Blackwell-Chambers claimed two Group A victories to remain points leader leaving Rockingham - Photo: Jon Elsey

It was crunch time in the battle for the title in the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship as it made its final ever visit to the Rockingham Motor Speedway in Corby before the circuit ends all of its circuit and racing activities due to a change of ownership. Six more races awaited the competitors as the battle lines were drawn between teammates and title rivals Will Blackwell-Chambers and Samuel Smith.

Both drivers topped their respective qualifying groups on Saturday morning, but it was points leader Blackwell-Chambers that ended up with the quicker of the two fastest times over Smith to claim pole position for the first Group A race. With the pair locking out the front row, John Langridge took up 3rd place alongside MCR team boss Mike Comber, while Paul Bateman and Oliver Allwood claimed the third row ahead of Jack Brewer, an impressive effort from Matt Pollard, Jason Greatrex and Martin Tolley.

Smith gained the jump on his teammate to lead the opening lap, but the pair hadn’t counted on Langridge springing from 3rd on the grid to lodge himself between the two MCR drivers and on Lap 2 was able to snatch the lead from Smith. Blackwell-Chambers followed suit to pick up 2nd place, but Langridge’s glory run in the lead lasted until Lap 6 when a mishap pushed him down to 4th place behind WB-C, Smith and Comber. The AB Motorsport driver would waste no time retaking 3rd from Comber but had to eventually settle for the final step on the podium. Ahead of him, Blackwell-Chambers was pressed hard by Smith all the way throughout the remainder of the race with the two cars running in tandem in their own private battle at the head of the field. Try as Smith might, he couldn’t usurp Blackwell-Chambers and the reigning champion secured another victory just 0.3 seconds ahead.

Comber looked settled for 4th place until he was caught and passed in the closing stages by Jason Greatrex, meaning the MCR boss had to settle for the final place in the top 5. Oliver Allwood seemed slightly off the lead pace in 6th followed by Paul Bateman, Brian Trott, Stephen Foden and Martyn Canning, who was delighted with a top 10 Group A finish in only his second appearance of the season.

The first Group B race was forced into a restart after an incident involving Graham Rumsey and Lewis Cannon caused an ensuing red flag just corners into the first attempt. When racing did get underway, Jack Moody took a virtually unchallenged lead from his lonely front row spot in Cannon’s absence to pull out an unassailable 6.5 second margin by the time he reached the chequered flag 20 minutes later. With victory assured for Moody, 2nd place fell to Bryn Griffiths as he was able to take advantage of the battling group behind him to collect another Group B trophy. For 3rd, Oliver Robinson held station for the first half of the race before experienced MX-5 racer and BRSCC debutant Rafal Drzaszcz overhauled him and maintained the place all the way to the finish, also collecting the fastest lap of the race in the process. Robinson settled for 4th ahead of Ivan Leary as all of the top 5 finishers moved up to Group A for their next race, followed by Nick Le Doyen, Alan Hawkins, Bruce Robinson, Jake Styles and Richard Bartlett.

With the front three positions on the second Group A grid a carbon copy to that of Race 1, it was almost inevitable which drivers would be battling it out for the race win once more. This time, Blackwell-Chambers got the better of Smith from the start and took the lead while Langridge performed his magic trick again and picked up 2nd from Smith. The three cars were never more than a second apart from each other as they circulated together, dicing for position. Smith managed to steal 2nd place back from Langridge on Lap 7 and held it until the penultimate lap as Langridge took it back and pushed on to catch Blackwell-Chambers. Incredibly it came down to some last lap heroics from Smith to decide the outcome. Repassing Langridge for 2nd, Smith then pulled off a masterful dive up the inside of WB-C at Tarzan for the lead, catching him off guard and allowing Langridge through in the process. With no time left, Smith made it one apiece for race wins against his teammate for the weekend with victory ahead of Langridge and Blackwell-Chambers, the trio covered by 0.348 seconds at the line.

