No-one could topple Smith from the top spot in North Wales all weekend - Photo: Jon Elsey

The BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship made another step through the second half of the season as the drivers moved to the picturesque surroundings of the Welsh coast, as Anglesey’s Coastal circuit hosted Rounds 16, 17 & 18 of the 2018 season. With two teammates battling back and forth for supremacy in the title race, the level of intrigue was set to be raised even further in the battle between teammates Will Blackwell-Chambers and Samuel Smith.

The weather remained clear, bright and dry as the cars headed out for qualifying in their respective groups. In the first group, defending champion Blackwell-Chambers was top of the times to continue his consistent form, however both John Langridge and Brian Trott ensured the AB Motorsport brigade were right on his tail with 2nd and 3rd fastest with Clive Powles and Martin Tolley completing the top 5. The second group saw Smith also top his respective session followed by Jason Greatrex and Oliver Allwood, with the AB squad getting an extra boost in the form of team boss Ali Bray making a return to the track and taking 4th quickest ahead of Charlie Burge and Teddy Clark.

Incredibly, the fastest times set by both Blackwell-Chambers and Smith were separated by merely 0.007 seconds, with pole position for the first Group A race turning out in WB-C’s favour. Lagridge and Greatrex made up the second row, followed by Trott and Allwood on Row 3 and then Powles, Bray, Tolley and Burge completing the first ten starters.

The pole advantage didn’t keep Blackwell-Chambers in the lead from the start as Smith slotted in front and would lead the opening lap before seeking to pull a gap. Even though he was unable to do this, Langridge wasted no time in picking up 2nd place from WB-C on lap 3 and the order remained the same for the next few laps, until he was eventually followed through by Allwood doing the same on Lap 10 to push the defending champion down to 4th place and off the podium. With Langridge keeping Smith and his sights and the pair making an escape together out in front, the battle for 3rd was turning into a 4-man rumble between Allwood, Blackwell-Chambers, Trott and Greatrex. WB-C’s fortunes then took a hit when a mishap with two laps to go pushed him down to the base of the quartet and into 6th position, leaving him with almost no time to claw his way back.

Out in front, Smith was given no time to rest by Langridge as he harried him all the way to the finish, but the Mike Comber Racing driver did everything he needed to hold on and eventually take victory ahead of former Fiesta champion Langridge. The tussle for 3rd place ended in Allwood’s favour from Greatrex, Trott and Blackwell-Chambers, who won’t have been too pleased to drop points to his teammate and title rival back in 6th. Charlie Burge followed the top six a few seconds back in 7th, heading up Tolley, Sebastian Fisher and Bray in the remainder of the top 10.

Ivan Leary ended up earning pole for the first Group B race of the weekend alongside Simon Orange on the front row, followed by Callum Greatrex and Clive Chisnall on Row 2, Scott Leach and Jack Moody on the third row and the remainder of the top 10 starting order made up by Bruce Carter, Bryn Griffiths, Adrian Burge and Andrew MacGregor.

Orange took the lead from the start as pole man Leary fell from 1st to 5th in just two laps as he was also passed by Chisnall, Greatrex and Leach in quick succession. While Orange was never able to stretch out a big lead out in front, the gap constantly hovered around 1.0-1.5 seconds throughout the duration of the race. He was able to keep Chisnall at bay for the duration of the race and ended up taking a lights to flag victory to score a similar result to that scored in a Group B race back at Oulton Park. Scott Leach had to pursue Callum Greatrex for two thirds of the race for 3rd position before finally making the move to take the final podium place on Lap 10, with the pair closely followed home by Leary and Moody to complete the top 6. The rest of the top 10 placings were completed by Bruce Carter, Adrian Burge, Nick Le Doyen and Bryn Griffiths.

The drivers were greeted with a dry track for the second Group A race, but drizzle was in the air and threatening to turn the track greasy and moist in the process. With Smith taking up pole this time and Langridge alongside, the run towards the first corner was always going to be tight contest. Smith took the lead from the start and throughout the opening lap, while behind them incidents saw both Ali Bray and Adam Craig retire to the pits with barely a single circuit completed; Callum Greatrex would also face the same fate a lap later.

A poor start from Langridge had seen him drop to 5th as Allwood took up the mantle to chase down Smith with Greatrex and Trott following behind, while Blackwell-Chambers also lost two position from 5th to 7th behind Langridge and then Adam Bessell as a result. Not wasting time, WB-C picked off Greatrex two laps later, but despite moving into 4th place he now had a 2.5 second gap to the top three to close down. Alas, in the end result, he would not see the podium and would have to settle for 4th on this occasion.

