MCR BOYS BATTLE THE RAIN TO SWEEP SILVERSTONE

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Smith and Blackwell-Chambers shared the wins between them all weekend - Photo: Jon Elsey

Mike Comber Racing’s leading drivers Will Blackwell-Chambers and Samuel Smith continued to maintain their grip on the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship, as between them they swept to victory in all three Group A races this past weekend at Silverstone Circuit in Northamptonshire. The National circuit always tends to provide great racing, and while the weather was very much adverse, to say the least, that didn’t detract from the on-track action one bit.

Thankfully, the mammoth entry of 57 cars was able to enjoy dry track conditions in Saturday morning’s pair of qualifying sessions for the two groups. Despite championship leader Blackwell-Chambers taking fastest time in the first group, he wouldn’t be the one that would start on the pole for the opening Group A race, as that would instead fall to AB Motorsport’s John Langridge. The former Fiesta champion would take his first outright pole position with WB-C alongside on the front row, followed by Charlie Burge and Oliver Allwood on the second row and Adam Bessell and Mike Comber on row 3. Samuel Smith had to contend with starting the first race from 7th place alongside Clive Powles, ahead of Jason Greatrex and Brian Trott who made up the rest of the top 10.

Langridge did well hold back the tide of frontrunners behind him as he led from pole and for almost the entire first half of the race. Initially, it was Burge who picked up a great start from the second row and slotted into P2 behind Langridge, but that pleasure would only last five laps as Smith was making his way up from 7th to 2nd place in just six laps. Eventually just two laps later, Smith passed Langridge for the lead and from there was never headed at the front. He was joined by Blackwell-Chambers in 2nd a lap after taking the lead, but Langridge stayed close and repassed several laps later on Lap 15, after being shuffled down to 5th before climbing back up.

Late race drama saw Blackwell-Chambers drop to 6th, but he was able to reclaim 5th from Burge on the last lap, while ahead of him his teammate Smith was taking the chequered flag with a victory. Langridge cemented the 2nd place, while Trott was able to steal 3rd on the final lap from Mike Comber as well as being the top Masters driver home. Comber, Blackwell-Chambers and Burge completed the top 6, all of which were covered by just 1.4 seconds in the end, proving just how close and competitive the front of the field is. The rest of the top 10 was completed by a disappointed Allwood in 7th place, followed by Jason Greatrex, Stephen Foden and Martin Tolley.

The grid for the first Group B race, which took place before that of Group A, had Matt Pollard on pole position from Richard Wootten, Scott Leach and Callum Greatrex. Wootten picked up the better start out of the front row pair and would be able to lead the opening couple of laps before Pethick overhauled him on Lap 3. Briefly, Callum Greatrex took over the lead for a lap before Pethick repassed and then set about building a lead. In just a few laps, his gap was out to only over 2 seconds, leaving a titanic scrap for 2nd place between Greatrex, Charlie Rawles and Charles Mugglestone. The three cars would run together for the majority of the race in their pursuit of leader Pethick, but eventually, it all came undone when a small collision in the closing laps exiting Luffield in the wet conditions damaged Rawles’ car and saw him out on the spot. Mugglestone wouldn’t see the flag either, leaving Greatrex to remain in an unchallenged 2nd place.

As it was, Pethick kept his cool to take his first ever Group B race win, followed by Greatrex in 2nd. However, the drive of the race without question had to be the colossal run from 17th on the grid to 3rd place for young Jake Styles, showing everyone just what he could do in the adverse conditions and kept a cool head when all others around him appeared to be losing theirs. Bryn Griffiths picked up 4th place, followed by Jack Moody completing the top 5 with Bill Taylor, Matt Pollard, Oliver Graham, Richard Wootten and Alan Hawkins completing the top 10. As usual, the top 5 would all go to the back of the Group A grid for their next race.

The conditions worsened ahead of the second Group A race with track conditions at their most adverse across the entire weekend on Sunday morning. Despite Smith starting on pole, it would once again be Langridge that would get the better start on the wet surface and lead the opening couple of laps in the process. Blackwell-Chambers took the lead away on Lap 3 as he moved from 3rd to 1st in one lap, passing Trott and then Langridge in the process. For most of the remaining laps, WB-C was able to extend a lead that constantly hovered both under and over the 2-second margin. It was only in the closing laps when conditions had made a minor improvement that Trott could close down that gap and eventually reduce it to just 0.115 by the chequered flag. Nonetheless, it was a win Blackwell-Chambers needed to maintain his points lead.

Behind the top two, a battle for third between Langridge and Burge last for the majority of the race, however, it was concluded in a rather strange and bemusing manner. With just a couple of laps to go, Burge was following Langridge down towards the right-hander at Maggotts, however, upon braking his bonnet pins failed and thus forced his bonnet up into his windscreen. With no damage to the screen itself, but his visibility severely hampered, Burge incredibly managed to peer through the gap created and completed the race in 4th behind Langridge, receiving a round of applause from the BRDC grandstand spectators at Brooklands corner for his heroics! Bessell, Allwood and Comber enjoyed a private battle for 5th position and finished in that order at the flag, followed by a less than satisfied Smith whose early mistake on the 2nd lap forced him to play catch up and finish 8th. Martin Tolley and Lewis Cannon completed the top 10.

