Blackwell-Chambers and Smith ensured the winners' trophies remained in MCR's possession - Photo: Jon Elsey

Only a short two week turnaround was needed before the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship touched down at Oulton Park in Cheshire for Rounds 10, 11 & 12 of the 2018 season, with the momentum firmly held by Mike Comber Racing and their armada of drivers who almost took a clean sweep of Cadwell Park. With Will Blackwell-Chambers assuming the leads of the points standings heading into the day’s action, he knew that another consistent weekend of points scoring was necessary in order to maintain his advantage.

As it had done at the beginning of the Cadwell Park weekend, rain and a wet track greeted the drivers for the morning qualifying sessions. This time both sessions were wet, meaning that everyone had a level playing field in terms of track conditions. Group 1 saw Mike Comber top the times ahead of teammate and defending champion Blackwell-Chambers, with Brian Trott, Teddy Clark, Lewis Cannon and Charlie Burge next in the order. While Comber’s time was quick, it turned out that fellow MCR driver Samuel Smith was able to go even quicker, as his fastest time of the session saw him go P1 in both the group and the overall combined times. Michael Fisk announced his return to the grid and a return to more familiar form with second fastest, ahead of Martin Tolley, Oliver Allwood, John Langridge and another returning face in Jack Brewer.

With the groups combined, Smith and Comber put their identical cars together on the front row of the grid for Group A’s first race, and with Blackwell-Chambers starting 3rd it was clear with whom the advantage lay. From the start, all three slotted into line and led the opening lap together as one, but before they had a chance to start pulling away the safety car was called for the first time courtesy of Jason Greatrex, who would eventually rejoin and finish the race, albeit a lap down and last. With the safety car in after just one lap, Smith quickly resumed the lead while Comber lost out on 2nd place to Blackwell-Chambers shortly after the restart. Not wasting any time and not afraid to battle with his stable mates, Blackwell-Chambers then quickly caught and passed Smith on Lap 6 as the track conditions continued improving from qualifying.

Once in the lead, both he and Smith worked in tandem to pull even from the chasing pack behind, including Comber who had now fallen into the clutches of Brian Trott, who briefly took 3rd place for a couple of laps before Comber stole it back again before the flag. Ahead of them, Blackwell-Chambers drove to his 4th win of the season followed him by smith, with Comber completing another MCR podium lockout in 3rd. Oliver Allwood battled his way from 7th on the grid to take 4th place ahead of top Masters driver Brian Trott, who was beginning to take points away from Martin Tolley’s leading advantage in the respective standings. Michael Fisk had a relatively successful comeback with 6th ahead of a personal best from Lewis Cannon in 7th and Cadwell Park race winner John Langridge in 8th. Charlie Burge and the aforementioned Tolley completed the top 10, while Matt Pollard, Will Hayden, Jack Moody, Jason Greatrex and Charles Mugglestone were all relegated to Group B for their second race.

For the first Group B race, Richard Wootten and Simon Orange took up the front row, with a practically dry track facing the drivers by this stage. Orange made the most of the improved conditions and swept into the lead followed by Clive Chisnall and Alan Hawkins, as pole man Wootten slipped to 6th by the end of the opening tour of Oulton Park’s International circuit. From the outset, it appeared that Orange and Chisnall were the class of the field as the latter did his best to keep in touch with leader Orange. Hawkins lost out to Robinson on Lap 5 and dropped to 4th place. A battle for 5th place also developed throughout the race between Nick Le Doyen, Thomas Jenkins and Jason Taylor. While Jenkins had to pick his way through the midfield, he was able to split Le Doyen and Taylor with a move on the last lap of the race.

Out in front, Orange was able to keep Chisnall at bay to the tune of 1.7 seconds to take the race win and jump into Group A for his second race. Robinson would join them both on the podium in 3rd place and he too would move up along with Hawkins and Le Doyen in 4th and 5th respectively. As mentioned, Jenkins snatched 6th place ahead of Taylor, followed by Callum Greatrex, Andrew MacGregor and Anthony Hutchins.

Even though Will Blackwell-Chambers started the second Group A race from pole position alongside teammate Samuel Smith, it was Smith who would end up leading the opening lap as WB-C dropped to 3rd behind team boss Comber. With a clear track ahead of him, Smith made the most of his opportunity and quickly began to establish a gap to the cars behind him scrapping for 2nd. Blackwell-Chambers did rise back up to 2nd place briefly for a lap before the AB Motorsport pair of Brian Trott and Oliver Allwood moved past to push him down to 4th at the end of Lap 4. A 5th lap melee changed the order of the quartet substantially with Trott holding 2nd, WB-C moving back into 3rd and Comber 4th with Allwood dropping to the back of the top 5. From there, the four drivers ended up pairing off as 2nd and 4th places were debated over the next few laps.

