from the first two meetings, it’s no surprise that Oliver Allwood and Will Blackwell-Chambers are the drivers in the top two places of the points standings. However, thanks to his three Brands Hatch podiums compared to WB-C’s mixed fortunes on this occasion, Allwood holds an 18 point advantage before dropped scores and the momentum heading to the next rounds. Brian Trott’s excellent start to 2018 has been rewarded with 3rd place in the points so far ahead of Mike Comber 4th and top Masters driver Martin Tolley in 5th. Stuart Symonds and Jason Greatrex have made the most of banking as many points as possible at this early stage as they sit 6th and 7th respectively, with talented sophomore drivers Charlie Burge, Steve Foden and Teddy Clark all completing the top 10 in that order respectively.

As for the rest of the MX-5 Championship circus, it now effectively takes the entire month of May off as there’s no racing until the beginning of June, but what a circuit to kick things back into life at. A firm favourite with many drivers, Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire is tight, twisty, technical and while passing may be more difficult than others circuits thanks to its narrow nature, it certainly doesn’t dampen the prospect of great racing. It’s a circuit which tests a driver’s ability as well as a car’s mechanical setup, so some of the more experienced drivers may fair better than results may have eluded to in the first two meetings. Nevertheless, the next chapter in this already fascinating 2018 season will be written as the battle for the title is already beginning to form into a rather formidable and intriguing one!

Scott Woodwiss

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Snetterton 300 - 10th - 11th Apr 2021

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