The second Group B race allowed Paul Tucker a chance to give thanks to his mechanics after their rebuilding of his car following an incident in Friday testing. Starting from pole, Tucker managed to jump Adrian Burge from the front row and quickly settle into a lead in which the rest of the field would never catch him. At one stage the gap was as much as just over 5 seconds, and despite this being reduced to 3.9 in the end, he duly went on to take the win and promotion back into Group A as a result. Second place went to Adam Craig after battling his way from 5th on the grid to the runner-up spot in just three laps, before breaking away in his pursuit of Tucker. At one stage, he’d brought the gap back down to 1.7 seconds, before a mistake saw him playing catch up for the rest of the race. Hector Hurst, a former single-seater racer at FIA Formula 2 level a few years ago, took 3rd place after losing several positions at the start and picking his way through for the remainder of the race. He too was able to distance himself from the cars behind in the end to take his first MX-5 podium in only his second race.

Matt Pollard picked up the 4th place ahead of Charles Mugglestone and Scott Leach, the latter putting in an impressive drive from the back of the field in 29th place to wind up in 6th. Oliver Graham battled his way to 7th place ahead of Richard Wootten, Adrian Burge and Bill Taylor.

Conditions for the final Group A race had improved, but the circuit was still damp and therefore difficult to handle. Thanks to this, Samuel Smith made the most of the situation to jump up to 5th on the opening lap before picking off rivals one by one until eventually, he was on the back bumper on teammate and title rival Blackwell-Chambers. The pair ended up running together throughout the second half of the race and pulled away from Trott who would finish a comfortable 3rd. Heading into the final laps, Smith knew he had to choose his moment and did so with a move on Lap 13 to steal the lead. Blackwell-Chambers did his best to come back at him and reclaim the lead, however Smith to keep him at bay and thus took his second win of the weekend to keep him in contention for the title.

An intense battle raged for 4th position downwards as Burge, Langridge, Comber and Bessell all fought it out amongst each other for the majority of the race. Initially, it was Langridge ahead of Bessell before they swapped places on Lap 6, but by this time both Comber and Burge were in striking distance and also joined the fight midway through the race. The latter pair also enjoyed a private duel and switched positions on several occasion behind the two in front, but on the penultimate lap, all of their battling produced a dramatic switch-up. Burge and Comber found their way past Bessell and Langridge before the latter fought back on the last lap by overtaking both Bessell and Comber to steal 5th. Burge ended up taking P4 as a result, while Bessell and Comber claimed 6th and 7th places. Martin Tolley, Stephen Foden and Jason Greatrex would complete the top 10.

For the final Group B race, Oliver Robinson started on the pole and managed to pull out a 1-second lead by the end of the opening lap, but in the early stages, Jake Styles was able to close in and almost take the lead away. However, the cars behind had already caught up and try and he might, he was unable to sustain a podium place but still finished a very impressive 4th to go with his 3rd place in Race 1. Robinson remained in the lap for as long as Lap 9, holding off Oliver Graham in the process, but it was Scott Leach who eventually got the better of him as Robinson made a mistake and dropped to 3rd, allowing Leach and Graham through in the process. He briefly repassed Graham for 2nd place, but lost it again two laps later and remained behind until the flag.

With the top four of Leach, Graham, Robinson and Styles confirmed, it would be Richard Wootten who clinched 5th place ahead of Adrian Burge and Bryn Griffiths, followed by Clive Chisnall, Jack Moody and Timothy Hutchinson, who did very well to pick up a top 10 finish with 10th place in his debut weekend in the Championship.

The drivers head to Anglesey in North Wales with the gap at the top of the points between teammates Blackwell-Chambers and Smith at 24 points after dropped scores. Blackwell-Chambers’ strong form early in the season has once again seen him practically lead the standings from the beginning. Brian Trott is still in contention despite not winning a race to date, but he’s knocked on the door enough times so far that his time will surely come soon. Comber sits in 4th place ahead of Trott’s AB Motorsport teammates Allwood and Langridge, while Burge, Tolley, Foden and Greatrex complete the top 10 in the points.

Over in the Masters, Tolley remains ahead of Powles and Orange, but the man on the move up the table is Trott who was only eligible for Masters points from Snetterton onwards, but his outright pace has helped him take maximum scores from just about every race since then. Now 11th with three meetings still to go and 0 points to drop, there’s a good chance he could steal a top 3 position or even, if fortunes go his way, the Masters title itself. Keep an eye on this battle!

With that being said, there’s three weekends to go, so onwards to the Welsh coast and Anglesey!

Scott Woodwiss

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