Trott was able to hold off Blackwell-Chambers until Lap 9, where the reigning champion briefly got in front for a lap but lost on the final tour. By this time, Allwood had managed to hold 3rd place for several laps ahead of Comber and the pair had now caught up to the 2nd place fight by the last lap. But it was clear that none of them was going to catch Smith as he romped home to a superb win by 6 seconds, with the battle for 2nd going right down to the flag. Trott did enough to prevent anyone from taking his spot and led Blackwell-Chambers, Allwood and Comber across the line in that order from 2nd place down to 5th. John Langridge wasn’t too far away in 6th, only 0.6 seconds behind Comber, with Fisk, Powles, Foden and Hancy completing the top 10. Dropping down into Group B would be Marcus Bailey, Oliver Robinson, Nick Le Doyen, Clive Chisnall and Alan Hawkins.

The rain made a return for the second Group B race with a wet track facing the drivers as they lined up for battle. Matt Pollard and William Hayden took up residence on the front row ahead of Jack Moody, Jason Greatrex and Charles Mugglestone, but the race ended up being split into two parts. The first segment of the race lasted approximately 6 laps before the red flags were called for an incident on track. The restart would last over 5 laps and from the word go Jason Greatrex stormed off out in front, pulling out an astonishing lead of more than 4.5 seconds by the end of the opening lap – in less than ideal conditions! His advantage would last for the entirety of the remainder of the race and with that came a comfortable win for Greatrex by almost 8 seconds – or so he’d thought. As it happens, Jason was judged to have jumped the start along with both original front row men Pollard and Hayden, and all three were handed 10-second penalties as a result.

Despite this, there would still be a Greatrex on the top step of the podium after all – Callum Greatrex, son of Jason, had crossed the line in 2nd place on the road but after the penalty was handed to his father, he was the one to benefit and therefore picked up his first Group B race win. Jack Moody made a return to the podium with 2nd place and Charles Mugglestone picked up 3rd place to complete the rostrum.

Samuel Smith started the third and final Group A race from pole position with the aim of picking up his second victory of the day, however front row partner Brian Trott would certainly be out to stop him if possible. From the start, Smith took the lead and held it from lights to flag, but on the way he would be pressured non-stop from first Trott and then teammate Will Blackwell-Chambers. Trott pressed him hard throughout the first half of the race as the lead gap wouldn’t increase any further than half a second all race, but Blackwell-Chambers picked his moment and chose Lap 5 to make the pass for 2nd place. From there, he quickly tailed Smith in the remaining laps and almost put on something of a photo finish as the pair crossed the line separated by just 0.044 seconds, with Smith just keeping his nose ahead to secure win #2. As for Trott, he would remain in 3rd right up until the last lap, when Cadwell Park race winner John Langridge found a way past and stole the final podium place for himself.

Trott wound up 4th at the flag ahead of Mike Comber, who made sure that all three top running MCR team cars would finish in the top 5 once again. Clive Powles took 6th place ahead of Michael Fisk, with the top 10 completed by Tolley, Cannon and Brewer.

In the last Group B race of the day, Oliver Robinson appeared to get a pretty good start from pole position and he, like Smith, would end up leading the race from beginning to end. However, as it turned out, the stewards decided that his start had been too good. He was judged to have jumped the lights, leaving him with a 10-second penalty and thus seeing Robinson lose his win on the road. With that being said, the battle for 2nd place downwards inadvertently became the fight for the lead, with Nick Le Doyen holding on to the spot for just over 2/3rds of the somewhat shortened 6 lap race. He would then tumble down the order on Lap 5, leaving Marcus Bailey to take over in 2nd on the road, and what would then become the race win. Matt Pollard took 2nd with the unfortunate Robinson winding up 3rd after his penalty. William Hayden took 4th ahead Of Adrian Burge, followed home by Andrew MacGregor, Bryn Griffiths, Christopher Stapleton, Graham Rumsey and Anthony Hutchins.

With the first half of the season over, Blackwell-Chambers ends it on top of the points table with a lead after dropped scores of 18 points. His teammates Smith and Comber ensure that MCR has the first three positions locked down, leaving the AB Motorsport trio of Allwood, Trott and Langridge with work to do from 4th, 5th and 6th. Their title chances definitely aren’t over, but they’ve got some hard work ahead of them going forwards. Charlie Burge sits 7th in the standings ahead of Stephen Foden in 8th, while Tolley and Greatrex complete the top 10.

Next up on the calendar will be the home of British motorsport, as Silverstone’s National circuit kicks off part two of the 2018 season. So far, it’s advantage to Mike Comber Racing with defending champion Blackwell-Chambers leading the way from his compatriots. However, will the second half of the year be just as kind to him as the first?

You can find the full breakdown of results from Oulton Park here - OULTON PARK RESULTS.

Scott Woodwiss

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