After running 6th at one point, Langridge came on strong in the second half of the race as he passed Blackwell-Chambers for 4th and quickly caught teammates Allwood and Trott to spark a three-way AB Motorsport battle for the podium places. By this point Smith had been able to escape by almost four seconds, but Langridge was in no mood to hang around as he passed both of his teammates in one lap to steal 2nd and immediately tried to close down the lead gap. However, his efforts were only able to stabilise it at just over 4 seconds for the remainder of the race as Smith further improved his title chances with his second win of the weekend. While unable to finish, Ali Bray would have been happy to see his cars take up the podium positions again with Langridge in 2nd, Allwood again in 3rd place, while Blackwell-Chambers fought his way back to 4th after passing Trott in the final third of the race. Bessell took a strong 6th place ahead of Jason Greatrex, Charlie Burge, Marcus Bailey and Martin Tolley in the remaining top 10 positions.

The drizzle from Group A had continued in the time between races, so the Group B contenders had to deal with a wet track when their second race was ready to roll. Clive Powles would start on pole alongside Clive Chisnall, but while Powles remained where he was in the lead from the start it would be Chisnall that slipped to 4th after losing out to both Lewis Cannon and Matt Pollard; Chisnall would slip further down the field until he eventually finished the race in 8th.  Out in front, Powles maintained his lead for almost half the race, resisting the advances of Cannon until lap 8 when he appeared to make a mistake allowing the #43 through into the lead. Immediately Powles was behind by over 4 seconds and this would increase to just under 6 seconds by the chequered flag as he settled for 2nd place.

Cannon raced his way back into Group A with the race win, while the final podium spot was stolen on the penultimate lap by Andrew MacGregor, with the Formula Ford racer displacing Christopher Stapleton to collect his first MX-5 silverware. With Stapleton in 4th place, Paul Bateman took the final promotion spot with 5th, while Oliver Graham narrowly held off Adrian Burge and Clive Chisnall as the trio covered position 6th to 8th. Paul Hughes and Nick Le Doyen would complete the top 10 respectively.

Samuel Smith was hoping to complete a clean sweep of the weekend as he lined up for the third and final Group A race on pole positon once again and, also has it had been in the two races prior , John Langridge was back on the front row hoping to steal one of his own as he had back at Cadwell Park in June. With Blackwell-Chambers on the second row this time alongside Allwood, this was going to make it a fascinating contest for all involved – especially as this time the circuit had become wet thanks to rain in between races.

Once again Smith took the lead, which ended up being one that he wouldn’t lose for the entirety of the race. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, however – once again Langridge would take up the role of pursuer and throughout the duration did his best to try and ensure that Smith’s lead wouldn’t rise above a second. But he wasn’t the only one chasing for the lead – Blackwell-Chambers dispatched of Allwood from the start and made sure he kept the top two in touching distance to create a trio battling for the race win. The three cars were undoubtedly the class of the field, but even so Smith did stretch a lead of 1.7 seconds deep into the race, leaving Langridge to fend off WB-C. In the end, the gap came back down at the flag and Smith completed the hat-trick, followed by Langridge also finishing a trio of 2nd places and Blackwell-Chambers who made the most of the wet conditions to reclaim the podium with 3rd.

Brian Trott ended up finding himself in something of a no man’s land as he took the chequered flag a somewhat lonely 4th, ahead of another impressive drive in the rain from Teddy Clark who scored 5th place at the same circuit he’d scored his first overall race win the previous season in similar conditions. Allwood couldn’t better 6th ahead of Bessell in 7th and a strong drive from Ben Hancy to 8th, with Charlie Burge and Group B race winner Lewis Cannon making the most of his reappearance in the top group as he claimed 10th.

Thankfully the drivers in the final Group B race were greeted with sunshine and a drying track as they lined up, with Ivan Leary starting on pole again alongside Stephen Foden while Ali Bray was keen to cast the bad luck of his retirement earlier in the day out to sea. Immediately, he stamped his authority by taking the lead on the opening lap and ending it just a tenth ahead of Foden, before racking up the laps and building his lead gap up to just over 7 seconds by the completion of Lap 5. From there, Bray remained unchallenged all the way to the chequered flag as he eventually took the win by a substantial 16 seconds to cap off what had been a mixed weekend in general.

Stephen Foden was pressed all the way by Callum Greatrex as he was able to cling on to 2nd place by 0.8 seconds, while Oliver Graham and Matt Pollard came home behind them to round off the top 5. Paul Hughes took 6th from Clive Chisnall and Nick Le Doyen, with the top 10 finished off by pole man Leary and Bryn Griffiths.

Just two race weekends remain to decide the 2018 title with Blackwell-Chambers’ lead cut down to just 4 points. Next up is what will sadly be the last ever time that the Mazda MX-5 Championship will race on the Rockingham Motor Speedway, after the transfer of ownership of circuit means that all racing and track activities will cease at the end of the year. There may be a small tinge of emotion on that weekend, but above all else the level of competition could be stepped up a notch as Smith and Blackwell-Chambers lock horns again in the fight to be champion!

Scott Woodwiss

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