Back in 4th place, Jason Greatrex managed to enjoy his own private duel with both Allwood and Comber for the duration of the race, with the three cars finishing in that order. Martin Tolley captured 7th place followed by Bateman in 8th, and the top 10 completed by Martin Canning with another personal best finish in 9th and Stephen Foden in 10th.

Marcus Bailey and returnee Kevin Brent made up the front row for the second Group B race, although they had two attempts at leading the field. The first one was red flagged on Lap 1 just as it had in the first Group B race, this time for Richard Wootten’s car finding the wall on the outside of the banking exiting Brook chicane. After his car was cleared the race was restarted, but neither front row men would lead the opening lap as in fact it would be Paul Tucker who sprung from the second row to hit the front. He was overhauled by both Jon Pethick and Brent on the next lap, before Brent himself went tumbling down the order after a mishap of his own. By this time, Bailey had moved back into the lead with Lewis Cannon breathing down his neck in 2nd place and Pethick in 3rd, but soon Cannon would make a mistake of his own and fall into the clutches of Tucker, Pethick and William Hayden.

Bailey’s lead was strong enough to lead comfortably through to the chequered flag and take the race win, while 2nd place would see Pethick and Cannon dice it out until the end with the position landing in Pethick’s favour. Hayden collected 4th place while Brent recovered from his tumble down the order to complete the top 5 and race his way back into Group A. Jake Styles collected 6th followed by Alan Hawkins in 7th and Bruce Robinson in 8th, while Clive Chisnall and Richard Bartlett completed the top 10 finishers.

For the final Group A race, Langridge now had arguably his best shot at leaving the last ever Mk1 race at Rockingham with a victory, albeit at the expense of both Smith and Blackwell-Chambers if he could overhaul them both. Initially, he lost out as Smith led from pole and WB-C gave the #5 a taste of his own medicine by demoting him to 3rd before the end of the opening lap. What followed would then be the most frantic and exciting duel out of the three races in Group A, as once again all three drivers remained within a second of each other. Blackwell-Chambers picked up the lead on Lap 3 before Smith snatched it back two laps later, but Lap 8 would then see Langridge hit the front himself in his own bid for glory. Ultimately, the deciding move came two laps later when Blackwell-Chambers retook 1st position and stayed there until the flag, making it two wins from three races in the end. Langridge took a well-deserved 2nd place and Smith trailed them both in 3rd.

Unfortunately, the third Group B race once again saw a red flag in the opening moments, with Graham Rumsey hitting strife for the second time and certainly ruing his bad luck. Once racing was fully underway again, Clive Powles was able to show the pace that he’d displayed in Group A throughout most of the weekend to once again pull out a lead of which he would never lose. By the time the chequered flag fell, he was 6 second ahead of 2nd place as he ended his weekend with some silverware. Bryn Griffiths initially took up 2nd place for the first 5 laps before he was passed by Scott Leach, who would then draw away to collect the runner-up spot with Griffiths a further 5 seconds back in 3rd place.

Oliver Robinson collected 4th ahead of Ivan Leary as he completed the top 5 followed by Jake Styles in 6th and Alan Hawkins in 7th place, with the remainder of the top 10 finished off by Clive Chisnall, Charles Mugglestone and Bruce Robinson.

So, heading into the final three races of the year at Donington Park on October 20/21, it’s Will Blackwell-Chambers who leads on dropped scores by just six points from Samuel Smith, which means that one slip from either of them in any of the three races could spell disaster and settle the fate of the championship there and then. The battle for 3rd place also looks set to be hard fought as Brian Trott, John Langridge, Oliver Allwood and Mike Comber are all still in with a shout should results go in favour of any one of the quartet. With more new drivers expected on the grid for the finale, it should be a barnstorming end to another fantastic season of BRSCC Mazda MX-5 racing action.

Scott Woodwiss

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